Friday, December 21, 2012

‘Godfatherism’ and Nigerian Politics

More facts are emerging about the nature and character of Nigerian politics. Recently, two ‘political heavyweights’ have spoken about the godfather politics in Nigeria. At a political rally in Akure, Ondo State on October 15, 2012 former Governor of Lagos State and leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu admitted being a political godfather though of a positive genre. He was quoted as saying “Mimiko (i.e. Ondo State governor) has called me a godfather, yes, I am a positive godfather and even, god fatherism is biblical and that is why Christians refer to God as their father. I play god-fatherism in the South-West for the good of our people. My godfatherism is for progress, it is for mentoring.” The former governor apart from agreeing to being a godfather said he spent millions of pounds on the election of the Ondo State governor during his legal battle at the tribunals to retrieve his mandate after the political heist in the State during the 2007 governorship election. The questions being asked are: what was the motive of the ACN leader to give such humongous assistance to someone from the opposition party? Was Senator Tinubu’s intention altruistic and noble? Would there not have been a pay-back time? Grapevine source opined that the Action Congress of Nigeria leader had hoped that the Ondo State governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko would decamp from his party, Labour Party to ACN after his tribunal victory. But will there not be an additional financial return to the godfather? That is left to conjecture.
A news report in The Punch newspaper of December 14, 2012 also dwells on the godfather syndrome and its effects. Speaking at a retreat on capacity building for national, zonal and state officials of the Peoples Democratic Party at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State on December 13, a former chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Dr Okwezilieze Nwodo was quoted as saying that: “Some governors are not performing today because they have to settle their godfathers first before settling the people of their states. When they get their monthly allocation, they first go to their godfathers, who will first take whatever they want before handing over the remaining to the governors.” He therefore counseled that his party (PDP) must imbibe the culture of internal democracy as leaders produced through this practice would have social contract with the people.
Dr Nwodo’s observation reflects what majority of political observers already know. In Anambra State, that was the trend from 1999 to 2003. It got so bad that the then governor could not pay teachers salary making them to down tools. The consequence was that a whole academic session was allegedly lost to industrial action. History nearly repeated itself in the same state between 2003 and 2004 but for the resistance put up by ex-governor, Chris Ngige against his political godfather, Chief Chris Uba. His refusal to part with the state treasury led to his abduction, purported forced ‘resignation’ and wanton destruction of Anambra government’s property.
These revelations, more than any other thing, is a validation of why politics has not transformed to good governance in Nigeria. There are no benevolent godfathers in Nigerian politics. It is basically a patronage system where political entrepreneurs hope to invest little to make a maximum gain, painfully, at the expense of the suffering masses whose hope of impactful governance get perpetually deferred.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What did you do on 12:12:12?

Not to be at least a little superstitious is to lack generosity of the mind – De Qunicy
I did not have a peaceful rest on the night of December 11. Why? My neighbour was observing her church ordered vigil to usher in good fortune that 12:12:12 supposedly brings. My neighbour was not the only one that attached a lot of significance to that day. I did too. My son’s birthday fell on that date and I have to celebrate with him on the joy of seeing another year of his life. Many others in Nigeria and around the world believed that the day is a day of luck and fortune. Thus, a lot of people engaged in all manner of spiritual and remarkable deeds. While some organized prayer sessions and musical concerts, some others chose the day to marry while yet other people decided to forcefully gave birth to their babies on 121212. Let us take a tour of how the day was celebrated around the world.
Starting with homeland Nigeria, in a signed advertorial on Friday, December 7, Reverend (Dr) Musa Asake who is the General Secretary of Christian Association of Nigeria called on all Christians to organize prayer sessions at midday on 12:12:12. He quoted 1 Timothy 2: 1-2 which says “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” to support the clarion call. According to him “Come December 12th , 2012 at 12 noon prompt, all Christians, nationwide are enjoined to set time aside to pray for our beloved country Nigeria. This is the only country we have to call our own. Enough of all these incessant bloodshed and killings. This special day being the 12th day in the 12th month in the year 2012; is memorable and special. Therefore, it must be put to good use. Prayer is the only tool that never failed mankind. Families are enjoined to gather together to pray at exactly 12 noon. Individuals who may find it difficult to fellowship with their families, friends and loved ones should also set time aside to pray at 12 midday. At the CAN level, each State Chapter is to coordinate her members for a Special Prayer Session at noon.” To the best of my knowledge this call for prayers was observed by many. It is indeed a good thing to pray for one’s country particularly in this turbulent and insecure time. I do hope the good Lord will restore peace unto our country.
Now to other parts of the world, in order to mark the day, the 121212 concert was held at New York Madison Square Garden to raise money for victims of Superstorm Sandy. What a noble gesture! Also, my cousin in United States decided to offer a 10 per cent discount for those who will register for his bead making class scheduled for this month in Nigeria. A Nigerian national newspaper, The Guardian in its world report published on December 13 said that thousands of couples in Asia flocked to the marriage registries to tie the knot on 12/12/12, seeking good fortune for marriages begun on the century’s last repeating date. Also, by the magic of numbers, a Norwegian boy celebrated a very special occasion, feting his 12th birthday on December 12, 2012 –12/12/12 – at 12:12 pm, according to media report. The boy, Joergen Svendsen Killi, was born on December 12, 2000 at 12:12 p.m., according to his birth certificate, a picture of which was published on the site of tabloid Verdens Gang, promising him an unforgettable birthday 12 years later.
The newspaper reported further that authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore respectively said 696 and 540 couples were scheduled to attend marriage registries, continuing a trend, which has seen couples flocking to marry on 11/11/11 and 10/10/10 in both cities. News also indicated that the figure is a near-fourfold increase compared to the daily average in the self-governing Chinese city of Hong Kong, and about an eightfold spike for non-Muslim weddings in Singapore, which is three-quarters ethnic Chinese.
Wait for this, couples also queued to marry in many Mainland Chinese cities, on the basis that 12/12/12 sounded like “will love/will love/will love” in Chinese, the official news agency Xinhua was quoted. In several Indonesian cities, mothers gave birth early by Caesarian section so their offspring could have a lucky birth date.
The news-report added that the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, saw 289 couples taking part in a mass wedding at the Thean Hou Chinese Temple. The National Registration Department said another 306 couples were married at two of its offices near the capital, three times the normal number. At Yogyakarta in Indonesia’s Central Java province 12 male sugar cane workers paraded around town in 12 traditional wagons with their brides to mark the day.
In Singapore hundreds of couples and family members were reported to have trooped in batches to the marriage registry despite pouring rain. One couple in India were able to celebrate an even rarer set of special dates, having got engaged on 10/10/10, held their registered legal marriage on 11/11/11 and finally had a big white wedding in Mumbai on 12/12/12. According to French newswire, Agence France Presse, the next time the same digits will appear in the date, month and year in the same order will be in more than 88 years – on January 1, 2101, or 01/01/01.
I tried to do a little research into biblical numerology and found out that Christians believe that numeral 1 is the number of Unity; 2 is the number of  Division; 3 represents  Divine Perfection; 4 signifies Creation while 5 is the number of Grace.  6 is said to be the number of Man; 7 is the number of Spiritual Perfection; 8 is the number of New Beginnings; 9 is the number of Judgment while 10 is the number of Divine Perfection. 12 is said to be the number of Governmental Perfection while 40 stands for number of Probation or Trial. 
My friend, Obo Effanga in a facebook post, has this to say about the day:  “Face your life friends. There's NOTHING, absolutely nothing about today's date 12/12/12. God did not create the present dating system, humans did and God does not wait until any particular day to bless you. People are simply so superstitious, vain and confused. The annoying thing is when they try to cloak it under religion instead of numerology that it is.” Well, that was his opinion which he has a right to just as those who believe it carries some metaphysical significance are equally entitled to their beliefs. Whatever you did on 12:12:12, I wish you best of luck and compliments of the yuletide.

Monday, December 17, 2012

My ‘Odyssey’ as a Nigerian Writer

In my 22 years as a writer, I have faced a lot of daunting challenges ranging from self-doubt, fear, rejection of manuscript, lack of financial reward and poor reading culture in Nigeria.

I started writing commentaries in 1990 during the military regime. It was an era when there was a lot of media censorship with some print and electronic media proscribed for publishing news which the military considered inimical to its interest. News on democracy, human rights and development were highly censored. I recall that some of my critical articles were not published by government owned media then. Even the versions published by private media were sometimes watered down in order not to offend the military rulers.  OGBC 2 FM Mailbag 2084, a radio programme to which I regularly contribute between 1991 and 1993, had to be rested by the station management after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.  In essence, just like media houses did, I nursed a palpable fear in those military years. The return to civil rule changed all of that. More so with the coming into force the Freedom of Information Act in 2011.

My self-doubt was as a result of many years of failure of O’ Level English language. I consistently had P. 8 (ordinary pass) in the subject from 1985 when I first graduated from Secondary School up until 1990 when I eventually had A 3. It was very traumatic for me. However, I have largely overcome that challenge as I read about great writers and draw inspiration from them.

In 2010, as a way of marking my 20th anniversary of commentary writing as well as commemorate Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee, I decided to publish a book of essays. I worked on the manuscript and thereafter started looking for publishers. One notable Nigerian publisher scorned my manuscript being a compilation of commentaries. She said it will not sell as she’s even having difficulty marketing creative works in her stable. Not even my offer of paying for the publication dissuaded her. Another publisher asked me for 75 per cent advanced payment on the agreed cost of publication.   This I could not afford. I was later introduced to Joe Tolalu Associates in Lagos who gave me favourable terms of payment. After the publication of the book “Nigeria, My Nigeria: Perspectives from 1990 – 2010” I have had to market the book myself as a marketing deal struck with a book seller was not profitable as I would like. I am happy to say that the book has been well received and I am in the process of printing a second edition as more people demand for copies.

Commentary writing either as a freelance or columnist has not been financially rewarding in Nigeria. Many newspapers in a bid to cut cost and because of the thought that they are doing the writer a favour do not pay for published articles.  In my 22 years of writing, it is only The Guardian who in 1996 paid me a total sum of N400 for the three of my articles published in that year. The newspaper paid N100 for two opinion pieces published on week days and N200 for the one published on Sunday. When I got the money I used it to buy belt at Oshodi market. It is therefore passion that has sustained my writing.

Poor reading culture among Nigerians has also been a disincentive to Nigerian writers. It is the joy of a writer to be read. Greater joy comes when there are feedbacks. It is very discouraging when sometimes my family and friends see me as wasting my time writing. While many say they don’t have time to spare to read hard stuffs like commentaries, others believe it will change nothing. However, I have psyched myself up to believe in my passion and continue to write for the betterment of Nigeria. 

N.B: This piece was written on demand by Bisi Daniels, Nigerian prolific novelist and journalist and was first published in his Writers World column in Thisday newspaper of Saturday, December 15, 2012.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Plight of persons with disabilities in Nigeria

On Monday, December 3, 2012, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was observed across the world. The annual ritual was celebrated in Nigeria, not unexpectedly, with speeches and glib promises by government to improve the lot of the physically challenged persons in our society. It is estimated that over 15 per cent of Nigerians are PWD. However, this should be persons with bodily disabilities.  In truth, however, all human beings are disabled one way or the other as no human has infinite ability. In Nigeria, the community of persons with bodily disabilities is growing at a geometric rate. Every act of terrorism, road and domestic accidents, medical misdiagnosis, parents refusal to  immunise their children against polio and other killer diseases, collapsed buildings and many others leave victims as potential temporary or permanent members of the PWD.
But it must be noted that Nigeria’s persons with disabilities are vulnerable and marginalised lot. The enabling environment is lacking for these persons to realise their full potential. We always view them from the prism of invalids and dependants. Our mindset is that they are beggars and never-do-wells. How wrong we are! Many members of this community are well read, informed and cultured. In fact, the President of the Joint Association of Persons with Disabilities, Danlami Basharu, is a lawyer with a Master’s degree from a top university in the United Kingdom. Our revered Prof. Chinua Achebe; talented and award-winning music producer, Cobhams Asuquo; and ace gospel musician, Yinka Ayefele; are some of the persons with disabilities but who are doing the nation proud in their chosen professions.  For instance, while Nigeria’s able-bodied athletes went to the 2012 London Summer Olympics and came back without any medal, their Paralympian counterparts not only broke four world records in power-lifting but also did the country proud by winning a total of 13 medals; six gold, five silver and two bronze.
However, a majority of persons with disabilities in Nigeria almost always have a raw deal in terms of acceptance, access and respect for their rights.  Our society has yet to come to terms with the fact that there is ability in disability. In Nigeria, many families discriminate against members who are physically or mentally challenged. They are hardly shown any love and care. Instead, they are cursed, insulted and tormented for bringing ‘bad luck’ to the family. Many who are not born with their disabilities could either not get a good spouse to marry or if married, are deserted by their spouses. This is inhuman. In terms of access, persons with disabilities lack adequate access to education, health, recreational facilities and public institutions generally. For instance, there are only few schools for PWD. In Oyo State, I know of Cheshire School and School for the Deaf in Ijokodo area of Ibadan. There is also the famous Pacelli School for the Blind in Surulere, Lagos. However, more schools are needed for children with disabilities. Not only that, education should be made free for these special people. Same for health. Medicare should be free for the PWD. Many of our public and private offices are not accessible to persons on wheelchair and crutches. Many of them cannot enter banks, hotels and high rise buildings because of the security doors, malfunctioning elevators and absence of ramps.
In terms of employment opportunities, many PWD, though brilliant and with good academic certificates, are discriminated against at job interviews. Employers see them as a burden as they may not be as agile as their able-bodied counterparts while some may also need regular medical attention. In politics, political party leaders will hardly give them tickets to fly flag of the party at any election; be it local, state or national. This is because of the wrong notion that they are unelectable. They forgot that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd American President who was elected an unprecedented four times into office, was for most part of his political career confined to a wheelchair due to polio attack he suffered when he was young. Even the election management bodies do not have special provisions for them either in the area of voter education or special ballot paper, especially for the blind. In the just-concluded Ghanaian election held on December 7, special ballot papers were designed for the blind to enable them vote unaided.   In Nigeria, the best is that blind voters are allowed to come to the polling unit with a trusted aide who should guide them during voting.
In Nigeria, the rights of persons with disabilities are hardly respected. Many state governments and the Federal Capital Territory Administration have been harassing and arresting those who engage in street begging to earn a living. While street begging is dehumanising and condemnable, I am sure many of these PWD would not resort to begging to live if presented with a better choice. It is not out of place for government to design a scheme that will give opportunities to persons with disabilities who want to acquire vocational skills to do so free of charge.
For many years now, persons with disabilities through the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities have been demanding the passage of the National Disability Bill. Twice, this bill had been passed into law by the National Assembly. Unfortunately, the bill has been denied presidential assent on the two occasions.  Yet, Nigeria is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which under Article 4 mandates member states to pass national legislation on disability. It is hoped that the Seventh National Assembly will re-introduce the bill and grant it expeditious passage and that  President Goodluck Jonathan will champion the cause of the oppressed by assenting to the disability bill when passed. JONAPWD has also called on the President to appoint a Special Assistant on Disability Matters who will be able to articulate the issues of this vulnerable and marginalised group before the President and his cabinet. It would be great to have disability issues mainstreamed into Nigerian budget the way Jonathan did with women issue in the 2013 budget. Persons with disabilities need an affirmative action that will guarantee their full participation in governance. They also need love, care and support. This Yuletide season, let us spare a thought for these less privileged compatriots.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sense and nonsense of Sanusi’s economic recovery advocacy

The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, on Tuesday, November 27 again stirred the hornet’s nest when he condemned the astronomic cost of servicing the nation’s civil service. To redress this, he called on the Federal Government to sack at least 50 per cent of its entire workforce. Sanusi, in his presentation at the Second Annual Capital Market Committee Retreat in Warri, Delta State, said the country spends 70 per cent of its earnings on salaries and entitlements of civil servants. He argued that having the Federal Government’s staff strength reduced by half would free up capital for infrastructure development in the country and prop up the economy.
Not done yet, the CBN governor added that the country does not need the 109 senators, and 360 members of the House of Representatives to make laws. He also decried the huge cost of running local government administration which he termed ‘wastage’ of funds. The Kano-born banker equally called for the total removal of petrol subsidy even as he wants those who have stolen fuel subsidy fund to be punished.  The CBN governor further advised the Federal Government to stop investments in infrastructure that could be handed over to the private sector.
No sooner had the CBN governor made these submissions than vitriolic attacks started pouring on him. Organised labour called Sanusi a “hollow economist”. According to the Nigeria Labour Congress President, Abdulwaheed Omar, “Since assumption of office as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, all Sanusi’s major pronouncements have been either directly anti-people or ruinous to the Nigerian economy.” The NLC, therefore, called for his sack.
A member of the House of Representatives has also reacted harshly to the pronouncement of the CBN Governor. The Deputy Chairman of the House on Media and Public Affairs, Victor Ogene, likened Sanusi’s action to that of a physician who would want to treat others but himself. He asked him to first prune the workforce of the apex bank. According to Ogene, the staff strength of the CBN when Sanusi took over in 2009 was 5,022 but that he had raised the apex bank’s staff strength to 6,015. “Instead of pruning down the staff strength, he has employed about 1,000 more people. The CBN has over 20 directors…”, the lawmaker added. Ogene said the National Assembly had a total budget of N150bn in 2012 to cater for 109 senators, 360 House members, thousands of civil servants and political aides but that the CBN had over N300bn to play with all alone.
It is pertinent to note that I agree with the underlying principles that informed the CBN governor’s submission but do not approve of his strategy of implementation. Yes, we need to reform the civil service! Yes, we need to cut down on our recurrent expenditure in order to pave way for more capital vote! Yes, we need to engage the private sector to handle industrialisation and manage businesses! However, I do not subscribe to 50 per cent reduction of the workforce be it at the federal, state or local government level. I do not believe that a unicameral legislature or scrapping of local government is the be-all solution to our economic woes. These measures will be counterproductive and cause social dislocation.
To my own mind, Nigeria needs to slaughter the monster called corruption and engage in fiscal prudence fast! The corruption statistics in the country are enormous, debilitating and appalling. Trillions are annually lost to corrupt practices. Countless probes have unveiled monumental frauds. The International Energy Agency said in a November 13, 2012 report that Nigeria loses a whopping $7bn to oil theft annually!  A November 25, 2012 news story in the Sunday PUNCH also revealed that “Over N5tn in government funds have been stolen through fraud, embezzlement and theft since President Goodluck Jonathan assumed office on May 6, 2010.” If these colossal sums of money could be lost to corruption in less than three years of this administration, then it is best imagined how much we have lost to the ogre since independence 52 years ago.
While presenting a paper titled, ‘Corruption, National Development, The Bar and The Judiciary’, at the 52nd Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja in August, a former Vice-President for Africa at the World Bank, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, was quoted as saying that, “Over $400bn of the nation’s oil revenue has either been stolen or misappropriated since Nigeria gained independence in 1960.” If these monies were to be deployed to the provision of critical social infrastructure such as good roads, health facilities, quality education, among others, we would not need to go aborrowing to fix our critical infrastructure as we are in the habit of doing currently.
The Nigerian political elite’s penchant for waste is legendary. We have a Presidency which has fleet of aircraft and cars servicing only a handful while the nation has no national carrier. In spite of the monetisation policy, different arms of government still annually budget and purchase official cars. Billions are earmarked for food and travels while a whopping N2.2bn was recently approved for another presidential banquet hall despite an existing one built less than a decade ago. What profligacy! The state governors do not fare any better on prudence.
What is more, we need to fix the energy sector in order to meaningfully revive Nigeria’s economy otherwise we would continue to have growth without development. What kind of economy can survive on generators? Nigeria is the largest consumer of generators on the African continent, if not in the world. This trend has to be reversed so that people who engage in small and medium scale enterprises will be able to survive on their private businesses. We need to also make agricultural and solid mineral sectors attractive to investors in order to stimulate the economy. This is a way to ‘disincentivise’ the civil service. Our civil service is bloated because it is only government that is employing while the private sector is shrinking because of the outrageous cost of doing business in Nigeria. By the time these reforms are in place, any rightsizing and downsizing of the civil service will be meaningful as those affected in the purge, if paid their benefits on time,  will be able to engage in private enterprise.
It essentially bears repeating that President Jonathan should emulate the examples of the Malawian and Uruguayan presidents,  Joyce Banda and Jose Mujica, in his taste in office. Mrs. Banda of Malawi decided to sell off the country’s only Presidential aircraft and a fleet of 60 Mercedes Limousines on assumption of office. She also recently announced 30 per cent cut in her salary.  Her Uruguayan counterpart, Mujica, not only drives a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, but also stays at his wife’s farmhouse. Besides, he donates 90 per cent of his monthly salary to charity. This is an exemplary conduct worth emulating by Nigeria’s political class. Unfortunately, this is one expectation the outcome is certain: An outstanding disappointment.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lessons from Justice Jombo-Ofo’s saga

History was made in the Nigerian judiciary on Friday, November 23, 2012 when Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, hitherto the presiding Justice of the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, was sworn in as the Acting President of the Court of Appeal. She is the first female President of the Court of Appeal, though in acting capacity. She took over from Justice Dalhatu Adamu. This singular appointment of Mrs. Bulkachuwa has effectively put women at the helms of affairs of both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, the two highest courts of the land. It would be recalled that Justice Mariam Aloma Mukthar was sworn in as the Chief Justice of Nigeria on July 16, 2012.
Another noteworthy event that happened same day, however, was the CJN’s swearing-in of Justice Ifeoma Jombo-Ofo who was unceremoniously denied an oath of office alongside 11 of her other colleagues on November 5. Her ‘sin’ was that she was playing the role of usurper by trying to occupy the Abia State slot at the Appeal Court though she is an indigene of Anambra State. The fact that she is married to an Abia man and had worked for 14 years in Abia State was discountenanced by her traducers. They simply based their petitions on “Guiding Principles and Formulae for the Distribution of all Cadres of Posts,” created in pursuance to the Federal Character Commission (Establishment, etc) Decree (1996 No 34). Part 11, Clause 11 provides that: “A married woman shall continue to lay claim to her state of origin for the purpose of implementation of the federal character formulae at the national level.” This policy is contained in Official Gazette No 74, Vol. 84. Incidentally, Anambra State already has three justices of the Court of Appeal while Abia has only one. The implication of Mrs. Jombo-Ofo’s appointment into the appellate court means that Anambra has four justices of the Court of Appeal while Abia has only one.
Though the petitions cannot be said to lack merit, however, the guideline is inconsistent with, and thus inferior to Section 42 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which says: “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not by reason only that he is such a person:- a) be subjected either expressly by or in the practical application of any law in force in Nigeria or any executive action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject..” It is an irrefutable fact that any law that is inconsistent with the constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be null, void and of no effect. This is where the majority of the public, I inclusive, disagreed with the cerebral Justice Mukthar. Being a woman herself and a jurist, she ought not to have suspended Jombo-Ofo’s inauguration on the basis of petition(s) which is clearly in conflict with constitutional provision. More so, the Abia State Government which nominated her to the National Judicial Council in the first place had also written to affirm her candidacy.
The Senate, in a resolution passed on November 7, had urged the CJN to swear-in Justice Jombo-Ofo and for all government agencies to note that a married woman can claim either her state of origin or that of her husband’s in relation to the Federal Character principle. A civil society group, Women Empowerment and Legal Aid, led by its Executive Director, Mrs. Funmi Falana, had also dragged the Federal Government to a Lagos High Court over the matter before NJC in its emergency meeting held on November 21 gave a final nod for Jombo-Ofo to be sworn-in.
It is important to note that a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Olufunlola Adekeye, had decried this discriminatory attitude in her valedictory speech on Wednesday, October 31, a few days before the Jombo-Ofo’s maltreatment took place. The media had reported Justice Adekeye as calling on the CJN, the Chief Judges of the states, the Judicial Service Commission and the National Judicial Council to review the policy that married women cannot reach the peak of their career in their husbands’ states. She noted that complaints of this nature are increasingly rampant in the judiciary. The retired Justice lamented that whenever there is vacancy at the top in the husband’s state, the woman is often denied the post. Instead, she is referred to her state after climbing the ladder and putting so many years into the service. An indigene of the state will thereafter, take the position. She observed that the woman would have hurdles to cross in her state as she did not work there and the authorities there would not be able to assess her suitability for the post properly.
It is my considered view that the obstacle to women emancipation in Nigeria is more cultural than legal. AsThe Guardian noted in its November 21, 2012 editorial: “That Justice Jombo-Ofo seeks elevation to the upper Bench through her husband’s state of origin is not novel. From precedents, female judges have been known to take advantage of their husbands’ place of birth. It happened in the case of Justice Mary Odili who got into the Supreme Court through her husband’s state of origin and Justice Amina Augie, the wife of the late Senator Adamu Augie, who rose through the home state of her husband.” Two former Chief Judges of Lagos State, Justice Omotunde Ilori, and Justice Ade Alabi, were said to have been from Osun and Ondo states respectively. Even in the realm of politics, Senator Grace Folasade Bent, though Yoruba by tribe, represented Adamawa State (her husband’s home state) in the Sixth Senate.
It is therefore heart-warming that good sense has prevailed after much public uproar about the perceived injustice being meted to Justice Jombo-Ofo. However, I align my thought with those calling for constitutional reform on the issue of indigeneship. I think citizenship and residency should take precedence over indigeneship and that after a stipulated number of years of residing in a particular community or state, one should be able to aspire to the highest position in the state. This should not be made discretionary.
Additionally, the obnoxious federal character guideline needs to be reviewed by the National Assembly to bring it in conformity with the provisions of Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. Further, it is high time Nigeria domesticated the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and other international and regional instruments that promote women’s rights which the country had previously ratified.
Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State should be commended for nominating and standing by Justice Jombo-Ofo. This saga has proved the power of public opinion in shaping government decision. If not for the public outcry, Mrs. Jombo-Ofo would have been completely denied her legitimate right at the upper echelon of the Bench. I congratulate her and Justice Bulkachuwa warmly and wish them a very successful and crisis-free tenure in office.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The rot in Nigerian universities

“I dreamt of a new role in which every man or woman could reach his or her full potential, irrespective of the colour of their skin, only by recognising education as a powerful weapon against poverty and injustice.” —Dr. Martin Luther King
I knew from time there are crises in Nigeria’s education sector; from primary to tertiary. The evidence are there for all to see. What with lack of adequate infrastructure, high rate of school dropout and out-of-school children, mass failures in external secondary school examinations, brain drain of lecturers and now students, perennial industrial actions by various unions in the education sector, et cetera. A release by a non-governmental organisation, Exam Ethics International, says Nigeria loses a whooping N1.5tn to education tourism. Of this sum, N160bn is spent by Nigerian parents on their children and wards’ education in neighbouring Ghana while they spent N80bn on same in the United Kingdom.
On November 1, 2012, the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities set up by the Federal Ministry of Education presented its report to the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, at the National Economic Council in Abuja. The committee’s report revealed that public universities are grossly mismanaged; engage in activities at variance with the National Policy on Education and are lacking in human and material resources. They were accused of being incapable of supplying the nation’s manpower needs and are said to be bogged down by corruption of various kinds while offering education of poor quality, among others.
The setting up of the committee was part of the 2009 agreement between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government. It would be recalled that ASUU had in 2009 embarked on a four-month strike which had paralysed the entire public universities sector. On October 21, 2009, ASUU and the Federal Government reached a truce by signing an agreement. The gist of the signed agreement include the approval of about 50 per cent salary increase for the university lecturers, administrative autonomy for the universities, 70 years retirement age for university professors and enhanced funding of the universities.
The recent needs assessment report shows that a majority of the universities are grossly understaffed, rely heavily on part-time and visiting lecturers, have under-qualified academics and have no effective staff development programme outside the Tertiary Education Trust Fund intervention and the Presidential First Class Scholarship programme. The report also affirmed that there are 37,504 academics (83 per cent of which are male) in the country’s public universities. This shows that only 17 per cent of academic staffers in public universities are female. Could this be as a result of low girl child education, lack of interest of women in academics or total act of discrimination against the female sex in recruitment for academic positions?
The Yakubu report also revealed that only about 43 per cent of Nigerian universities teaching staff have doctorate degrees. Further, instead of 75 per cent of the academics being between senior lecturers and professors, only about 44 per cent are within the bracket. Only seven universities have up to 60 per cent of their teaching staff with PhD qualification. Also, the ratio of teaching staff to students in many universities is 1:100. For instance, it is 1: 363 at the National Open University of Nigeria; 1:122 at the University of Abuja; and 1:144 at the Lagos State University. In contrast, in Harvard University, it is 1: 4; Massachusetts Institute of Technology- 1:9; and Cambridge-1:3. The report also stated that there is numerically more support than teaching staff in the universities, instead of the other way round. In some universities, it was discovered that the non-teaching staff double, triple or quadruple the teaching staff. With regard to infrastructure, the committee found that physical facilities for teaching and learning in the public universities are inadequate, dilapidated, over-stretched and improvised.
Laboratories and workshops equipment as well as consumables are either absent, inadequate or outdated. Kerosene stoves are being used as Bunsen burners in some. Some engineering workshops operate under zinc sheds and trees, and many science-based faculties are running what is referred to as “Dry Lab,” due to lack of reagents and tools to conduct real experiments. The committee also documented that 163 of the 701 physical uncompleted projects it found had been abandoned.
On students’ enrolment, the report revealed that there are a total of 1,252,913 students in the public universities: 85 per cent undergraduates; five per cent sub-degree; three per cent postgraduate diploma; five per cent Master’s and two per cent Ph.D. As against the National Policy on Education that stipulates 60:40 enrolment in favour of science-based programmes, 66.1 per cent of them are studying arts, social sciences, and management and education courses. Only 16 per cent of students are studying science and science-education courses; 6.3 per cent, engineering; five per cent, Medicine, while 6.6 are studying Agriculture, Pharmacy and Law. It beats my imagination how the ratio 60:40 science bias enrolment could be achieved given the deplorable state of science laboratories and workshops. It is noteworthy that enrolment continues to be a big issue in our universities. A case in point is that of the University of Ibadan whose Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Isaac Adewole, said could only admit 2,978 candidates for the 2012/2013 admission year out of the total applicants of 41,367.
The Prof. Yakubu-led committee with its 189 recommendations could be said to have clinically diagnosed the malaise within our university system. The question to ask is: Where were the regulators when all these malpractices and sharp-practices were being perpetrated? Again, will the report of the committee not gather dust in the Federal Ministry of Education or Presidency like the previous ones? There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigerians are too familiar with the problems of the university sub-sector of the country. What we lack is the political will to address and redress the situation. ASUU, over the years, has called on the authorities to fix some of these problems; unfortunately, successive governments have been acting in bad faith. If the fate of our universities could be this pathetic, what would be the state of other tertiary institutions such as Polytechnics and Colleges of Education? It is now crystal clear why Nigeria has been churning out unemployable graduates.
The N426.53bn budgeted for Education in the 2013 appropriation bill is about nine per cent of the total budget. This is a far-cry from the UNESCO recommended 26 per cent. Ghana budgets 31 per cent of its annual estimates for education, any wonder the country is now the choice destination of Nigerians in search of quality education.
Way back in 1999, Prof. Wole Soyinka had clamoured for our universities to be closed down for a year or two in order to fix the rot. Many have also called for a state of emergency to be declared in the country’s education sector. Given the highlighted decay in Nigeria’s university system, it is not surprising that no Nigerian university ranks among the best 2000 in the world. University of Benin was ranked best in Nigeria at 2,485 in the world by Webometrics. It is high time we saved the Nigerian university system from a total, and imminent collapse.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jonathan’s many ‘sins’ against federal lawmakers

President Goodluck Jonathan is embroiled in an unending face-off with members of the National Assembly. The federal lawmakers had severally accused the President of treating their resolutions with levity. One of such is the one passed by the two chambers for the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms. Arunma Oteh, to be relieved of her position. On Thursday, July 19, 2012, the House of Representatives threatened to impeach Jonathan over poor implementation of the 2012 budget. They gave him till September 2012 to do just that otherwise he would face impeachment procedures. The members made this threat even though they only passed the budget in April. How on earth will a budget with a lifespan of 12 calendar months be fully implemented in five months is lost on the lawmakers!
No sooner had the members of National Assembly come back from their annual vacation on Tuesday, September 18, than the President notified them of his intention to present the 2013 budget on October 4. The members of the lower chamber spurned him. They told him they had to go on a weeklong verification to see the level of implementation of the 2012 budget before they could grant him an audience. They also faulted the President on the premise of wanting to present the budget proposal when the National Assembly had yet to fully consider and pass the 2013 – 2015 Medium Term Expenditure Framework. It was not until Wednesday, October 10 that the President was able to lay the 2013 budget proposal before the parliament in accordance with Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Shortly thereafter, another altercation ensued.  This time, the parliament openly disagreed with him on a number of issues in the budget proposal. Principal among them is the issue of oil benchmark which the executive set at $75 but which the House of Representatives had insisted to put at $80 while the Senate set $78 as its own benchmark. All these were happening despite the fact that the same political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, controls the two chambers of the National Assembly and the executive arm.
A newstory in a national newspaper on Sunday, November 4, also added another ‘sin’ of President Jonathan. The story titled ‘Unassented bills double those signed in two years’, narrated that the newspaper’s investigation revealed that out of the 30 bills passed by the National Assembly in two years, only 10 were signed by the President. The unsigned bills comprised eight executive bills and 12 private member bills. Virtually all the 20 bills have lapsed now as they were passed and forwarded to the President between November 2010 and June 2011 by the Sixth National Assembly.
Among the executive bills not signed is the one on Remuneration of former Presidents and Heads of State and Government, Prime Ministers, Heads of Legislative Houses, Chief Justice of Nigeria. The bill was passed and sent to President Jonathan on November 11, 2010. Similarly, the National Food Reserve Agency Bill 2010 and Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (Establishment) Bill were sent to the Presidency on November 25, 2010. Another executive bill tagged the Nigerian Council of Food Science and Technology Bill, which was transmitted to the President on June 2, 2011, was not signed and has also lapsed.
The Harmonised Age of Academic Staff of Tertiary Institutions Bill 2011 was also transmitted to President Jonathan same day as the former. Some of the private member bills, which also suffered the same fate, include the National Health Bill and National Tobacco Control Bill 2011. Also, the Discrimination against Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (Prohibition) Bill 2011 has not been signed into law. The bills not signed also included the National Climate Change Commission Bill 2010 and the State of the Nation Address Bill 2010.  The newspaper’s investigations revealed that the 10 bills signed into law by the President since he assumed office after the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua on May 6, 2010 include five executive and five private member bills. Among the bills so far signed into law are the Debt Management Bureau (Establishment) Bill 2011, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (Establishment) Bill 2011, Personal Income Tax (Amendment) Bill and Retirement Age of Staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education Harmonisation Bill 2012.
The Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi, was quoted as saying, “These bills, apart from being the bills from the Sixth Assembly, are referred to as bills from the late President Yar’Adua’s era”. “So far in the Seventh Assembly, there is no bill awaiting the assent of the President.” The President did not assent to most of the bills because of their financial implications and the fact that some of the bills spoke of creation of new agencies that would further bloat the executive arm.
However, according to the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, two factors are responsible for the bills gathering dust owing to lack of presidential assent. First is the political will to assent to bills. The second and indeed the worst is the 1999 Constitution. According to him, “Article 1 Section 7 of the US Constitution allows the President a maximum of 10 working days to assent to a bill. Where he fails to return it before the expiration of the 10 days, it automatically becomes law. If he or she vetoes or returns it, the Congress can then override his or her veto by two-thirds majority of both chambers.”
“Unfortunately in our case, whereas Section 58(4-5) of the 199 Constitution as amended provides that “where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within 30 days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent”; and “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required”. The Constitution does not state what happens after the 30 days have elapsed without the President assenting to or returning the bill to the parliament. Of course, you cannot override what the President has not returned, that is indicating a refusal of assent. So, the waiting game continues ad infinitum. And that is where the Constitution is defective in this respect.”
“An unsigned bill elapses at the end of the lifespan of the assembly. The constitution is very clear about it and there is nothing else anyone can really do about it except to re-introduce the bills as deemed as appropriate.”
The questions that readily come to mind are: Why will the President have reservations about a bill and fail to communicate such to the National Assembly? Why should we continue to waste money, time, and energy processing bills and the President will fail to sign? Considering that only about one fifth of bills presented to the National Assembly get passed into law, shouldn’t every effort be made to safeguard that such bills get presidential assent? It cannot be discountenanced that one of the key reasons for the non-signing of these bills is financial consideration. However, the President, if he means well should be able to communicate such concerns to the leadership of the National Assembly. The legislators also have the opportunity of the ongoing constitution review to effect the needed amendment along the line suggested by the Deputy Senate President.
It must be said that while a rubber-stamp parliament is inimical to democracy, nevertheless, the current frosty relationship between the two arms of government at the federal level will be counterproductive for both the economy and the polity. Statesmen, party leaders and others in Nigeria must find a way of mediating between the leadership of the National Assembly and the President.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Safe water and sanitation in Nigeria

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
 Nor any drop to drink.
—From the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by English Poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

This poem paints the picture of the water situation in Nigeria. The late iconic Afro Beat musician, Fela Aniikulapo Kuti, in one of his classics said, ‘Water, he no get enemy’. Water is essential to life as roughly 70 per cent of an adult’s body is made up of water while health specialists are of the opinion that while one may stay off food for some time, it is impossible to stay off water for too long. Otherwise one will become dehydrated and die. The availability of safe drinking water in Nigeria is very appalling. It is saddening that many Nigerians have to bear the burden of sourcing their own water for domestic and industrial use.  Urban centres do not have adequate chlorinated pipe-borne water while rural communities have to depend on streams, rain and well water for their water need.
Minister of Water Resources, Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe, in an address during the launch of Safe Water for Africa recently said, “Current statistics of our water coverage in Nigeria are not very pleasing as only 58 per cent of the population have access to safe drinking water.”  Water and Sanitation Summary Sheet from the  United Nations Children’s Fund revealed, among other facts, that  access to safe water and sanitation was a major challenge in Nigeria and that water and sanitation coverage rates in the country were amongst the lowest in the world. Moreover, Nigeria is currently not on track to reach the Millennium Development Goals targets of 75 per cent coverage for safe drinking water and 63 per cent coverage for basic sanitation by the year 2015.
A desk study carried out by the Water and Sanitation Programme shows that poor sanitation costs Nigeria N455bn (US$3bn) each year. Statistics shows that 70 million Nigerians use unsanitary or shared latrines while 32m have no latrine at all and defecate in the open. Nigeria is said to rank third on the list of countries with inadequate supply of water and sanitation coverage globally. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources, Mr. Godknows Igali, reportedly said at the 11th Session of Development Partners Coordination Meeting that the World Health Organisation and UNICEF Report for 2012 ranked Nigeria third behind China and India as countries with the largest population without adequate water and sanitation.
This situation has led to high incidence of waterborne diseases such as dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid fever, cholera, river blindness, and Hepatitis A, among others. Available statistics also show that more than 3.4 million people die every year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes. Ninety nine per cent of these deaths are said to occur in developing countries. Water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through diseases than any war claims through guns. In fact, experts claim that lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.
It is not as if government has been folding its arms, though. In January 2011, the Federal Government launched the water road-map, a blueprint that describes the government’s objectives in developing the nation’s water resources between 2011 and 2025. The plan includes the promises that 75 per cent of Nigerians will have access to potable water by 2015, and 90 per cent by 2020. With the launch of the plan, President Jonathan’s administration announced the availability of special intervention funds for several projects. They include drilling one motorised borehole in each of the 109 senatorial districts, rehabilitating 1,000 dysfunctional hand pump boreholes in 18 states, supplying and installing 10 special water treatment plants, and completing all abandoned urban/semi-urban water supply projects. All of these and more were to be completed within 2011, with officials describing them as “a quick measure to accelerate water coverage”. Going to two years now, most of these short-term targets have not been met, though a number of projects are on-going.
The Director of Water Quality and Sanitation in the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Dr. Obioha Agada, recently disclosed that Nigeria had recorded 40 per cent sanitation coverage, up from 32 per cent that had spanned two decades. In spite of this however, 70 million people in the country still lacked access to improved sanitation. In a March 2012 article, Ameto Akpe of Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting, observed: “Nigeria, in the past two decades, has not been able to keep up with the global and regional average rate of increase in water coverage. For the Nigerian government to deliver on its promise of 75 per cent coverage by 2015, access must increase by 17 percentage points within the next three years.”
According to experts, in overcoming the challenge of water and sanitation in Nigeria there are issues of legislation, structure, finance, planning and attitudes to contend with.  Significant annual investments are needed to address water and sanitation problems in the country. The MDG Office says $2.5bn (about N375bn) is needed to meet the nation’s water and sanitation targets between 2011 and 2015, while government notes that an extra N200bn is further required to provide additional development in Dams with hydropower components amongst others. The idea as presented by the Federal Government, experts observed,  is to fund the water road map via direct public and private sector financing, in which, budgetary appropriations as well as cost sharing arrangements with states, local councils and communities would be the public proposed fund-raising approach, while private funding will be accessed via multilateral credit, loans and internally generated revenue. It is noteworthy that donor support to the water sector is estimated at less than three percent of needed resources.
Unfortunately, there has been a steady decline in budgetary allocations to water and sanitation. In 2010, the Federal Government budgeted N112bn for water and sanitation but by 2011, budgetary allocations had dropped to N62bn. For 2012, the budget for water is only N39bn. Mercifully, this has increased to N47.8bn in the 2013 budget. This, however, is still a far cry from the amount needed to make any appreciable impact. However, as the Water Resources minister recently disclosed, the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and its agencies appears to have been aggressively making efforts to tackle the problem of water supply through the water supply and sanitation reform programme with support from the European Union, the African Development Bank, the Chinese Water Supply Initiative, and the Japanese International Corporation Agency.
One hopes all these initiatives will bear good fruits and make access to safe drinking water and sanitation easy and affordable. However, our individual and collective attitude to water and sanitation facilities must also change. Oftentimes, we waste water that should have been conserved, refuse to pay water bills and sometimes vandalise water pipelines and borehole facilities. This is wrong. Even the way we dispose off water sachets and bottles as well as other solid wastes is unhygienic and should be changed.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Who’s in Charge in Taraba State?

Who is really in charge of the affairs of Taraba State? This question is pertinent  following the unfortunate air-crash  of Thursday, October 25 involving the State Governor, Danbaba Danfulani Suntai which has left him in a bad state of health necessitating  his being flown to a German hospital for medical attention. The development has left a vacuum in the administration of the north-east state created in 1991. There have been calls for the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Garba Umar to be sworn in as the Acting Governor while the governor is recuperating from his injuries. Feelers from Taraba State do not show that the State House of Assembly is in any hurry to pass such resolution. What does the law says on this brewing political impasse? Can this issue be understood solely from a legal viewpoint? Has there been precedent to be followed in matters of this nature?

Let us attempt a little contextual background to this issue. On October 4, Taraba State was in the news when the former Deputy Governor Sani Abubakar was impeached by 20 of the 24 members of the Taraba State House of Assembly. Mr. Abubakar had challenged the constitution of the panel and the impeachment process in court. Despite this however; the state house of assembly went ahead with the process. Alhaji Garba Umar was appointed and sworn in on October 5. Now, barely 20 days in office, providence seems to be at work.

The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended in section 191(1) gave five grounds under which a deputy can become a governor. These are on the ground of death, resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or removal of Governor from office for any other reason in accordance with section 188 or 189 of the constitution. Umar may have to wait long for that to happen. What is being canvassed is for him to be made an acting governor pending the return of Governor Suntai. 
Section 190 (1)(2) of the constitution, as amended, stipulates that the deputy governor should take over if the governor is on leave or is unable to discharge the function of his office. Sub-section 1 reads: “Whenever the Governor is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the Speaker of the House of Assembly to that effect, and until he transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration to the contrary, the Deputy Governor shall perform the functions of the Governor as Acting Governor.”
Subsection 2 reads: “In the event that the Governor is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in sub-section (1) of this section within 21 days, the House of Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of the House, mandate the Deputy Governor to perform the functions of the office of the Governor as Acting Governor, until the Governor transmits a letter to the Speaker that he is now available to resume his functions as Governor.”
In the same vein, Section 145 sub-section two of the constitution as amended stipulates that the Vice-President becomes acting president if the President is not available for 21 days. The rationale behind these subsections is well known to discerning public. It was borne out of the political logjam engendered by the ill-health of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009 which necessitated the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity by the National Assembly that empowers the incumbent president to become acting president then.
Will the Taraba State House of Assembly empower the new State’s Deputy Governor to become acting governor after the expiration of 21 days given that the Governor could not and is not in a position to transmit a letter to the Speaker? Time will tell but right now no such move is being made.
Another way the Deputy Governor could become a governor is if the State executive council decided to give effect to section 189 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.  That section says the governor or deputy governor of a state shall cease to hold office if by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all members of the executive council of the state (i.e. the body of commissioners of the Government of the State) it is declared that the governor or deputy governors is incapable of discharging the functions of his office. This declaration has to, however, be verified by a medical panel of five (one of who must be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned) to be appointed by the Speaker of the State House of Assembly. Will the Taraba EXCO and the Speaker toe this line? This is doubtful given the overbearing influence that governors wield on their cabinet and their state houses of assembly. It would be recalled that in 2010, state house of assembly overwhelmingly rejected financial autonomy for themselves during the constitution review exercise on the prompting of their governors.
Moreover, the main character in this whole episode, Deputy Governor Umar has said it would be wrong for him to be sworn in as acting governor when his boss was only sick and not dead. He was quoted as saying “I was sworn in as deputy governor of the state.  The governor is only sick and not dead. He is in a stable condition as confirmed by Mr. President and the Chief Medical Director of the National Hospital, Abuja. I remain the deputy governor of the state” Another news medium quoted him thus:  “I am not in acting capacity. I am still the deputy governor despite the air mishap involving my boss. And I can’t be sworn in as acting governor of Taraba State because my boss is still alive. I don’t even wish that to happen. It has been my prayers that he recovers speedily.”
Similarly, PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh said the situation does not call for that yet. “The governor is injured and not incapacitated. Before he was flown out of the country, he was in a stable condition. It is to be assumed that the governor is on leave” he said.
Legalese aside, the situation is more political than legal. A national newspaper had reported on October 27 that the new deputy governor was chased out of the government house in Taraba State by thugs on the evening when his principal was involved in air-crash and had to be ferried out to the office of the state security service for safety. Though Umar has denied the story, the newspaper said it stands by its report.    That incident, if it indeed happened, may have sent jitters down the spine of the new Deputy Governor. It is an open secret that Deputy Governors are never trusted by their Governors. No matter how long they are on vacation or outside the country, they never bothered to transmit any letter to the Speaker of the State House of Assembly as demanded by Section 190 of the constitution.
In the entire history of the Fourth Republic, it was only the former Zamfara State governor, now Senator, Ahmad Sani Yerima who courageously endorsed his former deputy Mahmuda Aliyu Shinkafi to succeed him in 2007. What was the outcome? Irreconcilable differences with his former boss led Shinkafi to decamp to People’s Democratic Party from the All Nigeria Peoples Party. This angered Yerima so much that he pulled all the strings to ensure that Shinkafi did not succeed in his second term ambition. Former Governor of Anambra State Chukwuemeka Ezeife was credited as referring to Deputy Governor as spare tyres. Others have said the position of the Secretary to the State Government is weightier and more recognizable than that of the Deputy Governor.
This is truly true as section 193 of the constitution equated the office with those of the commissioners. It says in subsection 1 that  “The Governor of a State may, in his discretion, assign to the Deputy Governor or any Commissioner of the Government of the State responsibility for any business of the Government of that State, including the administration of any department of Government” Thus, it is not surprising that any ambitious or independent minded Deputy Governor is sidelined or have an impeachment orchestrated against him or her as was the case in many states with the latest being the forceful resignation of the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State Mr. Nsima Ekere on October 31.
The Taraba situation is still unfolding and we wait to see how the entire drama will end. Meanwhile, it may not be out of place to give specific constitutional role to the position of Vice President and Deputy Governor.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

BSIEC and Campaign Finance

The Benue State Independent Electoral Commission (BSIEC) plans to hold elections into the 23 chairmanship and 267 councillorship positions of the middle belt state on Saturday, November 24, 2012. Preparation is at the fever pitch since the Commission released the Notice of Election on July 31. As part of the groundwork for the LG poll, the 2007 Benue State Electoral Law was amended in April 2012 while a new guideline for the conduct of the elections has also been issued.   Of greater interest to this writer are the campaign finance provisions in the state’s electoral law and guidelines.

Electoral contest in any country of the world attract some costs. There are both legitimate and illegitimate income and expenditures during the electioneering period. While the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended)  as well as the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) specify  appropriate ways and means by which political parties and candidates can raise and spend  campaign fund, BSIEC law is silent on these especially how monies are to be raised for the Local Government elections. However, certain deductions can be made on what political parties and candidates can legitimately spend their funds on as well as what they are forbidden from funding. Among the legitimate cost of electioneering are monies spent to rent party and campaign offices, equipping the office and paying the personnel cost. Monies spent purchasing nomination forms at both the political party and BSIEC levels are also factored into the cost. On this last count, though candidates pay to buy expression of interest and nomination forms for national elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, many SIECs in Nigeria also charge other nomination fees.

For instance, Benue State Electoral Law 2007 (as amended) in Section 18 (1) makes this mandatory. The guideline in Section 8.1 and 8.2 specifically put the nomination fee at N200, 000 for chairmanship and N100, 000 for councillorship candidates. This deposit, which is non-refundable, is to be paid into the State Government Treasury. Additionally, the candidates pay a screening fee N25, 000 for chairmanship and N10, 000 for councillorship candidates to the coffers of BSIEC.  The charge of nomination fee by electoral commissions is not peculiar to Nigeria; however, in some countries, such monies are refunded if the candidates’ nomination is rejected or the candidate withdraws from the race. At a civil society event in Abuja on October 4, 2012, Femi Falana, renowned human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria averred that three courts in Nigeria had ruled against the charge of Nomination Fees. 

Benue State electoral law, in a bid to prevent political corruption and create a level playing field for all electoral contestants, forbids corrupt practices and bribery. These are categorized as electoral offences the details of which are articulated in S. 65 and S. 67 of the law. The penalty for any act of indulgence in corrupt practices is a fine of N10, 000 or two years of imprisonment or both (S. 62 subsection 2). Furthermore, S. 67 (3) says “Where a person found guilty of corrupt practice is elected, such election shall be void and fresh elections shall be held.” Is BSIEC prepared to enforce these provisions?

Nigeria’s 2013 Budget and its many Controversies

Since President Goodluck Jonathan presented Nigeria’s 2013 budget to the joint sitting of the National Assembly on Wednesday, October 10, 2012, the Appropriation Bill has been greeted by many controversies. The budget has pitted the legislative against the executive arms of government leading to a needless media war among the two institutions. For one, the lawmakers are not impressed with the level of implementation of the current 2012 budget. It has been a perennial problem for Nigeria’s budget not to be fully implemented. The budgets are often presented to the legislature in December while the estimates are habitually unbalanced as the recurrent almost always outweighs capital expenditures while the presented and passed budgets are always in deficit. Aside the poor implementation of the previous budgets, 2012 edition inclusive, the Senate and the House of Representatives are also unhappy with the executive’s insistence on the budget being passed with minimal alterations or at best, as presented to the lawmakers. Of course, the lawmakers have come out smoking quoting Sections 59, 81 and 82 of the 1999 Constitution as amended as empowering them to tinker with the budget estimate as it is just a mere estimates.
It is in the light of this that the House of Representatives has insisted on increasing the benchmark of the budget from $75 the executive proposed to $80 while the Senate took a middle position and pegged its own benchmark for $78. The trend of the argument can be summarised as follows: In the opinion of the House of Representatives, increasing the benchmark to $80 will reduce the budget deficit and domestic debts by as much as 66 per cent. This decision was reached after the lawmakers had examined the Medium Term Expenditure Framework. However, the executive, particularly the Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is of the opinion that increasing the oil benchmark to $80 will affect Nigeria’s credit rating; make borrowing more expensive; lower down the Foreign Direct Investment; impact negatively on macroeconomic stability as instead of gaining $5 the country will lose $20. Furthermore, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria suggested that rather than raise the oil benchmark, the National Assembly should make the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation perform its role efficiently by checking bunkering and re-negotiating the joint venture agreements. He noted that raising the benchmark will reduce the amount available for savings which is needful given the volatility of oil price in the international market.
To my own mind, both parties are working in the national interest. While the executive is hammering on saving for the rainy day, the legislature is of the view that the rainy day is here already as there is a huge budget deficit and domestic borrowing which an increased oil benchmark will help to reduce considerably. What needs to be done is for both sides to work out an amicable resolution which might as well be the Senate’s $78 or less.
Another controversy plaguing the budget is the amount earmarked for each of the Ministries, Agencies and Department. The President’s budget speech highlighted some key allocations as follows: Works – N183.5bn; Power – N74.26bn; Education – N426.53bn; Health – N279.23bn; Defence – N348.91bn; Police – N319.65bn; and Agriculture and Rural Development – N81.41bn. Even though education, health and security (Ministries of Defence and Police) got the lion share of the 2013 budget, stakeholders in the education and health sectors have criticised the envelope for the two ministries as being too little. The education budget, which is about nine per cent of the total budget, is seen as being a far cry from the UNESCO recommended 26 per cent. The Nigeria Medical Association has similarly condemned the executive for the about six per cent earmarked for the ailing health sector which has made wealthy and not-so-wealthy Nigerians to take solace in medical tourism; an indulgence that makes the country to lose a whooping N81bn ($500million) annually. By far the most condemned sectoral budget for 2013 is that of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture; N81.4bn is seen as paltry. This is in the light of the threat of food shortage which the country will likely face in the heels of the nationwide flooding experienced in the country which has destroyed many farmlands.
There has also been rumpus on the lopsidedness of the share of the recurrent expenditure over capital expenditure as well as the content of the expenditures. President Jonathan had during the budget presentation said thus: “An aggregate expenditure of N4.92tn is proposed for the main budget of the 2013 fiscal year, representing a modest increase of about five per cent over the N4.7tn appropriated for 2012. This is made up of N380.02bn for Statutory Transfers, N591.76bn for Debt Service, N2.41tn for Recurrent (Non-Debt) Expenditure and N1.54tn for Capital Expenditure.” In essence, the share of recurrent spending in aggregate expenditure has been reduced from 71.47 per cent in 2012 to 68.7 per cent in the 2013 Budget, while capital expenditure aggregate share spending was increased from 28.53 per cent in 2012 to 31.3 per cent in 2013. Many analysts, including myself, are of the opinion that much as this step is in the right direction, the imbalance is still too significant. This is so because Nigeria is plagued with a huge infrastructural deficit which needs to be fixed for Nigerians to feel better impact of good governance.
Under the recurrent expenditure, I am amazed at the huge budget of the Presidency and the bulk sum of N150bn allegedly set aside for the National Assembly. According to media reports, “The Federal Government has earmarked the sum of N33, 538, 541. 00 for newspapers and magazines in 2013 fiscal year. Details of the budget…showed that Aso Rock would spend N1,510,196,766 on personnel; N7,476,942,490 on overhead and N8,987,139,260 as recurrent expenditure. In 2013, N7, 476,942 would be spent on local travels, transport and training; N1, 035,319,145 on international travels while N783, 893,950 would be spent on foodstuff and refreshment. Also, N133,175,453 was proposed for purchase and maintenance of generating sets; N19,250,000 on books; N2,879,000,000 on repair and renovation of buildings; N95,890,530 on computer software and N148,105,373 on electricity charges.” This is imprudent and against the letter and spirit of fiscal discretion that the President claimed in his budget speech.
In spite of its many controversies, the President did well by presenting the Appropriation Bill in October as against the tradition of December which invariably necessitates the extension of budget spending till March of the following year. The attempt to mainstream gender-budgeting into the country’s budget is also very commendable. Also praiseworthy are the stimulus packages for investors in solid minerals, aviation, transport and agriculture sectors. The Presidency’s intention of setting aside N100bn sinking fund for the payment of part of the domestic debts as well as the N273.5bn earmarked for SURE-P are also laudable. I sincerely urge the members of the National Assembly to put national interest above self interest and iron out their differences with the executive in a mature and patriotic manner. What’s more, both arms are controlled by the same political party, the PDP. It will be sad, very sad, if this budget is not ready for implementation from January 1, 2013.