Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Now that National Conference is over

The discourse reflected our latest challenges. We shall send the relevant aspects of your recommendations to the Council of State and the National Assembly for incorporation into the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. On our part , we shall act on those aspects required of us in the Executive.”
President Goodluck Jonathan made the above remark while receiving the report of the National Conference from a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi, on Thursday, August 21, 2014.
From October 1, 2013 when Jonathan announced to the nation his intent to set up a national confab to the inauguration of the Senator Femi Okunrounmu-led National Advisory Committee to the March 17 inauguration ceremony of the 494 “wise men and women” down to August 21, 2014, when the conference wound down, one of the most trending news were snippets from the conference. For the delegates, it was a tortuous journey. There were disagreements, stalemates, suspicions, resolutions and statesmanship on display. One of the early controversies that beset the conference was the issue of legality or otherwise of the conference. A school of thought, particularly among the lawyers, said that the conference needed legal backing for its decisions to be binding. I recall Dr. Tunji Abayomi was in court over this. Others believed that since there was no legal backing for the conference, the redeeming factor would be to subject its outcome to a referendum to be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
From the opening statement of this piece, Jonathan is not treading that path as he has said that he would send the outcome of the dialogue to the National Assembly and the Council of State.
Another controversy that fraught the confab was over the voting formula. Decisions were to be reached by consensus or 75 per cent as recommended by the President during his inauguration speech. However, some delegates believed many good proposals would be killed if this voting method was adopted as it would be difficult to muster such high number of delegates around contentious issues. After a lot of negotiations, particularly with the “50 wise men” among the conferees, it was agreed that 70 per cent would be the threshold for the adoption of any proposal.
There was also the mutual suspicion between the northern and southern delegates. There were allegations of a “draft constitution” which the northern delegates believed was beyond the scope of work of the committee and an attempt to give President Jonathan a third term in office. Even when that was resolved by a change of name given the “draft amendment bill”, the conference could not resolve the issues of derivation and sharing formula among the three tiers of government.
Really, congratulations are in order to the 494 delegates and six conference officials for navigating the landmines to come up with laudable recommendations even though I do not agree with some of them. The most poignant of which is the proposal for the creation of additional 18 states in Nigeria to bring the number of states from the present 36 to 54. For goodness’ sake, how could the delegates believe that the solution to Nigeria’s problems lies in further balkanisation of the country when in actual fact many of the existing states are ailing and are over dependent on the Federal Government for survival?
While submitting the 10,335-page report, Kutigi said that all issues were arrived at by consensus. The ex-CJN said the work of the conference remained the most tasking in the history of national conference in the country. He was quoted as saying, “The 1978 Constituent Assembly had a membership of 230 people and met for nine months. The 1995 National Constitutional Conference had a membership of 371 people and met for 12 months. The 2005 National Political Reform Conference was made up of 400 delegates and met for five months. We are 494 in membership and you made us do all this work in four and half months.” The conference chairman added that the conference approved over 600 resolutions, some dealing with issues of law,   policy and amendment to the 1999 Constitution.
In all sincerity, I am not excited with the outcome of the conference. I have previously commented on the conference and stated that it was a right thing being done at the wrong time. (See The PUNCH, October 16, 2013). I still maintain that. While the conference was going on, the National Assembly was marching ahead with its constitutional and Electoral Act 2011 amendments. Both houses have passed different versions and have set up a conference committee to harmonise their two differing positions. Now, comes the National Conference report making recommendations for constitutional amendment or writing of a new constitution. I ask, is that forward or backward movement? Will that not make all the resources spent on constitutional amendment since 2012 or thereabout to go to waste? How sure are we that many of the bills proposed by the National Conference will be passed by the National Assembly? If what happens to the much celebrated 2008 Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee report is anything to go by, I am not optimistic that the present crop of federal lawmakers will do justice to the National Conference report when it gets to them.
Secondly, we know the snail pace at which government works. A White Paper committee may soon be inaugurated to distil the over 10,335-page report and come up with recommendations on which of the over 600 proposals to take. I can assure the reading public that we would be lucky to have the White Paper committee report in the next six months to one year. It took government White Paper committee more than two years to come up with its report on the Oronsaye committee on merger and acquisition of government Ministries Department and Agencies proposals. Should government want to fasttrack the implementation of the Kutigi conference report before the end of the year, it will likely impact negatively on the planning for the next general elections which are slated by the Independent National Electoral Commission for February 14 and 28, 2015. The point being made is that the conference could have been held after the inauguration of the winners of the next general elections in May/June 2015. That would have been tidier, neater and cost-effective as the new administration will see through the implementation during the lifespan of its regime. What President Jonathan can do and should do in the immediate period is to start the implementation of the policy recommendations while leaving the issue of constitutional amendment, new constitution or referendum on the report till after the next general elections. .

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ebola, striking doctors and Nigerian sports

It is a month today when the first index case of Ebola Viral Disease was recorded in Nigeria. On July 20, 2014, Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American imported the disease into our shores while attempting to attend an ECOWAS conference in Calabar, Cross Rivers State. Since that unfortunate incident, Nigerians have been ill-at-ease. With Boko Haram insurgents wreaking havoc in northern Nigeria and Ebola claiming lives in Lagos, in Southern Nigeria, indeed, my compatriots have cause to be apprehensive. More so, given the contagious nature of the disease and the high mortality rate of its victims. As of the time of writing this piece, only four lives had so far been lost to the virus while a total of five had been certified healed of the disease and discharged from isolation centre while over hundred others are being quarantined or under surveillance.
I join millions of Nigerians to commend the Lagos State Government, the Federal Government and the World Health Organisation for the timely intervention to curtail the spread of the disease. Thus far, but for an incorrigible nurse who travelled to Enugu in spite of medical warning not to journey out of Lagos being under surveillance, the case would have been limited to Lagos. As it is, six persons are said to be under surveillance for the virus in the Coal City having had contact with the infected nurse from Lagos. It is also noteworthy that the Federal Government on August 8 declared the EVD as a national emergency in Nigeria and has earmarked a princely N1.9bn intervention fund to combat the disease while Aliko Dangote, the business mogul and renowned philanthropist, has also donated a sum of N150m in support of fighting the scourge.
The World Health Organisation has equally declared the EVD as a global emergency and has approved of the use of trial drugs to fight the disease while also giving technical support to the Lagos and federal governments to fight the plague. Likewise, many state governments are preparing isolation centres for the treatment of the infected. The Federal Government has also made it mandatory for the screening of incoming and outbound passengers at our various ports, be it airports or seaports. I was screened at the Nanmdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja on my way from Port Harcourt last week, Tuesday, August 12. I have done this recap to show how the Nigerian government has risen boldly to the challenge of the EVD to the admiration of Nigerians and the global community. In fact, the Nigerian media deserves special kudos for the many enlightenment programmes, commentaries, editorials, jingles and advertorials they have been running ceaselessly as their own corporate social responsibilities particularly in the wake of misleading information that Ebola could be prevented or cured by chewing bitter kola and bathing with salt water.
Rather unfortunately, in spite of the accolades the Federal Government has been receiving, it took a very foolhardy step last Thursday by sacking about 16,000 resident doctors who have been on strike since July 1 before the outbreak of the EVD. It also announced the suspension of the Residency Training Programme in all its hospitals “pending the conclusion of the ongoing appraisal of the challenges in the health sector.” These actions, to say the least, are retrogressive and would only worsen a bad situation. Where does the Federal Government hope to source replacement for these sacked doctors? Even, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, who wielded a similar stick in May 2012 against striking doctors in the state, had to rescind that unpopular decision later.
As rightly observed by Dr. Osahon Enabulele, who is the immediate past president of Nigerian Medical Association, “Currently, Nigeria has an abysmal doctor-patient population ratio of 1: 6,300. With this action of the government, the ratio will further decline to about 1:15, 500. Similarly, the morbidity and mortality indices are sure to worsen on account of this shocking action of government.”
How I wish Nigeria’s ruling elite patronise our decadent public hospitals. Perhaps, they would have taken a different approach to resolving the current impasse between government and the striking doctors. While government claimed to have met 90 per cent of the 24 demands of the NMA, the doctors are saying there is no concrete evidence to show that government has met their requests. For instance, while some of the striking doctors have volunteered to help in the treatment of victims of Ebola, they complained of lack of protective gears for their operations. While government also claimed to have taken a life insurance policy for each of those health workers who are helping out in the containment and management of the Ebola scourge, government has yet to make open the details of the insurance policy as demanded by the doctors. What this means in essence is that the Federal Government is not transparent enough in resolving its issues with the striking doctors and this is not good enough.
If however we must blame the hawk for wickedness, let’s also scold the mother hen for exposing her children to danger. In all sincerity, in the interest of the suffering masses who are the ones bearing the brunt of this strike, the NMA should reconsider its hardline posture and suspend its industrial action. They should remember the immortal words of Oliver Goldsmith that, “He who fights and runs away may live to fight another day; But he who is battle slain, can never rise to fight again.”
Tragically, though the menace of Ebola has yet to be of epidemic proportion in Nigeria, it is disheartening that the Chinese Youth Olympics authorities decided to stigmatise and quarantine Nigerian athletes who travelled to that Asian country for this year’s Youth Olympics. Reports said despite none of the 12 athletes tested positive to the EVD, they were quarantined and barred from participating in contact sports like wrestling. The embarrassment led to the Nigerian contingent withdrawing from the competition. I also learnt that Kenya has placed a 30-day quarantine on Nigerian footballers who are going to be transiting through their country to Windhoek in Namibia for a football match.
Lesotho has also refused to come to Nigeria to honour an Under-20 football match. This is ridiculous and preposterous! The Nigerian government, the Nigerian Olympic Committee and the Nigerian Football Federation must write strongly worded protest letters to China and Kenya over this ill-treatment. It is the height of insensitivity and erroneous judgment to stigmatise a whole country over an infection that has largely been contained and which only affect a fraction of one out 36 states. Moreover, if after an appropriate testing without any confirmation of the EVD, shouldn’t that be sufficient to calm their frayed nerves?As many sports analysts have observed, if the Federal Government did not rise in protest of these incredulous acts, soon Nigeria will be barred from participating in virtually all global sporting competitions including officiating. This will rub off negatively on our sports development. A stich in time saves nine.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Nigeria’s rising debt profile and the culture of waste

On June 29, 2005, the Paris Club and Nigeria agreed on a US$18 billion debt relief package. As at December 31, 2004 Nigeria owed a total of US$35.994 billion. The deal with the Paris Club was celebrated by government and was counted as a major achievement of the Obasanjo administration. Unfortunately, Nigeria is back in the shackles of debt less than a decade after its glorious exit from debt burden. According to the latest release by Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (August 2014), Nigeria’s total debt stock recorded about 2.7 per cent increase to N10.43 trillion ($66.99 billion), against N10.16 trillion ($65.25 billion) at the end of the first quarter ended March 31, 2014. This is the result of continued debt deals by the Federal Government internally and externally.

Much as it is practically impossible to run a debt free government, the big questions are: What are the debts procured used for? Are the monies spent on consumption or production? Are they being used on capital projects for which they were sourced for ab initio? How come with all the domestic and external borrowings the state of infrastructure in the country is still parlous and deplorable? Is there a possibility that these borrowed funds are being misapplied and stolen? Why is government reluctant to use part of our external reserve to fund some of the projects for which money is being borrowed locally and in-country? Are there no alternatives to these ceaseless borrowings?

The rising debt profile in Nigeria is indeed a cause for concern. Much of the borrowed funds are diverted to fund unproductive ventures. Some State governments borrow to pay salaries and other recurrent overheads.  How productive are these? With a bloated bureaucracy that should actually be pruned. The luxurious lifestyles of our ruling elites that needs to be made austere. The white elephants that should never have been embarked on in the first place. All these are the bottomless pits that drain our meagre resources. These and the leakages in the system such as over-invoicing, kick-backs, and outright thievery have combined to rob us of effective debt management and value for money borrowed.

Most of the borrowed funds approved by the legislature for the executive are not monitored to ensure proper usage. In actual fact, it has been alleged that oversight function by lawmakers is largely an inducement seeking exercise. The civil society groups who could do a better job are  usually sidelined while only few of them even have the technical capacity to do a thorough monitoring of projects being funded through debts. In my own opinion, the argument that we are currently under-borrowing is balderdash. It is not mandatory that we must borrow. Instead, most of the things we borrow to fund could actually be funded by our national income. Just imagine what Nigeria will realise from stoppage of oil-theft, cutting down wastages in government such as the about a dozen presidential aircrafts and chains of bullet proof cars being yearly bought for the comfort of few of our ruling elite. Nigeria simply needs to re-order its priorities, plug all the leakages in the systems through which government fund is siphoned and ensure adequate oversight on the projects being implemented with the borrowed funds.



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Osun governorship election: A post-mortem

I have more than a passing interest in the welfare of Osun State. I may have been born and bred in Ibadan, Oyo State; however, my parents are both from the State of Osun. Thus, ahead of the August 9 governorship election in the “State of the Virtuous”, I carried out all my official assignments in the state with extra zeal and dedication. I had been involved in training of both poll officials and security agents, sensitisation of women groups as well as conduct of security threat assessment in the run up to the election. Though I was not physically on the field to observe the election, I monitored the media for the progress report and was part of the discussion panels on the poll on both the African Independent Television and Nigerian Television Authority.
I heaved a sigh of relief when the election was held without bloodshed and post-election violence. I was happy to see jubilation on the streets and not bonfire. I was glad to hear and read the congratulatory messages from President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party. These are signs that our democracy is taking firm roots.
Indeed, the run up to the poll was very rancorous. The campaigns focused more on muckraking, character assassination, uncouth comments and disparaging remarks than on developmental issues.   Of the 20 political parties that contested the election, only the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party ran flamboyant campaigns. The two opposing parties left nothing to chance. Millions of naira were spent on propaganda in the name of media campaigns. Door-to-door campaigns as well as mega rallies were held. Different poverty alleviation programmes and empowerment projects otherwise known now as “stomach infrastructure” were embarked upon, all aimed at inducing voters. Various food items were shared (rice, noodles, and sachet milk, to mention a few). However, at least two deaths were recorded. That of Pa Taiwo Ogundele in Ile-Ife in March and that of Tolu Adeosun in Ilesa in July.
It is the belligerent attitude of the political gladiators that necessitated the deployment of over 73,000 security agents by the Federal Government to secure the electoral environment. As had been seen in Ekiti and Osun states, the so-called militarisation which the APC chiefs have roundly condemned did not impact negatively on voter turn-out. Let’s take a look at the statistics.
Out of a total of 1,411,373 registered voters, 986, 117 of them collected their permanent voter card (i.e. 70.13 per cent). On the day of the election, 764,582 were accredited to vote. A total of 750,021 votes were cast while 32,700 were rejected ballots. The percentage turnout was put at 54.17 per cent. According to the Returning Officer for the election, Prof. Idowu Bamitale Omole, who is the Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, out of the 717,321 total valid votes cast, Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola of the APC scored 394,684 votes to defeat his main challenger, Iyiola Omisore of the PDP who scored 292,747 votes as well as 18 others. This invariably means that the incumbent governor got more than half of the total valid votes cast.
There are several high points worthy of note in the last Saturday’s governorship election in Osun State. All the preliminary observer reports I have read are unanimous in their commendation of INEC for conducting a transparent, peaceful and credible election. As it happened in the July 21 Ekiti governorship election, INEC recorded over 90 per cent prompt opening of polling stations. Indeed, it was reported that 96 per cent of the Polling Units started accrediting voters as early as 8.00 a.m. This means that INEC has largely overcome its perennial logistic challenge. The Commission not only had seamless deployment of men and materials, the retrieval process was also smooth as the results and the winner of the contest were declared within 12 hours of the close of poll in spite of the huge number of Local Governments (30) and the three-tier collation procedures (that is, Ward, Local Government and State).
Also worthy of mention is the various innovation adopted by INEC. These include the use of colour coding for ballot papers, the use of only Permanent Voter Card, the establishment of the Election Operations Support Centre to monitor deployment and troubleshoot, the Citizens Contact Centre and the use of social media to communicate with the public, the Voter Verification Platform to help voters locate their Polling Units, the establishment of Super Registration Area Centre to ease deployment of election officials and materials, the creation of voting points to ease accreditation at Polling Units with large voting population, and the blistering voter education campaign conducted by INEC, the National Orientation Agency, the civil society and the media.
Part of the high points is the professionalism and conscientiousness of the majority of the security agents deployed for the election. The yeoman’s job done by the civil society in terms of voter sensitisation and mobilisation as well as election observation is also praiseworthy. The Nigerian media also deserve kudos for the public education and information role they played during the electioneering process. The doggedness of the voters in not only trooping out to vote but in guarding their votes and making them count deserve applause.
To my own mind, there are a couple of areas in need of improvement. INEC needs to come out strongly to condemn and mobilise the security agencies to arrest and prosecute those who have engaged in electoral offences particularly acts of terrorism and vote buying. The impunity with which the political class in Osun and previously in Ekiti and Anambra carried out vote-buying in spite of the specific provisions of Section 124 of Electoral Act 2010, as amended, which criminalises the act, is worrisome. There is no gainsaying the fact that both the APC and the PDP are in breach of the constitutional and Electoral Act provisions on campaign finance. The Act in Section 91(3) puts a ceiling of N200m on campaign fund of governorship candidates. What the candidates of the two aforementioned parties spent on their campaigns is far in excess of this amount. We can’t continue to have the best election money can buy.
Another area in need of improvement is the welfare of security agents deployed for election duty. As observed by CLEEN Foundation in its preliminary report on the Osun gubernatorial election, “The provision of adequate welfare for security officials on election duty remains a pressing challenge. Most of the officers, especially those deployed from other state police commands, complained of poor accommodation and feeding arrangements. For instance, some officials deployed to the state on Sunday, August 3, 2014 slept in empty primary school buildings on their own mats and only received a token amount on Friday, August 8, 2014. This makes them increasingly vulnerable to compromise and should be addressed urgently.” The Foundation also expressed concern on the use of masks by some of the security agents deployed for election duty. I am equally uncomfortable with this development as this will make it difficult to identify any of the bad eggs among them who may want to abuse their powers. Lastly, as we approach 2015 elections, the political elite would do well not to overheat the polity. They should focus on salutary and developmental issues in their campaigns rather than engaging in hate speeches and inciting comments.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The uncivil electoral war in Osun

In the next three days, about a million voters who have collected their Permanent Voter Card in Osun State will be filing out to choose their governor for the next four years. This exercise hopefully will bring to a close the ongoing uncivil electoral war that was ignited when the Independent National Electoral Commission released the timetable for the poll on Friday, January 24, 2014. In the last six months, different actors and stakeholders in the electoral process have been carrying out a lot of activities in preparation for the August 9 election.
Election ordinarily is a civil exercise. A civic responsibility by citizens who are 18 years and above and have registered to vote. It is one of the tenets of democratic culture. The main actors are the electoral management body which conducts the poll and the political parties which field candidates to contest at the election. Stakeholders in the electoral process include the legislature which gives the legal teeth to the contest; the media which educates the public about the process; the civil society that observes and reports on the process; the judiciary who mediates the conflict or dissatisfaction that may be thrown up by the exercise; the security agencies which help to secure the electoral environment and the electorate who pick their choice candidate to lead them for a four-year term.
Many opine that INEC, which is constitutionally responsible for the conduct of the poll, has been up and doing since the commission announced the date of the poll. Among other things, the commission set the timetable, has been sensitising the public on the forthcoming poll through the mass media and stakeholders’ meetings, and has displayed the voters register and conducted a continuous voter registration in Osun State in March. Other preparations of INEC include the distribution of the Permanent Voter Card, recruitment and training of both permanent and ad hoc election officials, printing and distribution of sensitive and non-sensitive election materials, setting up of Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security and inauguration of the Osun State chapter of the Inter-agency Advisory Committee on Voter Education and Publicity. It is instructive that INEC has approved 20 political parties to field candidates for the August 9 poll and has accredited 29 observer groups for the election. Not only that, it has also set up a voter verification platform for Osun as well as citizens contact centre.
Like INEC, the political parties too have been going about their duties. They have conducted party primaries and have (s)elected their flag bearers. They have also been campaigning. This is where the electoral war has become very uncivil. In a manner akin to the Kiriji War fought in the state (Imesi-Ile) between Ekiti Parapao Army and Ibadan warriors from 1870 to September 23, 1886, political gladiators have been throwing everything into the race in order to outdo one another. Hate speeches, inciting comments, character assassination, mudslinging, inflammatory statements have dominated the campaigns and political discourse in Osun. The main culprits here are the All Progressives Congress, which is the ruling party in the state, and the Peoples Democratic Party, which is the main challenger. Both parties and their candidates have been unsparing in their propaganda war. Falsehoods are being daily churned out as facts and mountains are being made of molehills. Unfortunately, the unruly and untoward activities of the two main rival political parties have, according to reports, claimed two lives.
In March, during the INEC’s Continuous Voter Registration, a PDP leader, Pa Taiwo Ogundele, was murdered in Ile-Ife. Just last month, a member of the APC in Ilesa, Tolu Adeosun, allegedly lost his life during a fracas that ensued during the mega rally of the PDP in the town. Thus, apart from the media war, human fatalities have been recorded in the lead up to the election. The police authorities in Osun have made some arrests of hoodlums at some of the campaign rallies and are currently prosecuting them in the courts.
Yet, the political class is not done. The main dramatis personae earlier mentioned have also been heavily involved in voter inducement and voter buying. There are several ways they have been doing these. The political parties through their agents have been allegedly buying off voter cards from some unsuspecting voters. A news report says they pay between N5,000 and N10,000 for the PVCs. They have also been openly sharing foodstuffs and other items like rice, garri, beans, sachet milks, noodles, salt, matches, clothing materials, kerosene and hand fans. In exchange for money, some agents of the rival political parties have also been allegedly going round to collect mobile phone numbers and VIN (Voter Identification Numbers) on the Permanent Voter Card of some voters. Other measures being employed include promises of political appointments, giving of ‘soft loans’ to some voters as well as other sudden charitable acts aimed at inducing voters.
What many of the voters who have sold their cards do not know or choose to ignore is that ‘there is no free lunch in Freetown’. These desperate politicians will recoup their political investments on assumption of office after the election. The ‘stomach infrastructure’ they opted for now is the opportunity cost for the democracy dividends they should receive in the four-year tenure of the elected representative. Apart from that, vote selling and vote buying have been criminalised by the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. Section 124 of the Act categorises them as bribery and conspiracy and anyone caught in the act, on prosecution, risks 12 months imprisonment or a fine of N500,000 or both.
One will be playing the ostrich pretending not to know why politicians are desperate to win elections in Nigeria. Election in this country is a winner-takes-all, zero sum game. There is simply no other profession that is as lucrative as politics in Nigeria. The salaries, allowances, influence and other perks of office make political contest in Nigeria very fierce. According to a political scientist, David Easton, “Politics is authoritative allocation of values” while another political luminary, Harold Lasswell, said it is about “who gets what, when and how”.
As the saying goes, once bitten twice shy. The APC, having lost Ekiti State to its arch rival, the PDP in the June 21 governorship election, does not want an encore. The PDP, on the other hand, wants to prove that its victory in Ekiti is a renaissance for the party and that the APC is a mere paper tiger in the South-West in particular. Well, whatever the two gladiators may want to prove, they should let the will of the electorate prevail. The votes should count. The spirit of sportsmanship should be imbibed in these few days to the Saturday poll. The APC and the PDP should not burn down the state they wish to govern. They should remember that it is easier to destroy than to build and that Osun is a state of the virtuous (Ipinle Omoluabi). Enough of this bloodletting and warmongering. Another Kiriji War will not develop our dear Osun State. Let peace reign!