Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Reversing the Decay at Abuja National Stadium

There is no gainsaying that Nigerian government and its officials have penchant for waste. The evidence of this abounds in the way we utilize public resources. Public edifices and utilities are often treated with disdain. One of such is our stadia that dot Nigerian landscape. These recreational monuments are built with enormous resources but are hardly maintained after completion. Sport is under the concurrent legislative list hence as there are national stadiums, there are also state owned stadia as well as township sporting arenas. Before the construction of the Abuja National Stadium between 2000 and 2003, there was National Stadium, Lagos which alongside Liberty stadium in Ibadan provided play ground for many international football and other sporting competitions either being hosted by Nigeria or in which the country is participating. Today, these stadia no longer host sporting fiestas but have turned to pepper soup joints where night crawlers now feed their stomachs rather than a place where spectators come to watch beautiful games. The reason for this negative change of fortune for these sporting centers is not far fetch; the facilities there are not being maintained.

I was further grieved on Friday, 16 March 2012 when one of the television stations in Nigeria, African Independent Television (AIT) featured as its ‘Big Story’ the current deplorable situation of our Abuja National Stadium, an architectural masterpiece built at the cost of $360 million in 2003 to enable Nigeria host the 8th All African Games. An internet source, Wikipedia disclose that the state of the art facilities built at the stadium include: 60,000 capacity covered main bowl; Presidential Suite and Viewing Area; 56 Corporate Suites; Modern turnstiles; Box Office; Post offices; Banks; Media Facilities; Two Score Boards and Flood Lights; Shops and Kiosks for Snacks; A standby Power Supply System; Helipad; 3000-capacity Indoor Sports Hall; 2000-capacity Gymnasium; 2000-capacity Swimming Pool; 4000-vehicle capacity public parking lot; One artificial lake; 3000-capacity Hockey Stadium; 400 capacity VIP Car Park. The Abuja Stadium is equipped with emergency service units, closed circuit security cameras as well as crowd control steel fencing. There are also stand-by fire fighting equipments and metal detectors which have been put in place to avoid any misfortunes. A Games Village was also built as an adjunct of the stadium to provide accommodation for the over 6,000 athletes from around the continent who participated at the 2003 Abuja All African Games.

On the AIT ‘Big Story’ the reporter showed footage of a stadium in decay less than 10 years after construction. The stadium has not had light for upward of 6 months! This being the situation, the automated facilities cannot be put to use. The pitches has gone brown because the sprinkler meant to daily wet the stadium grass has no electricity to power it. The toilets are stinking because there is no water to maintain sanitation and hygiene within the stadium complex. With light out, the security of the facilities are compromised as they are susceptible to vandalisation by hoodlums. The facilities are also rusty due to under use as the stadium hardly witness patronage either by athletes or spectators. At a point in time, part of the stadium was being rented out for religious services. All that has stopped. Yet, but for occasional international matches involving Nigerian football teams, the gigantic sporting complex hardly ever see any action all year round.

It is imperative for Nigerian sporting authorities viz. National Sports Commission, Federal Ministry of Sport, Nigeria International Olympic Committee, all the Sporting Associations and Federations to come together to find a lasting solution to the ongoing rot at the Abuja National Stadium and indeed all the stadia in Nigeria. Part of the problem, I learnt, is inadequate subvention to the stadium to enable the managers carry out routine maintenance of the facilities. Something drastic and urgent has to be done to redeem the current appalling situation on ground at the Abuja National Stadium. The stadium can be concessioned out or privatized for better management. It can otherwise be commercialized so that the complex starts to generate resources, at least, to maintain itself. The importance of sport as a unifying factor, money spinner, means of recreation and employment generator cannot be over-emphasized. Sport business is a multi-billion dollar enterprise and Nigeria should tap into that. This architectural masterpiece must not be allowed to go the way of other Nigerian national stadia. A stitch in time saves nine.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Night Travel as Suicide Mission

I could have died on the night of December 15, 2011. I had hoped for a direct flight to Ibadan or an afternoon flight to Lagos en-route Ibadan for the final burial rite of my late mother-in-law. Unfortunately, there was no direct flight from Abuja to the ancient city that fateful day and by the time I got to the airport; the only available flight to Lagos was for 6pm. I grudgingly bought the ticket but there was another hour delay before take- off. Eventually, I got to Lagos around 8pm and by the time I navigated the Lagos traffic to the Ojodu -Berger Motor Park, it was past 9pm. I eventually got on an Ibadan bound vehicle which unknown to me does not have sufficient fuel for the journey and secondly, was not in good condition as it had problem with the carburetor. The vehicle bought black market fuel at Ogere, shortly after, it started to break down. It did that four times on that very dangerous Lagos – Ibadan expressway and each time we have to come down to push the bus to start, right on the highway. I eventually got home at about 1am with a stern warning from my family never to embark on night journey again. I could have been robbed by night marauders during our frequent stops on the highway or hit by oncoming vehicle while we were pushing the vehicle to start, mercifully, none of these happened.

Some eighteen graduate students of Imo State University, Owerri were not as lucky as I was as news report has it that on March 8, 2012, the students who were alleged to be on their way to Taraba State NYSC camp died in a fatal motor accident. It was learnt that they picked up their call-up letters from late and in order to meet the deadline for resumption in camp, they decided to make the journey by night. Same day, in another part of the country, eighteen women aboard a commuter luxury bus were reportedly raped in the wee hours by armed bandits few kilometres from Okene, Kogi State. The victims, comprising single and married women, were among passengers in the ill-fated bus with a Lagos registration number XM 753 AKD, operated by a popular transport company, which was travelling from Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, to Abuja, when the incident occurred at about 2.am.

These are not the only unfortunate incidences of night travel in Nigeria. On August 2, 2011 many newspapers in Nigeria reported how about 50 people died during an armed robbery attack on a luxury bus on the way to Abuja. Daily Sun recounted that, “It was a gory site at the Zariagi end of the Abuja/Okene highway when the residents woke up to behold crushed bodies of over 50 robbery victims. The victims were said to be passengers of an Abuja-bound luxury bus, marked XI 300 ABC, belonging to a popular transport company. They were said to have been waylaid by robbers, who ordered them to lie face down on the highway before they were dispossessed of their belongings. An unsuspecting truck was said to have run over the victims and later escaped the scene of the accident.”

In a similar fashion, on July 31, 2009, no fewer than 20 passengers were crushed on the Sagamu-Benin Expressway by a truck during a robbery operation. According to an account in Vanguard newspaper, “Hours before the 20 victims met their untimely death, two passengers lost their lives in an accident on the Ijebu-Ode/Ore end of the expressway when two vehicles were involved in another accident on Friday night. Sunday Vanguard gathered that in the first accident, involving a passenger luxury bus XF 285 AKD, and a truck XN 808 BEN, happened in the wee hours of Saturday around the Babcock University, Ilisan and Odogbolu areas of the highway. It was learnt that the passenger bus, said to be heading to the Eastern part of the country ran into a gang of armed robbers operating on the expressway with a huge log of wood blocking the expressway.”

These are unfortunate but preventable happenstances. There are uncountable accidents occurring but unreported on daily basis across the country. Nigeria’s road accident figures is said to be awful. It is estimated that 162 out of every 100,000 persons die in road accidents. Globally, Nigeria ranks third, behind China and India in terms of road traffic deaths partly owing to bad roads, but also substantially to weak road safety law enforcement, so revealed The Punch editorial of March 13, 2012. According to the World Health Organization, (WHO), road accidents have become the second greatest cause of death around the world for people aged five to 29, killing over a million people annually and injuring up to 50 million more.

It is not as if there are no advantages with night travel. At night, the roads are freer as the traffic is lighter. It saves time and money for traders, businessmen and other categories of people who want to accomplish much in little time and who cannot afford air travel. For instance, businessmen prefer night travel as it affords them time to travel and sleep at the same time, conduct their businesses during the day and travel and sleep on their way back without having to lodge in any hotel or with friends.

However, in spite of the apparent time and cost saving benefits of night journey, the risks are far too high. Many of the vehicles plying the road at night are not in good shape and because there is less enforcement by vehicle inspection officers, road safety corps or the police, such rickety vehicles ply the road at night unmolested. The roads themselves are in deplorable condition while many drivers’ visibility at night is very poor either due to fog during harmattan, heavy rain or simply due to bad eyesight. These, coupled with inadequate armed police patrol to ward off night marauders; poor illumination of the highways both for motoring and for rescue operation at night and absence of proper road signs make night travel a suicide mission in Nigeria. Should there be a ban on night travel in Nigeria? Human rights activists say it will be an infringement on fundamental right of citizens to free movement. The solution therefore lies in improved road network, proper road signs, adequate police patrol of the highway during the night, proper vehicle maintenance, restful day for night drivers and avoidance of night travel no matter the temptation.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Conducting a Police Free Election in Nigeria

We want to make sure that we conduct election in Nigeria without the police, we want to conduct election without security people carrying guns, we want a situation where Nigerians will queue up, vote and go back home, the votes are counted and nobody is cheated so that at the end of elections, there will not be all kinds of litigations.” –President Goodluck Jonathan in Calabar on 21 February 2012.

Our dear president really means well for our democracy; he is making serious effort at leaving a lasting political legacy for Nigeria. He strives to be a statesman. Last year, he mooted the idea of a single term of six or seven years for president and governors in order to cut the cost of electioneering as well as remove the distraction usually engendered by pursuit of second term. In 2012, he is already eyeing the conduct of elections in Nigeria without the assistance of police and other security agencies. Beautiful, wishing thinking I dare say.

Security has been an issue in Nigerian elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its states counterpart, State Independent Electoral Commissions have had to rely heavily on the police and other security agencies in the conduct of elections. In fact, towards the 2011 polls, INEC had to constitute an Inter Agency Election Security Committee made up of the Commission, the police, State Security Service, Army Navy, Airforce and other relevant agencies in order to secure the environment for peaceful conduct of elections. Even at that, there was still widespread post presidential election violence in many Northern states which claimed over 800 lives.

The situation was so deplorable that the governorship elections scheduled for 26 April 2011 had to be postponed to 28 April in Kaduna and Bauchi State. In January 2012, the governorship election in Adamawa state had to be shifted twice due to security concerns before the poll eventually held on 4 February. Security has so much become pivotal that during general elections all the security agencies as well as para-military outfits such as the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps, Nigerian Prison Service, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Immigration Service and even Man O ‘War cadets are mobilized to provide adequate security during elections. On top of this, there is restriction of movement with the exception of people on essential services or on election duty.

President Goodluck Jonathan is in haste to speed-up our electoral democracy to the level of Americans and other established democracies. I was privileged to witness the US mid-term elections in November 2010. What I observed marveled me. Elections in many states were held for 12 hours usually 7am to 7pm. No restriction of movement. Thus, on your way to and from work or during break you can stroll to your polling unit to cast your vote. There were also no security agents in sight in the places where I observed polling at Washington DC and Maryland.

Though not impossible, the task of conducting election without security agencies in Nigeria is daunting and Herculean. The feasibility of it requires the buy in of all the actors and stakeholders in the electoral process. Top on the list is the willingness of the political parties and candidates to play by the rule. Party executives and candidates are the people who often engage hooligans to disrupt campaigns of opponents and elections. They are also responsible for inciting their supporters to embark on wanton destruction of lives and properties when they lose elections. If election contestants will imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship, then a police-free election will be possible.

Another sine-qua-non to an election without the security agencies is the imperative of reducing the perks of office of political office holders. The access to easy money and unchecked powers of political office holders makes electoral contest very stiff and deadly. Politicians believe in the Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means.’ Due to the lucrative nature of political offices, contestants do everything to outwit and outdo one another. They kill, maim, rig, frustrate, molest and do several other things just to emerge victorious at the polls, knowing full well that it is their ticket to unlimited wealth and influence.

For police free election to happen, the larger security issues have to be effectively tackled. We cannot continue to have ‘Boko Haram’ insurgency and hope to realize police free elections. All ethnic and social violence (armed robbery, kidnapping, etc) have to be reined in before people will have the confidence to participate in an election devoid of security agents.

The 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) also has to be further altered before the president can realize this pet project. Many sections of the Act assigned roles to police and security agents. They are to maintain law and order during campaigns (section 94(1) and effect arrests of anyone trying to compromise the electoral process (sections 59, 61 (2&3); they are also to be given a copy of election result (sections 63 (3) and 74. All the electoral offences highlighted in Part VII of the Act are also expected to be enforced by the police. Given these scenarios, I wish President Jonathan good luck if he still wants to organize a police-free and yet peaceful election?