Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tasks before the new INEC board

After all the hue and cry from the populace, President Muhammadu Buhari, last Thursday, October 22, 2015, announced Professor Mahmood Yakubu as the new Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission. His nomination alongside five new national commissioners has been ratified by the National Council of State remaining Senate confirmation. The national commissioners so approved by the NCS along with the new INEC Chairman are the current acting chairman, Hajiya Amina Bala Zakari; Dr. Antonia Taiye Okoosi-Simbine; Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo; Dr Muhammed Mustapha Lekki and Prince Adedeji Solomon Soyebi. Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku still has about two years to the end of his tenure.
These new appointments are coming about four months after the former chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, and 11 national commissioners had served out their terms in July 2015. Yakubu is the second northerner to be appointed INEC chairman in Nigeria’s political history; the first being his immediate predecessor. The new INEC chairman is the 12. Before him were Eyo Esua (1960-1966); Michael Ani (1976-1979); Justice Victor Ovie-Whiskey (1983); Prof. Eme Awa (1987-1989); Prof. Humphrey Nwosu (1989-1993); Prof. Okon Uya (1993-1994); Chief Sumner Karibi Dagogo-Jack (1994-1998); Justice Ephraim Akpata (1998-1999); Dr. Abel Guobadia (2000-2005); Prof. Maurice Iwu (2005-2010) and Prof. Attahiru Jega (2010-2015).
It is very disheartening that some people have already gone to town to input ethnic jingoism into Buhari’s appointment of Yakubu as Jega’s successor. They say it is a prelude to rigging the 2019 elections for a northerner. From the foregoing enumeration of former INEC chairmen, southerners have occupied the position a record 10 times with all of them coming from the South-South and South-East geopolitical zones. They also forget that in 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae were the two presidential candidates, a southerner, Justice Akpata, was the one whose board supervised the presidential poll. There is therefore nothing wrong if another northerner chairs the election management board in as much as he is a Nigerian with impeccable integrity.
On a personal note, I had hoped that President Buhari would appoint from members of the Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform chaired by Justice Muhammadu Uwais so that the person can further implement the all-important report. However, my consolation is that the emerging board of INEC is not without experienced hands on election administration. Nwuruku, Mrs. Zakari and Soyebi are all knowledgeable persons on elections having served previously as national commissioners in the election management body. In fact, Soyebi was a Resident Electoral Commissioner before his appointment as national commissioner and was the acting INEC chairman who handed over to Jega in 2010.

I do not envy the new INEC board considering the enormity of the challenges it’s inheriting. Besides, Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections are at hand on November 21 and December 5, 2015 respectively and Nigerians are watching if the new INEC board will outperform Jega’s. It’s worth mentioning that the National Council of State or should I say President Buhari had decided to stagger the appointments into the INEC board. This may not totally be in tandem with constitutional provision though it stands reason to avoid a situation where all the members of the board will have their tenure expiring at the same time. Even at that, the President needs to fill the 17 positions of the Resident Electoral Commissioners that had been vacant hitherto.
I do hope that the Senate will expeditiously confirm the six nominees to enable them commence their duties in earnest. While the nominees await their formal legislative confirmation, they need to avail themselves of reports on the 2015 elections. Incidentally, the commission’s official report on the last elections held in March and April 2015 was released last Wednesday, October 21 in Abuja. A few days earlier, the European Union Election Observation Mission had also publicly presented its report on the elections. I have both reports and have perused them. I dare say they contain the gospel truths about the elections.
The EU EOM report is very critical of the polls and had proposed 30 recommendations which need to be clinically examined by the new INEC board with a view to seeing the possibility of their implementation. According to the EU, the elections were historic and highly competitive but they were marred by incidents of violence, abuse of incumbency at state and federal levels, and attempts at manipulation.
It goes on to say that INEC made commendable attempts to strengthen electoral arrangements, however systemic weaknesses leave the process vulnerable to abuse by political contenders. Furthermore, it states that Nigeria lost about 160 persons to election-related violence since January 2015. The EU EOM report also castigates the separation of accreditation from voting saying that on March 28, over 2.3 million people who were accredited in the morning (7.3 per cent) did not stay on to subsequently cast their ballot in the afternoon.
Among several other recommendations, the EU report wants INEC’s independence to be further developed through direct power to appoint and remove Resident Electoral Commissioners; improvement of the biometric functionality of the voter register, removal of the deceased and continuous voter registration; merger of accreditation and voting on election day while maintaining mandatory biometric voter verification and authentication through the use of card readers; as well as time limits for filing, hearing and determination of pre-election suits, etc.
On its part, INEC in its official report owned up to some challenges such as insecurity especially in the North-East zone; hate speeches and inflammatory comments by some members of the political class; tortuous procurement process; National Assembly’s inability to finalise the amendment of the electoral legal framework both in the constitution and the Electoral Act; inability of the commission to finalise the review of electoral constituencies and creation of new polling units; incapacity of the commission to prosecute electoral offenders; difficulties in the production and distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards as well as conduct of the CVR exercise; delay in the finalisation of the guidelines for the elections which concomitantly affected the production of the training manual as well as challenges of maximising the impact of voter education.
INEC says it needs to consolidate in the following areas: The use of the PVCs and Smart Card Readers; the Elections Project Plan; Elections Operations Support Centre; Citizens Contact Centre and the implementation of stage two platform of the Election Management Systems. The commission also called for the consolidation of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security.
As a way forward, INEC wants to go back to completing the constituency delimitation and creation of additional polling units; introduce electronic voting as well as push for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal. There is also a bouquet of constitutional and electoral act amendments proposals that INEC sent to the National Assembly since October 2012 which the commission needs to lobby the lawmakers to pass in good time for the 2019 elections. The same is applicable to the unfinished plan to put the commission’s staff on a special salary scale.
It is thus clear that Yakubu’s INEC has its job cut out for it and as such needs to brace itself for the daunting task ahead!
Follow me on twitter: @jideojong

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

SON’s war against substandard products

October 14 was World Standards Day and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria commemorated the day with sensitization programmes. It was interesting watching the Director-General of SON, Dr. Joseph Odumodu, and the President, National Association of Nigerian Traders, Mr. Ken Ukaoha, on the Nigerian Television Authority’s magazine programme, “Good Morning Nigeria” anchored by Kingsley Osadolor and Blessing Abu on that day. I shuddered when Odumodu said that on his assumption of office some four years ago, 80 per cent of products that flooded our markets were substandard. Yet, SON has been in existence since 1971 as the law setting up the agency was the SON Act 56 of 1971 although amended several times.
Did you know that many of our electronics products such as television, radio, and computers do expire? Did you know that tyres, cement, generators, bulbs, clothes, water, foodstuffs, lubricants, batteries and many other items do expire? Aside from expiring, many of these products circulating in Nigerian markets are either outright fake or produced below acceptable national and international standards. According to the experts, while many of the traders who engage in importation of goods do not know or care less to find out the approved national standards for the goods they are importing, a sizeable number of them deliberately ask their producers to supply them substandard products. The rationale for this is largely pecuniary as it is common in many capitalist states like ours where business tycoons’ sole aim is how to make super profits.
Sadly, Nigeria has been turned into a dumping ground for expired, fake and sub-standard products from abroad. According to the DG of SON, “Statistically, Nigerian-made products account for less than five per cent of substandard goods while imported products account for over 90 per cent of substandard products in terms of quantity.” According to Odumodu, in 2015 alone, the agency has confiscated and destroyed goods worth over N4bn. He claimed that before the 2015 amendment of the Act setting up the agency, the fine for anyone caught manufacturing or importing substandard products was a paltry N50,000. Hence, many unscrupulous local manufacturers and importers preferred to commit the crime and pay the penalty which was like a slap on the wrist. Thankfully, the seventh National Assembly has tightened the nuts and bolts of the old law and imposes stiffer penalties in the amended legislation.
Quite unfortunately, the economic implications of dealing in inferior products are very grave. The menace has led to the closure of many local industries with attendant loss of jobs and revenue to government. Among companies that have been run out town by the activities of importers of substandard goods are Bata shoe manufacturing company, Berec Batteries, Micheline and Dunlop Tyre manufacturing companies, as well as many automobile and textile factories. Where are Aswani, Afprint and many of the textile companies in Lagos and Kaduna today? They have closed shops while their warehouses have now been bought over by religious groups for the propagation of their faiths.
Aside from the economic loss, there is also the health hazard angle to this issue. For instance, many of the imported poultry products such as frozen chicken and turkey have been found to be unhygienic for human consumption as they are believed to be injected with steroids and preserved with harmful chemicals from their countries of importation. It has also been reported that much of the rice being brought into Nigeria are expired or largely unsafe for human consumption due to preservatives used on them and long years of storage. Oftentimes, many of the home appliances purchased in the market do not last largely because they are second-rate. In very many instances, they cause damage to properties and lives. Such is very common with electronic gadgets, wires and cables. According to Odumodu, a standard electric bulb, whether energy-saving or energy-consuming, should ordinarily last for 10,000 hours and should not cost less than N500. The question is, how many of us are willing to part with that much for a single bulb?
That brings us to the issue of quality and affordability. Perhaps, due to our poverty level in this country, many consumers prefer buying cheap than buying quality but expensive products. Take for instance, there are many computer users whose operating systems are pirated copies. It’s the same story with books, music and films. People will rather buy cheap pirated books and compact discs of films and music rather than purchase the original copies for much more. This perhaps is the psychology behind some traders’ preference for importation of inferior products. This much was told to the SON authorities by the Chinese manufacturing companies when they went there to plead with them to stop producing substandard products for Nigerian markets. Odumodu said the Chinese industrialists told him that they were only producing to the specifications given to them by their Nigerian customers. This has to change!
It is heart-warming that the National Association of Nigerian Traders has joined forces with SON to rid Nigerian markets of substandard products. This they decided to do after receiving capacity building from the regulatory agency. NANT has formed task forces across all the major markets in the country that is assisting SON to identify and confiscate unwholesome products brought into markets for sale. It is also gratifying to note that though SON is no longer at the Nigerian ports, the agency in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Federal Inland Revenue Service and Nigeria Customs Service has come up with the integration of SON’s e-certificates into the Nigeria Integrated Customs Information Systems. This was launched on September 10, 2015. Thus, SON’s e-product certificate has become part of the Customs Form ‘M’ documents to be attached for clearing of SON’s regulated products at the Nigerian Ports.
With this development and several other steps being taken by SON, the agency is very optimistic that within six months, the incidences of manufacturing and sale of substandard products currently at about 40 per cent would have been further reduced to 10 per cent in Nigeria. I sincerely hope so because the agency is still faced with daunting challenges.
I dare say that there is no sufficient sensitisation of the general public on the dangers of procuring deficient products as well as how to identify genuine ones in the market. More so, as the SON’s mark of quality such as ‘MANCAP’ and ‘NIS’ are susceptible to being faked. SON needs to work robustly and collaboratively with the Ministry of Trade and Investment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control as well as the Nigerian Export Promotion Council to ensure that the fight against substandard products in the country is won by the government.
To my compatriots, I say, “shine your eyes”! Go for quality products even if they are more expensive than the inferior ones. Stop being penny wise, pound foolish. Let us save ourselves the agony of wasting resources on products that are not durable and are at the same time harmful.
Follow me on twitter: @jideojong

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Twenty-five years of intellectual activism

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.”
―Martin Luther
How time flies! So soon, it has been 25 years since I started writing informed commentaries and opinion articles for newspapers. The decision was not easy to make as it took me two years before I summoned courage to put pen to paper after a sustained counselling by Prof. O.B.C. Nwolise, then my lecturer at the University of Ibadan organised Advanced Level Extra Mural Class in 1988. Dr. Nwolise, as he then was, was in the habit of charging us, his students, to write letters to editors and opinion articles to newspapers if we were dissatisfied with governance in our society. In his esteemed opinion, embarking on street protests is not the only way to advocate for good governance; media advocacy is a civilised and effective means of communicating with policymakers and political leaders.
My journey into the realm of media advocacy for good governance and development effectively started on Friday, October 12, 1990, when Daily Sketch published my opinion entitled, “Complete Iwopin Paper Mill”. I was thrilled to see my byline in a newspaper. Since that day, I have soldiered on. Till date, according to my records, I have 529 published commentaries to my credit. The opinions were published in 25 newspapers and 11 magazines namely: Daily Sketch, The Champion, Weekend Classique, AM News, Nigerian Tribune, The Guardian, National Concord, Vanguard, Third Eye, The Pointer, Post Express, Daily Independent, Thisday, Leadership, The Nation, Daily Sun, 234NEXT, Peoples Daily, The Chronicle (of Ghana), Nigerian Compass, National Mirror, The Nigerian Daily, Daily Trust, Blueprint, and Newswatch. The newsletters and magazines are: The Independite, Images, The Statesman, all campus magazines of the University of Ibadan; Exquisite of Ogun State Polytechnic Mass Communication Department; Corper Courier of Delta State NYSC; ACE Newsletter, Women’s Advocate, The Ethics, Voters News, Electoral Reform News, Money and Politics and Political Finance Newsletters of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.
In the course of my media advocacy, I have also been a guest analyst on several radio and television programmes. The radio stations where I have featured as a public affairs analyst include: Voice of Nigeria; Ray Power 100.5FM; Vision 92.1FM; Hot 98.3FM; Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria; Faaji FM; Kiss FM; Premier 93.5FM; Nigeria Info 95.1FM; WAZOBIA 99.5FM; WE 106.3FM and OGBC II. I have also been on several television stations such as the African Independent Television, Nigerian Television Authority, Channels Television, and Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State. I have featured 129 times on different programmes across the aforementioned electronic media channels between January 19, 2004 and October 7, 2015.
However, it is not only the silver jubilee of my media engagements that I am celebrating on this page today. I am equally commemorating three years of my being a guest writer for this ‘numero uno’ and best among equals newspaper, The PUNCH. I became a columnist with this newspaper in October 2012 though my first article in The PUNCH dates back to Friday, November 3, 1995. It was entitled: “Saving our universities.” Again, my record shows that to date, 194 of my articles have been published in this newspaper.
I deem it a great privilege and no mean feat to have had so many publications in a wide range of newspapers and magazines spanning over two decades. More so, as I have never earned my living as a journalist. I am a writer, a prolific one at that, but not a journalist, in the strict sense of the word. Reading and writing are both, for me, passion and vocation. My mainstay is development activism conducting researches and training for a wide range of clientele in the thematic area of democracy and good governance.
While writing and my media advocacy in general have given me modest fame, they have not brought me financial fortunes. This is very much against the grain of public opinion that fame equals fortune. One burden I carry as a writer with a measure of name recognition is the incessant demand for money by some of my readers. I have been inundated with requests for financial assistance by many, both the poor and needy. Some through text messages, others through telephone calls while some other mailed me for material support. Those who do not beg me for money ask me to assist them in getting gainful employment. How I wish I have the capacity and capability to assist them all.
Writing is taxing, intellectually challenging and time-consuming, if one intends to come up with a well-researched and stimulating article. Much as it is, I derive immense joy penning my thoughts for public consumption because of the passion I have for the art. Every published article of mine is like giving birth to a new baby after the birth pangs of a mother. Every time I see my name in print, I derive indescribable joy. For instance, August 14, 2012 will remain indelible in my mind as my commentaries were published in five different newspapers on that day alone, inadvertently though, namely Thisday, The PUNCH, The Guardian, The Nation, and Nigerian Compass. Indeed, my byline is my lifeline!
As a mature writer, I am conscious of an eternal truth that every of my published thought is history in making as generations yet unborn will get to read it. I am therefore obsessed with ensuring that the ideas and ideals I push out stand the test of time. I rarely discuss people in my writings. I focus more on issues. I dwell on developmental challenges. I advocate for quality education, health, roads, and general infrastructural development. I demand the rule of law. I hold governments accountable to the fulfilment of their electoral promises. I use my writings to enlighten, educate and sensitise the general public, both on the demand and supply side, that is, the government and the governed.
It is disheartening that some people believe that commentary writing is a sheer waste of time. To them, writing or media advocacy will achieve nothing as many of our leaders are believed not to read newspapers, watch or listen to our local TV and radio stations. Some ask, how much are they paying you for all these writings? Yes, I could make do with money, but sincerely speaking, I am not writing for the sake of bread and butter but to share ideas, impart lives and leave behind a noble legacy.
To the very few people who have stood by me, encouraged and appreciated my writings, and still do, this past 25 years, I say a big thank you. I appreciate the management of The PUNCH for the unique opportunity to use this platform to ventilate my views on topical national issues. To the editor of this column, I say kudos for diligently helping me dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s, every week since 2012. Aluta continua, victoria acerta!
Follow me on twitter: @jideojong

Friday, October 9, 2015

PDP staff as whistleblower on party finance

One of the key ways of controlling party finance is disclosure. Recently, Nigerian media was replete with reports of allegations of mismanagement of the fund of the Peoples Democratic Party by members of the party’s National Working Committee. The accusations were made at a press conference addressed by staff of the party under the aegis of PDP Workers Welfare Association. What gave birth to the charges was the attempt by the party leadership to reduce the staff strength of the party by 50 per cent as well as reduce the emoluments of those to be retained by half.

The National Secretary of the party in a letter dated July 29, 2015 with reference number PS/DD/AD/HOD/SAs/PAS noted that the decisions were reached at the 406th meeting of the NWC.  Aside the fact that the establishment staff who would remain are required to obtain individual letter of revalidation from their State Party Chapter within one month of the circular, the party’s Research Directorate was also abolished and its functions transferred to the Peoples Democratic Institute.

The party’s attempt at downsizing was met with stiff resistance as the workers took the NWC to the cleaners calling them all sorts of unprintable names.   In a press statement jointly signed by the chairman of the Association, Ngozi Nzeh and Secretary, Dan Ochu-Baiye, the aggrieved workers alleged that the NWC members squandered N12 billion realized from the sales of expression of interest and nomination forms by aspirants in the lead up to the party primaries ahead of the 2015 general elections.

They also said that party delegates were compelled to pay the sum of N10,000  each into a private account of a company called Morufi  Nigeria  Ltd where over N1 billion was realized. They queried why the NWC compelled Party members to pay into a company account rather than the usual party account in the same Zenith Bank.  PDP staff equally revealed that legitimate bills owed to media houses, contractors and even cleaners have not been paid while most Party members who conducted congresses and primaries that generated these huge sums have also not been paid. The workers alleged further that the NWC are still using party finances to fund supposedly frivolous personal expenses such as weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals to the tune of hundreds of millions of naira.

It would be recalled that Peoples Democratic Party was worsted in the last general elections where it lost signally in the executive and legislative polls conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission at both federal and state levels to its main challenger, the All Progressives Congress. The party which had held sway since 1999 met its political Waterloo in the March/April 2015 general elections.

The administrative staff of the party advanced reasons for the party’s electoral misfortune. According to them: “Several factors have been adduced as the reasons why the party performed so poorly in the last general elections. We make bold to say that responsibility for the abysmal outing of the party should be located directly at the doorstep of the NWC members due to the following reasons:- Criminal imposition of unpopular candidates; Mind boggling extortion of aspirants…….Appointment of incompetent cronies who were specifically detailed to return unpopular candidates as officers in congresses and primaries. ……..Non remittance of campaign funds to state chapters; Results submitted by Congress Committees were blatantly changed; and wholesome embezzlement of proceeds of sales of nomination forms.”

The workers boasted that they have in their possession incriminating documents to indict the NWC. They called on the party’s Board of Trustees, the national caucus and other critical stakeholders to invoke the relevant section of the party’s constitution to hold a NEC meeting to sack the NWC. They also summoned anti-graft agencies such as the EFCC, the Police, and ICPC to beam their searchlight on the nefarious activities of the PDP NWC while finally demanding the withdrawal of the controversial circular. 

The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa   Metuh while reacting to the workers allegations described them as baseless, falsehood and contrived. He stressed that the workers were only playing out the script they were handed by its arch rival All Progressives Congress.  (See Vanguard newspaper of August 1, 2015 for details)

The faceoff between the former ruling PDP and its workforce brings to fore the need for accountability and transparency within Nigeria’s political parties.  Internal party democracy remains a potent challenge in Nigeria’s political administration. Oftentimes, party members who supposed to be critical stakeholders in the affairs of the party are kept in the dark about the management of their political parties. This is not peculiar to the PDP but cut across most of the Nigerian political parties. The pertinent question to ask in this PDP scandal is, how did the National Working Committee of the PDP managed the party resources given the humongous amount raked in by the party in the lead up to the 2015 general elections?

It would be recalled that the immediate past ruling party mobilized over N21.3 billion at a controversial fundraiser held on December 20, 2014. This huge sum, we are told, are to be expended on the presidential election campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan as well as party administration. This is aside the supposed N12bn allegedly realized from sales of nomination forms and the N1bn gotten from the party delegates’ N10, 000 per head payment. Could the PDP have become so broke as to want to now embark on staff rationalization? I do hope the incumbent party in power, APC, and other registered political parties in Nigeria will learn from the PDP debacle and run an open party administration.

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