Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reminiscences on Nigeria 2015


In order to shoot an arrow one needs to draw it backward with the bow-string. The same applies with planning for the future. It is always important to assess previous activities before one can effectively plan for the next phase of implementation. It is some 48 hours to the end of Year 2015 and it falls due to take stock of epochal events of the outgoing year so that we can draw the necessary lessons for the oncoming year.

Of the few memorable events of Year 2015 none compares in magnitude to the 2015 elections. It was the fifth general elections since the country’s return to civil rule in 1999. Our elections got better and against the grain of palpable public apprehension about likelihood of widespread bloodbath, the elections were held after being shifted by six weeks from the initial February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11. By the time the votes were counted across five different political offices viz. president, Senate,  House of Representatives, Governorship and States House of Assembly, power has changed hands from the hitherto ruling People’s Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress. It was a political Waterloo for the PDP who had arrogantly boasted to rule Nigeria for 60 years but only succeeded for 16 years.

PDP lost the presidential seat, majority seat in the House of Representatives and Senate as well as governorship and state houses of assembly. In what is akin to Obama phenomenon in USA presidential election of 2008, the APC presidential candidate, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Retd.), on his fourth attempt, won a landslide victory defeating an incumbent president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan by about 2.6 million votes. (APC won by 15,424,921 votes while the PDP total vote tally stood at 12, 853,162.) 

President Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the fourth executive president under the presidential system of government.   The first being Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari in the Second Republic followed by President Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in the Fourth Republic. Buhari is the second military Head of State after Obasanjo to be elected executive president. This is no mean feat. It also shows that military has not fully severed its umbilical cord with politics, though it may be argued that these gentlemen were retired soldiers.

The 2015 General Elections were adjudged to be credible and successful by both local and international accredited observers. Not necessarily because incumbent party and government lost power to opposition but largely because the outcome of the elections reflected the wishes of the voters who defied all odds to exercise their franchise. It was the success of the polls that gives Nigeria moral high ground in Africa to mediate in political logjam in other countries such as the case in Burkina Faso in October 2015.

It must be stated that the elections, though reflected the wishes of the people, nonetheless it was violent and was the costliest in the political history of the country. No fewer than 160 lives were allegedly lost to election related violence while the PDP and APC were on record to have spent well above the permissible limit for campaign finance. Invariably, in 2015, Nigeria has two governments, that of PDP from January 1 – May 29 and that of APC from May 29 to date. While Jonathan’s government implemented Transformation Agenda, Buhari’s administration’s mantra is Change! 2015, more than previous year of electioneering revealed the true colour of Nigerian politicians as a bird of passage that lacks the quality of permanence. No sooner did APC win at the centre than most stalwarts in the PDP began unholy pilgrimage to the new ruling party, the APC. They are leaving PDP in droves. This further shows that in politics, there is no permanent friend or enemy, only permanent interest.

Another silver lining in Nigeria’s climate in the outgoing year is our fortunes in sports. By dint of hard work and stroke of luck, Nigeria raked in a lot of continental and international sporting laurels. Nigeria’s D’Tigers won for the first time the AfroBasket in Tunisia by beating our perennial archrival Angola. Team Nigeria also came second behind Egypt at the 11th African Games held in Congo Brazzaville. Jighere Wellington of Nigeria on Sunday, November 8, 2015 emerged the new Scrabble champion of the world (the first African) after defeating Lewis Mackay of United Kingdom 4-0 in a Best of Seven series in Perth, Australia. The Falconet qualified for 2016 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea by beating South-Africa 3 –1 on aggregate. Golden Eaglets of Nigeria also defeated the African champion, Mali 2-0 to win the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Chile. In winning the trophy, the Golden Eaglets made history as the first team to win the championship five times and the second country, after Brazil, to take the title back-to-back. Odunayo Adekuoroye of Nigeria has just done Nigeria proud by winning Gold Medal at the maiden edition of the  Pro Wrestling League in New Delhi in India

In the area of the economy, Nigeria’s austerity measures which officially began in the last quarter of 2014 bit a lot harder in 2015. Oil prices in international market fell to an all-time low with a barrel of crude oil now selling for about $32. Nigeria’s currency is also very weak against other international currencies like Dollar, Pound and Euro with Naira exchanging for about N273 to a Dollar. Sourcing foreign exchange for industries that are import dependent had become very challenging. This much was admitted by President Buhari in his budget speech on December 22, 2015.

The low government revenue had also made distributable income for the three tiers of government to be paltry with some of the governors saying that they now receive about 60 per cent less than they were collecting last year. Some state governments have said that they are no longer in a position to pay the N18,000 minimum wage. They are proposing wage cut or staff retrenchment which labour unions have vehemently opposed. It would be recalled that Federal Government had to come to the aid of many of the states through restructuring of their loan with commercial banks as well as giving them additional loans to enable them pay some of the salary arrears they were owing their workers. Some new economic jargons that gained prominence this year include Treasury Single Account popularly called TSA and Zero Based Budgeting otherwise known as ZBB.

The economic forecast for 2016 does not look good as Nigeria remains largely a monoculture economy depending on oil revenue for most of its income. The good news however is that giving the dwindling oil revenue, Nigerian government seems to now focus on serious diversification of the country’s income base.  This much is reflected in President’s Buhari’s 2016 budget speech. In paragraph 28 of the speech, the president said “In 2016, oil related revenues are expected to contribute N820 billion. Non-oil revenues, comprising Company Income Tax, Value Added Tax, Customs and Excise duties, and Federation Account levies, will contribute N1.45 trillion.”

Aside tax, government has  also promised to take more than cursory look at agriculture and mining. The focus on job creation (500,000 teachers to be employed in addition to 10,000 police recruits ordered earlier this year), improvement in electricity supply, revival of our hitherto comatose petroleum refineries and government’s promise to curb wasteful spending, block economic leakages and fight corruption all combine to inspire hope in this season of gloom.  As PMB said in paragraph 52 of his budget speech, “We as a Government cannot do it alone. We will require the support of all civil servants, the organised labour, industry groups, the press and of course, our religious and traditional institutions. This is a call for all of us to stand and serve our country.” Happy New Year to you all!

Follow me on twitter @jideojong

 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Human rights situation in Nigeria


The world celebrates the International Human Rights Day on December 10 of every year. This year was not an exception. The theme for 2015 was "Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always." There were roadshows and symposia organised by the National Human Rights Commission in Nigeria while a number of electronic media outfits also held discussions around the human rights situation in Nigeria. In a vox populi conducted by one of the television stations, many of the respondents said they do not believe there are human rights in Nigeria. They hinged their submission on the parlous state of the economy as there is raging poverty, unemployment, decadent infrastructure, insecurity, etcetera. If one reads reports from international organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, one would be tempted to say that there is absence of human rights in Nigeria. However, I beg to differ.

There are several international legal instruments on human rights. Some of them include, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of  1966; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of  1966; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women of 1979; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984; Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989; and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of 2006. Nigeria is a signatory to many of these legal instruments.

It is noteworthy that Nigerian 1999 Constitution, as amended in Chapter IV provided for a wide range of fundamental rights. Fundamental human rights, it should be noted, is one of the three pillars of Rule of Law as propounded by Prof. Albert Venn Dicey. The other two are Supremacy of the Law (Constitution) and Equality before the Law. In the referenced chapter of the Nigerian Constitution, the ‘grundnorm’ guarantees a number of fundamental rights. These include: Right to life in Section 33; Right to dignity of human person in S. 34; Right to personal liberty in S. 35; Right to fair hearing in S. 36, Right to private and family life in S. 37, Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in S. 38.

Others are:  Right to freedom of expression and the press in S.39, Right to peaceful assembly and association in S. 40, Right to freedom of movement in S. 41, Right to freedom from discrimination in S. 42, and Right to acquire and own immovable property in Nigeria in S. 43. Of course, no human right is absolute as where one person’s rights end is where another person’s begins. Thus, section 45 of the Nigerian Constitution sets limit to all the aforementioned fundamental rights. It says the rights can be restricted for the sake of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.   

I quite agree that Nigeria human rights situation could be better but it is a work in progress. We honestly cannot compare the present situation to what obtains under Nigeria’s 28 years of military rule. In case we have forgotten, during military era, the Constitution is suspended and court jurisdiction is ousted on many of the decrees and edicts they promulgated. There was flagrant disregard for human rights as there were indiscriminate arrest and detention without trials, gagging of the media through censorship and proscription, as well as assassinations and assassination attempts on human rights crusaders and pro-democracy activists. Under Nigeria’s past military juntas, life was in Hobbesian state – brutish, nasty and short.

Since the advent of the civil rule in 1999, our civil and political rights have been largely restored. We choose our leaders through periodic elections and thus far, we have had five general elections in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. Initially, we used to ask if the votes do count. From the experiences of 2011 and 2015, we now know that votes count. Nigerian election are becoming competitive as contestants and their political parties have now learnt to campaign on issues rather than looking for short cut of rigging their way to victory.

The courts and election tribunals have stood like Rock of Gibraltar to correct whatever imperfections and errors are committed by the election management bodies. I say without equivocation that Nigeria is enjoying tremendous political rights. I must hasten to add that the EMBs can still better the conduct of elections by ensuring an inclusive electoral process that affords persons on election duties right to vote. The category of persons affected here includes the poll workers, the accredited observers, accredited journalists, accredited security agents and party agents. Early voting provision will ensure that such people cast their ballot at special polling centres ahead of the day for the general elections. There has also been clamour for Out-of-country voting for Nigerians in Diaspora. There is equally the need to provide the voting aids for persons with disability, especially the blind voter. Making these possible will guarantee a more inclusive electoral process.

I have earlier itemised the civil rights of Nigerians as encapsulated in Chapter IV of the Nigerian Constitution. Today, the country is a secular country with no state religion. As such people practice their religion largely without let or hindrance saves for the isolated cases of religious extremism. The recent march on the National Assembly by some civil society groups over what they termed anti-social media bill goes a long way to emphasize the presence of freedom of expression in Nigeria. Nowadays, as against during the military regime when there was pervasive cloud of fear, these days people freely express themselves. They ask questions and demand for answers. More often than not, governments have been compelled to respond to citizens need.  The passage and assent to the Freedom of Information Act is a further testimony that human rights are taking root in Nigeria. Our flourishing and vibrant media practice also lends credence to the enjoyment of freedom of expression.

We should also not lose sight of the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission 20 years ago by the military junta of late Gen. Sani Abacha. NHRC whose enabling act was further strengthened in 2010 now has wide ranging powers including the power to summon witnesses and equating her decisions at par with the decision of the High Court.  It would be recalled that in August this year NHRC summoned the military authority to produce within 72 hours some soldiers who asked a citizen to roll in muddy water along Mararaba Road in Nassarawa State. This was complied with.  That is unthinkable during the military era. 

It is on record that many individuals and non-governmental organisations have been engaging in public interest litigations. Many persons have also sought redress for the breach or abuse of their fundamental rights through different available mechanisms such as lodging complaints with the police, NHRC, NGOs, Alternative Dispute Resolution clinics, ombudsman, Office of Public Defender and even courts. Those who dare to fight for their rights have won while those who sleep on theirs privately lick their wounds. It bears mentioning that the former deputy governor of Enugu State, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, who was impeached on August 26, 2014 have had his impeachment nullified by Enugu High Court just last Friday, December 18, 2015.  

As earlier mentioned, Nigeria is not yet there in terms of having full-fledged observance of all fundamental human rights. However, we have made appreciable progress as I have pointed out. All we need to do as citizens is to continue to fight for our rights be they political, economic or social.

Follow me on twitter @jideojong

 

INEC's lax regulation of political finance

The new INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu and five nation­al commissioners were inaugurated on Monday, November 9, 2015 after they had successfully undergone Senate screen­ing and confirmation. It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari at the maiden meeting of the National Council of States held on Wednesday, October 21, 2015 appointed Prof. Yakubu as Chairman of INEC; Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as mem­ber representing North West; Prof. Anto­nia Taiye Okoosi-Simbine as Commission­er in charge of North Central; Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo from Borno as Commission­er representing North East; Dr, Moham­med Mustapha Lecky from Edo as Com­missioner representing South-South and Prince Soyebi Adedeji Solomon from Ogun in charge of South West.
Right now the new board is settling down to business. It would be nice to know what Yakubu’s INEC thoughts are on the issue of political finance breaches perennially being perpetrated by Nigeria’s registered political parties. I am saying this against the back­ground of the startling revelations arising from the on-going trial of Col. Sambo Dasu­ki (Retd.) who is the immediate past Nation­al Security Adviser. There are snippets in the media on how funds meant to equip the Ni­gerian Army to fight insurgency were alleg­edly diverted to grease the palms of some politicians ahead of the last general election. I do hope this Dasukigate turns out to be a hoax. If there is one sore point in the tenure of all previous INEC helmsmen, it is their inability to checkmate the excesses of polit­ical parties in the area of campaign finance.
The legal instruments on political fi­nance can be found in the following leg­islations and guidelines. They include the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended; the Electoral Act 2010, as amended; Companies and Allied Matters Act (2004); Code of Conduct for Political Parties; Political Finance Manual and Handbook (2015); political party con­stitutions and Guidelines for Political Par­ties (2013). These provisions are very copi­ous so much so that many political finance experts have said that Nigeria has one of the most comprehensive political finance regu­lations in Africa.
Specifically, political finance provisions can be found in the following sections of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amend­ed: Sections 15 ( c ) and (d) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule, 221, 225, 226, 228 (c). In the Electoral Act 2010, as amended in Sections 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 100, and 124. In the Companies and Allied Matters Act (2004) in Section 38 (2). Political parties are sup­posed to file three reports to INEC. These are annual statements of audited account, election expenses report as well as election contribution report.
Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, as amended in Section 225. (2) states that “Every polit­ical party shall submit to the Independent National Electoral Commission a detailed annual statement and analysis of its sourc­es of funds and other assets together with a similar statement of its expenditure in such form as the Commission may require.
(3) No political party shall - (a) hold or possess any funds or other assets outside Ni­geria; or (b) be entitled to retain any funds or assets remitted or sent to it from outside Nigeria. (4) Any funds or other assets re­mitted or sent to a political party from out­side Nigeria shall be paid over or transferred to the Commission within twenty-one days of its receipt with such information as the Commission may require.” The question is how much compliance and enforcement has been witnessed in relation to this omnibus section of the Constitution on party finance regulations? Not much in my opinion.
Section 226. (1) of the Nigerian Consti­tution further shouldered INEC with a stat­utory responsibility. It says “The Independ­ent National Electoral commission, shall in every year prepare and submit to the Na­tional Assembly a report on the accounts and balance sheet of every political party. (2) It shall be the duty of the commission, in preparing its report under this section, to carry out such investigations as will enable it to form an opinion as to whether proper books of accounts and proper records have been kept by any political party, and if the Commission is of the opinion that prop­er books of accounts have not been kept by a political party, the Commission shall so report.” I know for a fact that INEC sends external auditors to examine the account books of political parties and have also been publishing report of its findings for public consumption. In all the previous reports published only a couple of political parties usually keep proper records while majority are in breach. Unfortunately, that is where it ends. INEC has never prosecuted any of the erring political parties neither do the National Assembly to which INEC file the audit reports.
As regards the provisions of the Electoral Act, it places reporting obligations on polit­ical parties and INEC too. Section 89 of the Act is a further elaboration of Section 225 of the Nigeria Constitution quoted above. It requests political parties to submit annu­al statement of political party assets and li­abilities and sources of funds. Subsection 4 of that clause says INEC shall publish such report in three national newspapers. Section 92 (3) stipulates that political parties are to submit election expenses report six months after the conclusion of the polls. Have we seen compliance with these sections after the March/April 2015 General Elections? In section 93 (4) of the Act, a political party sponsoring candidates is supposed to sub­mit report of the financial contributions re­ceived in favour of such candidates within three months of announcement of results of election in which the candidate was field­ed. How much compliance have we wit­nessed in this regard? It has been about eight months since 2015 General Elections was concluded.
INEC in section 92 (8) of the Act sup­posed to make available for public inspec­tion the audit reports submitted by po­litical parties. This has been observed in breach. Sections 91 and 92 as well as 124 of the Act contains penalties for breaches of campaign finance regulations but INEC has never deemed it fit to invoke this pow­er to prosecute parties for flouting of le­gal requirements on campaign and politi­cal finance regulations. Will this impunity continue under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC? It needs being emphasized that there is a thin line between political finance and political corruption and unless Nigeria is able to substantially demonetise the elec­toral process by ensuring full compliance with political and campaign finance regu­lations, our efforts at national development may be a mirage.
•Jide is the Executive Director of OJA De­velopment Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter @jideojong

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Views on Nigeria’s 2016 Budget proposal


It is gratifying to note that President Muhammadu Buhari has eventually presented the 2016 proposal to the National Assembly. The president came across as someone who appreciates the enormity of the expectations of Nigerians from his government.  According to PMB, the budget seeks to stimulate the economy, making it more competitive by focusing on infrastructural development; delivering inclusive growth; and prioritizing the welfare of Nigerians.

I am fascinated by the following pledges made by the president in the appropriation bill: Home-grown public primary school feeding and free education for science, technology and education students in our tertiary institutions. Federal Government’s  plan to  collaborate with states and local governments to tackle the “chronic shortage’’ of teachers in public schools across the country by planning  to recruit, train and deploy 500,000 unemployed graduates and NCE holders to strengthen basic education, especially in rural areas. It is also commendable that FG plans to partner states and local governments to provide financial training and loans for market women, traders and artisans through cooperative societies. Laudable is also the FG’s commitment to job creation drive which will be private sector led. The president said his government will do that by encouraging a reduction in tax rates for smaller businesses as well as subsidised funding for priority sectors such as agriculture and solid minerals.

It is noteworthy that FG had earlier in the year ordered the employment of 10,000 policemen. All these shows that government is taking serious the issue of unemployment.

My worry about the budget is its late presentation as well as fluctuating benchmark. The $38 on which the budget is predicated has become grossly presumptuous as oil now sells for about $32 in international market. In the areas where FG wants to collaborate with the State and LGAs, were the supports of these tiers of government captured in the respective budget or is their support purely non-financial? It is heart-warming that the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki has promised the cooperation of the legislature to ensuring that proper scrutiny of the budget is done and that thorough oversight of its implementation is conducted.

Going forward, I hope future budgets will be prepared taking into cognisance the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) should be submitted to National Assembly (NASS) by September and budget needs to be submitted also in good time to enable NASS do a thorough study and passage. I still believe that PMB should have announced the removal of fuel subsidy rather than ordering the price to still be N87 per litre. This is one albatross the country can ill-afford to continue. In addition, FG needs to plug all the leakages and wastages in the system. He needs to show leadership by selling off most of the aircraft in the Presidential Air fleet. National Assembly should also put a hold on the proposed over N4b it intends to use in buying operational or official vehicles for the legislature. If they must buy, they should buy vehicles made or assembled in Nigeria. This will help conserve the scarce foreign exchange and reflate the economy.

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

 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

It's dry season, take care!

It’s dry season again! It starts about Octo­ber and ends around March of the follow­ing year. However, while it begins early in savannah region, it usually commence late in tropical rainforest or coastal region. In addi­tion, the climate change phenomenon aris­en as a result of ozone layer depletion from global warming has made it difficult to define precisely dry season in a country like Nigeria. There are several things I like about this peri­od of the year. It’s time for jollification. Most festivities take place during the dry season as it’s time when farmers harvested their cash and food crops like cocoa, palm oil, cotton, yam, maize and other cereals. As such, there is plenty of cash with more than enough to eat and drink.
No wonder most celebrations are fixed for the period. Apart from Christian festivals such as Christmas and New Year which from time immemorial are celebrated on December 25 and January 1 respectively, most people ar­range for their weddings, funerals, house-warming, chieftaincy coronations and many others for dry season. It’s not the heavy purse alone that makes people fix their parties for the period, it’s also due to the fact that there won’t be any disturbance from rain. More so, many workers are able to get their annual leave and go on vacation while children are also on holiday after their first term examinations.
It is arguable that more babies are made during the dry season particularly during the mouth-chattering harmattan cold that accom­panies it. Spouses enjoys greater copulation during this period, this may concomitant­ly result in more pregnancies and therefore more children. The cold nights that accom­panies dry season make people sleep better even when there is no public or private power supply to power the air-conditioners and fans. Washed clothes also dry faster compared to raining season when it may take days. In ad­dition, those who trade in warm clothing such as wind-cheater, pull over, cardigan, sweater and blanket make brisk business. Similar­ly, as Christmas approaches, those into dec­orations, sales of hampers, fireworks, greet­ing cards, chicken and rice also smile to the banks as a result of high patronage and good profits they often make on their sales.
On the other hand, dry season accompa­nied by harmattan haze portends many chal­lenges. It’s the period when fire outbreaks are most common. Since the onset of this year’s dry season, many markets have been razed, likewise many public and private buildings. Just last Sunday, December 13, 2015, a sec­tion of Nigerian Television Authority Head­quarters in Abuja was gutted by fire. Thank­fully no life was lost, however the international arm of the station had to be temporarily shut down. The increase in fire incidences during the dry season is occasioned by the reckless way we handle fire.
For instance, is it not shocking that in 2015 the practice of indiscriminate bush burring for game and land clearing is still prominent in our rural communities? In a bid to kill rats and rodents some numskulls set fire on bush which, in some cases, has destroyed valuable economic trees like cocoa and palm. Even many wooden electricity polls have been de­stroyed in the course of this reckless behavior. Aside the deliberate act of bush-burning, in­discriminate dropping of cigarette butts and use of fire-crackers have resulted in large con­flagrations leading to immense loss of lives and properties.
Reckless driving during harmattan has also caused many road mishaps. This usually hap­pens when drivers who could not see clear­ly as a result of the harmattan haze refused to be cautious and drive defensively. This too has led to many untimely deaths and loss of valuable properties. Bad weather occasioned by harmattan haze has also led to late take-off of many flights and several cancellations of scheduled flights. That is a huge revenue loss to the aviation industry.
It is debatable whether more people get sick during rainy or dry season. However, what is not in doubt is that there are some sicknesses that accompanies dry season. These include cough and catarrh. The season also triggers off a lot of asthmatic attacks due to the high level of dust pollution in the environment.
Given all the aforesaid challenges that ac­companies dry season, it is imperative for all of us to take care. This is not the time to en­gage in bush burning for whatever purpose or indiscriminate use of fire-crackers. Children should realise that Nigerian Police has banned the use of fire-crackers better known as knock­outs during festive seasons. Workers should en­deavor to switch-off all the lights and put off all electronic appliances at the close of the day’s business. Parents should instruct and super­vise their grown children to always remember to off all electronic gadgets when there is cut in public power supply or when they are about re­tiring to bed at night. Drivers would do well to drive defensively during this harmattan season.
For the government, this is the time to ensure that the Fire Services (federal and state) are well resourced in terms of personnel and fire-fight­ing equipment to enable them respond rapidly to distress calls. Beyond that, the Fire Services also need to be proactive by intensifying their civic education programme on fire prevention tips and how to combat fire outbreaks. This they can do in partnership with National Ori­entation Agency as well as interested media organisations who want to do that as part of their corporate social responsibilities. There is also the need for Nigerians to embrace insur­ance policy in order to mitigate their loses if they suffer catastrophes such as fire accidents. Quite unfortunately, most Nigerians do not be­lieve in taking insurance policies while the few who do sometimes do not pay their premium as at when due. My compatriots have more be­lief in faith clinics than in taking practical steps to avert or mitigate calamities.
It is high time government also incentivized the private sector to invest in Fire Service sec­tor. It is noteworthy that with the exception of very few corporate organisations, the Fire Ser­vice is dominated by the government. Yet, little is invested by government in this sector. That is why the Firemen cannot respond quickly to dis­tress calls. Even when they eventually get there, the archaic equipment they work with cannot accomplish much. Not many of us know that Fire Service has a role to play in house and of­fice design including town planning. For in­stance, designing many housing estates without input from the Fire Service has made it impos­sible for them to gain unfettered access to ac­cident scenes in the event of fire emergencies. Private homes and companies as well as pub­lic buildings are supposed to have fire extin­guishers just as it’s required in the vehicles but this is observed in breach as there is no effec­tive enforcement mechanism in place. Our fire service is too poorly funded to embark on any meaningful enforcement drive. Eternal vig­ilance is the price of liberty, let us all be care­ful this dry season so that we do not become victim of fire outbreak.
•Jide is the Executive Director of OJA De­velopment Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter @jideojong.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Palm oil production as a money spinner


Long before the discovery of crude oil in Oloibiri in present Bayelsa State in 1956 or thereabout, palm oil had been discovered, cultivated and used for diverse purposes. During the trans-Atlantic trade and colonial era, palm oil was very much sought after by the Europeans as raw materials for some of their factories.  According to WebMD.com, industrially, palm oil is used for manufacturing cosmetics, soaps, toothpaste, waxes, lubricants, and ink.  

In a drama piece entitled “All Because of Oil” written by renowned playwright, Professor John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo which I was privileged to watch the stage play at the University of Ibadan Arts Theatre many years back, he featured how palm-oil brought so much pains and troubles in the colonial days leading to the deposition of King Jaja of Opobo in order to pave way for the control of the palm-oil trade by the Royal Niger Company. With every opposition exiled or gagged, the white colonialist was able to have a field day exploiting the local producers in order to make super-profit.

Palm oil production is a money spinner, honey pot and gold mine rolled into one. Nigeria used to be a net exporter even though we then relied on oil palm wild grooves and not on the hybrid one which now produce high yield.  Malaysia and Indonesia which in the 1960s came to collect oil palm seedlings from Nigeria have perfected the art and science of palm oil production so much so that while Nigeria has become net importer of palm oil, they have become net exporter. Indonesia is the world largest producer with 20.9 million tonnes followed by Malaysia with 18.79 million tonnes of crude palm oil on roughly 5,000,000 hectares. Nigeria is said to, at present, have about 400,000 hectare of cultivated palm oil plantation.

On Tuesday, December 8, 2015, Nigerian Television Authority on its flagship magazine programme called ‘Good Morning Nigeria’ anchored by the duo of Kingsley Osadolo and Blessing Abu brought together experts in the palm oil industry to discuss how we can reclaim our lost glory in palm oil production. Guests on the programme were Dr. Omorefe Asemota who is the Executive Director of Nigerian Institute of Oil Palm Research in Benin City, Dr. Dickson Okolo, former Team Leader of Oil Palm Value Chain, Mr. Henry Oladunjoye who is the President of National Palm Produce Association of Nigeria and Mrs. Yomi Ifaturoti who is the Director of Corporate Affairs of P.Z Wilmar in Nigeria.

The experts identified the challenges facing the industry and the way out. Among the highlighted concerns raised include that of low technology application in the sector, largely subsistence nature of oil palm cultivation, long gestation period before harvest which is put at an average of five years, lack of social infrastructure in the rural areas where palm tree cultivation is supposed to take place, policy inconsistencies from government, huge capital outlay required for oil palm cultivation and high interest rate on agriculture loan, inadequate extension services to enlighten farmers in the sector, getting vast contiguous land with title-deeds, uncontrolled importation of vegetable oil into the country, and indiscriminate granting of waivers by government to crude palm oil and refined vegetable oil importers.

These challenges have constituted major constraints on oil palm production. Nigerians allegedly needs about 1.4 Metric Tonnes of palm oil per annum but at present experience a shortfall of 600,000 MT. In order to bridge this gap, all the aforementioned challenges need to be dealt with. The good thing is that government and private sector initiatives are gradually being felt in the sector. For instance, federal government established NIFOR to take care of research and development in the oil palm sector. The institute have been able to produce about 9 million disease resistance and hybrid seedlings which have a gestation period of about two-and- a half years. The Institute has also been able to craft small scale processing equipment which is available to farmers at affordable price.

Private sector Companies such as PZ Wilmar and DUFIL Prima Foods have already commenced the process of backward integration which includes cultivating palm tree plantations. PZ Wimar at present has 26,500 hectares of oil palm plantation in Cross River State and also has a refinery for processing of its yields.  In addition, the company has constructed several kilometers of roads across its oil palm plantations. Today, aside the Cross River State government, the company is next highest employer of labour in the South-South state.

A lot more needs to be done. Experts say 24 out of Nigeria’s 36 states have cultivable land for oil palm production. Good enough, agriculture is on the concurrent legislative list hence all the three tiers of government can invest in it. The oil palm industry just like its petroleum counterpart has the upstream and downstream sector where both government and organised private sector can invest. The interesting thing is that if well harnessed, the return on investment is as good as that of the oil and gas sector of the petroleum industry. It is noteworthy that a country like Australia is said to have been able to come up with high yield breed that is capable of producing 45 metric tonnes per hectare. Some private companies that have invested in the oil palm sector are also said to be quoted on their countries stock exchanges.

Kunle Aderinokun, an associate editor with Thisday newspaper in a November 7, 2015 features he wrote in the news medium said “The oil palm tree is one of the greatest economic assets a state or nation has, provided its importance is realised and potential fully harnessed. Oil palm products include palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm kernel cake. These can further be processed into RBD OLEIN (cooking oil), vegetable ghee, shortenings, margarine, ice cream, dough, creaming, coating, and other specialty fats.” He went further to say that: “It is pertinent to note that 90 per cent of palm oil is consumed by food industry and the remaining 10 per cent is used by the non-food industry. Foods like noodles, vegetable oil, biscuits, chips, margarines, shortenings, cereals, baked stuff, washing detergents and even cosmetics thrive on palm oil.” According to WebMD.com, palm oil is used for preventing vitamin A deficiency, cancer, brain disease, aging; and treating malaria, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cyanide poisoning. It is also used for weight loss and increasing the body’s metabolism.

Now that Nigeria is looking at boosting her non-oil (petroleum) sector revenue, it is high time we gave prime attention to palm oil cultivation, processing, marketing and consumption. It is a high income earner no serious government should ignore. It is heartwarming that the Bankers Committee said it had set a target of N300 billion to boost lending to Small and Medium Scale Enterprises and the agriculture sector in 2016. The Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele who made this known after the 7th Annual Bankers Committee Retreat held in Lagos from Dec. 10 – 11, 2015 said that the bankers agreed that de-risking those value chains in the agriculture would encourage large scale farming and boost productivity in the sector. Good thinking! I hope this facility will be at a single digit interest rate to the farmers.

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Echoes from Kogi and Bayelsa inconclusive guber polls

It’s era of change and given that the two gov­ernorship elections conducted after the as­sumption of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as the chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission were inconclusive, some cynics have renamed INEC as Inconclusive National Electoral Commission. That is very uncharita­ble. Is it INEC’s making that the governorship elections in Kogi on November 21 and Bayelsa on December 5, 2015 were inconclusive? What many commentators on election do not know or choose to ignore is that conduct of election is a highly regulated exercise. Failure to follow due process and rules of engagement will result in nullification of the poll by the election peti­tion tribunals.
At present, two major legislations guide the conduct of elections in Nigeria. They are the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2010. In ad­dition, section 153 of the Electoral Act empow­ers INEC to also issue regulations, guidelines and manuals for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of the Act. Thus, the Commission pe­riodically publishes Election Guidelines, Code of Conducts for Political Parties, Accredited Ob­servers, Journalists, etc.
In deference to the provision of section 53 of the Act, INEC declared both Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections inconclusive and what is the aftermath? For the avoidance of doubt, let me quote extensively what the Act says in that sec­tion 53 (2) “Where the votes cast at an election in any polling unit exceed the number of registered voters in that polling unit, the result of the elec­tion for that polling unit shall be declared void by the Commission and another election may be conducted at a date to be fixed by the Commis­sion where the result at that polling unit may af­fect the overall result in the Constituency.” Sec­tion 53 (3) says “Where an election is nullified in accordance with subsection (2) of this section, there shall be no return for the election until an­other poll has taken place in the affected area”.
INEC approved guidelines and the regula­tions of the 2015 general elections empowers the Returning Officer to act as follows: “Where the margin of win between the two leading can­didates is not in excess of the total number of reg­istered voters of the polling unit(s) where elec­tions was cancelled or not held, decline to make a return until another poll has taken place in the affected polling unit(s) and the result incorpo­rated into a new form, form EC 8D and subse­quently recorded into Form EC 8E for Declara­tion and Return”.
What then were the reasons for the inconclu­siveness of the Kogi and Bayelsa gubernatorial polls? Starting with Kogi, according to the Re­turning Officer, Professor Emmanuel J. Kucha, elections were cancelled in 91 Polling Units be­cause of “ballot box snatching, destruction of voting materials and harassment of INEC of­ficials as well as voting above accredited num­bers or over voting.” Meanwhile, he had earlier declared that in the election which was major­ly a two-horse race, the APC scored 240,867 while the PDP polled 199,514 votes, a difference of 41,353 votes which is lower than the 49,953 cancelled results spread across 91 polling units in 18 local governments, hence no winner could be declared.
In Bayelsa state, a similar scenario played out. INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Baritor Lenu-Kpagi was quoted as saying “Re­ports of the election conducted in Southern Ijaw on the 6th of December 2015 reveal that the elec­tion was substantially marred by violence, bal­lot box snatching, and hostage taking of elector­al officials.”
Before the cancellation of the polls in that LGA, results from seven of the eight local coun­cils announced showed that the Peoples Dem­ocratic Party candidate and incumbent gov­ernor, Henry Seriake Dickson polled 105,748 votes while his closest challenger, former gov­ernor Timipre Sylva, got 72,594 votes, a differ­ence of 33,154 votes. Meanwhile the total num­ber of registered voters in Southern Ijaw LGA stands at 120,827.
Given the above scenarios, was INEC right or wrong to declare the elections inconclusive? Who were the actors that perpetrated the vio­lence and fraud that led to the cancellations of the results in the affected Polling Units and LGAs? Who burnt down INEC office in Dekina LG of Kogi State and held election officials hostage in Southern Ijaw LG of Bayelsa? Was it INEC?
The commission made elaborate plans in­cluding carrying out extensive voter education, hands-on training of recruited poll workers, ac­tivating the Inter-Agency Consultative Commit­tee on Election Security, deployment of Election Risk Management Tool for mapping of flash­points, conducting Continuous Voters Regis­tration exercise, distributing Permanent Vot­ers Cards, printing of customised ballot papers with high security features, early deployment of poll workers and polling materials, setting up the Elections Operations Command Centre and making sure that the 22 candidates in Kogi and 20 in Bayelsa signed peace accord to play by the rule. All these grand plans were thwarted by the inordinate ambitions of the political elite, who instead decided to copy their act from the classic book of Niccolo Machaivelli “The Prince” which espoused that the ‘end justifies the means’.
The orgy of violence has made it imperative for the reform of our electoral process which is inclusive of establishment of Electoral Offenc­es Commission and Tribunal; disqualification of any political party and contestants found to have perpetrated electoral fraud and violence; expanding voting rights to include early voting for persons on election duties such as the poll workers, security agents, accredited journalists, party agents and observers, prisoners, Nigerians in Diaspora, etc.
There is also the need to evolve a political sys­tem that will spread the benefit of election rather than the current ‘winner-takes-all’ we practice. Our law needs to expressly capture the use of Smart Card Reader for accreditation purposes; INEC also has to revise its result collation forms to reflect Number of PVCs collected, as a basis for calculation of election results rather than the current Total Number of Registered Voters. This is because whoever fails to collect PVCs after reg­istration automatically loses his or her franchise to vote. The Commission also has to revise its current voting system to allow accreditation and voting to take place simultaneously.
On a last note, I crave the indulgence of the political class to stop interfering and under­mining the efforts of the Independent Nation­al Electoral Commission. They should call their foot-soldiers to order and allow INEC, Securi­ty Agencies, Journalists and Accredited Observ­ers to do their jobs professionally. If we destroy or weaken our electoral management body, the consequence will be disastrous and calamitous. A word is enough for the wise.
• Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Devel­opment Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter @jideojong
e-mail: jideojong@yahoo.com

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Political economy of Bayelsa electoral war

Bayelsa State, better known as the Glory of all lands, had its governorship election on Saturday, December 5, 2015. Just like that of Kogi State earlier held on November 21, the Independent National Electoral Commission declared the election inconclusive. The Bayelsa election is one of the seven off-cycle elections in Nigeria occasioned by judicial pronouncements. The others are Anambra, Ondo, Edo, Ekiti, and Osun states.
Bayelsa is the state with the smallest population in the country. It was created on October 1, 1996 and has a population size of 1,704,515 according to the 2006 census figures.
The state derives its name from the acronym of three of its local government areas – Brass (BALGA), Yenagoa (YELGA) and Sagbama (SALGA). It is erroneously believed that Bayelsa is made up of only the Ijaw. This is untrue. The main ethnic groups in the state are the Ijaw, Kolokunu, Ekpetiama, Igbriran, Atissa and Biseni. There are 10 languages spoken in the state; of these, Izon, Nembe, Ogbia and Epie-Atissa are the most predominant.

The state has 663,748 registered voters (54 per cent male and 46 per cent female), 1,806 Polling Units, 105 Wards and eight local government areas and three senatorial districts, five federal constituencies, and 24 state constituencies. INEC deployed 9,827 poll workers to conduct the governorship poll. Twenty out of the 29 registered political parties in Nigeria fielded candidates in the December 5 poll although the result of the seven out of the eight Local Government Areas so far released by INEC as of Monday, December 7, 2015 showed that the election was a two-horse race between two “governors”. The incumbent, Henry Seriake Dickson of the Peoples Democratic Party and his immediate predecessor, Timipre Silva, of the All Progressives Congress. Before the cancellation of the polls in Southern Ijaw, results from seven of the eight local councils announced showed Dickson polled 105,748 votes while his closest challenger, Sylva, got 72,594 votes, a difference of 33,154 votes.
INEC published the time-table for the election on June 19, 2015 and since then a lot of plans and preparations were made by the various actors and stakeholders in the electoral process to ensure that there was a successful, credible and violence-free election. On the part of the electoral management body, it activated its Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, deployed its Election Risk Management Tool to map out potential flashpoints and hot spots for election-related violence, conducted extensive voter education, women sensitisation programmes, organised an Electoral Alternative Dispute Resolution workshop for political parties and the civil society, held several stakeholders fora, got the contesting parties and candidates to sign a peace accord on November 10, trained poll workers, conducted Continuous Voter registration in September and ensured that their Permanent Voter Cards were printed and distributed ahead of the election day as well as made sure that adequate sensitive and non-sensitive election materials were deployed for the election.
The civil society organisations with support from donor agencies mobilised resources to organise political debates for the contestants, complemented INEC’s voter education exercise and also deployed accredited election observers across the length and breadth of the state. The security agencies were not left out of the plan. The Nigerian Police Force alone deployed 14,000 of its personnel under the leadership of a Deputy Inspector-General of Police; the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps deployed about 5,000 personnel as well while the military Joint Task Force also provided additional security. The media too carried out some voter education as part of its corporate social responsibility and ensured free flow of information from the election management body, the political parties and contestants to the public.
Ordinarily, given the elaborate preparations made for the election, nothing should go wrong. Those who believed that are na├»ve about Nigeria’s style of politics which is Machiavellian in nature. The end simply justifies the means. Election is war in Nigeria and for Bayelsa, the stakes are far higher than what obtains in other states. The state is located in the South-South geopolitical zone where militancy has been raging for over a decade. While it may be true that amnesty programme was instituted in 2009 during which thousands of military hardware including small arms and light weapons were surrendered by the Niger Delta militants in exchange for forgiveness of their economic crimes of kidnapping and sabotage of Nigeria’s oil facilities, the programme did not extinguish the flames of criminality in the Niger Delta region. It only reduced it. Cases of kidnapping for ransom and oil theft are still rampant in many of the six Niger Delta states, especially in Bayelsa.
It was in that volatile environment that INEC tried to conduct the election last Saturday. Meanwhile, the militants in the state have metamorphosed into private armies for politicians seeking to use both fair and foul means to wrest power in the oil-rich state. Politics wise, Bayelsa had hitherto been a de-facto one party state though a de-jure multi-party one. From 1999, the PDP had held sway and whoever won the party ticket was as good as having won the main election. The opposition parties operating in the state were just too weak to pose any electoral threat to the PDP in the state. All that changed early this year as many disgruntled elements who lost out of the PDP primaries held ahead of the 2015 elections massively defected to the APC. With the APC winning the 2015 presidential election, it became the new bride as many more politicians from the rival PDP and other opposition parties moved into the party in droves. Opposition politics is not lucrative in Nigeria given the winner-takes-all political system we run.
That is the emergence of Bayelsa as a de-facto two-party state with balance of power and balance of terror. It bears being mentioned that the December 5 election is the fiercest and most competitive election to be held in Bayelsa since 1999. Now, the calculations are multifold. The PDP wants to retain its stronghold having lost the entire governorship seats in the North-West and North-Central geopolitical zones to the APC in the last elections. Four out of six states in the North-East were won by the APC and an election petitions tribunal recently gave the party the fifth one in Taraba. In the South-West, only Ekiti and Ondo states are controlled by the PDP. It also controls only three out of the five states in the South-East. Meanwhile, five out of the six South-South states belong to the PDP. Bayelsa was thus for consolidation.
Besides, the state election is a referendum on former President Goodluck Jonathan and Dickson. The sentiment is that if the APC wins Bayelsa, then Jonathan, whose godson is the incumbent governor, will become politically irrelevant.
Economy wise, Bayelsa is an oil producing state and is one of the top four in terms of revenue allocation from the federation account. The state also enjoys projects from the Niger Delta Development Commission and the amnesty programme. It equally shares from the 13 per cent oil derivation revenue. The APC covets the oil and gas dividends accruing from the state and thus threw everything into the game to oust the PDP.
Indeed, the PDP and APC party stalwarts should be held responsible for the mayhem recorded on December 5 and 6 across Bayelsa State. I blame the security agents for not mopping up arms and ammunitions in the wrong hands ahead of the poll. As things stand, all the arrested perpetrators of electoral violence in the state should be successfully prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others. INEC should ensure that adequate security is put in place for the supplementary election in Southern Ijaw where the poll was cancelled as a result of violence and electoral malpractices. It is a shame that politicians who of their own accord signed a peace pact treated it with disdain by observing it in breach.
Bayelsa, like Kogi before it, has demonstrated that politics is not all about service in Nigeria but more about self-interest and self-aggrandisement.
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Sunday, December 6, 2015

An advisory on Nigeria's 2016 budget

On November 19, 2015, I moderated at the public presentation of Nigeria’s 2015 Open Budget Survey report. The event held at Barcelona Hotel, Abuja had in attendance participants from the civil society groups, media and representatives from some government ministries, department and agen­cies. Among them were the Central Bank of Nigeria, Fiscal Responsibility Commission, Office of Auditor General of the Federation, and Bureau of Public Procurement. The 2015 Open Budget Survey was conducted by the International Budget Partnership across 102 countries. The outcome of the opinion survey as regards Nigeria shows that the country has a long way to go in terms of open budgeting.
The survey was held on three pillars. They are budget transparency, public participa­tion and oversight. On transparency, that is, Open Budget Index, Nigeria scored 24/100. This shows that the government of Nigeria provides the public with minimal budget in­formation. Similarly on Public Participation the country got 25/100. This implies that the government of Nigeria is weak in providing the public with opportunities to engage in the budget process. On Budget Oversight the country performed fairly well as our legisla­ture got 67/100. This shows that budget over­sight by the legislature in Nigeria is adequate. On the other hand, budget oversight by the supreme audit institution (e.g., Office of Au­ditor General of the Federation) in Nigeria is limited. Oversight by auditor is put at 50/100.
Budget issue at all tiers of government in Ni­geria is very contentious. Perennially, it pitch­es the executive against the legislature. The ex­ecutive arm oftentimes wants the budget to be passed by the legislative arm as it is present­ed to it. The parliament will have none of that. Members of parliament are quick to point to the constitutional powers granted them over public funds in section E (80 – 89) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, particularly sections 81 and 88 of the ‘grundnorm’. The areas of dis­agreement between the legislative and execu­tive arms of government over the years have been in relation to budget performance par­ticularly capital budget. Many a time the re­current expenditure is fully drawn while cap­ital budget released is abysmally low usually not more than about 40 per cent. Other grey areas include budget benchmarks especially the exchange rate to be used for the budget planning. There is also the issue of envelope (amount) earmarked for each of the Minis­tries, Departments and Agencies. Many of the MDAs helmsmen though are invited for budg­et defence, yet they do behind the scene lob­bying of the relevant committees of the Senate and House of Representatives. The lobbying is either to ensure that the amount prescribed for them is passed or increased. We have had in the past ‘bribe-for-budget’ scandals.
Most times governments in Nigeria chris­ten their budgets. You’ll hear such vacuous labeling such as ‘Budget of Hope’, ‘Budget of Consolidation’, ‘Budget of Development’ etcet­era. I do not know where that tradition comes from. What I do know for a fact is that budget­ing in Nigeria has been turned to hollow ritual of fulfilling all righteousness. Researchers and investigators have come out with damning re­ports about a lot of extra-budgetary or non-appropriated spending by the executive arm of government. In Nigeria, Appropriation Acts are observed more in breach. Sad, very sad!
That is the more reason budgets have not translated to development in Nigeria. It is an open secret that irrespective of what is appro­priated for most of the MDAs not the entire sums are cash-backed. Granted that budgets are mere estimates, however, failure to fully implement budget should be an exception rather than a rule that it has become in our clime. Until the recent introduction of Treas­ury Single Account, many of the income generating parastatals of government retain money collected and fail to remit such to the federation account as at when due. When they eventually do, they would have unilater­ally and arbitrarily deducted their purported share of the money. This they do without the requisite legislative approval. Before govern­ment issued circular asking MDAs to return all unspent budget to government treasury, the practice used to be to roll over such un­spent funds into the new financial year. This was greatly abused.
Well, all the aforementioned are in the past. There is a new sheriff in town, a new party and government at the helms of affairs at the fed­eral level as well as majority of the states. Are we likely going to see things being done dif­ferently? It remains to be seen. The little I have observed is uninspiring. We’re into December and the Fiscal Strategy Paper and the Medi­um Term Expenditure Framework have not been passed by the National Assembly. The 2016 budget is not even in sight. This perpet­ual lateness impact negatively on budget per­formance. To the best of my knowledge, it is only in 2012 that the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan presented the 2013 appropriation bill in October (precise­ly on October 10, 2012). All other years, they were presented to the National Assembly in November or December. This is unhelpful. Budget ought to be submitted to the legisla­ture around September so that they can do thorough scrutiny and pass it in good time for implementation from January 1 of the fi­nancial year.
As regards 2016 budget, we have heard that it is going to be zero-budgeting where each of the MDAs will have to justify every items budgeted for. Well, I wait to see how well it will be done. However, areas I want govern­ment to focus are on infrastructure develop­ment, security, employment and diversifica­tion of the economy. Some largely untapped money spinners or goldmines include: Sports, Tourism, Agriculture and Solid Minerals. It is important for President Muhammadu Buha­ri to also unveil its economic blueprint so that the private sector would know the fiscal policy direction of the government. While we often focus deservedly on the federal government when we talk about budget, it is important for civil society organisations to beam their klieg lights and searchlights on the states and local government areas. I know there is Centre for Social Justice and Niger Delta Budget Mon­itoring Group; similar groups are needed in all the other five geo-political zones and in­deed in each state.
Jide is the Executive Director of OJA De­velopment Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter @jideojong

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Has federal character principle outlived its usefulness?

The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to effect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”
– Section 14 (3) of 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended.

On Tuesday, November 24, 2015, Speakers Corner Trust Nigeria organised a roundtable on the application of the federal character principle in the country. Among the resource persons were Olubunmi Ojo from the Federal Character Commission; Dr. Otive Igbuzor, who is the Executive Director of African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development and Mr. Henry Adigun, a public affairs analyst. The event was moderated by Ramatu Umar Bako who is the Country Director of SCTN. I was privileged to be among the guests in attendance. I listened with rapt attention to the various speakers and I dare say the event was an eye-opener for me. The conclusion I drew from that interactive session was that though the introduction of the federal character principle was well-intentioned, its implementation has been lopsided.
Nigeria runs a federal system of government due to its diverse ethno-religious configurations. In order to give the federating units as well as the multiplicity of tribes and creeds a sense of belonging, the country initially introduced the quota system to ensure that distribution of positions and amenities are shared out on an equitable basis. However, the abuse of the quota system by its operators led to the introduction of the federal character principle. The aim of the principle is encoded in Section 14 (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended. As highlighted in the opening quote of this piece, it is adopted to promote national unity and enhance national loyalty.
To show that the application of the policy is meant to be observed at all levels of government, the constitution in Section 14(4) states that, “The composition of the Government of a State, a Local Government Council, or any of the agencies of such government or Council, and the conduct of the affairs of the Government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manners as to recognise the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people of the Federation.”
The constitution goes further to set up a regulatory agency for the enforcement of the Federal Character Principle called the Federal Character Commission. The FCC is a federal executive body established by Act No 34 of 1996 and S. 153 (1)( c ) of the Nigerian Constitution to implement and enforce the federal character principle of fairness and equity in the distribution of public posts and socio-economic infrastructures among the various federating units of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to the Third Schedule of the constitution in Section 8. (1), “In giving effect to the provisions of Section 14(3) and (4) of this constitution, the commission shall have the power to: (a) work out an equitable formula subject to the approval of the National Assembly for the distribution of all cadres of posts in the public service of the Federation and of the States, the armed forces of the Federation, the Nigeria Police Force and other government security agencies, government-owned companies and parastatals of the states; (b) promote, monitor and enforce compliance with the principles of proportional sharing of all bureaucratic, economic, media and political posts at all levels of government;”
“(2) The posts mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)(a) and (b) of this paragraph shall include those of the Permanent Secretaries, Directors-General in Extra-Ministerial Departments and parastatals, Directors in Ministries and Extra-Ministerial Departments, senior military officers, senior diplomatic posts and managerial cadres in the Federal and State parastatals, bodies, agencies and institutions.” It is also on the basis of the federal character principle that the constitution in Section 147(3) mandates the President to appoint at least a minister from each of the states of the federation.
With the plethora of legislation giving birth to the federal character principle and setting up the regulatory body for its enforcement, one would have thought that, in deed and in truth, the principle would foster unity and loyalty as envisaged. Unfortunately, this has not been fully achieved. It is not for lack of good effort by the regulatory commission but largely the fault of the political elite who use their enormous power to ensure that the principle is subverted on the altar of political expediency. A staff audit of the management cadre of most of the well-resourced public corporations, parastatals and agencies will show that there are more from a section of the country than the others. While the Federal Character Commission monitors entry point recruitment, it was found out that promotion within the bureaucratic system is now being done on the basis of federal character rather than purely on merit and productivity.
Until the appointment of Prof. Muhammadu Jega as the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, no one from Northern Nigeria was ever appointed the head of the country’s electoral management body. Also, no southerner has ever been appointed as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory since inception in 1991. At best, they are appointed as Minister of State for the FCT. I wonder why vice-chancellors, Rectors and Provosts of most of the federal tertiary educational institutions are from the ethnic groups or geopolitical zones where they are sited. There are three senatorial districts in every state. However, in some states like Oyo, Ogun, Kogi, Borno and Benue, some tribal groups are made to play a second fiddle. Take for instance, the Oke-Ogun people in Oyo State have never produced a governor of the state. The same with the Yewa/Awori in Ogun West senatorial district. A similar scenario is playing out in Kogi State where the Igala ethnic group takes the governorship seat as its birthright. This is akin to a similar role being played out by the Tiv in Benue and Kanuri in Borno states. Where then is the sense of belonging and unity that the federal character principle preaches? This is why power rotation and zoning principle are needed in our polity.
The federal character principle is supposed to apply in the distribution of social amenities at the three tiers of government. But in reality however, the distribution is almost always lopsided due to the infusion of the sharing formula with a heavy dose of politics. Once a powerful “son or daughter of the soil” is at the helm of affairs where the distribution of the amenities is taking place, he or she will mount pressure to influence the location of the amenities to his or her community. That is why in a state, some communities have more federal and state projects at the expense of others.
There is no gainsaying that the federal character principle is good and desirable for a heterogeneous country like Nigeria. However, its implementation is suspect and needs to be reformed. The Federal Character Commission needs to be well-financed to enable it monitor effectively what the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government are doing in terms of recruitment. The commission deserves to be on the First Line Charge of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation. It also calls for the review of its enabling Act. The commission needs to also do more with public communication of its activities and prosecution of erring chief executives of government corporations who may have breached the federal capital principle.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Did INEC err on its decision on Kogi gubernatorial election?


Since the Sunday, November 22, 2015 unfortunate death of the former governor Abubakar Audu, the All Progressives Congress candidate in the November 21 governorship election in Kogi State, a lot of public commentators have offered legal opinions on what should follow given that the Independent National Electoral Commission had declared the poll inconclusive before the death of one of the 22 candidates in the race to Lugard House in Lokoja.  As the saying goes, the only similarity common to every human being is our differences. Expectedly, diverse opinions are being canvassed by both lawyers and non-lawyers alike. Even when INEC and APC took their respective decisions and communicated same to the public on the evening of Tuesday, November 24, 2015 that have further inflamed more passion rather than dousing the tension.

In all honesty, both the Nigerian Constitution and Electoral Act never had clear cut provision on how to deal with the death of a candidate in an inconclusive election. There are legal provisions or remedies dealing with death before and after the poll, not mid-way into it. However, law is not expected to envisage all circumstances thus there are provisions for legislative amendments and court pronouncements. Both will be needed to eventually and finally lay to rest the conundrum that arose out of the peculiar, novel and unprecedented situation that Kogi’s electoral debacle has thrown up.

Among the differing positions that many commentators have posited are as follows: Some said it necessitated fresh governorship election. Others opined that APC should just be allowed to nominate a replacement for Audu while the supplementary election should be held to conclude the exercise. In selecting a substitute for Audu, some legal opinions believed that since Audu and his running mate Hon. James Abiodun Faleke are on joint ticket, the running mate should become the new candidate while the party goes ahead to nominate a new running mate for him. Others believe the first runner up in the APC governorship primary for Kogi,. Yahaya Bello should be picked as the new candidate. There are those who believe a fresh party primary needs to be held. Some others opined  that since the APC candidate had died while the election was inchoate, his votes had died and has been buried with him or better still, his votes  has become wasted votes. Some even went further to suggest that incumbent Governor, Captain Idris Wada who is the Peoples Democratic Party candidate in the election should be declared outright winner having satisfied the basic requirements as stipulated in Section 179 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

As it turned out, INEC on Tuesday, November 24, 2015 issued a statement on the issue after due consultation with its team of legal advisers. In a release by its Secretary, Mrs. Augusta Ogakwu, INEC stated that “The commission has, after due consideration of the circumstances, decided as follows: To conclude the process by conducting election in the 91 affected polling units where election was cancelled or could not hold as announced by the Returning Officer. To allow the APC to fill the vacancy created by the death of its candidate and to conduct the supplementary election on December 5, 2015. Same day, APC chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun also informed the public of the decision of his party to conduct fresh party primary to produce a replacement for Prince Abubakar Audu.

It will also seem that APC will like to interrogate the decision of the INEC to declare the gubernatorial election inconclusive more so as its candidate was leading its closest rival by 41, 353 votes. According to APC chairman, “INEC has made a pronouncement that the election was inconclusive. But as of this moment, we are still to get anything in writing from INEC, specifying the details of the polling units that were involved and a clear definition as to whether it is referring to registered voters or voters with PVCs...” I heard it on good authority that though the number of registered voters in the 91 Polling Units where election could not take place is 49,953; however, the number of those who have collected their permanent voters cards and therefore eligible to vote in the supplementary election is about 25,000.

Of this number too, given that the November 21 election had an average voter turnout of 36 per cent, there is a possibility of far less percentage of that likely coming out to vote in the make-up election. This is corroborated by the fact that of the approximately 25,000 who have collected their PVC,  some of them would have relocated out of Kogi State, died, be on election duty, be sick or simply be disinterested in  coming out to vote. The question is, if INEC is in the know that only about 25,000 potential voters will be eligible to exercise their franchise in a supplementary election and that the figure is far less than the over 41,000 votes with which Audu was leading his closest rival, Wada, why did INEC not save this country of this heated argument and debate by declaring APC the winner of November 21, 2015 poll?

I am of the opinion that INEC acted within the ambience of the law by choosing to rely on provision of sections 33 and 36 of the Electoral Act which allows for substitution of dead candidate. It is natural for Peoples Democratic Party to kick and reject INEC’s decision because the party stands to be the sole beneficiary of the disqualification of APC from contesting the supplementary election. After all, its candidate will simply coast home to victory without APC in the race. It is within the right of PDP and any of the other 20 candidates in the race to head to court before the date of the supplementary election or wait to approach the election petition tribunal to seek redress. Either way, judicial intervention is inevitable. Personally, I am of the opinion that all the parties in dispute over INEC decision should allow the supplementary election to hold and thereafter proceed to the tribunal. It is noteworthy that aggrieved parties have right of appeal of tribunal decision up to Supreme Court.

In my candid opinion, those who are calling for fresh  statewide gubernatorial election  need to factor in the provision of section 178 (2) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended) which says election to the office of the governor should be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days. Captain Wada was sworn in as Kogi Governor about January 31, 2012 and as things stand INEC may not have the wherewithal to conduct fresh election throughout Kogi State within the next one month left for it to do so. For those pushing the joint ticket argument for late Audu’s running mate to automatically be made to substitute his dead principal, they need to realise that  Audu alone ran in the party primary while his running mate was nominated by him or his party after he emerged victorious at the intra-party election. Meanwhile for a person to be a candidate of the party under our extant law, particularly section 87 and 141 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, he must have participated in all the stages of the nomination processes. That is he must have undergone party primary and be sponsored by his party. Faleke unfortunately did not undergo primary with Abubakar Audu.  Now that his party has chosen to conduct another primary to elect a replacement for the deceased candidate, Hon. Faleke has a golden opportunity to go and test his popularity.

There are those who are canvassing that Audu’s votes in November 21 are not transferable. I beg to disagree. There are instances where courts including the Supreme Court have stated that people vote for the political party and not necessarily the candidate. Nigerian law has no provision for independent candidacy. Those who are asking INEC to cancel the November 21 election result also need to bear in mind section 68 of Electoral Act 2010, as amended where decisions made by Returning Officer on an election that have been held and results collated can only be reviewed and reversed by the election tribunal or court. I do hope that the 8th  National Assembly having seeing the imperative of constitutional and electoral act amendment arising from the unprecedented Kogi’s electoral debacle swing to action and expeditiously amend Nigeria’s election legal framework.

Jide ids the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja 
N.B: This article was first published in Thisday of December 1, 2015