Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Vote buying: Nigeria’s worst kept secret

“PDP, APC primaries: Dollar, Naira rain for delegates” was the screaming headline on the front page of Saturday Punch of December 13, 2014. In the elucidating new story, the newspaper reporters across the country gave graphic details of how party delegates that voted in the 2014 political party primaries were heavily induced with money to influence their choice of candidates.   According to the newspaper, amount ranging from N100,000 to $7,000 were shared out to some of the delegates. It reported that “The delegates that participated in the just concluded primaries of the ruling People’s Democratic Party and the opposition All Progressives Congress across the country have been laughing to the bank following the huge amount of money some aspirants reportedly paid to them.”

The newspaper reported that the aspirants sent some of the money to the delegates through the leaders of their parties and that apart from the money, incentives such as promise of automatic employment, among others, were also deployed in wooing the delegates. It further stated that its investigation revealed that “It was celebration in Kwara State as delegates to the APC presidential primary got $7,000 each.” It revealed further that “The 800 delegates that participated in all the PDP primaries in Cross River State raked in over N500,000 each.”  The news medium also asserted that “The PDP in Akwa Ibom State was said to have paid each of its delegates N1m.” While the Adamawa State Governor, Mr. Bala Ngillari, promised the 678 PDP delegates in the state automatic employment if voted as the party’s flag bearer for the governorship election in 2015. This promissory note seem unconvincing to the delegates as he lost the ticket.

If Nigerian politicians are spending this kind of humongous amount to get their party’s ticket, having previously spent millions of Naira purchasing their Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms, it is better imagined how much they would have spent in total by the time of general elections in February 2015. The story does not end there, some of them will still spend mind boggling sums of money at the election petition tribunals to retrieve or defend their mandate.

The implications of monetized politics are very grave. It leads to political corruption. These resources being deployed to winning elections are in many instances loans, proceeds from sales of assets of the political contestants, sponsorship from political godfathers, etc.  In short, they are high stake political investments meant to yield multifold financial and other benefiting returns. A former Senate President in Nigeria openly admitted that much in a newspaper interview that some of them have to sell off their possessions to contest elections with a hope of recouping their investment when they assume power. This heavy political investment is partly responsible for resort to violence by political aspirants and candidates. The stakes are far too high that Nigerian politician do not want to brook failure hence they are willing to deploy both fair and foul means including bribery and violence to capture power. After all, Niccolo Machiavelli in his masterpiece book, “The Prince” did say that the end justifies the means.

By the time they assume power and in a bid to recover their investment they think less of development but more of self-aggrandizement. They embark on looting of public till. While that goes on, citizens’ welfare, developmental projects and general good governance takes backseat. Such is the sad narrative of Nigeria’s and indeed Africa’s politics of underdevelopment.

It is not as if the laws are not there to curb and control the corrosive use of money in politics, however, they are observed in breach. Not only did the law prescribe how to raise money for politicking or campaigning it also highlights permissible and non-permissible expenditure including placing a cap on how much a candidate is supposed to spend in contesting for a particular office. Indeed, Section 124 of the Electoral Act 2014 criminalizes vote buying and spell out penalties which include fines of N500,000 and or 12 months  jail term. Even the code of conduct for political parties (2013) forbids  political parties and their agents from engaging in corrupt practices including buying votes  or offering any bribe, gift, reward, gratification, or any other monetary or material consideration of allurement to voters and electoral officials. It also prohibits offering any form of inducement to a person to stand or not to stand as a candidate or to withdraw his or her candidature.

It behooves political parties to assist in sanitizing the electoral environment. If they will not enforce their own codes on vote buying then they should realize they’re doing a great disservice to national development. Likewise, the Independent National Electoral Commission owes it a duty to enforce all campaign finance and indeed political finance laws and regulations, failure of which such electoral outcomes cannot be said to be free, fair or credible. .

Jide is the Executive Director, OJA Development Consult, Abuja


Nigeria: 2014 in retrospect

It’s the last day of 2014 and preparations are in top gear as Nigerians join the rest of the world to usher in the New Year 2015. Quite interestingly, it won’t come simultaneously as places like Australia and New Zealand that are hours ahead of the rest of the world would be the first to have a taste of the New Year. While New Zealand is some 12 hours ahead of Nigeria, Australia is +10 hours ahead of us. Well, it’s been a year of mixed grill in Nigeria. Whichever sector one picks to analyse, it’s a guarantee to find three things – the good, the bad and the ugly.
The year opened with celebrations for Nigeria. We rolled out the drums and celebrated our centenary anniversary with pomp and pageantry. There were symposia, home and abroad, on the 100th anniversary of Nigeria’s amalgamation. There were photo exhibitions, gala and award nights where 100 eminent Nigerians were honoured, there was the N100 commemorative note and in Abuja, a Centenary Estate is being built in remembrance of the epochal event. Indeed, it was one of Nigeria’s finest moments.
In sport, the Super Eagles may not have qualified for the African Cup of Nations coming up in January 2015 in Equatorial Guinea, however, our ladies did us proud. The Super Falcons in October won the African Women Championship for a record seventh time by beating their perpetual rival, the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon 2-0 in the final played in Namibia. At the 20th Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2014, Team Nigeria won a total of 36 medals, comprising 11 gold, 11 silver and 14 bronze, to emerge eighth on the overall medals’ table and second best among the Commonwealth countries in Africa, after South Africa.
In 2014, Blessing Okagbare remained Nigeria’s queen of track and field. She shone like a million stars in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. She won in both the 100m and 200m events in which she participated. At the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, China, Okagbare won in both the 200m as well as the Long Jump. She’s indeed a blessing to Nigerian sports. On August 20, the headquarters of the Nigerian Football Federation in Abuja were razed by suspected arsonists just as leadership crisis rocked the football house for the better part of the outgoing year though Nigeria managed to avoid FIFA ban.
In the education sector, it’s another mixed grill as the country is still plagued with ceaseless industrial crises. Polytechnics and Colleges of Education academic unions were on strike for months while teachers in Unity Schools also embarked on industrial actions over welfare matters. Perpetual attacks carried out by the insurgent group, Boko Haram, on schools particularly in North-Eastern Nigeria, especially the kidnapping of over 200 girls in Chibok, Borno State on April 14 gave birth to the worldwide campaign for the release of the girls under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. This also led to the launch of the Safe School Initiative by the Federal Government.
It is noteworthy that the relentless attacks on schools by the insurgents have weakened the attainment of the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals for Nigeria as many parents are afraid to enroll their children and wards in schools. Though poor funding is one of the major challenges faced by Nigeria’s education sector given the less than 10 per cent of national budget earmarked for the sector, ironically, a large pool of unaccessed funds from two main interventionist agencies remains a source of concern.
The Universal Basic Education Commission was set up to assist with the goal of free and compulsory basic education through provision of funding support. Quite unfortunately, over N44bn is lying fallow, unclaimed by benefiting states that have simply refused to comply with basic accessing requirement which is the provision of matching grants or counterpart funds by the benefiting states. The same obtains at the tertiary education level. The Federal Government established the Tertiary Education Trust Fund formerly known as the Education Tax Fund to provide some financial succour to colleges of education, polytechnics and universities (federal and states). Unfortunately, in the outgoing year, an estimated N60bn has not been accessed by the benefiting tertiary institutions who have not complied with basic requirements for drawing such funds. In the year under review, an uninspiring 30 per cent of students who sat for the November/December West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination passed with five credits; a mere one per cent improvement on last year’s performance.
The bitter-sweet story of Nigeria’s health sector is that the country faced and overcame an epidemic of gargantuan proportion when an infamous Liberian-American named Patrick Sawyer imported Ebola Virus Disease into the country on July 20, 2014. Within 93 days, Nigeria successfully contained the virus. In the end, the country confirmed a total of 19 cases, of whom seven died and 12 survived, giving the country an enviable case fatality rate of 40 per cent–much lower than the 70 per cent and higher seen elsewhere . As noted by Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO Director-General, “If a country like Nigeria, hampered by serious security problems, can do this – that is, make significant progress towards interrupting polio transmission, eradicate guinea-worm disease and contain Ebola, all at the same time – any country in the world experiencing an imported case can hold onward transmission to just a handful of cases.”
Another heartwarming news from the health sector is the signing into law of the National Health Bill on December 9, 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan. Some of the accruing benefits of the new Act include the provision of free basic health care services for children under age five, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with disabilities. On the flip side however, the sector is still crisis-ridden. As of the time Nigeria was fighting to contain the EVD, Nigerian doctors were on strike. Weeks after suspending their industrial action, other federal health workers took over and have since remained on a work-to-rule as I write. We still face issues of under-staffing, misdiagnosis and fake and contaminated drugs to mention a few.
The Nigerian economy remains in the doldrums with the Federal Government having to roll out austerity measures owing largely to dwindling crude oil revenues from the international market. There are still huge infrastructural deficits with the much touted power sector reforms offering little or no comfort even as the country peaks at production of about 4,600MW of electricity, much of which is wasted due to weak transmission lines. The sector is also plagued with lack of gas to power the turbines, pipeline vandalism, corruption and incompetence. On the whole, Nigerians are worse off economically in 2014 than they were in previous years as the federal and some state governments are owing backlog of worker’s salaries and the costs of doing business in the country remains exorbitant.
As the country prepares for the fifth general elections in this Fourth Republic, a large cloud of doubt envelops it going by the bestial attitude of the political class. The party primaries held last month through December leave much to be desired. All manner of sharp-practices and malpractices were recorded. Violence, manipulation, imposition of candidates, over-voting, and general lack of internal democracy were the hallmark of the nomination process. The Independent National Electoral Commission also needs to redouble its effort to enhance the confidence of the electorates as its level of preparations for the next polls is at present dissatisfactory. By far the ugliest development in 2014 is the heightened state of insecurity as the country has lost some territories to Boko Haram leaving over three million Nigerians as Internally Displaced Persons.
All the same, I wish you all Happy New Year!
  • Follow me on twitter: @jideojong

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Importance of the National Health Act

I am happy, very excited, not about tomorrow’s Christmas shindig but about the new National Health Bill which President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law on December 9, 2014. Health, they say, is wealth and a healthy nation is a wealthy nation. For those familiar with the “Israelite journey” of the bill at the National Assembly, its signing into law is a worthy Christmas gift from Mr. President to Nigerians. This is the second time the National Assembly will pass the bill as President Jonathan withheld assent when it was first passed, necessitating another legislative review of the all-important bill. All is well that ends well and I add my voice to hundreds of others who have appreciated the President for this wonderful act.
What actually is the health Act all about? The Act, experts say, seeks to provide a framework for the regulation, development and management of a National Health system and set standards for rendering health service in the country. Some of the accruing benefits of the new Act include the provision of free basic health care services for children under the age of five, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with disabilities in the country. Additionally, the law guarantees the universal acceptance of accident victims in both public and private health institutions. Interestingly and deservedly too, the new law bans senior public officers’ use of public funds for treatment abroad, especially for ailments that can be treated locally.
The former President, Nigerian Medical Association, Osahon Enabulele, noted that if enforced, the essential provisions in the Act would help Nigeria achieve the Millennium Development Goals 4, 5, and 6 which aim at reducing maternal and infant mortality rates by the year 2015. At present, Nigeria has the highest infant and maternal mortality in Africa. A Demographic Health Survey in 2013 reportedly found that Nigeria contributes about 13 per cent of global maternal mortality, with estimated 36,000 deaths annually. Thus, the coming of this Act is expected to reverse that ugly trend as more pregnant women would have access to free delivery services while their children are assured of standard paediatric services in the nation’s health facilities.
The ex-NMA boss added that with this new Act, “There will be improved funding of health care services at the grass roots so that people don’t have to travel far to access medical services. There is a Basic Health Provisions Fund for primary health care centres in the Act and it is to be majorly funded with one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation. This, undoubtedly, will re-energise Nigeria’s primary health care system.” It is on record that the 772 primary health care centres in the country offer sub-optimal services due to poor funding.
The Chairman, Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria, Board of Trustees, Benjamin Anyene, was quoted as saying that the implementation of the bill will save the lives of three million women and children over a five-year period. At present, over 5,000 Nigerians allegedly travel to India, the United Kingdom and the United States for treatment while on the average, over $800million is reportedly lost annually by Nigeria to medical tourism. In the view of the Supervising Minister of Health, Dr. Khaliri Alhassan, the new National Health Act would cause government’s savings in health care delivery to rise from N17bn in 2015 to over N211bn in 2025 if the Act is fully implemented.
The minister opined further that “Individuals and families will have more disposable income through reduction in catastrophic health expenditure occasioned by very high cost of out-of-pocket spending when the mandatory social health insurance scheme that will be supported by the Act is implemented.” Moreover, “The Act provides for a minimum package of essential health services for all citizens to guarantee a more productive life and will impact positively on infant, child and maternal mortality rates which currently are highly unacceptable at 69 and 66 per cents respectively.” The minister concluded by saying that, “The multiplier effects of this will holistically manifest in increased life expectancy of Nigerians, as well as increased productivity. It is the singular instrument required to unlock economic goodness and health to Nigerians.”
Listening to all these glowing tributes to the law gladdens one’s heart. But until the rotten tooth is pulled out, the mouth must chew with caution, so says a popular African proverb. It is not yet uhuru as the coming into effect of the Act is the easiest part. Implementation and enforcement are harder to achieve. Is there really the political will to give full expression to the execution of this Act? We would not have to wait for long. The 2015 budget estimate was just placed before the National Assembly last Wednesday, December 17. Let’s see what the Federal Government wants to do in the New Year in the health sector.
From the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria comes a worthy advice as relayed by its National President, Olumide Akintayo. He urged the President to appoint stakeholders from all cadres of the health profession to ensure the successful implementation of the Act. His words, “The process of appointing the drivers of salient aspects of the Health Act should therefore logically follow the conduct of a competitive selection process from a pool of professionals who have competent skills and cognate experience. We maintain with strong emphasis that such skills are found in all cadres of the health profession not just one profession.” That statement is pregnant given the fact that unhealthy rivalry among the different medical professionals have been destabilising the Nigerian health sector for some time now. As I write this, health workers aside the doctors in the public health sector have been on strike for upwards of two months now with its disastrous consequence on public health and safety. This is coming on the heels of a similar strike earlier embarked by the Nigeria Medical Association.
The Presidential Committee of Experts on Inter-Professional Relationship in the Public Health Sector headed by a former head of service, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, last Friday, December 19, submitted its report to President Jonathan. The committee reportedly found 50 conflict areas among the health professionals. I do hope the President will match words with action by ensuring that the White Paper committee reviews the report expeditiously in time to make room for early implementation. The danger is, if this cold war among health professionals persists, the implementation of the new National Health Act will be compromised and rendered ineffectual. Thus, all relevant stakeholders must play their part in the full implementation and enforcement of this “Messianic Act.” There is the need for adequate sensitisation of the populace on this Act so that we all can positively take advantage of it.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Avoiding Domestic Violence

It is yet the season of the year many see as one of love, caring and sharing. I am sure many of my readers have received greeting cards (printed and soft copies), hampers, salary bonuses, and other gifts from family, friends, employers and well-wishers. It is also the season of carols as various music cantatas are organised to celebrate God for His mercies and blessings over our lives and situations. Father Christmas grottos have also sprung up as children tax their parents to sponsor their visits to see Santa Claus for their own seasonal gifts. In this season also, homes and houses wear new look as they are decorated in preparation for the Christmas Day in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Incidentally, it also a season of violence: both domestic and external. Externally, because it is a festive period, a lot of crimes and criminality also get committed. Bandits, rightly or wrongly, believe that a lot of people have money this season and make themselves unwanted guests at many homes where they forcefully demanded their share of the goodies. Those who do not want to take the trouble breaking into people’s homes waylay them on the roads, shopping malls, market places, relaxation spots, etc. Thus, as it is a season of celebration, it is also a time to be extra careful of night marauders and agents of terror whose sole aim is to wreak havoc.
My major concern is about the growing domestic violence which also peaks at this season of celebration. By domestic violence, I mean violence within the homes between spouses and among families. The manifestation of this comes in diverse ways. According to Wikipedia, “Domestic violence can take a number of forms including physical, emotional, verbal, economic and sexual abuse, which can range from subtle, coercive forms to marital rape and to violent physical abuse that result in disfigurement or death.”
Herein, I am not focusing on gender-based violence or violence against women. I’ve decided to concentrate on the entire family. Husband, wife, children and even the extended families. My simple reason being that much as it is good and noble to stop gender-based violence, it will not be comprehensive or holistic enough. Let’s stop domestic violence altogether whether against women, men, or children. I said earlier that domestic violence peaks during this season; how do I mean?
Families undergo a lot of financial pressures during this period. Many social events are fixed for the months leading to December as that is the time many workers take their annual leave and go on vacation to see friends and families. It also coincides with the harvest season for farmers so there is plenty of food and cash after sales of farm produce.
Furthermore, because the rains would have receded or totally gone then people can have their marriages, burials, chieftaincy coronations, harvest bazaars, house warming and other celebrations without disturbance from the weather.
What am I driving at with all these analogies? Invitations to the aforementioned events are not without strings attached. Open or subtle demands for financial and material supports often accompany these invitations. By our tradition and customs, we are usually our brothers’ keepers. So, we contribute monies to support the celebrants, buy “Aso ebi” (identification apparels with the celebrants) and also travel to attend. Many a time, the entire family compulsorily has to buy the “Aso ebi”. These cost a lot and place financial stress on many families. If these social functions take place close to Christmas, for Christians, this becomes additional financial burden as family members will demand clothes, shoes, special menu, outing to relaxation and recreational spots, visit to friends, colleagues and extended family members, all these have financial implications, even if you’re the one to host visitors.
Ironically, Christmas is one week apart from the New Year celebration. Thus, while we have yet to recover from the heavy expenses incurred attending the several social functions of the past few weeks, demands are made for preparations for the New Year merriment.
This season of celebrations is not pocket-friendly as it leaves a deep hole in many pouches. As if that is not bad enough, schools resume barely a week after the celebrations and fees and tuitions have to be paid.
Take it or leave it, this is the vicious circle many of us have been living through. How does this then translate to domestic violence? Economists say human needs are infinite but the means of meeting them are finite. Thus, a family with very limited financial and material resources will experience tension and violence in the homes when they fail to meet up to intra and interfamily demands as well as societal standards of being good, responsible and supportive. For instance, if a man cannot meet his family’s physiological needs of providing food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, such a family head will be ridiculed not only by the society but by even members of his immediate family. Such a man cannot earn or command the respect of his wife and children.
This will brew hatred, loss of self-esteem, assault, battery, psychological violence and all what not.
So what is the way out? How do we avoid domestic violence? Men as the head of the family need to apply wisdom in managing their homes. They need to communicate effectively with their wives, children and extended families.
They should shorn themselves of pretenses and make their families sincerely realise why they could not meet their demands. They need to plan with their wives on how best to apply their limited resources. Many women are good managers of resources and know how to make the best of little. Spouses also need to understand and learn how to cope with each other’s weaknesses and strengths. Both spouses and indeed children are duty bearers.
Therefore, spouses and their children need to seek and find amicable ways of resolving their issues. Domestic violence is avoidable and should be greatly desired. All it needs are mutual understanding, patience, prudence, tolerance, prayer and effective communication.
Follow me on twitter:@jideojong

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Let’s privatise and decentralise Nigerian prisons!

Hearty congratulations to the new Comptroller General of Prisons, Dr. Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu. I do not envy him on this appointment coming on the heels of incessant jailbreaks and attacks on Nigerian prisons with the last one being at the Minna Maximum Prison on Saturday, December 6, 2014.
Against these unhealthy developments, I think it is high time we fast tracked justice sector reform part of which is prison reform. I have two key suggestions. Let us privatise and decentralise Nigerian prison system. That is the norm and trend in some countries particularly in the United States of America which has federal, state and private prisons. Indeed, American private prisons are about 100 as of March 2014.
I am therefore seeking the repeal of the Nigerian Prisons Service Act as well as a constitution amendment for these to happen. Why? There is a blatant inefficiency in the management of the Nigerian prison system. Jailbreaks have now become a recurring decimal so much so that it is no longer how many jails have been broken but how many have yet to be. Since the Nigerian government is in the habit of privatising anything that is not working, let’s hand over the management of our prisons to the private sector as well. After all, the security sector has long been privatised and commercialised or don’t citizens have to engage private security to secure their lives while the Nigerian police takes care of the political office holders as well as the high and mighty who could afford to hire them as personal guards?
For instance, wouldn’t it be a nice idea if a convict is given an option of a private or public prison to serve his or her jail term? Those who choose to go to private prison will pay for the service (there should be option of working to pay for their incarceration) while those who choose to go to public prison would have government paying for them. Would that not be in line with freedom of choice? After all, in Nigeria today, almost all social services have been privatised and commercialized such as schools, hospitals, media, security, roads, housing, agriculture, transport and many more.
Experts say the incessant jailbreaks are due to overcrowding engendered by high number of awaiting trial inmates and insufficient number of prisons to cope with the high volumes of inmates. With my proposal of having both public and private detention facilities, an accused will have a choice of where to await trial and if convicted serve their prison terms. It’s all a matter of cash. If you choose to go private, you can be sure of having speedy trials as those running the detention facilities will be the ones to liaise with the Police and the Court to ensure that your case file is not missing and that you’re in court on the adjourned date. The detention facility authority will also ensure a more hygienic prison condition for those within their facilities. In fact, a prisoner will have a choice of the size of room and standard to enjoy if they can afford it.
As there are private and public wards in the hospitals so will there be one-person, two-person, four-person rooms with fans, air conditioners, choice menu, recreational facilities, vocational skills workshop, guest reception areas, etc. The key word is money and I know there are many prisoners in our jails today who wouldn’t mind paying for a more conducive environment to serve their jail term. Even the private prisons will be able to recommend their prisoners for parole or amnesty.
You may want to ask what assurance there will be that prisoners in private facilities do serve their term in prison and not in their homes. Well, there will be checks and balances. Officers and men of Nigerian Prison Service will be posted there to ensure full compliance with prison conditions. There will also be unscheduled monitoring by the NPS inspectors to ensure that their officials posted to the private prisons are not compromising standards.
The above suggestion does not in any way negate the imperative of justice sector reform. In fact, it is an integral part of it. The extant public prison will still have to be better resourced and managed. I do not understand why prisons are under the exclusive legislative list. It needs to be brought under the concurrent list so that the states can help out in the establishment and management of prison services. The Nigerian Prison Service employees need better training and re-training in modern prison administration. Some of the prisons have to be relocated to a more secure environment that will not make them prone to external attacks as is currently the case.
Provision of basic welfare facilities cannot be overemphasised. There is the need for proper sanitary facilities – beddings, rest-rooms (toilets), lightening, ventilation, recreational facilities. Prisons should not be hell on earth. Prisoners do have rights and privileges including options of going to school and learning vocational skills even while in prisons. After all, many prisoners have sat for external examinations like West African Secondary School Certificate Examination and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination from prison and passed in flying colours. Many don’t know that in some other climes, prisoners have a right to register to vote in an election in as much as such convicts are not on death row (that is, convicted for murder).
The police have been fingered as a cog in the wheel of expeditious trials. Many a time they misplace or “sit on” case files of awaiting trial inmates. At other times, they give excuses of not having concluded investigations of the suspect. Yet, such persons are kept in detention for far more years than the maximum sentence the offence being tried carry. What a travesty of justice! The courts too are not helping matters. Many suspects being clamped in prison as awaiting trial could and should have been released on liberal bail conditions and only taken to prison on conviction.
The Nigerian Legal Aid Council or the Office of Public Defender as called in some states expected to provide legal representation for indigent suspects is not doing enough in this respect. Poverty is also contributing to the congestion in our prisons as some convicts with the option of fine could not buy their freedom because of their financial incapacitation. The situation in our prisons could have been worse but for some public spirited individuals, social clubs, religious organisations and civil society who go on prison visitation to provide succour and bail out some of these convicts with options of fine.
I have in a previous commentary on this issue advocated that our judges explore other punishment options such as suspended sentence, community service, weekend sentence and parole as a means of decongesting and concomitantly reducing restiveness in our prisons. Seriously, the time has come to explore the option of private prisons in Nigeria.
Follow me on twitter: @jideojong

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Coping with austerity measures and insecurity

It’s the Yuletide season again when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and everyone thereafter rejoices at the grace of seeing the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. While the world celebrates, I am sure the number of Nigerians who will roll out the drums has shrunk significantly, no thanks to the current high cost of living and the ceaseless acts of insecurity across the country, especially in the North-East.
Many a time, I’ve been tempted not to listen to news or read newspapers again simply because of the large dose of negative heart-rending news Nigerians are daily being fed with by the media. But how will I be informed of happenings around me if I shut down on news? I know for a fact that this is the dilemma of many Nigerians. A majority of us are tired of the sad new stories we get every morning. This is not the breadth of fresh air this government promised us in 2011 before the elections. What we were told was that we would not need to buy or fuel generators within a year of the coming of this administration because epileptic power supply would have become a thing of the past. We were promised good transport networks, quality education, world class health care delivery, employment, security of lives and property, mass housing, industrialisation, and generally, high standard of living. Today, three and a half years after those noble promises were made, what do we see? High cost of living. Once again, it’s a de ja vu!
All levels of government are culpable for our unenviable status as a miserable nation. It is not only the Federal Government that has disappointed Nigerians. The state and local governments have not fared any better. The other day, I learnt Benue State had not paid workers’ salaries for four months plus now. Governor Gabriel Suswam claimed he could no longer pay the minimum wage he negotiated with the workers not too long ago due to the dwindling revenue from the Federal Government. Talk of “feeding bottle federalism” a la Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. Suswam lamented on Channels Television recently that he gets little or nothing from internally generated revenue as Benue State is an agrarian state with a huge dose of groceries stores which cannot be taxed. But in the midst of all this dearth of resources, Suswam loudly celebrated his 50th birthday with live telecast on major television networks. I do hope he used his personal funds for that gig. Before the recent industrial action by Benue civil servants, teachers in the state had embarked on strike for about eight months over welfare issues.
The Benue story is replicated in many more states and local governments. By the time ex-Governor Kayode Fayemi was leaving Ekiti State on October 16, 2014 he was owing workers’ salaries. Yet, billions of naira were spent building a new Governor’s Lodge in the state. Talk of misplaced priorities.
A few weeks ago, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, officially declared austerity measures in Nigeria. This is reminiscent of the administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari who in 1980 declared austerity measures. This was later followed by the 1986 Structural Adjustment Programme of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Both measures bore the same inhuman face as the current one being rolled out by the Jonathan government. There was currency devaluation, high interest rate, inflation, downsizing of workers, closure of industries, etc. Those governments, like the current one, asked Nigerians to tighten their belts.
I recall that Juju music maestro, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey released a chart-bursting album to commemorate the time with the title, “Austerity”. There, he sang of a coping eating formula devised by Nigerians: Formula 0-0-1, 0-1-0, 1-0-1, etc, in which citizens skipped some of the daily meals and embarked on compulsory fasting. Then, as it is now, a major lacuna is the insincerity of government. While the masses were at the receiving end, the leaders took turns to rape the economy, looting and embarking on a spending spree to the bewilderment of the populace.
What worsens our current situation is that Nigerians are not only faced with compulsory austerity measures, their lives are further endangered by the ongoing acts of internal insurrections by gangster insurgents. In the 80s during the austerity period, people had hopes of a better tomorrow and they lived for it. Not now, hapless Nigerians are cut down in their primes by blood sucking terrorists who daily bomb the innocents eking out a living into smithereens. What a life! Government’s response to curb these fiendish acts has been at best tardy. Citizens are now resorting to self-help to protect themselves. Millions of Nigerians have been displaced from their homes and livelihoods and are forced to live beggarly lives in refugee camps in and out of the country.
While the average Nigerians are left at the mercy of undesirable elements, political leaders and high government officials live large. They build themselves fortresses in major state and country capitals and spare no cost in buying themselves bomb and bulletproof vehicles. On top of these, there is a battalion of soldiers and other security agents keeping guard on them and their household. Much as I do not begrudge them for securing their lives, they should not do so at the expense of the suffering majority. Quite unfortunately, it’s also a campaign season for the 2015 general elections and the spate of violence has escalated as politicians arm and engage the services of thugs to deal with political opponents. Is this how to serve the people? Must you kill and maim to get to political office under the guise of offering yourself for national or state service?
How do we cope in this season of anomie? We need to pray for divine provision and protection. Additionally, we need to devise means of living. This is not the time for the average Nigerian to lose their heads in celebration. It’s a time for sober reflection. It is a time of adjustment to realities of life. It’s an era of saving for a rainy day and being careful in crowded environment. As you go shopping at those markets and malls, keep safe distance from the crowds. Train your children on security tips. Let them imbibe basic safety precautions. We as adults too should avoid late nights. We should not buy or encourage our children to buy and use fireworks (bangers, “knockouts”, etc). As we celebrate Christmas and New Year festivities, let us make provision for the children’s school fees which beckon immediately after. Above all, let us show love by caring and supporting the needy and the less privileged.
  • Follow me on twitter: jideojong

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nigerian political parties and illegal nomination fees

In a well-researched and scholarly article on the back page of Thisday newspaper of November 4, 2014, human rights lawyer and a senior advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, dissected the illegality of the action of Nigerian political parties in charging political aspirants Expression of Interest and Nomination Fees. The exorbitant amount which is in millions of Naira is prohibitive, discriminatory and exclusionary. It must be stated that this is a major way by which political parties in Nigeria fund their operations. For instance, as at November 4, 2014, Peoples Democratic Party is reported to have raked in over N3 billion from this exercise. (See The PUNCH of November 5, 2014.)

 Barrister Falana’s sound legal argument against collection of nomination fees is as follows:  “To ensure some degree of popular participation in the electoral process political associations which intend to transform into political parties are not required to meet stringent conditions. In the same vein, candidates contesting elections are not obligated to pay nomination fees to political parties. Once they meet the conditions outlined in the Constitution they cannot be disqualified for failure to pay outrageous nomination fees imposed on them by political parties.”

The legal luminary went further to state that “Since the conditions stipulated in the Constitution do not include payment of nomination fees and production of tax clearance certificates (by political contestants) ….. Therefore, the collection of nomination fees from candidates by political parties, which is an additional qualification, is illegal and unconstitutional as political parties have no power to add to or subtract from the constitutional prerequisites which candidates must possess to qualify to contest elections in Nigeria.”

Falana further submitted that “Since the right of every citizen to participate in government of their country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives is guaranteed by Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 the guideline of a political party for payment of skyrocketing nomination fees which is capable of excluding indigent candidates from the political process is illegal. More so, that every citizen is entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the African Charter without distinction of any kind such as fortune or social status.”

He did not stop at that, the legal icon cited a case from the United States of America to buttress his point. According to him, “In Bullock v Carter 405 U.S 134 (1972) the appellants who sought to become candidates for local office in the Democratic primary election challenged in the District Court the validity of the nomination fees up to $8, 999. It was held that the fees contravened the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It was the view that “By requiring candidates to shoulder the costs of conducting primary election through filing fee by providing no reasonable alternative means of access to the ballot, the State of Texas has erected a system that utilizes the criterion of ability to pay as a condition to being on the ballot, thus excluding some candidates otherwise qualified and denying an undetermined number of voters the opportunity to vote candidates of their choice.”

The above argument by Femi Falana is logical and faultless. In fact, Political Party Finance Handbook (2011) published by INEC on page 7 stipulated five ways through which political parties may obtain funds for their operations. These are: Membership fees; Income generated by property owned by political party; Profit from the income of the enterprises owned by political party; Public funding i.e. grant from the state; and Contributions from legal entities and natural persons.

Let’s examine each of these sources.  First, party members hardly pay their membership dues. Oftentimes, they only pay when they are contesting for elective offices on the platform of the party. At other times, aspirants vying for elective offices pay the membership fees arrears of their supporters in order to enable them vote during party primaries. Two, there is no more public funding for political parties since 2010 when the current electoral act came into force. Three, many political parties don’t own property or any other investments for that matter. Most of the party offices are in rented apartments, some of which are donated by wealthy party members. Thus, with little or no investments, no income is coming in from that angle.

Four, Nigeria’s Company and Allied Matters Act in Section 38 (2) forbids companies from contributing funds to political parties. It states: “A company shall not have or exercise power either directly or indirectly to make a donation or gift of any of its property or funds to a political party or political association, or for any political purpose…”

Therefore, with all legitimate means of funding for political parties yielding little or no income, how appropriate is the criminalization of the collection of expression of interest and nomination fees by Nigerian Constitution? Well, Falana believes “In the circumstance, political parties may only be permitted by law to charge administrative fees.”  Maybe political parties should thus rename the Expression of Interest and nomination fees as administrative charges in order not to run afoul of the law.

Jide is Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

International Crisis Group’s red flag on 2015 elections

“Nigeria’s presidential, parliamentary and state governorship and assembly elections, scheduled for February 2015, will be more contentious than usual. Tensions within and between the two major political parties, competing claims to the presidency between northern and Niger Delta politicians and along religious lines, the grim radical Islamist Boko Haram insurgency and increasing communal violence in several northern states, along with inadequate preparations by the electoral commission and apparent bias by security agencies, suggest the country is heading towards a very volatile and vicious electoral contest”
–International Crisis Group (November 21, 2014)
Many have asked me why I have not joined any political party or contested any elective positions in Nigeria. My simple response to such persons has been that I do not have what it takes to favourably compete in Nigerian politics. In terms of age, I am qualified to contest even for the presidential seat of this country. Academically, I am over -qualified as I am a Master’s degree holder (in the science of politics) when the minimum I need is a secondary school attendance certificate. I do not even need to have passed the external examination according to Section 65(2) (a) of the Nigerian Constitution. In terms of experience, I have acquired sufficient knowledge as a worker in the development sector to be able to govern this country. Indeed, on many counts except two, I am eminently qualified. What are the two exceptions? I am not wealthy and I am not violent. Nigeria’s brand of politics is not for a gentleman or an egghead like me but for the rich and ferocious.
In the course of my official assignments, I have been privileged to observe elections locally and internationally. Globally, I have been a short-term international accredited election observer in Ghana, the United States of America and Egypt. In none of these countries have I experienced the kind of electoral warfare and monetised politics as being on display in Nigeria. I have been an accredited observer during general elections in Nigeria since 1999 and have also researched on many thematic areas in the electoral process. Not only that, I have been involved in training of some actors and stakeholders in the electoral process from election officials to accredited observers, media practitioners, and political party executives. These experiences have clearly shown that Nigerian politicians are a rare breed. It is in this clime that the Machiavellian principle of “the end justifies the means” finds perfect expression.
Our politicians are mostly ruthless and unscrupulous. They bate no eyelid before committing any manner of crime, be it killing, maiming, rigging, bribing, lying or subverting democratic ethos in as much as it will guarantee their quest for power. I once attended a conference where a former member of the House of Representatives openly declared that what many of them do is to send their immediate families abroad about three months to Election Day. As they too go on campaign, they have on them valid visas to many foreign countries with a minimum of 2,000 pound on them. So, should anything go awry, they will head for the nearest international airport to exit the country. These are the same politicians who will arm other people’s children to go kill and maim their political opponents, snatch ballot boxes and perpetrate diverse electoral heists and malfeasance.
The Independent National Electoral Commission on November 16 officially pronounced commencement of campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly elections in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. Just imagine how the political temperature of Nigeria has soared in that one week of open campaigns. Political thugs went on the rampage in Ibadan between last Friday and Sunday killing at least three persons including a police inspector. Unknown arsonists torched the Peoples Democratic Party’s office in Cross River State. Officials of the Department of State Service last Saturday stormed the APC Data Centre in Lagos over allegation of cloning Permanent Voter Cards. Seven members of the Ekiti State House of Assembly sat and purportedly “impeached” the authentic Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House even when they blatantly knew that their action was an infraction on the law, not having the number to form a quorum to sit nor the required two-third majority to impeach the Speaker. The Ekiti scenario is reminiscent of what happened last year in Rivers State where five out of 32 members of the state House of Assembly purportedly impeached the Speaker.
The same thing happened at the Nigerian Governors’ Forum where a faction with 16 members claimed victory in a contest involving 35 members. Last Thursday, a show of shame was reenacted when police blockade against House of Representatives members including the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, made some of the lawmakers to jump over the gate. The action indeed is barbaric and condemnable. However, as condemnable as the dishonourable action of the lawmakers is, an adage says if you must blame the hawk for wickedness, first blame the mother hen for exposing her children to danger. If there was no biased police cordon, will the lawmakers have had to scale the gate? Some commentators said they should have left when police denied them access. Obviously, those who want Tambuwal impeached, if he was not going to resign having defected from the PDP to the APC, are naive. It is all politics, crude politics!
It is not only me that is worried stiff about the gloomy, ominous vista surrounding the next general elections in 2015. Some foreign bodies too are concerned. One of them is the International Crisis Group that issued a statement on Friday, November 21, 2014 titled, “Nigeria’s Dangerous 2015 Elections: Limiting the Violence.” The ICG, in the report, expertly articulated all the possible triggers of violence before, during and after the 2015 polls and made far-reaching recommendations on how to avert the doomsday.
The Group submitted that, “With only three months before elections, the government cannot engage in long-term structural efforts to improve the quality of the vote, but it can and must be encouraged to urgently take several steps to limit the risk of widespread violence. These include increasing efforts to contain the Boko Haram insurgency, paying special attention to the police to improve the security environment, reinforcing the capacities of INEC to restore confidence in the electoral process, and along with all politicians, avoid playing the religious card and reducing tensions within and between the parties. The government – President Goodluck Jonathan, the federal legislature, INEC and security agencies-must bear the greatest responsibility for implementing these measures, but other national and political figures, including civil society, as well as international partners must also rally to stop the slide.” Come to think of it, there is nothing the ICG said in its statement that our own indigenous CLEEN Foundation has not been saying in its quarterly, now monthly, security threat assessments. Indeed, there’s none so deaf as those who will not hear!
Follow me on twitter @jideojong

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Placing leadership comfort over quality education

Hearty congratulations to The PUNCH newspaper on its meritorious award as the 2014 Newspaper of the Year by the Nigerian Media Merit Award. My felicitations also go to the Daily Editor, Martin Ayankola, and the Editor, Sunday Punch, Toyosi Ogunseye, as well as other staff of the company who recently won awards. I am proud of my association with the numero uno newspaper in the country and pray for continued excellence in the service of our suffering motherland.

In a two-part report published on November 8 and 15, 2014, Saturday PUNCH a sister publication, did a research where it reported that governors’ lodges are costlier and better funded than the academic institutions of most states in Nigeria. According to the paper, “the cost of building many government houses in Nigeria is far higher than what it takes to build many universities in the country with some state houses gulping as high as nine times more than the cost of building a university.” Holy Moses! The newspaper’s investigation further revealed that, “in many states where billions of naira were expended on building bogus and expansive state houses for the First Families, universities owned by such state governments were in terrible conditions. In addition to this, many programmes run by these state universities have yet to be accredited by the National Universities Commission, the regulatory agency for universities in Nigeria, due to lack of funds.”

The report articulated the cost of building some state houses vis-a-vis what the state governments spent on their educational institutions. Some of the examples cited include Bayelsa, Delta, Ekiti, Kaduna, Plateau, Cross River, Ondo and Osun states.

In Bayelsa State, for instance, a Government House Complex named, “The Glory Land Castle”, allegedly gulped at least N24bn. Ironically, there is high level of infrastructural decay at the Niger Delta University owned by the state government. “The Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, Niger Delta University branch, Dr. Tuboukiye Sese, was quoted to have said that, “In the university, internal roads are non-existent, office space is a sad development and student hostels are in poor state.” On top of these, many of the university’s programmes were not accredited during the last accreditation exercise.

In the same manner, the Kaduna State Government   which just inaugurated a new N9.6bn Kaduna Government House has a poorly funded university. According to the report, medical students of the Kaduna State University recently protested the non-accreditation of the institution’s medical courses by the NUC. They also griped at the poor conditions at the Barau Dikko Specialist Hospital, which is supposed to be the university’s teaching hospital.

The story is said to be similar in Akwa Ibom State where the government constructed a State House with the sum of N16bn and a Banqueting Hall with a 500-seating capacity with the sum of N18bn. In other words, while the state government could afford to pay a total of N34bn on constructing a state house and banqueting hall, unfortunately many courses in the state-owned university remain unaccredited. The Saturday PUNCH reported that the NUC, between July and August 2014, accredited only 11 courses in the institution’s Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences while courses in other faculties like Business Administration, Arts, and Education, among others which are over 40 have yet to be accredited.

A former governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, allegedly borrowed N3.3bn to build a state house. However, he could not raise about N800million needed to accredit courses in the state-owned university locate in Ado-Ekiti. The report further revealed that despite Plateau State’s budgetary allocation of over N400bn in the last three years, the state government has not been able to fund the only state university established nine years ago. The university has also not been able to graduate any student since inception in 2005. If you think it’s because the state government is broke then hear this – the Governor Jonah Jang administration is reported to have recently sent a bill for N23.4bn supplementary budget to the state House of Assembly for consideration and approval. In the proposed budget, supply and fixing of curtains, blinds, customised cutlery and other items at the new Government House will be awarded to a foreign firm for N443m. Can you beat that?

In my own State of Osun, a source who craved anonymity allegedly told PUNCH reporter that when the administration of Governor Rauf Aregbesola was inaugurated, the Osun State University needed N900m for the accreditation of its Faculty of Medicine. The state government did not provide the money and as a result, 100 levels and 200 levels students were given alternative courses such as Chemistry and Physics, among others. The government also promised to send 300 levels and above students to Ukraine to complete their studies. (Meanwhile, Ukraine reportedly has a lower education standard than Nigeria.) The processing, we are told, took two years, when eventually they arrived Ukraine; the country was plunged into a civil war that has left the students and their parents frustrated. The source said the governor reportedly engaged the services of a consultant to process the Ukrainian deal at a cost of about N1bn, however, the state government claimed it spent only N146m. Shouldn’t the governor have sourced the money to get the state university’s faculty of medicine accredited rather than sending students to acquire worthless certificates in some sub-standard universities abroad?

The cost of building a brand new university from the scratch is put at between N5.5bn and N12bn.This is expected to be complemented by separate investment of between N1.8bn and N2.7bn for accreditation of courses with science-based courses gulping more money than non-science based ones. This is what some state governors are using to massage their ego by building themselves earthly palaces accompanied with mobile fortresses.


What Saturday PUNCH investigative report has shown is our government’s disdain for education and selfish approach to governance where humongous amount are wasted to build government houses when a fraction of such scandalous sums would have assisted to strengthen state’s academic institutions and enable them to provide qualitative educational services. Anyway, it is not totally unexpected that state governors are behaving in this self-aggrandising manner since none of their children or wards attends these public academic institutions.

It is quite disheartening that rather than provide needed funds for their educational institutions, many state governors in the country have abdicated their responsibilities to the interventionist funding agencies such as the Universal Basic Education Commission and Tertiary Education Trust Fund formerly known as Education Tax Fund. To make the matter worse, even the desired matching grants necessary to access the UBEC fund have not been forthcoming leading to huge unaccessed funds. As of September 8, 2014, there is a total unclaimed UBEC funds in excess of N49bn. Under the matching grant, each state is to provide a counterpart funding to whatever the Federal Government is bringing. However, not many states are keen to put down their own matching grants hence the huge unaccessed funds in the midst of the dire financial needs of most, if not all, public schools in Nigeria. TETFund equally has the challenge of billions of naira unaccessed by public tertiary institutions who simply fail to follow due process to get the funds earmarked for their institutions. It must be stated that there is no need for matching grants with TETFund. This is a clear attestation to the fact that there is a lack of political will to address the rot in Nigeria’s public education sector. Sad, very pathetic!

Follow me on twitter @jideojong

Monday, November 17, 2014

Governor Mukthar Yero’s unrealistic proposal on education

On October 17, 2014 while playing host to the House of Representatives Committee on Education led by Hon. Aminu Suleiman, the Kaduna State Governor, Mukthar Yero allegedly asked the National Assembly to consider passing a legislation that would compel policy makers in the country to enroll their children in public schools. In this interview with Kehinde Adegoke of Daily Newswatch, Jide Ojo, Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja bares his mind.

What’s you take on this proposal?

The governor was just echoing the opinion of most Nigerians who are of the view that until government officials’ children and wards are made to attend public schools, then the decadence in our education sector will remain unresolved. Such thought, though sound in logic, is weak on law. How do I mean? It is desirable but unrealistic due to the fact that it will be an infringement on the fundamental human rights of the public officials.

Education, we must know, is on the concurrent legislative list and has been liberalised through privatisation  and commercialisation in Nigeria. Citizens therefore are at liberty to choose where to send their children to study whether home or abroad, private or public institutions. Individual family’s socio-economic status is thus the major determinant of where to send a child to school or whether to send such child to school at all.

What's your perception of the public schools in Nigeria today?

There is no gainsaying that public schools in Nigeria are at present  bedeviled with a lot of challenges ranging from dilapidating structures, inadequate staffing, overstretched facilities, incessant strikes by academic and non-academic staff, insecurity, underfunding, corruption and lack of political will to solve the challenges by successive governments whether at the local, state or federal government. The libraries of most public educational institutions in Nigeria are obsolete, the laboratories sparsely equipped, the classrooms and lecture theaters bereft of basic conveniences such as a chairs and tables while the hostels are overcrowded. Today, in the 21st century, we have pupils and students of some schools learning under trees, sitting on stones and used tyres in classes and writing on the floor. Heartrending!

It must be said that federal government has been carrying out some reforms to bridge the funding gap in the public education sector by setting up Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) formerly known as Education Tax Fund (ETF). These are mere intervention funds and are outside the normal budgetary allocations to Ministries, Department and Agencies in the education sector. The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme for instance was introduced in 1999 by the Federal Government of Nigeria as a reform programme aimed at providing greater access to, and ensuring quality of basic education throughout Nigeria. Quite unfortunately many states are yet to access their matching grants and as September 8, 2014, there is a total unaccessed fund in excess of N49 billion. (N49,211,970,941.55). Under the matching grant, each state is to provide a counterpart funding to whatever the federal government is bringing. However, not many states are keen to put down their own matching grant hence the huge unaccessed funds in the midst of the dire financial needs of most, if not all, public schools in Nigeria. TETFund equally have the challenge of billions of Naira in unaccessed funds by public tertiary institutions who simply fail to follow due process to get the fund earmarked for their institutions. It must be stated that there is no need for matching grant with TETFund. This is why I earlier said there is lack of political will to address the rot in Nigeria’s public education sector.

What were the public schools like during your time?

In my time in the 70’s and 80s, public education was qualitative. This reflected in the external examinations where the success rates were much higher than the abysmal performances we currently records. There were challenges then quite alright but there was nothing like the prolonged strikes. Our teachers and lecturers were dedicated to duties while infrastructures were not overstretched as we currently have it. Even then there were few private schools be it at primary, secondary or tertiary levels. Thus parents’ choices were largely limited to enrolling their children in public schools. With the mushrooming of private schools and the unresolved challenges of public sector education, the reverse is now the case as many parents in search of quality education now have to cough out mindboggling sums of money to train their children and wards in private schools both within and outside of the country. Ironically, limited job opportunities upon graduation have made the huge private investments to be of doubtful reward to parents and families. However, though there might be limited job opportunities upon graduation due to the stiff competition, graduates of private institutions still stand better chance to clinch the limited jobs on offer.

What is the way forward?

For Nigeria, the solution to our public education challenges does not lie in forcing public officials to enroll their children and wards in public schools. The way out is to incentivise enrollment into public schools so that of their own accord parents would embrace sending their children to those public education institutions. This we can do through adequate resource of these schools. If there is satisfactory equipment and staffing, appealing school environment, adequate welfare for staff and students and effective monitoring and control by regulatory education agencies, ministries and departments then the glory days of public education will be back, there will be higher enrolment and better performance of pupils and students in both internal and external examinations.

 (Twitter: @jideojong)

This piece was published in Sunday Newswatch of November 16, 2014 on Page 16

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How prepared is Nigeria for the 2015 elections?

The countdown to the fifth general elections in this Fourth Republic has begun and it is barely 92 days to the presidential and National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) elections slated for February 14, 2015. Will there be show of love during the electoral war? In accordance with Section 99(1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, public campaign is to commence 90 days to the polls hence for the February 14 elections, campaign will officially start on November 16, 2014 while campaign for the governorship and House of Assembly elections scheduled for February 28, 2015 will commence on November 30, according to the timetable earlier released by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Many commentators including the electorate have been clamouring for free, fair and credible elections. That is a noble demand and is not unattainable. However, what do we need to achieve that ideal goal? How prepared are the various actors and stakeholders for the 2015 elections? Of what significance is election to a democracy?
The importance of election to the entrenchment of a democratic culture cannot be underestimated or over-emphasised. Election, by which we mean free choice of representatives in government, is one of the tenets of democracy and it is a gateway to achieving good governance. It is the elected leaders whether in executive or legislative positions that work on behalf of the rest of us to provide essential goods and services that will enhance our collective wellbeing.
INEC has been telling all those who care to listen about its optimum preparedness to conduct credible elections in 2015 which will be better than those of 2011. I have been privileged to attend two programmes in the recent past where the electoral commission gave account of its state of readiness for the forthcoming general polls. The first was on October 28 at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, where INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, gave a run-down of where the commission was with its preparations for 2015. The event was a national stakeholders’ forum on elections organised by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room. At the forum chaired by the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Hassan Matthew Kukah, Jega held the audience spellbound as he reeled out his agenda at INEC and how much of that he had achieved.
According to him, prior to the 2011 elections, INEC introduced the following reforms: A new biometric Register of Voters; a remodified open ballot system (REMOBS); improved security features on sensitive electoral materials such as serial numbering and colour coding of ballot papers and result sheets as well as security coding of ballot boxes; revised framework for engagement of ad hoc staff; more transparent framework for results collations and returns including pasting of results of elections at the Polling Units and Collation Centres; closer collaboration and partnerships with a range of critical stakeholders including the establishment of Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security; enhanced voter education and citizens engagement as well as intensive training and retraining of the commission’s staff.
Immediately after the 2011 elections, Jega said the commission embarked on post-election audits which were done both internally and by external assessors. Four cardinal lessons the commission claimed to have learnt from the reviews conducted are as follows: Good elections require adequate and timely planning; good elections are about effective partnerships and cooperation; good elections are about openness and lastly, getting our elections right is still a work in progress. Jega said towards 2015 his concern was to have a progressive, incremental, value addition polls. To achieve these, the commission, he said, was focusing on three focal points namely, structure, policy and plan. Some of the milestones achieved in the last two years, he claimed, included putting together a strategic plan (2012 – 2016) and a detailed strategic programme of action; a detailed Election Project Plan; comprehensive reorganisation and restructuring of the commission; the consolidation and de-duplication of the biometric register of voters leading to the ongoing distribution of Permanent Voter Cards and the Continuous Voter Registration. The PVC is chip-based and the commission intends to deploy the use of card readers for verification and authentication of voters come 2015.
Other measures put in place by INEC include a communication policy; a gender policy; proposed amendments to the electoral laws; establishment of a Graphic Design Centre; mapping and re-engineering of the commission’s business process and election management system; review of electoral constituencies and planned creation of additional polling units; revision of all guidelines and regulations on the electoral process and the deployment of Election Management Tool.
Jega highlighted seven challenges faced by the commission ahead of 2015. These are insecurity, funding, attitude of the political class, apathetic and inactive citizenry, delay in the amendment of the legal framework, completion of the review of electoral constituencies and polling units and the prosecution of election offenders. After the submission, Jega fielded questions from the forum participants among other things on how the commission intends to field-test or pilot the card-reader ahead of the nationwide deployment in 2015. The question was asked against the background of the glitches experienced in Ghana and Kenya where a similar technology had been previously deployed. Jega assured us all that this would be done. He said the card reader being deployed has batteries with eight-hour lifespan. Nevertheless, he claimed INEC had also made provision for 10 per cent redundancy.
The second event took place last Friday, November 7 and it was a roundtable held for media practitioners on conflict-sensitive reporting. According to the director of Electoral Alternative Dispute Resolution Directorate of INEC, Mrs. Ngozi Irene Oghuma, “The choice of words used in reporting political and electoral news can generate conflict, sometimes resulting into violence which invariably impacts negatively on electoral processes.” The keynote speaker at the roundtable, who is also a veteran journalist, Mr. Bayo Amosemo, critically analysed issues involved in conflict sensitive reporting. According to him, “an explicit aim of conflict sensitive journalism is to promote peace initiatives…” To buttress his point, Awosemo, quoting the European Centre for Conflict Prevention, stated that, “while journalism should ensure balanced reporting, it cannot be neutral towards peace.” Media practitioners are generally enjoined to be biased towards peace in their news reportage particularly of electoral and political events.
Now we know what INEC has been doing preparing for 2015 polls. What about other stakeholders? We do know that the political parties are in the process of nominating their candidates and kicking off their campaigns. Quite unfortunately, their activities have started heating up the polity with intra and inter-party frictions becoming palpable. Hate speeches, inflammatory comments, and inciting statements are beginning to fly around and it behooves various regulatory agencies to caution these political gladiators.
On the part of the civil society, a lot is also being done. Many non-governmental organisations are embarking on voter education and preparing for election observation. Indeed, the Transition Monitoring Group is set to deploy an innovative election observation technology called Quick Counts or Parallel Vote Tabulation. This will provide an independent source of verification for INEC announced results and has the capacity to boost people’s confidence in the electoral process. As I write this, my mind went back to those seven critical challenges raised by Jega and I wonder if they are not capable of derailing all the grand plan of the commission towards a successful and peaceful 2015 polls.
Corrigendum: In my last week piece, I erroneously listed a former deputy governor of Lagos State Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele among the impeached deputy governors in the country. I got a call from her saying that she did resign and was not impeached. This inadvertent slip is regretted.
Follow me on twitter: @jideojong

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The wailing deputy governor of Ogun State

“Deputy gov sends stinker to Amosun” was the banner headline on the front-page of The PUNCH of Wednesday, October 29, 2014. The news story chronicled alleged mistreatment of the Deputy Governor, Prince Segun Adesegun by his boss, Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State. The embittered deputy had on October 24 written a 10-paragraph letter to the governor chronicling all manner of ill-treatments being meted to him and his office. Among them are: starving his office of funds and allocation of old vehicles to his office. According to him, his September and October feeding, out-of-pocket and sundry allowances had yet to be paid while during this year’s Eid-el-Kabir and Eid al-Fitr festivals, funds were released to   government functionaries except him and his aides. He also alleged that seven (now eight) months ago, electricity supply to his official residence was cut off because the state government is owing electricity bills. This has necessitated his spending an average of N30,000 daily on diesel to provide electricity for his residence.

The deputy governor   wondered why his lodge was not initially connected to the state mini-power plant even “when it is on record that several government premises, including private residences and organisations enjoy power supply from the plant.’’ He lamented that he is the only deputy governor in Nigeria without a portfolio. The DG equally alleged that while the July 2014 monthly running costs of ministries, departments and agencies in Ogun State were duly paid, that of his office was withheld.

In his epistle, he reminded the governor that the engine of his official car knocked in December 2013 without the governor deeming it fit to replace the car for him. He said and I quote: “I had cause to remind you many times, but nothing was done. I resorted to using my personal car as back-up even when I was aware that you were giving vehicles, including Custom-made bulletproof vehicles to others. It was when a Good Samaritan bought a Tundra Truck for me that you deemed it fit to send a Toyota Prado XL V4 engine to me in late August.” Lastly, the deputy governor observed that his 2014 vacation allowance has not been paid.

The state commissioner for information and the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress both claimed ignorance of the ugly situation in Ogun State when contacted for their reaction. I wish these assertions were not true. This is no good news coming from the camp of the ‘so called’ progressives. If a governor will treat his deputy like a trash or rag, how then would he be treated by other cabinet members and the wider public?

The scenario in Ogun is symptomatic of how useless the office of deputy governor has been in Nigeria. Not too long ago, precisely on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 the deputy governor of Enugu State, Sunday Onyebuchi was impeached by the state house of assembly.  He was accused of running an illegal poultry in his official residence and also refusing to represent Governor Sullivan Chime at official functions. The lawmakers, in the impeachment notice, held that the said actions amounted to gross misconduct on the former DG’s part. However, the true offence of Onyebuchi, other sources claimed, was that he nurses ambition to contest for senatorial seat against the governor’s chief of staff who is the anointed person for the seat.

Such is the very expendable nature of deputy governors that they only hold office at the whims and caprices of their governors. Many of them had suffered cruel fate in the hands of their bosses. Some of the deputy governors who had previously been impeached include: B.B Faruk of Kano, Abdullahi Argungu of Kebbi, John Okpa of Cross River, Kofoworola Bucknor Akerele and Femi Pedro both of Lagos, Sani Abubakar Danladi of Taraba, Garba Gadi of Bauchi, Iyiola Omisore of Osun, Eyinaya Abaribe of Abia, Chris Ekpenyong of Akwa Ibom, Peremobowei Ebebi of Bayelsa, Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia of Jigawa and Jude Agbaso of Imo State.

There is another category of deputy governors who though were not impeached but were given soft-landing of being allowed to 'voluntarily resign'. Three ready examples that come to mind are Akin Omoboriowo of Ondo State during the Second Republic, Aliyu Wammako of Sokoto and Nsima Ekere of Akwa Ibom. Yet, there is another category of deputy governors who though were neither impeached nor forced to resign but were embroiled in a bitter feud with their governors. Among them were Virgy Etiaba of Anambra, Michael Botmang and Pauline Tallen of Plateau.  Segun Adesegun of Ogun State obviously belongs to the latter category.

As I opined in my last commentary on this issue published in my column of Wednesday, April 10, 2013 titled “Deputy Governors and their ‘Oga at the top’” It was former governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife who was credited to have referred to deputy governors as spare tyres. It is indeed very much so as the position of the Secretary to the State Government is weightier and more recognisable than that of the Deputy Governor. For instance, 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 while some lucky few among the rank of the deputy governors are assigned a ministry to superintend as a commissioner in addition to their role as deputy governor; the not-so-favoured ones like Prince Adesegun are either impeached or rendered redundant in office.

The position of the deputy governor is too shallow and only holds value to the extent that its holders enjoy immunity like the governor and have the prospect of becoming Acting Governors or substantive chief state executives depending on what happens to the elected governor as with the case in Adamawa where Bala James Ngilari, by judicial pronouncement, became the governor of the state after the impeachment of Gov. Murtala Nyako. I have previously suggested that if the deputy governor stands election independent of the governor in which case they are not mere nominee of the governor, perhaps they will cease to be treated as filthy rags or appendages of the governors. Quite unfortunately, there is no amendment to sections of the law which has to do with the office of the deputy governor in the ongoing constitutional amendment. My unsolicited advice to the wailing deputy governor of Ogun State is to either continue to stomach the shabby treatment being meted to him by the governor or honourably resign his position. The body language of the governor is very clear; he no longer wants his deputy, period!

Follow me on twitter: @jideojong

Friday, October 31, 2014

The controversy over the party nomination fees in Nigeria

It’s once again harvest time for political parties in Nigeria. With the October 1 publication of Notice of Election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the commencement of party primaries from October 2 to December 11, 2014, it is that season again when registered political parties sell nomination forms to aspirants willing to contest on their respective platforms. Though there are 26 or thereabout of them officially recognised by the INEC, with the current realignment of forces through decampment, mergers and alliance formations, it would not be out of place to say that though we have a de jure multiparty system in Nigeria, however, we have a de facto two party state.  The two dominant parties at this time is the old war-horse, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the new bride All Progressives Party (APC) .

A lot of furore has been generated by the recent publications of nomination fees by the PDP and APC. A lot of persons including some aspirants have complained about the high nomination fees of their political parties. Before I go on to analyse the complaints, here is what the political parties have resolved to charge aspirants. Starting with PDP, the party fixed the presidential nomination fee at N20 million with a N2 million fee for Expression of Interest; the governorship nomination form is fixed at N10 million with the Expression of Interest Form to be obtained at N1 million. The nomination fee for the Senate is fixed at N4million and N2 million for the House of Representatives. The Expression of Interest Form is fixed at N400,000 for Senate and House of Representatives aspirants.  The nomination fee for the state House of Assembly members is N1 million, while the Expression of Interest Form is fixed at N200,000. Though female nomination fee is free, but they are to pay for the Expression of Interest form.

For the APC, those aspiring for the presidential ticket of the party are expected to pay N27.5 million for both forms (expression and nomination).  Incumbent governors, who wish to run for a second term will pay N10.5 million, while fresh aspirants will pay N5.5 million.  For the upper chamber of the National Assembly, sitting senators will pay N5.3 million; fresh aspirants will cough out N3.3 million. Members of the House of Representatives, who intend to return, will pay N3.2 million, while fresh aspirants will pay N2.2 million.  In the 36 States, sitting lawmakers of Houses of Assembly are expected to pay N800, 000, while fresh aspirants will pay N550, 000.

The curious thing is that apart from this sum paid to the parties’ headquarters, the secretariats of the parties at the state also charge another nomination fees for aspirants. For instance, in the Ogun State PDP, governorship aspirants pay additional N2.5 million Expression of Interest form, N200,000 Senatorial fee and N100,000 administrative charge making a total of N2.8 million. In Oyo State, the sum of N5 million is paid into the party coffers by PDP governorship aspirants. This has made Prof. Taoheed Adedoja, a governorship aspirant in the state, to cry out that the sum is capable of scaring away people with great developmental ideas but with limited resources from contesting elections. Similarly, General Muhammadu Buhari  (Retd.) who was a former Head of State and a presidential aspirant under the All Progressives Congress also expressed his displeasure with the nomination fee of APC when he went to pick his nomination form on Thursday, October 16, 2014. He was quoted as saying that “It’s a pity I couldn’t influence this amount to be reviewed downward.” In reaction to Buhari’s concern, the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun said, “The N27.5m is to separate the men from the boys.” (See The PUNCH, Friday, October 17, 2014).

Indeed, in an election, there are two broad categories of contestants; they are the contenders and the pretenders. The contenders are the real contestants who have all it takes to vie for elective positions. They have the financial muscle, the requisite academic qualifications, the experience, the networks, the charisma, the oratorical prowess, and the goodwill. The pretenders however are just ‘also-ran’, bench-warmers, light-weight politicians who are mostly contesting for the purpose of name recognition, ego, and financial inducement during political negotiations. These set of pretenders are always in the majority. They are sometimes surrogates of contestants from the big parties who are funded by proxy to forestall election boycott or play sinister role in the event of the need for election petition. Whether lightweight or heavyweight, pretenders or contenders, both camps have equal basis in law and are treated equally by the electoral management bodies.

Failure to accord equal respect and treatment to the so-called pretenders has been costly to INEC in the past. For instance, elections have been nullified by simple reason of political party legally nominating candidates and such unlawfully excluded by INEC either by error of omission or commission e.g. non-inclusion of the logo and name of the political parties on the ballot.

As earlier mentioned the political parties charge huge nomination fees to prevent the electoral contest from being crowded by pretenders. Secondly, the fees also provide resources for the political parties to organise party primaries and other running cost for the parties. My only passionate appeal is that as political parties commence their party nomination process, the procedures will be free, fair, and transparent and follow high ethical standard such that even the losers will commend the process and the outcome.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult Ltd, Abuja