Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lessons for Nigeria on 2016 Ugandan elections

The Ugandan election was my fourth international election observation mission. I had previously served as Short Term Observer with Carter Centre in Ghana (2008); International Foundation for Electoral Systems in United States of America (2010) and African Union in Egypt (2014). My Ugandan observation mission was courtesy of Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa. We were handpicked from 22 African countries and I was in Uganda from February 12 – 22, 2016. After three days of briefings from the Ugandan Electoral Commission, representatives of political parties, civil society groups, security experts, and the EISA secretariat team, I and my Zimbabwean team mate, Gamuchirai Matsheza were deployed to Masaka District to observe the February 18 presidential and parliamentary elections.

A lot has been said on the polls by various observer missions in their preliminary statements released at a press conference last Friday, February 19. While some of them like the Commonwealth and European Union Election Observation Mission were very critical of the elections, others were not quite scathing in their remarks. In all honesty, the election I witnessed was not perfect. It fell short of minimum international standard in some key areas.  There was breach of campaign finance regulations with the ruling party, National Resistance Movement flagrantly abusing the state and administrative resources. There were significant incidences of vote buying particularly in rural communities. The campaigns were tense especially at rallies organised by the main opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change whose presidential flag bearer, Dr. Kizza Besigye was the main opposition figure. Many of the FDC campaigns were disrupted by police and other security forces while the party’s presidential candidate was severally arrested and have his movements restricted.

Opposition political parties and their candidates were also reportedly denied access to some of the media houses while there was late commencement of voting in many of the 28,010 Polling Stations across the 112 Districts of Uganda. Elections which ought to be from 7am – 4pm could not start in many places until about an hour of two late. This was largely due to late arrival of voting materials and poll officials. Many political observers of Uganda have also accused the country’s Electoral Commission of being a lackey of government thereby not able to inspire trust and confidence of critical stakeholders, particularly the opposition political parties and their contestants.  The security forces were also alleged to be kowtowing to the dictates of President Yoweri Museveni . A couple of deaths were recorded in the lead up to the elections.

In spite of the several shortcomings highlighted above, the February 18 elections were all not negative. The polls were largely peaceful and successful. It was not stalemated and were conducted in substantial compliance with the Ugandan electoral laws. On that day, three elections were held simultaneously. Presidential and those of the members of the parliament – both open seats and quota seats for women.  The presidential seat was the most coveted and expectedly grabbed most of the media reportage. Though there were eight presidential candidates, the outcome of the elections eventually proved that it was a two horse race between friends turned political rivals – incumbent President Museveni and his former personal physician, Dr. Kizza Besigye. The Electoral Commission of Uganda declared that Museveni won his fifth term in office with 5,617,503 votes, a percentage of 60.7 while his main challenger, Besigye garnered 3,270,290 votes, representing 35.37 per cent of the total valid votes cast.

There are lessons for Nigeria. By far the most highly recommended for our electoral system is the inclusive and highly participatory nature of Ugandan electoral process.  The country’s constitution made provision for special interest groups such as women, youth, workers, persons with disabilities and even the military. They all have seats reserved for them in the Ugandan 418 memeber parliament.  Article 78 of the Ugandan Constitution requires parliament to have one woman representative for every district or city.  There are 112 Districts in the country.  Other interest groups are the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (the military) which has 10 reserved seats in parliament; the Youth, Workers, and Persons with Disabilities who have five reserved seats each. Of these seats one of them is reserved for women and in the case of UPDF which has 10, two is reserved for women. In the ninth parliament (2011 – 2016) women representation was 34 per cent.

There is also provision for independent candidates in Uganda.  51.9 per cent independents vied for both presidential and parliamentary slots in the February 18 elections. Indeed, four out of the eight presidential candidates stood elections as independents. A minimum of Advanced Level Certificate of Education is needed for anyone to contest elections in Uganda. In Nigeria, it is Ordinary Level West African Examination Council certificate or its equivalent. The 2016 elections were held on a Thursday as against Saturdays when we normally have ours here. During the polls, there were no military roadblocks, no restriction of movement and no shutting down of the Ugandan economy as is the case here.

During the polls, two polling agents were allowed to protect the interest of each of the contestants. In addition, these agents were allowed to bring the Voters Register for the Polling Station with them and track electorates who turn out to vote same way as the Poll Officials are doing. This enhances transparency of the process. Furthermore, both the agents and the voters were allowed to observe the entire electoral process – voting, closing, sorting, counting and announcement of results. Unlike our own laborious Modified Open Secret Balloting Systems where accreditation is separated from voting, voters in Uganda have both done simultaneously. They have the option of using pen to tick their preferred candidate or thumbprint. They do the voting inside a plastic bowl to guarantee secrecy while casting their ballot in a well secured transparent ballot box.

Unlike our own system here where all you need to win executive positions such as that of the president, governor and Council chairman is 25 per cent of valid votes cast in two thirds of the constituency, in Uganda, you need to score absolute majority, that is, over 50 per cent of valid vote cast, otherwise there will be a run-off between the top two candidates within 30 days. This is exemplary.  Presidential elections are to be submitted to the Supreme Court of Uganda within 10 days and the Court is to adjudicate on the matter within 70 days. In Nigeria’s case, Court of Appeal has original jurisdiction to hear presidential election matters with the candidates having a right of appeal to Supreme Court. Perhaps Ugandan model will serve us better.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Eyewitness account of 2016 Ugandan elections

I am not new to election observation. It is one of my fortes, being a psephologist. I have been an accredited observer of Nigerian elections since 1999 and have been privileged to serve as an accredited short term observer at international level with Carter Centre in Ghana (2008), International Foundation for Electoral Systems in the United States of America (2010); African Union in Egypt (2014) and Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa in Uganda (2016). I was in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, from February 12 – 22 during which I and my colleagues from about 22 African countries received briefings from different electoral actors and stakeholders such as the Ugandan Electoral Commission, representatives of the political parties, civil societies, security agents and EISA.

I and my Zimbabwean colleague, Gamuchirai Matsheza were deployed to Masaka District to observe the February 18, 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections. It was an awesome experience for me. It was my first time in East Africa. It was also my first time of using electronic gadget (Tablet) to observe election. The Mission afforded me opportunity to understand the political context in which the 2016 polls were conducted. It is noteworthy that 1996 and 2001 general elections were held under zero-party systems. Multi-party democracy was restored in 2006. However, 2005 constitutional amendments removed term limit for president of Uganda hence the president can contest ad-infinitum; all election results are to be announced within 48 hours; all presidential election petitions are to be filed within 10 days directly to Ugandan Supreme Court who will adjudicate on them within 70 days; Run-off elections are to be held within 30 days if no presidential candidate score above the minimum threshold of 50 per cent of votes required.  A term in Uganda is five years unlike our own here which is four.

Uganda also run unicameral legislature unlike ours which is bi-cameral. There is also legalised affirmative action for women in the country. Article 78 of the Ugandan Constitution requires parliament to have one woman representative for every district or city.  The Constitution also made provision for special interest groups by given them quota seats in the parliament. These are the UPDF (the military) which has 10 reserved seats in parliament; the Youth, Workers, and Persons with Disabilities who have five reserved seats each. Of these seats one of them is reserved for women and in the case of UPDF which has 10, two is reserved for women. In the ninth parliament (2011 – 2016) women representation stands at 34 per cent; 32 per cent for cabinet ministerial posts; 30 per cent for Minister of State posts and 30 per cent for shadow ministerial posts. A minimum of Advanced Level Certificate of Education is needed for anyone to contest elections in Uganda.

The 2016 Ugandan General Elections Statistics show that: The number of nominated candidates for Presidential Elections is eight; the country has 29 registered political parties and organisations, 112 districts; 249 counties, 290 constituencies, 1,403 sub counties, 7,431 parishes,  57,842 villages, 28,010 polling stations and 15,277,198 registered voters. It is interesting to note that in Uganda, voters have the options of using pen to tick their choice or thumbprint. The Electoral Commission is also able to save cost by using plastic bowls for voting instead of acquiring expensive and sophisticated voting cubicles as with our case here. There also, Party Agents are allowed to come to Polling Stations with a copy of registered voters for the Unit and track number of voters alongside with the Polling Officials.

In Uganda, there is provision for independent candidates and four of the eight presidential candidates actually run as independents. There is no ceiling on campaign finance even though the law forbids the use of states and administrative resources for campaigns. However, that is observed in breach. Unlike here, candidates in Uganda pay nomination fees to government coffers. In the just held elections, presidential candidates paid a non-refundable 20m Ugandan Shillings ($5,797) while parliamentary candidates paid 3m Ugandan Shillings ($870). In addition they also paid to get Expression of Interest form from their political parties.

Ugandan Electoral Commission adapted electoral technology for the 2016 polls. The Commission introduced the use of Biometric Voters Verification device similar to our own Smart Card Reader. It also used Electronic Transmission of Results. It is equally noteworthy that the Electoral Commission takes responsibility for coordination of campaigns for political parties unlike in our case where the Police is in charge.

Now, there were some issues arising from the 2016 Ugandan elections. These include the allegation of widespread vote buying (stomach infrastructure) particularly by the ruling National Resistant Movement. Inequitable access to media (Uganda has six print media namely New Vision, Bukedde, Daily Monitor, Red Pepper, The Observer and Independent (weekly magazine); five television stations and about 250 licensed radio stations). It was alleged that opposition candidates were denied access to some of these media. On the instruction of Ugandan Communications Commission, the country’s social media applications were shut down from February 18 – 19 for security reasons. There is low level of public confidence in Ugandan Electoral Commission who viewed it as lacking independence. The security agencies, the armed forces and the civil service are also reported to be highly partisan.

There was also clampdown on opposition candidates particularly the main opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye who was severally arrested and have his movement restricted. There were also pockets of violence but this pale into insignificance when compared to the scale experienced in Nigeria during our 2015 General Elections. Voting could not start as scheduled in many Polling Stations due to late arrival of materials. Elections were supposed to be held from 7am – 4pm but started some hours late in many centres. The electoral reform was said to have taken place too close to the election time with input from civil societies and opposition political parties discarded.  Voter education was said to be insufficient. It was interesting however that Voters Turnout in the February 18 polls was 63.5 per cent. Because of the mandatory 48 hours deadline for computation of election results, 1,787 Polling Stations results were left out of the presidential result collation. While President Yoweri Museveni may have been in power for 30 years and have won the peoples mandate for another term in office, 19 of his ministers were not so lucky. They lost at the polls. It is also on record that an average of 60 per cent of the Members of Parliament failed in their re-election bid.

Aside elections, it is interesting to note that there is stable electricity supply in Uganda. I learnt the country supplies Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya electricity. It is also intriguing that while Nigeria has jettisoned right hand drive for the left, Uganda’s vehicles are right-handed. Despite my tight schedules, I was able to visit the foremost East African University, Makerere University, the Nabugabo Sand Beach as well as the Equator Point which is halfway between North Pole and South Pole as well as had a view of Lake Victoria at Entebbe.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sanitising commercial cycling in Nigeria

There are different modes of transportation. Commuting can be by road, air, rail and water. Airplane or Aeroplane is used for air transportation and this is mostly used by the elite and the affluent because of the cost implication. Air transportation is swift and allegedly the safest even though occasional crashes do take its toll on scores of life depending on the number of passengers on board and the crash site. Nigeria has had its fair share of plane crashes. Water transportation is done via ships, boats and canoes. It comes with its own risk as well, as there have been a number of ship wrecks and incidences of boats capsizing.

Rail transportation is equally prominent in Nigeria and is done through trains. It is the major means of mass transportation as the trains are capable of carrying hundreds of passengers at a time.   There have also been incidences of derailment claiming lives of commuters. Rail transportation is perhaps the cheapest though not the fastest. Road transportation is done through vehicles such as cars, lorries, buses, vans as well as via bicycle, motorcycle, and tri-cycle. In the olden days, and even in some rural communities now, animals such as donkey, Carmel and horse are used as means of transportation.

All the aforementioned means of transportation are either used for personal comfort or to generate income. The phenomenon of commercial cycling was virtually nonexistent in Nigeria until the late 1990s when economic hardships forced many owners of private motorcycles to deploy them for income generation. Commercial cycling has blossomed into a big transport business. What started as a part-time job mostly by civil servants and artisans who are looking for additional means of earning income has graduated into a full time business which is now providing employment for millions of Nigerians. The value chain is long. There are the importers from countries such as Japan and China, the middlemen popularly known as dealers who sell to the end users and the cyclists themselves. There are also those who sell the spare parts as well as the mechanics who carry out repairs when the contraption has faults.

It is noteworthy that this line of business cropped up as a result of vacuum created by inadequacy of commercial vehicles coupled with bad road networks. Though there is paucity of commercial vehicles, however, there are communities where the roads are so impassable to the extent that no vehicle is willing to ply such roads. The affected communities depend largely on the service of commercial cyclists who are able to navigate through such deplorable road network. It has also been observed that commercial cycling thrives in major cities that experience traffic gridlock. Because of the small size of the motorcycles, they are able to easily meander through the heavy traffic. This has helped many workers to get to their places of work on time.

While it is true that these commercial cyclists provide essential services, their recklessness while on duty has become mind-boggling. It has been established by researchers that many of the cyclists were poorly trained. They barely receive few hours’ tutorials before they commence their commercial activities. Many of them are unlicensed. Even the minority few who obtain driving licence find it difficult to obey traffic rules. They disobey traffic lights with impunity, refuse blatantly to use head elements and drive at neck-breaking speed. They are mostly uncouth, unkempt and operate under the influence of alcohol and hard drugs. Little wonder there is high incidence of accidents among the cyclists popularly called Okada riders.  Through their lackadaisical attitudes on the road, they have killed and maimed thousands of commuters and even by-standers. A visit to Nigerian orthopedic hospitals both orthodox and traditional will confirm this. What I found shocking recently is that most of the commercial motorbikes operating in Nigeria are not licenced. They simply do not have number plates. This is dangerous!

It has also been variously alleged that these motorcycles are being used to commit crimes such as robbery, rape, kidnapping and also suicide-bombing. Since it is small in size and of high speed, it serves as a means of quick escape. Now, the fact that most of these motorcycles are unregistered with licensing authorities makes detection of those who use them to perpetrate crimes difficult. Even when these machines are stolen, how will the genuine owners track and identify them? 

The menace of the commercial motorbikes operators has necessitated their ban or restrictions on some roads across the country. About 2005, former Federal Capital Territory Minister, now governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai banned these riders from operating in city centres such as Maitama, Wuse, Asokoro, Utako, Jabi and Gwarimpa. However, they are allowed to work in satellite towns like Kubwa, Bwari, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Abaji, Kwali and others. Few other states have taken a cue from this initiative. They include Lagos, Niger and Cross River.

Truth be told, commercial motorcycling has come to stay due to the essential services they provide for Nigerian masses. However, there is urgent need to streamline their activities. Beyond banning them from some roads, Federal Road Safety Commission, Vehicle Inspection Officers and Nigerian Police, among other road traffic regulatory authorities need to enforce discipline among the motorcycle operators. They must be compelled to obtain licence after being duly trained by instructors from registered Driving Schools. They must be randomly picked and tested for alcohol and drug use while driving; their machines must be registered and when they breach any traffic rules, must be severely punished. Doing that will help to sanitise this transport system and save lives of innocent Nigerians from these dare-devil drivers.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

How best to celebrate this Valentine’s Day

Today, February 14, is St. Valentine’s Day also known as Lovers Day. An internet source claims that: “The Catholic Church recognises at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realising the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.” Did you know that an approximately 150 million Valentine's Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine's Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas?

Already Nigeria’s entertainment industry has keyed into making Valentine’s Day celebration colourful. Musicians, comedians, thespians, promoters, radio and television stations often collaborate to organise comedy, musical and film shows in commemoration of the day. The colour code for Valentine gigs is red or a touch of it. A lot of people particularly youths make a heavy weather of celebrating the Lovers Day. They save up for the day to take out their loved ones. It’s also the day many find courage to ‘toast’ or confess their love to someone they admire and want to date. In doing so, they buy them special gifts ranging from exotic cards to perfumes, wrist-watches, mobile phones, dresses, shoes and other sundry items they assume will catch the fancy of their date. More often than not, the day ends with winning and dinning.

These days, celebration of St. Valentine’s Day has ceased to be a secular event. Many religious houses like churches are also organising feasts for their church members particularly those in SSS (single and still searching) class as well as married couples. Such events have different sessions like musicals, prayers, counseling, exchange of gifts and dinner. It’s a programme where married couples rekindle their love while those in search of whom to marry are properly guided on how to make Godly choices of life partners.

Quite unfortunately, many young men see the day as a day to lust after ladies and engage in sexual perversion. They often claim that their ‘heavy investment’ in buying their girl-friends special gifts and taking them out to attend shows and dinners should willy-nilly be reciprocated with sex. Am sure if a survey was to be taken, it would be discovered that February 14 of every year is the day people globally have sex most. This need not be so. Granted that there is no particular day sex is banned in the 365 days of the year and people should feel free to express their love to one another, it needs not be a commercialised sex in the mode of ‘I buy you gift and you give me sex’. 

Most worrisome is that the sexual escapades young people engage in on Lovers Day are sometimes unprotected which predisposes them to the danger of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Staphylococcus and the most dreaded HIV/AIDS. Even when they are not at risk of STDs, their reckless behaviour on a day like this can result in unwanted pregnancies and concomitantly illegal abortion or unwanted children. This has the capacity to terminate some young people’s dream of good education and blissful marital life. In celebrating this year’s Lovers Day therefore, we should eschew avoidable risky behaviors including drunkenness which may lead to unpleasant consequences.      

This day should not also be about couples or lovers alone. It should be a day to show love to the less privileged in our society. There are millions of Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria at present. A day like this should warrant our mobilising resources to buy them food, clothing and things that will alleviate their harrowing conditions in the IDP camps. For the rich and influential people among us, we can legally and legitimately offer to adopt some of the children already orphaned by terrorism in parts of this country. We can offer to give them scholarships to go to schools in safe environment.

Other things we could do in commemorating this year’s Valentine’s Day is to go on prison visitation and pay the fines of as many of the convicts who have been given the options of fine but could not raise it, hence having to serve avoidable prison terms. We can help with the rehabilitation of some ex-convicts thereby giving them a second chance to live a decent, crime free life. The wealthy among us can go to hospitals and assist to pay the medical bills of some of the poor, sick patients. We can go to orphanages, home for the disabled, as well as old people’s home and celebrate this Valentine’s Day with them. We can show love to our alma mater on this day by offering to repair some of the dilapidated structures or donating equipments and books that will advance learning and enhance quality education in the schools where we were moulded to become somebody of importance we are today.   The poor widows in our midst deserve our kind and financial gestures today.

Yes, love is in the air and should be demonstrated to all and sundry. The poor, the sick, the orphan, the ex-convict, the weak, the oppressed, the IDPs and many more. We can show love to ourselves too. How? By shunning our evil ways and live right. By being good, patriotic and selfless citizens. Remember, we are the world; we are the ones to make life a better place. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Between electricity providers and Nigerian consumers

On Monday, February 8, 2016, the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress and some civil society organisations picketed the offices of electricity distribution companies nationwide. This was done while they protested against the 45 per cent hike in electricity tariff which took effect on February 1, 2015. The NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, “called on President Muhammadu Buhari to revisit the privatisation of the power sector as it was marred by corruption”, lamenting that the current increase would make it the fifth time the tariffs would go up since the privatisation exercise was concluded. Among other things, labour leaders accused government of acting in bad faith by taking sides with the private investors in the power sector against the suffering masses.
Some other complaints include the lack of transparency in the affairs of the electricity generating, transmitting and distributing companies. The protesters said these private investors had refused to publish their financial statements. Furthermore, they averred that most consumers were not metered in line with the signed Memorandum of Understanding of November 1, 2013, which stipulated that within 18 months, all consumers must be metered. Labour union officials equally complained that there were no consultations before the coming into effect of the new tariff.
However, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission in a statement signed by its Head of Public Affairs Department, Dr. Usman Arabi, said that the existing electricity tariff order was carried out after a wide consultation with different shades of opinion, and in strict compliance with extant rules and judicial pronouncements. Arabi stated further that the Electric Power Sector Reform Act 2005 empowers any party aggrieved or dissatisfied by the decision of the Commission to appeal to it within 60 days from the date of the decision, adding that it was still open to further consultation.
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, described the electricity tariff increase as “a painful pill” and appealed to consumers to “swallow” it. He, however, said the new tariffs were cheaper than using diesel or petrol-fired generators or inverters.

Truth be told, the Nigerian government should be held responsible for the parlous state of our electricity situation. I do not blame the GENCOs, DISCOs or Transmission Commission of Nigeria for wanting to have a cost recovery tariff. They are not charity organisations but are in business to make profit. More so, the government signed an agreement with these private investors and breaches could make it liable to litigation. The right questions to ask by Nigerians are: What happened to over $16bn supposedly spent by past administrations on power sector. What evidence do we have that the Buhari administration is sincere and will not follow the ruinous path of its predecessor?
The Ndudi Elumelu House of Representatives committee which probed the power sector investment from 1999 – 2007 unearthed mind-boggling fraud in its management. The committee came up with 88 recommendations out of which only four were approved by the House of Representatives for implementation. The committee discovered that a sum of $13.2bn was spent on power sector between 1999 and 2007, what has the country to show for these trillions of naira investment if not pitch darkness?
Nigerians, I must state, are not unwilling to pay cost reflective tariff but want value for money. We are not ready to pay for darkness. The first step to ensuring that consumers are protected and not cheated by the shylock private investors in the sector is to first address the issue of inadequate metering. Without meters, what electricity consumers will get is estimated billing which more often than not is outrageous. Power distribution companies popularly called DISCOs give targets to their marketers and as such, even in homes where there are analogue post-paid meters, they do not bother to read them but come up with crazy bills at month end. Not only that, even when there are faults either with transformers or power lines, consumers are also billed officially and unofficially for the repairs. This is unfair!
I am not unmindful of the challenge of energy theft (the immediate past Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, reportedly said that Nigeria had the highest per capita electricity theft in the world). I am also not unaware of other sundry problems faced by investors in the power sector such as vandalism of gas pipelines, pilfering of meters, electricity cables, among others. Nonetheless, some of the challenges are either orchestrated or aided by unscrupulous elements working for these GENCOs, DISCOs and the TCN. The knotty issue of dearth of pre-paid meters is central to resolving the ongoing faceoff between the electricity providers and consumers.
If every house or office has a pre-paid meter, it will help solve the challenge of non-payment of bills. Government at all levels, including their Ministries, Department and Agencies are the worst culprit in defaulting to pay electricity bills. It will be recalled that Nebo on December 15, 2014 announced that ex-President Goodluck Jonathan had approved funds for provision of one million pre-paid meters. Where are they? Have the funds been diverted to electioneering as is the case with the Dasukigate where part of funds meant for arms purchase was used for the 2015 campaigns?
Another pertinent question is: Why are electricity distribution companies refusing to patronise locally made pre-paid meters?
According to a news report in Vanguard of January 26, 2015, two indigenous pre-paid meter manufacturers both appealed to the Federal Government to prevail on the electricity distribution companies to promote locally manufactured pre-paid meters. According to one of the promoters, “Government needs to encourage local meter manufacturers and stop the importation of meters. There is no reason for government or the companies to go outside the shores of the country to get a product that is readily available locally.” In her own view, another stakeholder noted that, “The story of poor patronage is still the same in meter manufacturing where foreign firms are better patronised and recognised by electricity companies.”
In view of the paucity of foreign exchange, I enjoin DISCOs to patronise the locally fabricated pre-paid meters if they are of equal standard with the foreign ones. That is the best way to demonstrate government commitment to backward integration and buying of “Made in Nigeria” goods.
It is commendable that NERC as a regulatory body has removed the N750 fixed charge under the new tariff regime. It must also live up to its promise of effectively monitoring and enforcing all service delivery agreements in the new tariff order which is inclusive of ensuring that electricity distribution companies fully meter their consumers and eliminate “crazy” billing within one year.
On the part of Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, it must ensure that it sources the needed funds to complete 22 of the 142 transmission projects estimated at over N40bn in this year. As has been identified, our weak transmission lines cannot carry the generated power at present. In addition, the issue of oil and gas pipeline vandalism needs to be tackled head-on by the various tiers of government.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Despite annulments, Nigeria's 2015 polls most credible

The chairman of the Independent Na­tional Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu recently met with different actors and stakeholders in the elec­toral process where he tried to pick their brains on how the electoral commission can improve on its performance in delivering credible elec­tions thereby consolidating Nigeria’s democra­cy. I was privileged to be at the Commission’s meeting with civil society organisations held on January 21, 2016. It was a frank interactive ses­sions where the Commission highlighted some of the areas it wants input. Indeed it got a full dose of ideas and recommendations.
INEC chairman espoused nine areas name­ly; Judicial annulment of 82 and upturning of 15 out of the elections held in 2015; Man­agement of voting process (i.e. should sepa­ration of accreditation and voting subsist or the two should hold simultaneously as was the case until 2011 General Elections?); soar­ing incidences of electoral violence in spite of the peace accords and increase in the deploy­ment of security agencies to secure election environment; and inconclusiveness of elec­tions as was the case during the November 21 Kogi guber election and December 5, 2015 Bayelsa governorship election. Others are in­fusion of technology into the electoral pro­cess i.e. introduction of chip embedded Per­manent Voters Card and Smart Card Reader for voter accreditation; Election logistics as regards deployment and retrieval of election materials; Poll workers recruitment, training and deployment; public communication vis-à-vis voter education; and Continuous Voters Registration exercise.
When the floor was thrown open for com­ments, many of us were unsparing in telling the Commission the gospel truth about what it has done well and areas in need of improve­ment. The INEC chairman’s laundry list was even expanded to include issues such as the imperative of electoral constituency bound­ary delimitation which was last done under the military junta in 1996 but which constitu­tionally ought to be done every ten years; the need for creation of additional Polling Units; impunity of political parties over breaches of campaign finance regulations; inability or lack of political will on the part of INEC to pun­ish electoral offenders and the urgency of elec­toral reforms.
On January 22, 2016, Chief Dafe Akped­eye, SAN and I were guests on Focus Nigeria, a popular magazine programme on African Independent Television anchored by Gbenga Aruleba. One of the questions thrown at me by the moderator was whether it is right for us to claim that 2015 General Elections was credible and indeed the best election Nigeria ever had. He asked against the backdrop of the informa­tion volunteered by INEC chairman that in comparism with 2007 and 2011 General Elec­tions, 2015 polls recorded far greater num­ber of election annulments. According to the Chief Electoral Officer, INEC records shows that in 2007, a total of 20 elections were an­nulled by the court, in 2011, about 34 elections were cancelled by the election tribunals while in 2015, the courts have ordered re-run elections in 82 cases (as at then) and have upturned 15 elections (that is, the courts have awarded vic­tories to the petitioners and have asked INEC to withdraw Certificate of Return from the de­fendants and give it to the challengers).
It is noteworthy that INEC has on Tuesday, February 2, 2016 fixed dates for the court or­dered re-runs. Notice of the rerun election was contained in a statement issued and signed by the Secretary of the Commission, Mrs. Augus­ta Ogakwu. According to her, rerun elections into federal and state constituencies and sena­torial districts across the country followed the nullification of about 80 elections in 16 states of the federation by the Court of Appeal. All the affected elections, according to the com­mission, are to hold between February 13 and March 19, 2016. The states where the rerun polls will hold are Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Gombe, Imo, Ka­duna, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Rivers and Taraba.. The commission however said there would be no fresh primaries in constit­uencies where the court disqualified a candi­date based on improper conduct of the party primary. The commission added that while elections in 69 constituencies of the affected states would be with the same political par­ties and their respective candidates who par­ticipated in the annulled elections, some po­litical parties in 11 constituencies, cut across seven states, would not be participating in the rerun polls.
Now, considering the fact that more elec­tions were annulled and upturned in 2015 than in the two previous general elections; giving the high number of inconclusive elec­tions as witnessed in states like Bayelsa, Kogi, Bauchi, Taraba and Imo; considering the hu­mongous resources expended on the 2015 elec­tions especially by political parties and con­testants which makes the polls the costliest in Nigeria’s electoral history; giving the challenge of late distribution of Permanent Voters Card, delayed commencement of polls in many plac­es, malfunctioning of Smart Card Readers and high incidences of violence experienced during the last general elections, can we in good con­science applaud the polls as the best organised and most credible in Nigeria’s political history? The answer is YES!
Election, I must aver, is a process and not an event. 2015 General Elections was not perfect like every human conduct but the polls large­ly reflected the wishes of the electorates. Peo­ple’s votes counted in the choice of their lead­ers and that is the most important thing in an election. The unprecedented happened in 2015 when a party in power lost to the opposition for the first time in this Fourth Republic. The loss of power by the Peoples Democratic Par­ty to the All Progressives Congress was total. It happened at all the electoral strata both at the federal (presidency, Senate and House of Rep­resentatives) and state (governorship and State Houses of Assembly) levels.
Available records from INEC shows that compared to the last two general elections, 2015 polls had the least number of election petitions filed at the tribunal. In 2007, a total of 1,291 cas­es were filed at the EPTs, in 2011 it came down to 724 while in 2015; only 663 petitions were filed at the tribunals. Though about 100 lives were lost to election related violence in 2015, over a thousand persons were murdered in the pre and post 2011 General Elections. Further­more, there is a need to examine the rationale for the nullifications of the over 80 elections. My preliminary findings show that many of the annulled elections were pre-election mat­ters bothering on faulty candidate nomination process which is an intra-party issue for which INEC cannot be held responsible. Other ration­ale includes the lack of adequate understanding of the role of Smart Card Reader in the last gen­eral elections by the judges. In summary, 2015 General Elections, having been conducted in substantial compliance with the provisions of Electoral Act 2010, as amended and indeed the Nigerian Constitution can be adjudged credi­ble even as concerted efforts must be made to improve on future polls.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Nigerian leaders’ extravagance in austere times

Everyone likes to enjoy and make oneself happy in a season of abundance. It’s a normal human inclination. Irrespective of race, creed, clime, sex or colour, we all have a propensity to indulge ourselves when we have the wherewithal to do so. However, in a situation where one’s finances is in the red and one has to borrow to augment, shouldn’t one lead a life of prudence?
On November 16, 2014, our former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, officially declared austerity measures in Nigeria. She announced some strict policies aimed at helping the country to save scarce resources. In order to curtail waste, she said there would be no more foreign travels by civil servants unless for purposes that could be fully defended as absolutely necessary. In addition, foreign training programmes would be stopped and all training done in-country. The exception, she said, would be to secure foreign sponsorship for such travels and training abroad.
Part of the immediate steps to cushion the fall in oil revenue, the minister said, was to significantly increase non-oil revenue in the country, as she announced an aggressive tax administration in which, private jets, yachts, Champagne and a list of others to be announced would be taxed. The minister said that the idea of Luxury Goods Tax was not to stop wealthy members of the Nigerian public from enjoying their wealth but to create an avenue for them to share with those at the lower rungs of the ladder.
If we expected to see a reduction in profligacy at the level of our elected political leaders, that has not manifested. Our leaders have continued to live their ostentatious lifestyles. There was no drop in the number of their motorcades and private jets. No reduction in their unaccountable “security vote” and foreign trips. Worse still, they continue to embark on frivolous projects that will not impact meaningfully on the lives of the masses of this country.
Since the advent of this new administration on May 29 last year, the much expected change that the Nigerian public expected has yet to happen. If at all it has, it is not significant. A cursory look at the 2016 budgets which federal and state governments presented to their respective legislative bodies shows a clear indication that we are not yet out of the woods in terms of wrong priorities and waste in our governance system. I have on this page in a couple of times attacked the Federal Government’s incredible 2016 budget for the State House cum Presidency. Over the weekend, a sister publication of this newspaper, shed some light on what is happening at the state level. It is baffling!
Saturday PUNCH of January 30, 2015 under the caption “2016: Govs budget billions of naira for feeding, maintenance, others” reeled out figures of what some state governments voted for the upkeep of their Executive Governors. For example, the Cross River State Government which proposed a budget of N350bn has budgeted N13.9bn as overhead cost for the office of the Chief of Staff to the Governor.
According to the newspaper, “A breakdown of the overhead cost showed that N1.4bn was proposed for entertainment and hospitality in 2016 for the governor under the office of the Chief of Staff. A further breakdown under the sub-head showed that entertainment at meetings would gulp N500m while financial assistance was put at N900m. Under travel and transport, a total of N844m has been budgeted with local travel and transport gulping N832m while foreign trips were put at N12m.”
The paper added that the governor’s security vote was pegged at N4bn, while contingency and press/public relations were proposed to gulp N2.1bn and N610m respectively. For the office of the deputy governor, the overhead cost was put at N225m.
In Delta State, findings showed that the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa budgeted N25bn for the running of the Government House. The Special Adviser to the Governor on Labour Matters, Mr. Mike Okeme, reportedly said the N25bn budgeted for the Government House would take care of “repairs, maintenance, logistics, and others.” Meanwhile, the Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, budgeted N8.98bn for the running of the Government House. The Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, who will be leaving office this year at the expiration of his second term, reportedly earmarked N10.65bn for his office. The picture is however different in Kaduna State where Mallam Nasir el-Rufai put the Government House expenses for 2016 at N563.7m, a 70 per cent cut from the N2.1bn that the previous government spent in 2014.
Before you blame the governors, let’s see how much our dear President has voted for his upkeep. The capital budget of the Presidency rose from N4.3bn in 2015 to N19bn this year. This newspaper in its December 30, 2015 edition said: “President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo are to spend N2.2bn on travels and transport, foodstuffs and catering materials, refreshment and meals as well as honorarium and sitting allowances in the 2016 fiscal year.”
I am not begrudging our elected leaders for making themselves comfortable; however, I am pained by the fact that they are doing so at the expense of the suffering masses of this country. They are enjoying on our behalf. This is unfair and ungodly. Here you have a country that is going cap in hand to borrow to finance its budget having its leaders living ostentatious lifestyles. What a paradox! For your information, the Federal Government is reportedly seeking from the World Bank and the African Development Bank the sum of $3.5bn (N697bn) in emergency loans to fill a growing gap in its budget. This is according to the Financial Times of last Sunday reported in this newspaper on Monday, February 1, 2016.
Meanwhile, these state governors who are voting mind-boggling amount for their upkeep are the ones who are saying that they can no longer pay N18,000 minimum wage to their workers. Many of them are still owing their civil servants; some are paying half salaries while threatening to downsize their states’ work forces. Is this fair to the goose that lays the golden egg?
I thought President Buhari should have sold off many of the aircraft in the presidential fleet by now and use the resources for public good. Alas, he has held on to the 10 aircraft which is being maintained with billions of naira annually, a drain on our lean resources. Also, Governors Tanko Al-Makura, Ayo Fayose and Rauf Aregbesola of Nasarawa, Ekiti and Osun states respectively are still hell-bent on building airports in their states despite the existence of airports in neigbhouring states to them. Should this be a priority in these austere times? Definitely not!
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