Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let’s not scuttle this democracy!

I have a warning for the Nigerian politicians: Take care not to scuttle this democracy. This Fourth Republic did not come on a platter. When Gen. Ibrahim Babangida annulled the June 12 presidential election, civil disobedience ensued. As the citizens protested, lives were lost, properties destroyed and many activists had to go on exile. Since the return of democracy in 1999, after the military interregnum, we have successfully had four general elections in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. The quality of those elections is debatable but nevertheless we are making progress in deepening our democratic culture.
We are at the threshold of conducting another general elections; the fifth in this Fourth Republic. However, the way and manner our politicians are going about their campaigns are discomforting. Once again, primordial sentiments are being raked up in order to get some political advantage. Religion, ethnicity, gender, social status and academic qualification are being projected as dominant issues during campaigns rather than developmental issues such as how they intend to address unemployment, poverty, corruption, infrastructural deficit, security, education, health and agriculture, etc.
In the last couple of weeks, the media including the social media have been awash with all manner of falsehood, half-truth, labelling, and unreasonable demands such as the call for postponement of the elections scheduled for February 14 and 28. Recently, some elements came up with news story about one Ibime Belema-Jonathan, a 24-year-old native of Nembe, Baylesa State who allegedly claimed to be President Jonathan’s “out-of-wedlock” son. This was debunked by the Presidency through the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati. He emphatically said that the President does not have any illegitimate son by whatever name, and dismissed the report, calling it a cheap propaganda from the opposition party.
The gossips were not done yet. They alleged that ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo said that President Goodluck Jonathan did not complete his PhD thesis. They quoted him as saying, “Even Jonathan did not finish his PhD course but when it was presented, we stated that it does not matter but many people do not know because it was a PDP thing.” However, the President later released a photocopy of his certificate while the University of Port Harcourt where he graduated has also come out in his strong defence. The UNIPORT Deputy Registrar (Information), Dr. William Wodi, was quoted as saying, “The authorities of the University of Port Harcourt are aware of rumours that are now spreading like harmattan fire over the doctoral degree status of President Goodluck Jonathan. The allegations have neither legs nor grounds to stand on and we hope that its purveyors will now rest in silence.”
The All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, had suffered more attacks on his person among all the 14 presidential candidates for next month’s election. Though this is his fourth attempt, having been contesting the same position since 2003, a visitor to this country will think he is a debutant presidential candidate. What has not been raked up about the man from Daura? A medical report purportedly from Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital was “manufactured” in which Buhari was alleged to have “prostate cancer”. Perhaps, it’s on that basis that the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, hinged his infamous advertorial calling on Nigerians not to vote for Buhari.
This assertion of cancer was later found to be a hoax. According to the Director, Media and Publicity of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, Garba Shehu, “This is the highest point of political distraction, malice and mischief. The report was not only fake but unfounded. I have spoken to impeccable sources at ABUTH all of whom deny the report and also claimed that the letterhead used was not their regular one, and that Dr. Bala Mohammed that purportedly approved the false medical report is not on the personnel list of that department.” In another vein, some individuals have been calling for the disqualification of Buhari on the basis that he does not have the requisite basic qualifications. When his school in Katsina produced his West Africa Secondary School Certificate result, they later claimed it was forged. The Jonathan campaign organisation even went further to call for the withdrawal of his rank from the army as well as prosecution for perjury. Well, the APC has said anyone who has issues with Buhari’s qualification should go to court.
That admonition has been heeded by an Abuja-based lawyer, Mr. Chike Okafor. He has asked a Federal High Court to disqualify the APC candidate from contesting the 2015 presidential election. Okafor claimed that Buhari failed to prove that he had the minimum educational qualification to run for President. He further claimed that Buhari’s affidavit that he possessed WASC was false, as not only did he not attach it to his nomination form, as compulsorily required, but his claim that the certificates were in the custody of the military had been denied by the Director of Army Public Relations, Brig Gen. Olajide Laleye. My take on this issue is that the court should make a final pronouncement on this matter and expeditiously too.
Aside from the certificate and medical issues, Buhari has been accused of dictatorship, corruption, bigotry, senility, and all what not. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not against scrutiny of our political leaders. What rankles me are the unfounded allegations aimed at tarnishing the reputation of these leaders. This Pull Him Down syndrome is anti-development. Maligning and assassinating the character of people should not be encouraged under any guise. Quite unfortunately, in a bid to gain upper hand in the coming elections, we have dragged religious and military institutions into the political fray.   Churches have now become campaign grounds much against the letter and spirit of our electoral law which forbid such. Conflicting “prophecies” are daily being made by our religious leaders about who shall be the next president of Nigeria. This is not good enough. Our military and other security agencies appear to be showing traits of partisanship when they ought to be apolitical.
Now, the strident call by some political stakeholders for a shift in the polls baffles me. If this call is being masterminded by the Independent National Electoral Commission, I would understand. However, for individuals and organisations which have no business in election administration turning themselves into advocates of election postponement is incredible. Just like the infamous Association for Better Nigeria of 1993, a group named Nigerian Hopes Alive Project on Monday blocked the INEC headquarters in Abuja demanding the shifting of polls by 60 days. INEC as of last Friday, January 23, said it was ready to conduct the polls and that all the resources it needed had been given to it. On the Permanent Voter Cards distribution debacle, the commission had said that the PVC would be distributed till the eve of the presidential election. Shouldn’t all these assurances from INEC lay to rest the call for election shift? I do hope, very sincerely too, that the debacle of 1993 is not about to repeat itself. We need to safeguard this democracy. Let the polls go on as scheduled or else we may be paving the way for anarchy and the military to seize power.
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Can Abuja Peace Accord guarantee nonviolent election?

It is campaign season and the political gladiators have been gallivanting across the length and breadth of the country trying to woo voters towards getting their support in the forthcoming general elections of February 14 and 28, 2015. How I love the colourful and flambouyant dressing of the political juggernauts on their campaigns. It’s a new ‘aso-ebi’ for each campaign venue. The musicians are having a field day and the Nigerian media are also having bumper harvest of cash. What with the countless live telecasts of campaigns; the political jingles and newspaper advertorials. The Public Relation firms and Advertising Agencies are also not left out of the cake sharing. Many of them are having swell time placing adverts on behalf of their clients, mounting political bill boards and performing sundry other services for their political clients.  It’s their season of boom and I am sure they’ll not want it to end.

However, accompanying all the glitz and glamour of the campaigns are the veiled insults, hate speeches, inciting comments, baseless rumours, innuendoes and unsubstantiated allegations being leveled by political gladiators against one another. Experience, they say, is the best teacher and given the pre and post-election violence that   happened in 2011 in which over 800 persons died and properties worth billions of Naira destroyed, there was therefore palpable fear that this year’s general elections will be fiercer and bloodier. Many local and international organisations such as CLEEN Foundation, National Association for Peaceful Elections in Nigeria, United Kingdom Agency for International Development, International Crisis Group, European Union and some others have been covertly and overtly expressing worry about the likely outbreak of violence during the 2015 elections. At individual level, eminent personality like Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi did raise highbrow about the volatile nature of the forthcoming polls and it was his prime idea that leading political contestants should be made to sign a peace bond.

Peradventure  it was to the suggestion of the erudite scholar and former Minister of Foreign Affairs that the Office of the National Security Adviser and Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs harkened when on January 14, 2015 they jointly organised a one day sensitisation workshop on non-violent election which had in attendance majority of the presidential candidates, members of the diplomatic corps, national chairmen of some political parties, youth groups, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, civil society organisations and other stakeholders in the electoral process. The main highlight of the workshop was identification of factors that could trigger electoral violence and how to nip them in the bud.  The workshop culminated in the signing of Abuja Peace Accord by key presidential candidates.

I watched part of the live telecast of the event and heard speeches made by INEC chairman, and some of other distinguished personalities who spoke at the event which was chaired by former Secretary General of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and had as the guest speaker, the ex-Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. Kofi Anan. I observed from what was said at the event that indeed knowledge of issues that can cause electoral violence is well understood by our political class and educated elites. However, area of dissension is on the antidote.

The Abuja Peace Accord is desirable, reasonable and is a useful alternative dispute resolution mechanism. It is well crafted but is it enforceable? True that the intentions of the framers are noble but they need to be reminded that there are non-violence clauses in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended, the Code of Conduct for Political Parties, and in the Constitutions of each of the political parties; why then do we continue to experience high level of violence in our polity and elections? It’s simply because the enforcement has been weak.

How many of the perpetrators of the 2011 pre and post 2011 election violence had been punished for their dastardly acts? This culture of impunity is majorly responsible for the festering of election related violence. Yes, President Jonathan wants us to adopt a political system that will spread the benefit of elections rather than the current winner-takes-all system we use. Good thinking! But is that suggestions not late in the day given the near conclusion of the constitutional amendment? General Muhammadu Buhari at the forum alleged underhand dealings by INEC in the collation of his votes in 2011 and the meddlesomeness of the executive in the judicial review of the presidential election at the election petition tribunal. Should that be true and replicated in the forthcoming February 14 poll, will the signed pact be sufficient to rein in his supporters who may want to resort to self-help?

The point here is that there can never be peace without justice. All the stakeholders in the electoral process need to play by the rules whether it is the INEC, security agents, judiciary, political parties and contestants, the media, civil society, the legislature and the electorates. We all must do the right thing before the losers will deem it fit that he or she has lost at the poll fair and square and not rigged out. For instance, am not yet seeing enough of conflict sensitive reporting by Nigerian media. Many are still publishing rumors as facts. The security agents are yet to demonstrate sufficient professionalism in handling the political tension and election security matters. The electoral act for the forthcoming elections has not yet been passed by the national assembly less than a month to the commencement of the general elections. It remains unclear if INEC has received its outstanding funding for the polls. The pre-election litigations arising from the badly conducted party primaries in November and December 2014 have been stalled by virtue of the strike by judicial workers. All these are ominous, telltale signs of impending combustion and disaster.

As earlier submitted, the Peace Accord of January 14 is a step in the right direction but it is insufficient to prevent violence and deliver credible elections. All actors and stakeholders must play by the rules of the game and where there are infractions; adequate punishment must be applied by relevant regulatory agencies without minding whose ox is gored.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The President’s unsigned legislative bills

It’s no doubt election season as candidates have emerged and campaigns have taken the centre stage. The Nigerian Elections Debate Group just elected a new chairman in the person of the Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority, Mr. Sola Omole. He takes over from Aremo Taiwo Alimi. The NEDG has rolled out its timetable for the conduct of debates for some key candidates. I wish I would have a chance to ask the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Goodluck Jonathan, a question during the forthcoming presidential debates. That will surely be: Mr. President, why did you refuse to sign about 40 legislative bills duly passed by the National Assembly? In case I do not get to ask the question then, one of the distinguished panelists should help me ask the President why he has refused to sign the bills. It is preposterous that the efforts of the National Assembly at making laws for the good governance of this country are presumably being stalled or thwarted by the President.
That President Jonathan has about 40 pending unsigned legislative bills gathering dust on his table was alleged by members of both chambers of the National Assembly. First to make it public was the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Information, Zakari Mohammed, while delivering a lecture recently at an event organised by the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Ibadan, Oyo State. It was also among the 14 political sins some senators accused the President of while gathering signatures to impeach him after the Peoples Democratic Party primaries last November.
Now, something baffles me and that is the frosty relationship between the President and the National Assembly. Given that the President’s political party controls both the executive and the legislative arms of government, one would have expected a more robust, cordial and symbiotic relationship between the two arms. This is not the case. Anytime an appropriation bill is presented to the National Assembly, this cold war becomes more intense as disagreements usually occur over salient issues like the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, budget benchmarks, budget releases, budget performances, among others. Of course, I am not by any stretch of imagination saying that either arm should not assert its independence as there exits separation of powers and functions but such should not be adversarial and without any care or concern for national interest.
I do know for a fact that there are two types of bills in the parliament. They are executive bills and private member bills with the former being sponsored by the executive arm while the latter is by members of the parliament. Zakari did not give us a clue if the 40 bills President Jonathan has refused to sign are private members’ bills or the ones sponsored by himself as the head of the executive arm. That would have assisted in this analysis to put the issues in better perspectives. Nonetheless, be they executive or private member bills, the procedures for lawmaking are the same. It passes through the first and second reading, the committee stage during which public hearings are held on the bill before the third and final readings after the submission of the committee’s report. These highlighted lawmaking processes are long and tortuous and in many cases take several years. Even after each chamber of the National Assembly had passed different versions of the same bill, a conference committee is set up to harmonise the differing positions of the two legislative chambers and it is the harmonised positions passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate that the Clerk of the National Assembly will send to the President for assent.
Thus, a lot of time, energy, intellect, research, consultation and funds are committed to mint a new legislation. It is the waste of these sizeable resources that pains and agitates one. Is the President nonchalant, circumspect or unmindful of the implications of his action in this regard? Or, are the parliamentarians overbearing and irresponsible by passing bills that are not worthy of being assented to? The Constitution gives the President a 30-day grace period to assent or decline to append his signature on any bill passed to him but he has to offer a reason for such an action. He is however not at liberty under the law to kill the legislation in view. That is my understanding of the intendment of Section 58 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The matter does not end there. The Nigerian constitution in the following subsection 5 of the above mentioned section empowers the parliament to veto the President’s power over the bill. It states: “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law, and the assent of the President shall not be required.” If President Jonathan has thus withheld assent on 40 bills passed by the National Assembly, why hasn’t the Senate and House of Reps used their veto power to get the bills to become Acts by invoking section 58 (5) of the Constitution?
Quite unfortunately, with the high-wired politicking going on and the survival battle of re-election being of prime importance to our senators and House members who won their party primaries, it will be a tall order to get the National Assembly to do the needful on those bills between now and next month when elections will hold. However, between March and May when the tenure of this legislative session will expire, the lawmakers owe it a national duty to use their veto power to override the presidential blockade on the bills. Failure to do that means these 40 bills have to be presented afresh for the consideration of the next parliament. This will be a waste of precious time and unpatriotic.
I couldn’t agree more with The PUNCH editorial of January 4, 2015 on this issue where the paper observed that this saga simply explains our disdain for the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers. It stated further: “No wonder the 2014 World Justice Project report ranked Nigeria as one of the countries with the lowest respect for the rule of law. Using factors such as constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice, the WJP’s Rule of Law Index put the country in the 93rd position just close to its regular peers in bad governance like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Effective governance is not run by choice, but by process.” Need I say more?
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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The controversial N21bn PDP fundraiser

The December 20, 2014, Peoples Democratic Party fundraiser has expectedly generated heated debate. However, much of the anger expressed are borne out of ignorance of campaign finance laws in Nigeria. Even before the Monday, January 5, clarifications by Prof. Jerry Gana, who was the chairman of the fundraising committee, that the funds realised at the event were not for President Goodluck Jonathan per se but for the Peoples Democratic Party, newspaper reports had earlier quoted the President on the day of the fundraising dinner as saying that, “The money was for the PDP”, stressing that the amount generated would help to run the PDP better.
For the reader’s information, even if all the N21bn were to be spent on the presidential campaign, the PDP will still not be in breach of the law. How do I mean? Whatever a political party spends on the campaigns of its presidential candidate is not factored in as part of the N1bn ceiling placed on candidates by Section 91(2) of Electoral Act 2010, as amended. This is because subsection 8 (c) of that section of the Act exempted whatever political parties spend in respect of their candidates from such calculations. It is also unknown to the public if the provision of Section 92 (2) which states that “Election expenses incurred by a political party for the management or the conduct of an election shall be determined by the Commission (INEC) in consultation with the political parties” has been adhered with. The point is, has the Independent National Electoral Commission and the 28 registered political parties in Nigeria agreed to a ceiling on their election expenses?
Section 90 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, says that, “The Commission (INEC) shall have power to place limitation on the amount of money or other assets, which an individual or group of persons can contribute to a political party.” It is unknown and doubtful if INEC has done this.
Having said that however, the fundraiser nonetheless breached some legal provisions. For instance, Section 93 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, says that, “A political party shall not accept or keep in its possession any anonymous monetary or other contribution, gift, or property, from any source whatsoever.” Also, subsection (2)(b) of the section says: “Every political party shall keep an account and asset book into which shall be recorded:- the name and address of any person or entity that contributes any money or other thing which exceeds N1,000,000.00.” At the PDP fundraiser, there was no full disclosure of the donors as expected in that section of the Act. What we heard were donations from “players” in some sectors of the economy, unnamed friends, associates and partners. This is unacceptable!
Interestingly, these so-called players consist of majorly government contractors whose performances and services have been less than satisfactory. We know the thievery that is going on in the oil and gas sector in terms of the opaque nature of their activities, subsidy fraud and even illegal bunkering. The power sector has remained largely comatose in spite of all the chest-beating privatisation and commercialisation slogans. The power situation has become more deplorable and in spite of that, electricity tariffs are being increased. Was the donation to the PDP by the “power sector players” to curry favour from the government? Nigerians are also not ignorant of the inflated cost at which our roads are being constructed and the substandard nature of some of them. Having players in these sectors contributing humongous sums of money to the ruling party should therefore worry all well-meaning Nigerians.
Moreover, Section 38 (2) of the Company and Allied Matters Act criminalises political donations by private companies. It reads: “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; and if any company, in breach of this subsection makes any donation or gift of its property to a political party, or political association, or for any political purpose, the officers in default and any member who voted for the breach shall be jointly and severally liable to refund to the company the sum or value of the donation or gift and in addition, the company and every such officer or member shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine equal to the amount or value of the donation or gift.” Invariably, all the public quoted companies and private enterprises that made political donations to the PDP on December 20 are in blatant breach of this section of the CAMA.
Questions also have to be asked about the N50m donated by the 21 PDP governors as well as the N15m contribution by the Niger Delta Development Commission. Were these donations budgeted for in the 2014 appropriation act? If not, what they have done is in clear breach of the law. Isn’t it highly irresponsible that some state governors who are claiming not to have money to pay workers’ salaries are finding it convenient to donate to the coffers of their political parties? Also, are the individuals and companies who made mind-boggling donations to the PDP paying commensurate taxes, as and when due?
It is noteworthy that what was done by the PDP is a clear infraction of part of the 2013 Code of Conduct for Political Parties. Section 11 of the code states that: “All political parties shall separate party business from government business. No political party shall use state vehicles, or other public resources for any electioneerings or any other party business.” The use of the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, for partisan interest is also a clear breach of the code as well as Section 100 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended which says that, “State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election.”
What the PDP did at its last fundraiser is a clear abuse of power and privileges. It can lead to political corruption as there is no “free lunch” anywhere, not even in Freetown. All the donors to the party coffers are bound to get something in returns be it contracts, waivers, appointments, immunity from investigation and prosecution for financial crimes, etc. It’s pork-barrelled politics given the rent-seeking nature of Nigeria’s politics. There is also the element of abuse of state and administrative resources to this as government buildings, personnel, media and time are being used for partisan interest to the detriment of other political parties and contestants. Thus, this kind of fundraiser creates an uneven playing field as it puts the incumbents in clear advantage over and above opposition candidates.
INEC is also culpable as the commission has been lethargic in its responsibilities as placed on it by sections 90 (1) and 92 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, which asks it to place a ceiling on the amount individuals and groups can give to political parties as well as consulting and agreeing with political parties on the amount they can spend on their election expenses.
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