Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ekiti electoral tsunami

The June 21, 2014, governorship election in Ekiti State offers some useful lessons for students of politics. A lot has been said about why the incumbent governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, lost signally in the contest in spite of his sterling performance in office. His ‘sins’ are legion. According to reports, he lacks good human relations by not socialising with the populace; he allegedly surrounded himself with eggheads or technocrats who have little or no electoral value and who are equally not in touch with their constituents. They call them Ekiti in the ‘Diaspora’. He is accused of not empowering local contractors as most of the contracts were said to have been awarded to vendors from outside of the state.
Also, the insistence of his administration to make teachers write competency test which is wrongly perceived as a ploy to downsize or right-size the work force; the increase of the tuition of Ekiti State University and the enforcement of no payment, no examination as well as the palpable fear of the likelihood of his administration banning commercial motorcycles from the main roads as was done by another All Progressives Congress government in Lagos State formed part of the reasons for the crushing defeat of Fayemi at the poll. Also mentioned was that the governor had earlier promised to do only one term in office which he now reneged on by re-contesting; so also was the non-conduct of elections into the 16 local government areas of the state. The perceived use of federal might against the leaders of the APC in the state and at the federal level in order to cow them was also seen as a contributory factor.
Of all the tales that have come out of Ekiti on why Fayemi lost, the most weighty and damaging to me is the act of betrayal by his party members. First and foremost, the governor did not manage his second-term ambition well. Long before official call for nomination by the Independent National Electoral Commission on January 24, 2014, the APC leaders in Ekiti State met late last year and endorsed the incumbent for second term. This did not go down well with other aspirants within the party. One of such is Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, a serving member of the House of Representatives, who resisted all attempts to thwart his ambition within the party and when the governor’s supporters started ceaseless attacks on his supporters, he left the APC to realise his goal on the platform of Labour Party. Rather than embark on fence-mending, the crack engendered by the second term ambition of Fayemi was left to widen by the party’s leadership both in Ekiti and at the national level and that contributed in no small measure to the routing of the party at the poll.
The disenchantment of the APC members with the leaders of the party in the state is also not in doubt. It was gathered that there are over 240,000 registered members of the party in Ekiti State. The party also has 25 members out of the 26 in the state House of Assembly. It occupies all the six seats allocated to the state at the House of Representatives as well as the three senatorial seats. Shouldn’t that give the party easy victory at the poll? Yet, the party in power was roundly defeated in the entire 16 local governments of the state and managed to garner a paltry 120,433 out of a total valid votes of 350,366. If only the over 240,000 members of the APC in the state had voted for their party, the story should have been different.
What happened on June 21 is simply a protest vote by the electorate of Ekiti State. They decided to use their power to dethrone a ‘king’ they fought tooth and nail to enthrone on October 15, 2010 after three years of fierce legal battle. They decided to vote against imposition. They chose to vote against a selfish political leadership who rather than empower them decided to indulge in self-aggrandisement. They decided to align forces with a man who sympathised and empathised with them. A man who cared more for their ‘stomach infrastructure’ than their physical infrastructure. The Ekiti electorate have consciously made their choice and this must be respected.
For the APC, if it does not mend its way, the Ekiti episode will mark the beginning of the end of the party. The ‘Baba sope’ (elders have decided) politics of the past 15 years that has worked for the party since the days of the Alliance for Democracy and the Action Congress of Nigeria is now being rejected and resisted. It was partly what cost the ACN victory in the October 2012 governorship election in Ondo State. Would it not have been tidier and more honourable if Fayemi had been made to go through party primaries like other aspirants rather than a conclave of elders imposing him on the party? For the other elected and appointed party members who refused to support the governor’s re-election bid, they too should start packing their bag and baggage to leave their positions in 2015 as the electoral tsunami of June 21 will most likely consume them as well at the next general elections.
The only redeeming option left for the APC is to imbibe internal party democracy and foster unity among its rank and file.
It was reported on Tuesday that the party was gathering evidence to go and challenge the outcome of the poll at the election petitions tribunal. They are alleging that INEC scientifically rigged them out through the use of photochromic technology used in printing the ballot paper and the quality of the indelible ink. My candid unsolicited advice to the party, however, is to perish the thought and concentrate on rebuilding itself and reconciling its aggrieved members. The 2015 elections are around the corner and the resources to be spent hiring legal counsels and prosecuting the petitions should be used to grow the party and boost its electoral fortunes.
I laud INEC for overcoming the perennial challenge of logistics in the Ekiti election. The transparency and accountability demonstrated by the commission during the election is unprecedented. Its communication strategy was very robust. Its voter education plan was effective leading to 50.32 per cent voter turnout; 2.8 per cent invalid ballot and a largely peaceful poll. The political parties and candidates, security agents, media and observer groups also deserve commendation. I do hope all election stakeholders will consolidate on the success of the Ekiti election and perform better at the August 9 governorship poll in Osun State.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Spot the difference between PDP and APC

The All Progressives Congress concluded the ‘election’ of its national executive officers at a national convention held at the Eagle Square, Abuja, on Friday, June 13. At the end of the exercise, a former Governor of Edo State, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, emerged the new party chairman. It will be recalled that after the merger of the Big Three (The Congress for Progressive Change, Action Congress of Nigeria, and All Nigeria Peoples Party) last year, interim executive officers had been running the affairs of the party. At the 9th Interim Executive Committee meeting held in Abuja in March, the party announced that its congress would start on April 5 and end with a national convention on May 24. Specifically, the party announced as follows: “The Ward Congress will hold on April 5, Local Government Congress on April 12. State Congress on April 23 and the National Convention on May 24.” A change in date however led to the national convention being postponed before it eventually held last weekend. I say congratulations to all the newly elected party executives at the various levels.
Since the time that the ACN, the ANPP and the CPC began their romance and their eventual marriage by the Independent National Electoral Commission on July 31, 2013, I have taken keen interest in the activities of the party. For the records, I am not a card carrying member of any political party. However, as a student of politics, I pay attention to political developments around me. I am very delighted with the emergence of the APC because it will help to deepen Nigeria’s democracy. Formidable opposition is a sine-qua-non to democracy and concomitantly, good governance. Hitherto, the ranks of the opposition in Nigeria had been fragmented. Not even the coming together of opposition political parties under the aegis of the Conference of Nigeria’s Political Parties was able to foster the kind of challenge needed to put the ruling PDP on its toes.
Since the coming on board of the APC, there have been unprecedented vibrancy and dynamism in Nigeria’s political environment. Though I do not agree with all the positions taken by the party on national issues, nevertheless, the party through its vivacious Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has never been quiet on key national issues. The APC has robustly taken on the PDP and made the ruling party to sit up. More painful to the PDP is the poaching of some of its strong members in both legislative and executive arms of government. Scores of elected members of the state houses of assembly and the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) and indeed five PDP governors had defected to the new APC. The new bride (APC) remains the greatest headache of the PDP since the return to civil rule in 1999. As things stand, the APC and the PDP are not unaware that they would have to earn their victory at the poll in any future election.
The dress rehearsal of what to expect in the 2015 polls between the two rival parties takes place this weekend in Ekiti State where the incumbent governor, John Kayode Fayemi of the APC, is slugging it out with former governor Peter Ayodele Fayose of the PDP. It remains to be seen who among the two major gladiators will come out top in the electoral battle. The same scenario is building in Osun State where the incumbent, Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola of the APC is sweating it out with his main challenger, former deputy governor and senator, Iyiola Omisore of the PDP. The epic battle for the governor’s seat in Osun is slated for August 9. Nigerians are waiting with bated breath on how these two governorship elections will be fought, won and lost by the two opposing parties, the APC and PDP. A win for the PDP in both or either of the two states will deal a fatal blow to the camp of the APC which hopes to consolidate its current 16 states ahead of the 2015 general elections.
For me, it does not really matter which of the political parties or candidates win, what is of utmost concern is that the votes of the electorate must count and must be the sole determinant of the winner at the poll.
I have asked myself if there is truly a difference between the APC and the PDP. As far as I can see, the difference between the two is that between six and half-a-dozen. Perhaps, the difference lies in nomenclature. Yes, the wordings of their party manifestoes may be different but in terms of governance, it will seem they are copying from the same textbook. Let’s start with the just concluded APC congresses and convention. Both parties shied away from electoral contest by adopting ‘consensus candidates’ for most if not all the elective positions.   It was reported that four candidates were in the race for the position of the national chairman, to wit, Chief Tom Ikimi (a former minister of external affairs under the military junta of the late Sani Abacha), ex-Governor Timipreye Sylva of Bayelsa State, Dr. Sam-Sam Jaja, a former PDP chieftain, and Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, erstwhile governor of Edo State. Three of the four candidates were pressured to step down for the anointed candidate, Odigie-Oyegun. However, Ikimi has said he did not step down neither did he attend the convention which he claimed to have boycotted due to some grievances he had against the electoral process. So, what happened at the Eagle Square last weekend? Mere coronation. Delegates were just handed ‘ballot paper’ to mark Yes or No for the largely unopposed candidates, in fulfilment of all righteousness.
It will be recalled that the ruling PDP adopted the same strategy to elect the ousted Alhaji Bamanga Tukur-led national executive in March 2012. The question is, why are Nigerian political parties afraid of electoral contests? Why do they revel in imposition of candidates, both for party executive positions and primaries organised for general elections? Governance wise, there is nothing the PDP legislators or governors are doing that their APC counterparts are not replicating; both good and bad. In any event, many of the APC chieftains were until recently staunch members of the PDP. Take for instance, a former governor of Ekiti State, Segun Oni, who emerged as the Deputy National Chairman (South) of the APC. He only defected to the party from the PDP in May 2014, barely a month ago.
The same for ex-Governor Isiaka Adeleke of Osun State who until his May 31 defection to the APC represented the PDP in the last Senate. On a lighter note, while the PDP candidate in the next Saturday governorship election in Ekiti State was sharing out 2kg bags of rice to prospective voters in the state and topping it with N2,000, the APC candidate reportedly decided to cook jollof rice which is parcelled out to prospective voters in the forthcoming poll.
Wise up if you’re an aide to any politician. Don’t allow your principal to use your head to break coconut. In politics, thereare no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. For the electorate, vote candidates on their own merit, not on party considerations. Politicians are birds of passage who have scant regard for political platforms. As the race for 2015 elections draws near, I implore the various political parties to rein in their members and eschew hate speeches, violence, rigging and other unpatriotic acts.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Unwarranted military siege on Nigerian media

“A free press is the conscience of a nation and a practical means of achieving good government”
–A former UN Secretary General, Dr. Boutrous Boutrous Ghali.
Last weekend’s attack on the Nigerian media by the military High Command is unwarranted, condemnable and shameful. The Nigerian media fought for the democracy we currently enjoy and no amount of “scapegoatism”, threats and molestation will be successful against it. The media survived Decree 2 and 4 of 1984 and all other draconian legislations promulgated by the military junta. They endured proscription, molestation, incarceration and assassinations of journalists. If they did survive under the autocratic regimes of the military, they readily will outlive the current siege on their businesses and practice.
What really happened on Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7? In a Gestapo-like fashion, newspaper distribution vans were ambushed by soldiers across the country. The vehicles, their drivers and other staff accompanying the circulation vans were unlawfully detained for hours, their wares (newspapers) were also seized under the pretext that there was an intelligence report that some of the delivery vans might be used for transporting “materials with grave security implications.”
Indeed, we are in an unusual time. Anything is possible in the ongoing war against terror. We once thought Nigerians could not be suicide bombers. Now, there are many of them and just last Sunday, a female suicide bomber with an explosive in her Hijab reportedly blew herself to smithereens also killing a soldier who was conducting search on her at a military barracks in Gombe. Yes, there could be blacklegs among the staff of the newspapers who may have sympathy for the terrorists. Although, considering the fact that media houses have previously been attacked by the insurgents and some of their employees killed and property destroyed, the possibility of a sell-out is far-fetched. However, much as I am in support of thorough checks of newspaper delivery vans to be sure they are not being used to compromise national security, this should be done with civility and decorum. Once they are frisked, searched or screened and nothing incriminating found on them, they ought to be allowed to go about their normal duty. Why seize newspapers? Why detain the drivers and circulation staff of the newspapers? Why molest the marketers, distributors and the newspaper vendors?
Funke Egbemode of the Daily Sun was on point in her article of Sunday, June 8 titled, “Futility of killing the town crier”. The columnist in her largely satiric piece was spot on when she opined that:” … what exactly is stopping the circulation of newspapers supposed to achieve? …If the Ministry of Defence got ‘intelligence reports indicating movement of materials with grave security implications across the country, using the channels of newsprint related consignment’, how does seizing newspapers at the airport, copies that would be screened before they are freighted fit into that bill? The newspaper vans that were searched for explosives, were there bomb squads there in case they discovered bombs in our centre spread? If you arrest a newspaper van at 3.00am and you did not release it till 9.00 am, can anybody explain why it took six hours to determine if a newspaper has bomb…?” Unfortunately, none of the unions and regulatory agencies in the media was consulted before the latest siege.
The Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria in its press release described the situation as an “attack on free speech by soldiers…” Its President, Nduka Obaigbena, described the assault on freedom of expression through the stoppage of distribution of newspapers as inconsistent with the values of any democratic society and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project was absolutely right when it pointed out that, “The seizure and censorship of major newspapers critical of government’s policies amount to undue and impermissible external interference in the operations of independent media houses. This apparently unlawful action has in turn negatively impacted on the citizens’ effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
The situation has worsened the operating climate of Nigerian newspapers many of whom barely manage to keep afloat. Even when there was no assault on newspaper production and distribution, many of them record low patronage and large number of unsold copies. This is mainly because of the diminishing purchasing powers of newspaper readers and more importantly the advent of online newspapers aided by the social media. This phenomenon has affected the newspaper value chain. The newsprint and other publication material suppliers, the marketers, distributors and vendors are all groaning due to large number of unsold copies. Even prompt payment of staff salaries and allowances have become a serious challenge to most newspaper publishers. The loss incurred by newspapers affected by the military assault of Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7 is huge and the Federal Government under whose supervision the Nigerian military is must take full responsibility and pay compensation to the media houses for the gargantuan loss they have incurred while the crackdown lasted.
The Nigerian government, nay, the military, needs the press and should do nothing to alienate members of the Fourth Estate of the realm. Apart from the Nigerian constitution guaranteeing the right to know and express opinion, there are other international instruments and protocols to which Nigeria is a signatory which confer similar rights. Also, the current administration has been previously applauded for signing the Freedom of Information Act.
Of course, there are exemptions to every rule; there are laws against libel and sedition and should any media outfit breach its ethical code, such can be disciplined through administrative and judicial processes. As stated earlier, much as I am not against the military taking prompt action on intelligence report at its disposal, such could and actually should be done professionally, without intimidation and within the ambit of the law. I do not see the need for further delay or detention of newspaper circulation vans and staff after they had been searched and certified free of anything incriminating.
As rightly observed by the third United States president, Thomas Jefferson, (1743-1826), “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost”.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Take me back to Egypt

It was neither my first time out of Nigeria nor my inaugural international election observation mission. I had twice been privileged to be on such missions to Ghana in December 2008 and the United States of America in November 2010. My third time out on election observation duty was in Egypt in May 2014. Each of these missions holds their peculiarities. My recent trip to the land of the Pharaohs was an eye-opener; a momentous and epochal event.
As rightly observed by Zahi Hawass, an Egyptian archaeologist, in his foreword in the book, “Wonders of Egypt”, “Egypt’s greatest wonder is the magic of its archaeological sites…Egypt is a land of many, many wonders – the great historic (and beautiful) city of Cairo, with more medieval monuments than any other city in the world; the spectacular desert landscapes of the Gilf Kebir, the White Desert, or the high mountains of Sinai; the majestic, life bringing Nile and the rich green fields that are its gift”. I was ecstatic experiencing some of Egypt’s wonders in my 10 days adventure in the ancient country.
A few things, however, intrigued me in the country’s electoral process. First, the use of judges as presiding officers at polling stations. Two, the use of National Identity Card for voting (the country’s voting register was extracted from its national identity card database). Third, the large number of voters assigned to vote in each polling station which ranged from between 3,000 and 5,000. Fourth, the use of only public schools as polling centres with voting taking place inside the classroom rather than outside as in the case of Nigeria. Fifth, the professionalism of Egypt’s security agencies on election duties (both officers and men of the armed forces were deployed in providing security at each polling stations. Though armed to the teeth, they did not in any way scare voters who turned up even with their children to cast their votes). Sixth, the infectious warmth and hospitality of an average Egyptian towards visitors. (In most polling centres visited, both poll officials and voters received us with open arms with many of them begging us to take photographs with them.
Seventh, voters simply mark their choice of candidate with pen unlike in Nigeria where we thumbprint or fingerprint the ballot. Eighth, election in Egypt takes place from 9am to 9pm and the last presidential election was held over a three-day period (from May 26 – 28). Ninth, there was no shutting down of the Egyptian economy during the electioneering period. Though the election took place during the week days, people still went to work on the first day. On the second and third day, government workers were given public holiday but organised private sector and the non-formal sector went about their normal business. There was no roadblock, no movement restriction as is the case here. Tenth, the use of music for voter mobilisation. During the electioneering, Minions Boshret Kheir, a single released by popular musician, Hussein al Jasmi, became the most popular song in Egypt. I couldn’t resist getting the song from my translator, Raafat, and using it as my ringtone. Eleventh, perhaps, due to heightened fear of disruption of the polls, the electorate were excluded from witnessing the sorting and counting of the ballots with only the poll officials, party agents and accredited observers allowed to witness the counting. The twelfth fascinating thing I witnessed during the Egypt election was the near-fetish identification of Egyptians with their national flag. Many of them bought the flag and waved it in solidarity as they attended campaign rallies and came to vote. When news filtered out on who had won the election, they waved the national flag in jubilation.
Egyptians are very beautiful. Their ladies are very pretty, and their men very handsome. They are majorly light-complexioned with curly hair. Their skin is spotless. Many of them look angelic in their sartorial elegance. Egyptians also love tea. They drink it whether the weather is hot or cold. They serve their tea with a glass of water by the side. They however do not drink their tea with milk. I must have drunk more tea in my 10 days in Egypt than I did in the last six months. I also relished their local delicacies: falafl, foal (beans), beznal eaten with aish (Egyptian bread) and chay (tea).   Egyptians also take a lot of sugar and sugary things. Likewise salt. They are heavy smokers, smoking cigarette and shisha with the same passion as they drink their tea. An Egyptian newspaper, Ahram, of May 29 reported a study that revealed that Egypt is home to 40 per cent of the world smokers of shisha (tobacco concoction smoked through a hose or tube).
I also observed that Egyptians have an active night life. The day I arrived in Cairo, traffic was still heavy at about 12 am as we journeyed from the airport to the hotel. Most shops were still open and people move about as if it’s the dawn. Another fascinating thing I observed in Egypt is the people’s penchant for high-rise buildings. Skyscrapers filled everywhere, whether residential or business complexes. Hardly did I see any house that is a bungalow. Most of their houses are from about four storeys and above. There is also constant supply of electricity. I didn’t witness any light-out during my stay. This 24-hour electricity supply made it possible for the country to have elections for 12 hours, from dawn to dusk as well as to hold the election inside well-lit classrooms. It also helps the functioning of their elevators given the high-rise nature of their buildings.
As I criss-crossed the country from Cairo to Beheira to Alexandria and to Giza governorates, I keenly observed that the most popular cars on the streets of Egypt are Chevrolet and Lada. I also noticed that Egyptians are mainly rough drivers. Little wonder there is high rate of accidents on their roads particularly in Cairo. It is noteworthy, however, that Egypt has a very efficient transport system. EgyptAir is a public-owned enterprise yet the corporation is professionally and efficiently run. There are also railway services including two metro lines in Cairo. Sea transport is also not left out as boats are offering efficient and effective transport services to commuters.
The tight schedule of my assignment in Egypt didn’t allow me much time for recreation and tourism. Nevertheless, I made out time to visit a number of tourist sites. These are the Nile view of Beheira, Alexandria Castle built over 500 years ago and the Mediterranean Sea beach in Alexandria and the vintage Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza.
To Magdy, our driver, and Raafat, our interpreter, during the election observation period, I say Shokran (thank you) for the kolo tamam (satisfactory or very okay) services you both rendered to me and my partner, Jenneh. On my next visit to Egypt, I will like to visit the country’s numerous archeological sites.