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.

Overcoming Nigeria’s Development Challenges

A British Development Economist, Dudley Seers (1920 – 1983) gave a simple test on how to determine if a country is developing. He said there are three indicators, rate of poverty, unemployment and inflation. If any two of these three are on the increase, then there is no development. In Nigeria, all the three indicators are on the increase.  There is galloping inflation, high rate of unemployment and grinding poverty. Since 1983 when the regime of former President Shehu Shagari introduced austerity measures, Nigerian masses have gone through a lot of hardship. By the time the military regime of military president Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida introduced structural adjustment (SAP) programme in 1986, things simply went from bad to worse. Many Nigerian workers were thrown out of job under the guise of right-sizing and down-sizing. Nigeria’s currency was also devalued so much so that the exchange rate moved from about $1 to N6 in the late 80s to about $1 to N160 in 2012. The rationale behind our under-development are not far-fetched, they include corruption, mismanagement, rising cost of governance, inconsistent government policies, infrastructural deficit, insecurity, unfair international trade (iniquitous terms of trade), bad leadership, incompetent workforce and many others.

Federal government, in fairness, has been introducing a number of monetary policies and fiscal measures to combat inflation. Also, some initiatives were taken to combat poverty and unemployment. These include the establishment of the now defunct Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructures (DFRRI) meant to open up rural roads and other infrastructures that will stem the tide of rural-urban migration. There was also the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) established by NDE Act 1989 meant to get interested citizens to learn a vocation that will guarantee them self-employment.  The scheme among other things was meant to: Design and implement programmes to combat mass unemployment; Articulate policies aimed at developing work programmes with labour intensive potential; Obtain and maintain a data bank on employment and vacancies in the country with a view to acting as a clearing house to link job seekers with vacancies in collaboration with other government agencies; and Implement any other policy as may be laid down, from time to time, by the Board.

There is also National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) established in 2001 to fight poverty through empowerment of the masses. NAPEP is better known for the introduction of tri-cycles better known as Keke-NAPEP which it sells to interested buyers on credit to enable them participates in transportation business.  In the 2011 budget, President Jonathan earmarked N50 billion for the take off of National Job Creation Scheme. The latest of Nigeria’s government attempt at combating unemployment is the launch of YouWIN.  “YouWiN! stands for Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria. It is an innovative business plan competition aimed at job creation by encouraging and supporting aspiring entrepreneurial youth in Nigeria to develop and execute business ideas. The accomplishments of the 1,200 YouWiN! awardees were celebrated at the Presidential Villa on April 12, 2012”,  so says the website of the project. According to President Jonathan, the federal government hoped to create 80,000-110,000 jobs through the YouWin programme.

Despite all these initiatives, what is the scorecard of Nigeria on these three indicators, that is, inflation, poverty and unemployment? President Goodluck Jonathan in his 2013 budget speech on October 10, 2012 said Nigeria’s inflation rate is 11.7 per cent as at June 2012. According to National Bureau of Statistics, unemployment rate peaked in Nigeria in December 2011 at 23.9 per cent.

The Statistician-General of the Federation and CEO of the NBS, Yemi Kale while presenting the 2010 poverty profile report of the National Bureau of Statistics observed that “Not only is 60.9 per cent of the population living in absolute poverty – living on less than $1 per day and with daily intake of food falling short of the 2,100 calories per person recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation – the outlook for the immediate future is also bleak indeed.”
According to the President during his 2013 budget presentation, “As at the end of the second quarter, the economy recorded an impressive growth of 6.28% compared to 5.4% forecast for sub-Saharan Africa.” True, there has been economic growth in Nigeria but this has not in a significant way transformed to development. What we have is statistical growth which is yet to impact positively on Nigerians as majority of Nigerians are experiencing higher cost of living when what is needed is higher standard of living.

How do we ensure better life for Nigerians? There is no one track way of doing this. Multifarious approaches have to be adopted. Chief among them is the imperative of fighting corruption. There are too many wastefulness and leakages in the system that has not allowed government noble efforts at tackling the challenge of development to manifest. We have heard and seen all manners of probes; from the privatization probe to the power probe and more recently, the fuel subsidy probe. The question on the lips of many Nigerians is: How come none of the identified embezzlers and fraudulent people has been successfully prosecuted? More often than not, when charged to court, there is lack of diligent prosecution on the part of government while courts also granted these enemies of Nigeria bail and thereafter give long adjournments. Many of the bank managers who were charged to court for running their banks aground are still walking free more than three years after.

We cannot overcome our development challenges without first solving the energy problem that the nation has had to live with for more than 52 years. Nigeria cannot be transformed on mere 4,300 megawatts of electricity when less endowed countries like Ghana and South Africa are generating, transmitting and distributing tens of thousand electricity. For instance, South Africa, a nation of about 40 million people allegedly generates 40,000 MW of electricity while Nigeria, the giant of Africa generates and celebrates a little over 4,000 MW. What a shame! Affordable and seamless supply of petroleum products is also needful. Nigeria needs to fix the rot in the energy sector so that small and medium enterprises can thrive.

There is also the need to diversify Nigeria’s economic base.  Right now, Nigeria is more or less a mono-culture economy with over 80 per cent of her income coming from oil and gas. If the three tiers of government will take agriculture and solid mineral serious, millions of jobs could be created through these gestures. Cheap credit facilities and tax holidays will help to encourage people to become self employed. School curricula also need to change. There is need to mainstream vocational studies into our school curricula as well as the National Youth Service Scheme. This will assist young people to become employer of labour as they would have acquired practical skills that they can live on. Infrastructures such as roads, hospitals, potable water, schools and sporting facilities also need to be fixed. If we take the business of sports serious, this can generate thousands of gainful employment. We also need to deal a fatal blow on insecurity. Terrorism (bombing, kidnapping and robbery) is inimical to national development. There is need to sanitise Nigeria of these malaise so that conducive environment can be created for people to engage in legitimate and profitable business. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Abuja’s unending mass housing demolitions

I have been living in Abuja for about a decade now and sometimes, I wonder what the attraction is that makes people to covet living in the city. The hassles are just too many for one’s liking. The cost of living is astronomic and makes mincemeat of the salary being paid workers in the city. Of all the stress residents of the city face, housing is number one. House rent is unimaginable. Likewise, the cost of buying landed property. A plot of land in Abuja municipal is in hundreds of millions of naira while in the satellite towns such as Gwarinpa, Kubwa, Kuje, Gwagwalada and Karu, it costs a few millions of naira. When the cost of land is added to the high cost of building materials, it therefore goes without saying that the cost of rent will not be cheap.  Ironically, most of the houses in Abuja are said to be owned by, wait for it, public servants!
Since the Federal Government backed out of provision of mass housing for the populace and had to even sell off the ones it built after the introduction of the monetisation policy under the former President Olusegun Obasanjo regime, the issue of mass housing has largely been left in the hands of private estate developers and individuals.  Indeed, many have tried to own houses in Abuja by investing in various housing schemes. Unfortunately, many, including this writer, have got their fingers burnt. In 2005, shortly before Mallam Nasir el-Rufai commenced mass demolition of houses along the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport Road, I was a proud owner of a plot of land. No sooner had I paid for the land than notices were served that Abuja Development Control Department was coming to bulldoze about seven estates along the Airport Road, namely, Chika, Piakassa, Karamajiji, Aleita, Kuchingoro, and Puwei, among others.  I quickly relocated to a safer area but lo and behold, when the bulldozers came rolling, thousands of houses and corner shops were demolished in an unprecedented manner. No area was spared; be it Abuja Municipal or satellite towns. Both the ‘illegal’ buildings of the rich and the poor were affected.
Since the exit of el-Rufai, there has been several FCT ministers but no other has embarked on mass housing demolition on his scale and magnitude. However, the present FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, seems to be toeing the line of el-Rufai with the recent demolition of houses in Kagini, Mpape District and another 296 buildings at Kyami District along the Airport Road. These renewed mass housing demolitions which have been protested by the victims are being expanded in scale and scope as about 40 of such mass housing have been penciled down for demolition by the Development Control Department of the Federal Capital Territory Authority. The names of the affected estates were reeled out on Political Platform, a daily magazine programme on Raypower 100.5FM on October 18, 2012.
On October 17 and 22, I listened with rapt attention to Mr. Hamza Madaki, the Deputy Director, Development Control Unit of FCTA on the same programme as he defended the demolitions.  While speaking at the Senate Committee on FCT meeting with the representatives of the developers and the FCTA on October 18, the Deputy Director at the Development Control Office said that the buildings were located on fake layouts and sold to citizens with forged documents. He said, “We were not expecting any development in those places at all because there was an ongoing re-planning of those areas. But what we are seeing is that fraudsters are involved in forging documents and backdating building plans and selling such to unsuspecting Nigerians.” He observed further that although the developers claimed to have got the allocations from the Abuja Municipal Area Council, the falsity of the claims was exposed by the absence of any such allocations in the systems of AMAC.
All of these claims were debunked by the estate developers who said they carried out a thorough search at Abuja Geographic Information Service centre and got the necessary title documents before they commenced building. They also pooh-poohed the claim by the Development Control that they were served any notice to stop work and quit site. They further asked for the rationale behind the demolition on a weekend preceding the October 2 meeting date between the two parties and the Senate Committee on FCT. The demolition of the set of buildings was carried out from September 29 to October 1, 2012. The developers claimed to have lost about N3bn to the exercise while individual contributors’ loss was put at an average of N4.5m each. The news that all the estates on the Airport Road with the exception of the Federal Housing Authority Estate, Lugbe and the Malaysian Garden along OSEX will be demolished has unsettled many property owners on that area. Mercifully, reprieve came the way of the subscribers and the developers as the Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory has asked the FCTA to suspend its plan to continue the demolition of the 37 estates said to be constructed on illegally acquired plots pending the outcome of its investigation into the matter.
The questions being asked by the worried public are: Will there ever be an end to these mass housing demolitions? In view of the mass housing deficit in Abuja and many places in Nigeria, is demolition the only option available to address urban renewal and reclaim of master-plan? Why did the FCTA not resort to judicial process by getting a valid court order to carry out the demolitions? Could it be true that the land in dispute was meant for members of the National Assembly?
The President of the Nigerian Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, Mr. Bode Adediji, in July 2011 put the conservative estimate of housing deficit in Nigeria at 16 million. To my own mind, demolition of purported illegal structures is not the only way to deal with the issue of restoration of Abuja Masterplan. First and foremost, the full weight of the law should be made to bear on anyone building illegal structures on government land. The FCTA needs not wait till a house is completed before demolition. There should be massive public enlightenment on how and where to get genuine lands to buy in Abuja and indeed anywhere in Nigeria. The FCTA also needs to fish out some members of its staff and other racketeers selling forged and fake land title documents to unwary and naïve individuals and private developers and prosecute them. Some estate developers are dubious no doubt; but the fate of innocent subscribers must be considered. Therefore, for those whose houses were demolished, cheaper and authentic lands should be made available to them while those whose estates have yet to be demolished should be considered for integration even if they have to pay additional cost for the land. All tiers of government, federal, state and local, should invest heavily in mass housing which can be sold at a subsidised rate to interested members of the public. This is the only way house rent can be made cheaper for the poor. Shelter right is a basic human right.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Memo to Nigeria Lawmakers on Constitution Review

Effort at further alteration of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria gathered momentum last week when the Senate Committee on Constitution Review held a two day public hearing at the International Conference Centre Abuja on October 11 and 12. Though not physically at the venue of the public hearing, I have in the last two weeks participated in two strategy sessions and dialogues on constitutional review. The first, held on October 4, had as its theme “Entrenching Democratic Local Governance in the Constitution Review Process”. It was organized by Centre for Democracy and Development and chaired by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais (Retd). The session reviewed the key challenges to effective and democratic local government system and charted constitutional reforms needed to strengthen local government in Nigeria. These include proposed amendments that will guarantee autonomy; accountability and transparency as well as citizens’ participation in local governance.

I was also privileged to be a panelist at the two day national youth conference on constitution review held on October 11 and 12 and organized by about 30 youth groups under the umbrella of Youth Alliance on Constitution Review (YACOR).  The theme of the conference was “The Nigerian Constitution: Our Right, Our Future”   I was amazed at the large turnout of participants mostly youths from all over Nigeria who have to sponsor themselves to the confab. At the roundtable, the youths articulated their issues which they want the National Assembly constitution review committees to look into. These include: Proper definition of youth as someone between the ages of 18 – 35 as stated in the National Youth Policy and Africa Youth Charter; Establishment of full franchise by removing or reducing the age criteria for contesting election; Enforcement of Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended); and mainstreaming of Independent Candidacy and Proportional representation in the democratic process.
Let me say from the outset that having been involved in the area of constitutional reform since 2005 National Political Reform Conference; my candid view is that we should stop wasting time and resources tinkering with the current constitution. We should rather use the 1999 Constitution as a working document and rewrite completely a new constitution using a process-led, inclusive and participatory approach. This new constitution should be subjected to a referendum before its final adoption. There are just too many areas people are demanding for change that if all were to be granted we would be better off rewriting the whole document. My advice is that President Jonathan can appoint a handful of experts and regional political, religious and traditional leaders to join the 469 members of the national assembly to write a new constitution for Nigeria; after all, Kenya just did in 2010. We should stop dodging this inevitable demand. If we fail to come to terms with this reality, we would be a nation of perpetual reformer. As it is, the current effort is the fourth in the last two years with the first two carried out in 2010 focusing on electoral reform, financial independence for the legislature and provision for vice president and deputy governor to assume power in the absence of the president and governor. The third, carried out, early 2011 was to empower National Industrial Court as a court of superior record.
 Be that as it may, if that advice will not be heeded and given that the alteration exercise has commenced, I hereby write to make my own input into the on-going review exercise. As a development advocate and someone who has been working in the area of election for more than a decade, my natural bias is for electoral reform which happens to be one of the nineteen areas highlighted by the senate committee on constitution review.   
News report has it that Senate Committee on Constitution Review has received 240 memoranda on wide range of issues such as devolution of powers, fiscal federalism, concept of federating units, citizenship and indigeneship, system of local government administration, judicial reforms, tenure of office of the executive, immunity clause and constitutional role for traditional rulers. Others are state creation, rotation of office of executive office holders, boundary adjustment, recognition of the six geopolitical zones in the constitution, state police, mayoral status for Abuja, FCT and further fine-tuning of the electoral system as well as extraction of the Land Use Act, NYSC Act and Code of Conduct Act from the Constitution.
Most media report on the public hearing said the dominant issues were state creation and devolution of power. I want to state unequivocally that there seems to be an orchestrated attempt to treat issues relating to electoral reform secondary and of no major value since the 2010 effort was largely devoted to the same issue. However, failure to give electoral reform prime attention may have dire consequences especially as we hope to consolidate on the success of 2011 General Elections and deepen democracy. Some of the major issues needing urgent attention are as follows: Political system; voting rights; election dispute resolution; political party reform; unbundling of the Independent National Electoral Commission; part-time legislature, etc.
Regarding political system, there is a raging debate that because the presidential system we adopted in 1979 is rather too expensive and unwieldy we should return to parliamentary system of government practiced in the First Republic. There has also been strident call for the expansion of voting rights of Nigerians. Nigerians in Diaspora has been making submissions at several public hearings on constitution review for them to be integrated into the electoral process. They want to vote in their countries of residence. In sincerity, many African countries less endowed than Nigeria guarantees external voting and given the enormous contributions this segment of Nigerians played in the economy through their annual remittances to their folks back home as well as their many charity works around the country, they deserve to be allowed to exercise their franchise at elections. Other excluded groups that need to be considered for voting at elections are persons on election duties such as the election officials, observers,  journalists and security personnel on election duty, etc. This is possible if our constitution guarantees early voting. This is practiced in neighbouring Ghana. Voting by proxy as well as voting rights of prisoners especially those not on death-rows ought to also be guaranteed.
  On election dispute resolution, while the introduction of timelines for resolving election petition is good, an amendment is sought to allow 60 days meant for appeals to start counting from the time of filing the appeal rather than from the date of judgment of the tribunal as presently obtained. Some reforms are also canvassed for political parties. Political analysts are of the opinion that we need not have only national parties. Regional, state and local parties should be registered as was the situation in the First Republic. More so, there should be a strict condition for political parties to be on the ballot. Currently, all registered political parties are put on the ballot in as much as they are fielding a candidate. Electoral Reform Committee led by Hon. Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais also recommended the un-bundling of INEC by relieving the election management bodies of certain functions such as registration of political parties as well as prosecution of electoral offences. Actually, ERC recommended the establishment of Political Party Registration and Regulatory Commission as obtained in Sierra Leone; Electoral Offences Commission to prosecute electoral offences as well as Centre for Democratic Studies. Federal government in May 2012 had already given a nod to the establishment of EOC; this duty will have to be removed from INEC.
There is also the issue of State Independent Electoral Commission. While some are calling for the scrapping of the Commission, I am of the opinion that it can be strengthened by ensuring that funding of SIECs are put on the first line charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund just like INEC. Non-conduct of Local Government elections should also be criminalized. Tangentially related is the call for part-time legislature who should be paid only sitting allowances. The rationale behind this is that they only sit for a minimum of 181 days (Section 63 of the 1999 Constitution). These are some of the reforms being proposed in the area of election.
From experience, the executive, particularly the governors hold the ace on what get altered in the constitution eventually.  This is because they wield a lot of influence on their state’s House of Assembly. All interest groups wanting their issues to be taken care of in the amendment should therefore learn to lobby them individually and at their Forum level.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

God, Save Our Souls

God, please save our souls in Nigeria. The parlous state of the nation’s health sector needs divine intervention. I came to this conclusion when I reflected on the health care delivery system of my native land. For crying out loud, how on earth can we have a government in place and life will become this short, brutish and nasty? For decades, we have been kicking out polio and rolling back malaria without any significant success. These are preventable and curable diseases. Our maternal mortality and infant mortality are scary, second to none in Africa. Fifty two years after Independence, my compatriots still die of cholera, diarrhea, typhoid fever, pneumonia and other such minor ailments that can be treated by paramedics in other climes. If this is not shameful, I think nothing again can embarrass us.
During the October 1 Independence Day speech, President Goodluck Jonathan only made two bland statements on the state of Nigeria’s health care delivery. He said, “In the last two years, we have put in place structures for an upgrade of the country’s health sector, to promote in every respect, the individual citizen’s right to quality, affordable and accessible healthcare. In this regard, we are devoting resources under the Subsidy Reinvestment Program to reducing malaria incidents, dramatically reducing maternal and child mortality, and eradicating polio.” What do these sentences connote? To me, these are broad, general statements that lack specifics; no milestones, no benchmarks. While President Jonathan may not be forthcoming with details of his efforts in the health sector, his Minister of State for Health, Dr. Mohammed Ali Pate, disclosed on Monday, June 25, 2012 in Lagos at the inaugural private health sector summit that the country loses $500m or N81bn yearly to other countries under medical tourism as Nigerians seek solutions to their medical challenges abroad. This is preposterous! Just imagine what that kind of humongous sums of money can do if spent on improving our deplorable health sector.
Since the 1990s when government promised Health for All by 2000, later shifted to Vision 2010 and now Vision 2020, none of these plans has been realised. It is just three years to 2015 when we are supposed to meet the health-related Millennium Development Goals 4, 5 and 6, that is; Reduce by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate; Improve Maternal Health by reducing by three-quarter the maternal mortality ratio and achieve universal access to reproductive health; and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases hoping that in the magic year 2015 we would have halted the spread of HIV/AIDS and malaria as well as achieved by 2010 universal access for treatment of HIV/AIDS. Where is Nigeria on these indicators?
According to the World Bank, Nigeria has infant mortality rate of 78 deaths per 1,000 live births (2011 estimates). It must be stated that this is a slight improvement from the 89 per 1,000 live births in 2007. Nigeria contributes the second largest maternal deaths in the world after India. India and Nigeria are said to account for a third of global maternal deaths, with India at 19 per cent (56,000) and Nigeria at 14 per cent (40,000).
While speaking on Channels Television News at 10 on Sunday, October 7, 2012, President of Nigeria Medical Association, Dr Osahon Enabulele, highlighted some of the challenges facing Nigeria’s health sector as follows: Poor political commitment to health; poor funding of the health sector; health policy not being part of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy recognized by Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as well as not being part of the fundamental human rights itemised in Chapter IV of the constitution; lack of a National Health Act; and poor staffing, among others. A 2012 BGL report on Nigeria healthcare system is said to have identified infrastructure decay, brain drain, incessant workers’ strikes and low investment in the sector as being major issues with healthcare services in Nigeria.
Additionally, and in my own view, the country also faces the problem of quackery or unqualified medical personnel; corruption; fake, expired and adulterated drugs; wrong diagnosis of ailments by some laboratory technicians and doctors; lack of adequate enforcement of laws guiding medical practice by the regulators such as National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Nigeria Medical Association, Federal and State Ministries of Health as well as Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria. The National Health Insurance Scheme conceived to provide medical coverage for users under the scheme is alleged to have only a paltry five million enrolled patients out of a potential estimated 170 million population.
Where do all of these challenges leave Nigerians? It has left us at the mercy of alternative medical practitioners such as herbalists, witch-doctors, quacks and fake spiritualists who masquerade as prophets or alfas. A visit to rural communities will reveal that many inhabitants of these towns and villages patronise these merchants of deaths. Any wonder thousands of people die like fowls from preventable and treatable diseases?
Pate disclosed that the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Health, has set up a Private Sector Roundtable on Health in Nigeria charged with the task of “a rapid diagnostic of the private health sector” in order to curb the nation’s capital loss to medical tourism. The Tony Elumelu-led Ministerial Committee on the Private Sector Healthcare Initiative hopes to come up with strategies, and a road map for the unlocking of private sector entrepreneurship in Nigeria’s health sector. The goals, we are told, is to have at least one world-class private sector hospital in each geo-political zone, in order to drastically reduce the exodus amongst health care professionals and citizens and curtail the capital flight through medical tourism. Much as it is a good idea to partner the private sector to play a pivotal role in health care delivery in Nigeria, we must not lose sight of the fact that health is a social service which needs to be made affordable and accessible to the needy. If left in the hands of the private sector that is in business to make profit, the issue of affordability will be compromised.
Government needs to tackle the problem of the health sector holistically through law and administrative reforms, proper funding, staffing, equipping, welfare and implementation of health laws and regulations. It is high time we also place premium on preventive medicine by embarking on civic education of the citizenry on how to live healthy lifestyle. Environmental health officers (popularly called Wole-wole in Yorubaland) are essential to this process of enlightenment and enforcement of environmental hygiene.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

President Jonathan’s Independence Day speech

Listening to President Goodluck Jonathan on October 1, 2012, one cannot but sympathise with him as he laboured to reel out the achievements of his administration since assuming office on May 6, 2010. The aspect of his speech which caught my attention most is that of the economy. Mr. President gave what is tantamount to a scorecard but failed to dwell on the specific milestones that have been achieved by his administration.

According to him, “Over the past five years, the global economy has been going through a weak and uncertain recovery. During the same period, and particularly in the last two years, the Nigerian economy has done appreciably well despite the global financial crisis. Nigeria’s real Gross Domestic Product has grown by 7.1 per cent on average. It is also significant that the GDP growth has been driven largely by the non-oil sector.” Yes, there has been growth but this has not translated into development.

The President also said the country’s power supply situation is improving gradually and that his administration is successfully implementing a well-integrated power sector reforms programme which includes institutional arrangements to facilitate and strengthen private-sector-led power generation, transmission and distribution. How many megawatts are we producing now, Mr. President? In my own area of Abuja, there has not been significant power improvement as we only get light on alternate days. President Jonathan also said his administration had put in place a cost-reflective tariff structure that reduces the cost of power for a majority of electricity consumers. This is untrue as electricity consumers now pay through their nose for the little light supplied. Prepaid meter is unavailable and where it is, approximately N40, 000 is paid to secure one. Though the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission has asked Nigerians not to pay for the prepaid meters, a dubious N500 is charged monthly whether the consumer uses light or not. For those still using the analogue meter, crazy bills is the order of the day as no meter reading takes place while estimated bills are issued.

The President went on to talk about crude oil production, a 12-month emergency gas supply plan, the Petroleum Industry Bill as well as several government programmes and projects aimed at creating wealth and millions of job opportunities for our youths and the general population. He said such programmes include: You-Win, both for the youths and women, Public Works, the Local Content Initiative in the Oil and Gas Sector, and the Agricultural Transformation programme. Can we have an estimated number of people who have so far been employed under each of these initiatives?

The President went further to say that, “Our Investment Climate Reform Programme has helped to attract over N6.8tn local and foreign direct investment commitments. Nigeria has become the preferred destination for investment in Africa. It is ranked first in the top five host economies for Foreign Direct Investment in Africa, accounting for over 20 per cent of total FDI flows into the continent.” Really? He went on to say that his government has streamlined bureaucratic activities at the ports to ensure greater efficiency in the handling of ports and port-related businesses. “Specifically, we have drastically reduced the goods clearing period in our ports from about six weeks to about one week and under. We have an ultimate target of 48 hours. We have put in place, a new visa policy that makes it easier for legitimate investors to receive long stay visas. We have achieved a 24-hour timeline for registration of new businesses, leading to the registration of close to 7, 000 companies within the second quarter of 2012.” Good efforts and great achievements if these claims are true. However, how sustainable are these reforms? Will it be a flash in the pan or an enduring change?

The President said the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria had disclosed that, as of July 2012, 249 new members across the country had joined the body, and that capacity utilisation had also improved. True, but how many businesses folded up in the same period? Has the cost of doing business in Nigeria reduced?

President Jonathan will have us believe that he is focused on the issue of security and the fight against corruption by putting an end to several decades of endemic graft associated with fertiliser and tractor procurement and distribution; exposure of decades of scam in the management of pensions and fuel subsidy, and that in its latest report, Transparency International noted that Nigeria is the second most improved country in the effort to curb corruption. The veracity of these claims cannot be empirically established. In fact, Premium Times, an online news portal, claimed in its publication on October 1 that Transparency International has debunked the President’s claim and that TI’s last year’s ranking put Nigeria at 143 among 183 countries on transparency perceptions index. Yes, there were several probes and symbolic fight against corruption, however, many of the culprits have yet to be successfully prosecuted and there is nothing to show that corruption has ceased to be a way of life in Nigeria. Where some of the culprits are charged to court, there has either been a lack of diligent prosecution or long adjournments.

It will be uncharitable of me to say that the present administration has not achieved any success in the area of the economy, however, the positive impact of many of the initiated reforms have yet to be felt by a majority of Nigerians. I doubt if any sincere compatriot will agree with the President that we are safer now than when he assumed office in 2010. What with the rampaging kidnappers, robbers, and bombers who have succeeded in making peace a scarce commodity in Nigeria. Do I even need to recall that the President, for the second year running, was confined to the forecourt of the Presidential Villa for the Independence anniversary celebrations ostensibly out of fear of Boko Haram. Even the reform in the energy sector has yielded little or no success. As I write this, fuel queues are now a daily occurrence in major towns and cities while unemployment, poverty, and inflation ravage the land leading to high cost of living rather than high standard of living for a majority of Nigerian masses. Curiously, and surprisingly too, the President made no mention of new roads, hospitals, schools, and other needful infrastructure he has put in place, only to indulge in unimpressive platitudes. Yet, in the last 12 months, his government had, on a weekly basis, turned the Federal Executive Council into a contract awards meeting.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Nigeria’s Economy 52 Years after Independence

As Nigeria marks 52 years of independence from colonial rule on October 1, 2012, a reflection on the state of the nation will show that it has been a mixed grill for the most populous black nation on earth. Opinions are divided on how much progress has been made in the area of the economy and indeed the financial sector. However, there is a near unanimity of view that the country is not where it should be in terms of national development. Yes indeed, we have made progress but not an appreciable one considering where contemporary third world nations like Brazil, South Africa, India, Malaysia and Singapore are.

Nigeria is lucky to remain united in spite of many centrifugal forces pulling it apart.  Nigeria since independence has launched many development plans and articulated a number of visions such as Vision 2000, 2010 and now 2020.  Unfortunately, the country hasn’t got much to show in terms of real development. There is still a lot of infrastructural deficit while unemployment is at its peak, education is in the doldrums while corruption thrives, therefore dwarfing all government effort at nation-building.

In the financial sector, particularly the banking sub-sector,  the crises in that axis which exploded in 2008 are  yet to be over. If another stress test is conducted on the existing banks some of them are likely to go under as the harsh economic environment has not been helpful to our banking industry. Just few days back AMCON and CBN have to release a list of bank debtors who should not be given any further loan. If bank customers are not paying back their debts, how will the banking system survive? Yet it is not altogether the fault of the customers, many of them are being owed billions by various governments, federal and states especially. Many government contractors are not paid years after completion of their awarded contracts. Bank interest rates is also very unfriendly as it is usually in two digits, this in itself has made bank loans a debt-trap.

There are also too many reforms being pursued by the regulators of the banking industry at the same time, CBN, AMCON and NDIC kept churning out reforms that are in most cases ill-digested. The case in point is the attempt by CBN to restructure the country’s currencies and introduce additional denominations of coins as well as N5, 000 notes. This in my opinion is antithetical to the cashless policy introduced last year. Thank God the policy has been suspended. Even the cashless policy of CBN has not been fully embraced in Lagos where it is being piloted. It is also noteworthy that Nigeria is gradually sliding into debt-trap it exited few years ago.

On the whole, much as one can say we have made some progress in the area of economy in the last 52 years, corruption, insecurity, and  bad management have combined to  rob majority of Nigerians of high standard of living, rather we have been inflicted with high cost of living with greater poverty, unemployment and inflation to show for it.