Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Now that 2015 election timetable is out

In an unprecedented manner, the Independent National Electoral Commission in exercise of its constitutional mandate decided to release the timetable for the 2015 polls some 13 months ahead of the D-Day. INEC on Friday, January 24, issued a press statement announcing the date for the next General Elections as well as those for the Ekiti and Osun state governorship polls. The Commission fixed the order of elections as follows: Ekiti governorship election – June 21, 2014; Osun State governorship election – August 9, 2014; Presidential and National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) Elections – February 14, 2015 (St Valentine’s Day) and Governorship and State House of Assembly Elections – February 28, 2015. On Saturday, January 25, INEC followed up the initial announcement with details of activities such as the timeline for the publication of National Register of Voters, conduct of primaries and public campaigns, among others etc.
The publication of the election timetable will definitely heighten preparations for the polls by different stakeholders in the electoral process. While INEC has taken the lead and will henceforth be under the close scrutiny of the public as it steps up arrangements for the forthcoming elections, the political parties and aspirants too will rev up activities to enhance their good showing at the poll. Other stakeholders that will cue in include the civil society organisations, particularly those engaging democracy and good governance issues; the legislature; the media, the security agencies and the judiciary.
Starting with the legislature, the INEC timetable is a call to action for the lawmakers. Now that they know INEC’s plan for the coming polls, the National Assembly needs to help INEC to succeed. In a number of ways, the Nigerian legislature holds the aces. The lawmakers need to tidy up their act and conclude in good time, not later than six months before the polls, their protracted constitution and Electoral Act amendment exercises. Giving the country a new electoral law that takes cognisance of the request of the electoral commission as well as other stakeholders in the electoral process will assist INEC with the preparation as it would ensure that the electoral commission acts within the legal framework handed down to it by the parliament. A timely conclusion of the constitutional and Electoral Act reviews will also ensure that other stakeholders like political parties, the judiciary and even the civil society are aware of their rights and responsibilities as would be enshrined in the amended laws as well as be in a position to adequately sensitise their various constituencies and indeed the general public on the new electoral law.
Moreover, the National Assembly also holds the power of appropriation. INEC in December 2013 had requested about N93bn for the conduct of the 2015 elections. Ironically, only N45bn was earmarked for the election management body in the 2014 budget estimates. In order not to frustrate the noble plans of INEC to conduct a more acceptable poll in 2014/2015, the Commission needs to be properly funded. The legislature, in conjunction with the executive arm, particularly the Presidency, needs to ensure this.
INEC itself owes it a duty to rekindle public confidence in its conduct of elections. All the management and staff of the commission must work as a team with shared vision to deliver a more credible and acceptable election to Nigerians. It must also build strongly on its 2011 performance and raise the bar for other African and indeed other EMBs to emulate. There is no gainsaying that conducting elections in a huge country like Nigeria is a Herculean task. However, having laid its hands on the plough, INEC must do all within its power to deliver free, fair, and credible polls in 2014/2015.
The political parties and aspirants to political offices are critical stakeholders in the election project. They need to work harmoniously with INEC to enable the commission succeed. Already, we have in recent times been witnessing all manner of mergers, alliances, defections and cross-carpeting within and among different political parties in country. Today, we could say that with the approval of merger of the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change, the All Nigerian Peoples Party and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance and their subsequent registration as the All Progressives Congress by INEC on July 31, 2013, Nigeria is effectively a two-party state notwithstanding the existence of other fringe parties who may eventually go into alliance with either the Peoples Democratic Party or the APC.   It behooves politicians to obey their code of conduct as they go about politicking ahead of the forthcoming polls. They should eschew hate speeches, campaign of calumny, inflammatory and seditious comments. They should imbibe the spirit of sportsmanship and create a level playing field for all aspirants to political offices.
It is also important to use this medium to appeal to the National Executive Council of the APC to reconsider its hard-line directive to its National Assembly members to block all Executive bills, including the 2014 budget proposal and confirmation of all nominees to military and civilian positions to public office, until the crisis in Rivers State, in particular, is resolved. The APC should not cut its nose to spite its face. Asking its federal lawmakers to frustrate legislative activities is capable of grinding the government to a halt; this no doubt is not a progressive action. The party should not fritter the goodwill it currently enjoys with the Nigerian public who sees its emergence as a counterforce to the leviathan PDP.  Many Nigerians including this writer have written to condemn the impunity in Rivers State. The APC should better retrace its step and not plunge this country into an avoidable political crisis.
Ahead of the 2015 General Elections, the executive arm at different tiers of government should avoid executive recklessness particularly in its relationship with opposition political parties and candidates. This is not the time to put together the “hit squad or snipers” to deal with political enemies. This is not the time to abdicate governance and focus on politics. This is not the time to arm-twist the police to frame up political opponents or prevent them from campaigning. It is not the period to muscle the media from reporting the truth and giving equal coverage to both the party in power and those in opposition. It is the time to create a level playing field for all political parties and contestants and play politics without bitterness.
To my constituency, the civil society, the time has come for us to build a critical mass through networking and synergy building to engage the electoral process. We need to mobilise the public particularly the targeted groups (18 years and above who are yet to register since the 2011 registration exercise)  to participate in the  continuous voters registration which INEC will roll out in due course. We need to engage in peace building and ensure that political campaigns are issue based. Our voter education initiatives should target mass political participation; reduction in invalid ballot; mandate protection; reduction in incidences of electoral violence, campaign finance regulation compliance and awareness creation on electoral laws. Organisations intending to observe the forthcoming polls should follow due process of accreditation with the electoral management body and adhere strictly to the code of conduct for election observers.
Our media houses, especially political reporters must be professional in their reportage of political events. They need to realise that the public depends on them for information and should therefore maintain the highest ethical standard in the performance of their constitutional duty. The judiciary should also get ready to receive and adjudicate expeditiously on both the pre-election and Election Day disputes.  All said, the referee has blown the whistle, let all the players obey the rules of the game. Good luck, Nigeria.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Anarchy in the temple of justice

I am worried and all men and women of goodwill should equally be concerned about the creeping violence on the Nigerian judiciary especially the judges and the courts. It is fast becoming a norm for judicial officers or their family members to be assaulted in order to intimidate them from carrying out their lawful duty. Sometime ago, some judges in Delta State came under severe molestation by assailants. According to media reports, on August 7, 2012, a High Court judge, Marcel Okoh, was abducted and spent 10 days in his abductors’ den. Also, on Tuesday, December 3, 2012, another judge of the High Court, Marshal Mukoro, allegedly escaped death by the whiskers after his Sports Utility Vehicle was riddled with bullets by unknown assailants.  There was another case of Justice Azinge who purportedly escaped being kidnapped and had to run away from the court for months. Also, on Friday, May 10, 2013, unknown gunmen abducted the wife, daughter, and driver of a Supreme Court Justice, Bode Rhodes-Vivour. The victims were travelling to Edo State, ahead of the Justice’s daughter’s wedding ceremony. It is comforting that in all these instances, there was no fatality as those kidnapped were later released even though unconfirmed reports said after the victims’ families had paid ransom.
In the recent past, Rivers State has added to the list of environments hostile to the judiciary in the country. Courts, which are temples of justice, are being routinely vandalised and bombed in the crisis rocking the state. In 2013, a Magistrate’s Court in Okehi in Etche Local Government Area of the state was vandalised while files and other vital documents were set ablaze by unidentified arsonists. On December 18, 2013, an explosion reportedly rocked the premises of the Ahoada High Court under Justice Charles Wali. The same court on January 6, 2014 was bombed by unknown attackers. The blast affected the secretariat of the Nigerian Bar Association located within the court premises. The same day, another High Court in Okehi in Etche Local Government Areas was also set ablaze.  There were suspicions that the explosion and fire outbreak might not be unconnected with the involvement of the two courts in handling matters relating to the political crisis rocking the state.
It is not only physical violence that the Nigerian judiciary suffers from; the institution is also meted with psychological and structural violence. Some lawyers and litigants are in the habit of routinely maligning judges once the outcome of their matters in court is unfavourable to them. You will hear them castigate the judges that handled the matters during press interviews. They accuse the judges of “incompetence, indolence, corruption, nepotism” and all what not. Many of these allegations are unfounded and unsubstantiated. It is unbecoming of members of the bar, in collaboration with their clients, to openly castigate judges in the media when in actual fact there are open channels for them to seek redress if they are not satisfied with judgments of the courts.
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, has dedicated the whole of Chapter VII to issues concerning the judiciary. If anyone or institution is dissatisfied with the judgment of a court, there is a window of opportunity for appeals. If a foul play is suspected in the administration of justice, the lawyers and litigants have right to petition the heads of the courts be it Chief Judge of the State, President of the Federal High Court, Court of Appeal or Chief Justice of Nigeria. Also, they can write to the National Judicial Council to ventilate their grievances. I am by no means saying that there are no corrupt or indolent and incompetent justices and judges. Far from it!  What I am saying is that a more matured and effective means of seeking redress from miscarriage of justice should be explored by lawyers and litigants rather than bringing the judiciary to public disrepute. After all, the NJC has on several occasions recommended dismissal or compulsory retirement of some judges who, after due investigation, are found culpable of accusations leveled against them. It is nonsensical and puerile for lawyers, including members of the Senior Advocates of Nigeria to behave like mobs in a market place when they disagree with judgments of the courts. These lawyers and their clients are impugning on the integrity of the judges because they know that members of the bench are forbidden from joining issues with them in the media.
Aside from the highlighted psychological violence visited on judges, there is also structural violence. The three tiers of government led by the Federal Government deliberately underfund the judiciary. Statistics have shown that, funding of the judicial arm from the Federal Government has witnessed a steady decline since 2010, from N95bn in that year to N85bn in 2011, then N75bn in 2012 and dropped again in the 2013 budget to N67bn. I learnt the allocation for the judiciary in the 2014 budget is N68bn, a paltry N1bn more than last year’s. Whether the National Assembly will appropriate this for the judiciary remains to be seen. This amount is obviously inadequate given the infrastructural needs of the judiciary at the federal level. There is the need to build new courtrooms and refurbish dilapidated ones. There is also the need to appoint more judges as well as train and retrain both the judges and their support staffs. In many states, the sight of some courtrooms is repulsive. Some of them have no electricity and cooling systems, inadequate furniture, leaking roofs, unkempt court premises while the libraries are full of archaic books. This is distressing! Also disturbing is the undue politicisation of the appointment of judges and various heads of court by sacrificing merit for mediocrity.
These developments are an ill-wind that blows no good to anyone. The implication on the polity and society is grave as all these attempts to cow the judiciary and frustrate it from playing its constitutional role of adjudication without let or hindrance can make the aggrieved to resort to self-help. Judges and other judicial officers need a conducive environment devoid of fear and molestation to put in their best. That is the irreducible minimum government at all levels must provide in order to boost people’s confidence in the judiciary. It is not yet late in the day to reverse the ugly trend.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ekiti and the politics of stomach infrastructure

"He may have done well with the provision of physical infrastructure. However, what about my own stomach infrastructure?”
—Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State mimicking his detractors on TV
I had planned to write on something else but decided to examine the three years and three months administration of Governor John Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State after watching the January 11, 2014 edition of Sunrise on Saturday, a magazine programme of Channels Television anchored by the inimitable duo of Alero Edu and Kayode Akintemi.  I am ascribed different titles by many people but among my honorifics you will not find the word politician. I simply detest Nigeria’s type of politics. I have known Fayemi when he was the Executive Director of Centre for Democracy and Development. When he decided to join active politics, I privately commended his courage. I followed his campaigns in the media and after he was robbed of his victory at the poll, I equally kept tab on his long drawn battle to recover his stolen mandate through the election petition tribunals. When on October 15, 2010, the Appeal Court in Ilorin, Kwara State eventually declared him the winner of the April 2007 governorship poll in Ekiti State, I congratulated him on his Facebook page.
However, if truly Fayemi performed creditably as he and his lieutenants avowed on the Sunrise programme of last Saturday, then I want to congratulate the people of Ekiti State on their choice of the quintessential development worker. I also want to congratulate the governor for being a worthy ambassador of my constituency, the civil society. In the first one hour of the programme when the presenters grilled the governor on his performance in office, he eloquently rolled out his numerous achievements in various sectors. I am really impressed with the reversal of the dwindling fortunes of Ekiti State, as claimed by the governor, in the education sector through strategic interventions of the state government. According to the governor, his administration refurbished all the secondary and primary schools in the state, and abolished all “miracle centres” where mercenaries are hired to sit for examinations for those who could afford to pay. His administration, he also said, also declared free education in all secondary schools to complement the Federal Government’s free primary education policy. According to the governor, when he came to power in 2010, Ekiti State was recording about 20 per cent success rate in the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations, by 2013, the state has achieved about 80 per cent success rate. His administration’s merger of the three universities in the state which he referred to as glorified secondary schools into one has also yielded positive result as all the courses being offered by the state’s university are fully accredited by the National University Commission.
On the health sector, he said the state which has 16 local government areas has 22 General Hospitals with some communities that have a small population having Primary Health Centres.   Many of these hospitals are said to have been refurbished while others are currently undergoing renovations. Health services are said to be free for certain categories of citizens such as children from 0 – 5 years, pregnant women, persons with disabilities and adults that are 65 years and above. Fayemi also said his government introduced social security scheme where the indigent citizens, 65 years and above are being paid N5, 000 monthly for their upkeep. About 20,000 senior citizens are said to be currently benefiting under the scheme. The Ekiti State roads are said to have also received prime attention under Fayemi’s administration with some youths also having been engaged under the Ekiti State Traffic Management Agency.
It is instructive to note that it was not only the governor who was interviewed on the TV programme last Saturday; his finance, agriculture, tourism and environment commissioners as well as the Special Adviser on Millennium Development Goals also shed light on their ministries’ contributions to good governance in the Land of Honour. I am thrilled about the transformation of Ikogosi Warm Spring from a derelict monument to an international tourist centre. According to the Commissioner for Tourism, Mrs. Ronke Okusanya, the Warm Spring recorded over 40,000 guests between the Christmas and New Year Day. She spoke of the administration’s plan to build an helipad in the second phase of the development of the Ikogosi tourist centre, the ecotourism plan of her ministry, the Arinta Waterfall in Ipole Iloro, the various heritage sites such as Olosunta Caves in Ikere-Ekiti, the Ogun-Onire Grove in Ire-Ekiti, the Ero and Egbe Dams, the Okutagbokutaleri heritage site, the Ekiti Cultural Festivals among others.
The Special Adviser to the Governor on MDG described what is happening in Fayemi’s administration as Transformation 360 Degree. She spoke glowingly about the attainment of 30 per cent affirmative action by the administration, the passage of Equal Opportunity Bill and Gender Equality Bill, the achievement of the two out of the eight MDG goals, and the youth empowerment scheme of the Ekiti State government.  The finance commissioner informed the viewing public about the monthly allocation of the state which is put at about N3bn; the restructuring of the huge debt met when the current administration came to office in 2010 which was renegotiated from 22.5 per cent interest rate to about 13 per cent interest rate; the N20bn bond taken by the state and the efforts to ensure prudent use of resources by the government as well as the close monitoring of projects. The agriculture commissioner also shared his ministry’s success story in rice and cassava cultivation among other achievements.
Two of the 16 cultural ambassadors appointed by the state government also featured on the programme. They are Prof. Ojo Bakare, a renowned culture administrator and performing artist and the veteran septuagenarian actor, producer, and director, Chief Jimoh Aliu, MFR, popularly known as Aworo in the Yoruba theatre genre.   The 78-year-old recounted how he started his drama troupe in 1954 as well as his service in the military. I was spellbound to note that the man, who claimed to only have a six-month stint in formal school, could speak good English.
It was not all about physical infrastructure that Fayemi should be commended, more important to me is his seeming accountable and transparent administration as well as the premium placed on maintenance of peace in the state. According to him, the state has moved from its notorious “one week, one trouble” status to an ambience of peace and tranquility. As attested to by Bakare, no one dared go out after 7pm before Fayemi came to power, but now, people have, once again, embraced night life as they go about their lawful business even at odd hours of the night. This peaceful atmosphere has helped to further attract tourists and investments to the state.
Be that as it may, I still have my worries as the Independent National Electoral Commission plans to hold governorship election in the state by June this year. Political temperature is already rising in the state as there were reports of harassment of political opponents. Though the political and religious leaders as well as the state Commissioner of Police who also featured on the programme said they were all committed to peace and were mapping out strategies to promote law and order in the state, I do hope the political gladiators will sincerely allow peace to reign before, during and even after the forthcoming governorship election. I am disappointed that the opposition parties reportedly snubbed the chance to come on the programme. That would have afforded the viewing public an opportunity to know if Fayemi’s achievements in office were being exaggerated. According to the governor, those who would probably deny his performance are the tiny minority who are advocating for the infrastructure of the stomach. You decode what that means.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Another presidential jet for Nigeria, not again!

The covetous man pines in plenty, like Tantalus up to the chin in water, and yet thirsty

—Thomas Adams

Am I suffering from auditory hallucination? Could it be true that President Jonathan is planning to acquire another jet for his comfort and that of his lieutenants and cronies? How well does this serve the country and address the issue of unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment in our dear country? I am dumbfounded that Jonathan has chosen this path of ostentation rather than prudence given the story of his life he regaled us with during his campaign in 2011 when he said he was shoeless when going to school. He promised fresh air and transformation of the country. The president’s opulent lifestyle portrays him as someone who lacks sympathy for the majority poor Nigerians whose lives have been made miserable by dearth of opportunities to meaningfully fend for themselves.

Media reports have it that in this year’s budget, the presidency has earmarked a princely sum of N1.5bn or thereabout as the initial deposit for the purchase of additional aircraft that will bring the number of aircraft in the presidential fleet to 11. At present, the aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet  are two Falcon 7X jets, two Falcon 900 jets, a Gulfstream 550, one Boeing 737 BBJ (Nigerian Air Force 001 or Eagle One), and a Gulfstream IVSP, one Gulfstream V, Cessna Citation 2 aircraft and Hawker Siddley 125-800 jet. Each of the Falcon 7X jets purchased in 2010 is said to cost about $51.1 million, while the Gulfstream 550 was purchased for $53.3 million. I joined The Nation to ask the question: What does the President need an 11th presidential jet for? As observed by the newspaper, “Jets are money guzzlers, whether on air or on ground. This is clear from the planned expenses on the items to be purchased by the PAF”.

The PUNCH in an earlier editorial published on December 29, 2013 had observed that “The Federal Government has budgeted N1.52b for the maintenance of the 10 aircraft currently in the Presidential Air Fleet in 2014”. PAF is said to have the third largest fleet of aircraft in the country, coming closely behind Aero Contractors Airlines, which has a total of 14 aircraft. Arik Air, the largest commercial airline in the country, has a fleet of 23 aircraft. According to the newspaper, “The government has also earmarked N458.5m for international training for the fleet’s personnel. Another chunk of the budget for the fleet is the N675.9m budgeted for the rehabilitation/renovation/repairs of PAF Barracks. A whopping N405.5m is also proposed for the completion of a hangar project under the PAF budget for the year while N106m is earmarked for tyre bay tools and equipment. The PAF’s security vote (including operations) is N259.55m; insurance premium — N445.7m; as well as cleaning and fumigation services —N58m”.

Additionally, “N71.74m is budgeted for 797 units of LG 2HP air-conditioners for PAF Barracks; N40.5m is earmarked for three units of Toyota Coaster buses and N26.4m for four units of Toyota Hilux. Motor vehicle fuel will gulp N29.6m, other transport equipment fuel cost — N26.5m; plant/generator fuel cost N14.5m as well as cooking gas/fuel cost — N2m. The N67m devoted to miscellaneous included refreshment and meals — N28.9m; postage and courier services — N15m; medical expenses — N12m; corps members kitting, transport and feeding allowance N3.7m and honorarium and sitting allowance — N3.6m”.

Still using The PUNCH as a guide, the newspaper in its editorial of July 16, 2013 did a comparative analysis of what obtains in other well-endowed countries. It reported that “British leaders often take commercial flights and, occasionally, trains when travelling for state functions. Japan, with its Gross Domestic Product of $4.52 trillion and per capita income of $36,200, (at Purchasing Power Parity), has only two aircraft – Boeing 747 – 400 – for use of the prime minister and the emperor; the Netherlands, with GDP of $770.2 billion and PCI of $42,300, has two; the British Queen, Elizabeth II, and Cameron travel on chartered British Airways flights, despite their country’s $2.32 trillion GDP and PCI of $38,700; South Africa has just one presidential aircraft with its GDP of $678.6 billion and PCI of $11,300, though it expects another soon, while Malaysia has one, but has also ordered a second; but with its GDP of $492 billion and PCI of $16,900, like others cited, Malaysia is ahead of Nigeria with a GDP of $450.5 billion and PCI of $2,700”.

In June 2013, the presidency dispatched one of the jets in its fleet to fetch the Malawian President, Joyce Banda, to attend a Global Power Women Network Africa summit in Abuja. It turned out that Malawi does not even have a presidential jet as the only one she had was sold off by her president, Mrs. Banda. Besides selling the presidential plane for $15 million, Banda also sold off a fleet of 35 Mercedes Benz limousines reserved for the president and the cabinet. She equally cut her own salary by 30 per cent, among other austerity measures.

I couldn’t agree more with the submission of The PUNCH that: “Jonathan has no excuse to continue keeping 10 aircraft and our under-performing legislators have no reason to keep approving new purchases or the billions of naira they appropriate for their maintenance each year”. It behooves us as Nigerians to mount pressure on the National Assembly to deny approval for this offensive request for another presidential jet in the 2014 budget. In fact, the National Assembly should pass a resolution compelling the president to sell off at least eight of the present 10 aircraft in its fleet. The proceeds from the sales should be invested in revamping our education and health sectors which are at present comatose.

I must hasten to say that the request for additional presidential jet is not the only absurd thing in the 2014 appropriation bill. Several others including the sum earmarked for travels, acquisition of animals for the presidential zoo, maintenance of presidential guest houses and the likes should be deleted from this year’s budget. State governments that are buying jets for their governors’ use and ordering fleet of bulletproof cars for their comfort at the expense of the suffering masses are doing a lot of disservice to their people.  It is quite ironic that these frivolous requests are being made in the budgets of different levels of government even in the face of dwindling income and when much of the budget is being financed with local and international debts. As posited by The Nation in its January 3, 2014 editorial, “Leaders should learn to cut their coats according to their country’s purse. It is not only the citizens that should make sacrifices in times of economic adversities.”