Saturday, April 30, 2016

Caring for Nigeria's internally displaced persons

With the exception of the period of the three years fratricidal civil war of 1967 – 1970, I do not know of any other point in time when Nigeria wit­nessed an upsurge in the number of inter­nally displaced persons as we do now. Factors that give birth to IDPs range from the nat­ural to manmade. Natural disasters such as flash flood, earthquake, famine and tsunami can displace people from their homes mak­ing then to seek temporary refuge in a safer environment. Unfortunately, in most part of Africa, Nigeria inclusive, the main cause of people’s displacement are not natural disasters but manmade or self-inflicted conflicts such as ethno-religious disputes. Conflict is inevi­table and could bring both good and bad out­come. The current refugee problem Nigeria is grappling is mainly as a result of the acts of insurgency being perpetrated by the dreaded Islamic sect popularly known as Boko Haram.
This ugly phenomenon started like a child’s play in 2009 with the arrest and premeditat­ed murder of some of the leaders of the reli­gious sect in Maiduguri, Borno State by Ni­geria’s security agents. What was deemed to be a reprisal attack by members of the Boko Haram against Nigeria security agencies has gradually snowballed into mindless and in­discriminate killings of thousands of innocent souls as well as destruction of private and gov­ernment owned properties worth trillions of Naira. Aftermath of the internecine ‘religious’ war is the displacement of millions of peo­ple from Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States.
The conflict has caused gross human rights violations. As of October 2015, there are an estimated 2,233,506 persons internally dis­placed in Nigeria. According to information received from Social Welfare Network Initi­ative, one of the non-governmental organisa­tions working on IDP issues in Nigeria, “the actual displacement figures could be much higher, especially as 27 local government ar­eas in the most affected states are currently in insecure and inaccessible areas. 92 per cent of internally displaced persons live among host communities while 8 per cent are located in official camps run by the government. SWNI noted further that the “Conditions in infor­mal and formal IDP sites remain problematic, with lack of sufficient services, poor coordina­tion, family separation, restrictions on free­dom of movement and continued insecurity.”
While it is true that the insurgency in the North East is mainly responsible for the cur­rent IDP situation in Nigeria, I must hasten to add that the herdsmen and farmers con­flict over cattle grazing is adding significantly to the number of IDPs in Nigeria. The killings in Agatu, Benue State in February 2016 as well as last Monday’s murder of over 40 persons in Nimbo, Enugu State by the herders has added to the IDP statistics. We must not also forget that arising from the International Court of Justice judgment over the Bakassi Pennisula in a protracted boundary disputes between Nigeria and Cameroon, several thousands of persons have been displaced in the Cross Riv­er community. Likewise, the flash flood expe­rienced in 2012 across several states in Nigeria displaced several thousands of people many of whom have returned to their ancestral homes.
As highlighted above, the problems of IDPs in Nigeria include lack of sufficient food, pro­tection, Medicare, conveniences including toilets, bathroom, beddings and many more. It is not as if government has not been up and doing, it is just that it would seem that feder­al government and concerned state govern­ments are overwhelmed with the challenge. This appears so in the light of dwindling re­sources for effec­tive governance arising from the dip in oil price in the international market.
Nevertheless, it is on record that federal government through the National Emergency Management Agency as well as their state counterpart, State Emer­gency Management Agency are trying their level best in providing for the welfare needs of the IDPs. Federal Government has even gone a step further to establish the Nigeria Foun­dation for the Support of Victims of Terror­ism (Victims Support Fund) under the lead­ership of General T.Y Danjuma (Retd.). VSF has garnered billions of Naira through a fun­draiser held in August 2014 with which it is at present helping in the care and support for the victims of insurgency. VSF has donated relief materials, provided psychosocial sup­port, economic empowerment and education for victims of terror in Nigeria.
Among other government initiative to ame­liorate the pains of victims of terror is the Pres­idential Initiative for the North East as well as the Safe School Initiative launched in June 2014. Above all, the counter-insurgency cam­paign led by Nigerian armed forces against the terrorists is yielding positive results as the power of the terrorists have been considerably degraded though they still pose a potent threat to peace and security in the affected states.
Many non-state actors have also been chip­ping in their support for the IDPs in Nigeria. Among them are the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, United Nations Children Fund, Catholic Relief Services, For­ward in Action for Education, Poverty and Mal­nutrition and many other NGOs too numerous to mention. Families and individuals have also been helping out through provision of volun­tary services such as hosting victims of terror as well as donation of relief materials to them.
However, all the efforts and initiatives of these state and non-state actors seem like a drop in the ocean in terms of what can really bring succor to the internally displaced per­sons in Nigeria. There is also need for better coordination between and among those work­ing to help victims of terror.
On the part of government, one thing is ur­gent, that is the domestication of the Conven­tion for the Protection and Assistance of In­ternally Displaced Persons otherwise known as Kampala Convention. The 2009 Conven­tion was developed with the primary objec­tive of providing sustainable solutions to the issue of internal displacement in Africa. On April 17, 2012, Nigeria became the 12th Af­rican country to ratify the Kampala Conven­tion. Even before the ratification, way back in 2006, Nigerian government began a process of developing a national policy for the protec­tion of internally displaced persons. The poli­cy which has twice been revised in 2009 and 2012 has remained as a “draft” policy having not been adopted. Am not sure IDP challenge will go away soon in Nigeria. It is therefore im­portant to do the needful by ensuring a proper legal framework as well as funding for the care and support of IDPs.

Friday, April 29, 2016

How did APC fund its 2015 presidential campaign?

One of the canons of the electoral campaign promises of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari in the lead up to the 2015 nationwide polls is anti-corruption. Nigeria has consistently been rated by many anti-corruption research institutions such as the Transparency International and Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative  as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It is believed that monies that should have been used to tackle the huge infrastructural deficits in the country have found their ways into private pockets. The country’s ruling elites have always occupied prominent positions in international corruption scandals such as the Halliburton, Siemens, Sagem (over the national Identity Cards) and the latest Panama Papers leak.

The president on assumption of office had made no pretence about his commitment to fight this monster hence the renewed vigour by the anti-corruption agencies to investigate, arrest and prosecute past and present corrupt public office holders.  The nation is at present being regaled with tales of how the Office of the National Security Adviser under Col. Sambo Dasuki (Retd.) was turned into largess distribution centre in the lead up to the March/April 2015 General Elections. The ex-NSA and many other chieftains of the immediate past ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party, are currently being tried for corruption in the courts.  Many of the party stalwarts were alleged to have received hefty sums of monies from the former NSA office for the reelection campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan who was ousted in a peaceful poll on March 28, 2015.

Expectedly, the leadership of the PDP is kicking against the incumbent president’s anti-corruption crusade which it claimed is lopsided and a political witch-hunt of its members.  PDP leadership alleged that while its own members were being tried for corruption, the members of the All Progressives Congress which is the new ruling party are offered blanket protection from the anti-corruption war. Apart from the party national executive  who have issued several press statements on this through its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh (who is himself undergoing trial  for corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over the huge sums he collected from office of the NSA); others whose voices have been strident in the condemnation of PMB’s anti-corruption campaign include the incumbent governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Peter Ayodele Fayose and the former Director General Of Goodluck Jonathan Media Campaign Team, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode.

The aforementioned gentlemen have severally challenged President Buhari to come clean with Nigeria public and tell them how his presidential campaign was funded? They alleged that state and administrative resources were heavily deployed by managers of the president’s campaign teams. In an article entitled, ‘The Money Transfers and the Truth about the Presidential Campaign Funds’, published in some Nigerian newspapers on Friday, April 22, 2016, Femi Fani-Kayode confessed to receiving N840m as the director of publicity during the electioneering last year, but noted that he did not know that the funds emanated from the account of the NSA at the Central Bank of Nigeria. He said inter alia, “….those that are in power today should tell us where they got their campaign funds from and how much of it came from the governments of Lagos and Rivers states.”

“The two people that headed those two state governments then are now both federal ministers today. One of them, who was the Director-General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, was specifically indicted by a judicial commission of inquiry for using millions of dollars of state government funds to run the Buhari campaign, yet nothing happened and his reward was to be appointed as a minister.”

Fani-Kayode added, “Again what about the N5bn cash that was flown down to Port Harcourt in Rivers State from Abuja in chartered plane a couple of days before the rerun election that took place on March 19, 2016? Where did they get that amount of cash from and what was its purpose and source? “It appears that there is one law for those that are in power today and another for those that are not…. Was it a crime to fight and lose an election?” He claimed that his party, PDP, spent far less money than the APC and the Buhari Presidential Campaign Organisation because they had access to massive amounts of state government resources. “They even contracted the services of a famous American media consultant (the same one that President Obama used in 2008) and paid him $10m for his counsel and advice.”

It will be recalled that- Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State while speaking through his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, on August 5, 2015 had observed thus:  “Some of those who sponsored the President’s election have not done any other jobs apart from holding public offices. Yet, they provided private jets and funds with which the President campaigned across the length and breadth of Nigeria. He should let Nigerians know where they got money to buy private jets and the several billions of naira spent on his election” 

Indeed, it was a common knowledge that President Muhammadu Buhari did not have the financial muscle to bankroll his presidential campaign. This was a man who complained bitterly about the N27million he paid for the Expression of Interest and Nomination Form of his party. It is equally not on record that APC had any major fundraisers as the attempt to use online SMS platform to raise money for his campaign was thwarted by the National Communications Commission who stopped the mobile telecommunication companies from offering their platforms for the realisation of that fundraising initiative. Where then did monies spent on PMB’s presidential campaigns from, if not from the public treasuries of the APC State Governors and public office holders?  A sage once observed that “the law is for your enemies and the exceptions for your friends”.  Is that what EFCC is displaying now?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

States and folly of overreliance on bailout

Shortly after the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari and state governors on May 29, 2015, many of the state chief executives who allegedly met empty treasuries and backlogs of unpaid salaries came together and jointly made a demand via the Nigeria Governors’ Forum for the Federal Government to come to their rescue. In July 2015, the President after due consultation with the National Economic Council approved a bailout for the states.
First, the federal and state governments shared $2.1 billion (about N497 billion) sourced from the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas proceeds to the Federation Account. Second, the Central Bank of Nigeria prepared a special intervention fund to the states. The package, between N250 billion and N300 billion, was to serve as a soft loan available to states to defray backlogs of unpaid salaries. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who heads the National Economic Council, said the loan was repayable at an interest rate of nine per cent over a 20-year period and it was “solely for the purpose of paying the backlog of (unpaid) salaries.” Third, the President also approved a debt relief programme designed by the Debt Management Office, which helped states restructure their commercial loans which were then put at over N660bn, and extend the life span of such loans while reducing their debt-servicing expenditures.
Since that approval, about 27 states out of the 36 have allegedly requested the bailout. However, only 23 reportedly have got the intervention fund. The benefiting states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Ekiti, Katsina, Gombe, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Ondo, Osun, Ogun, Plateau, Sokoto, Kwara, Bayelsa and Imo. Others are Enugu, Oyo, Delta, Kebbi and Zamfara.
On Friday, April 22, 2016, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission released a report of the monitoring of the disbursement exercise jointly carried out with the Nigeria Labour Congress. The ICPC report said that some states actually diverted some of the funds meant for the payment of workers’ salaries and retirees’ pensions to other means. The findings published by the commission showed that Benue, Enugu, Imo and Zamfara states topped the list of those who allegedly mismanaged the funds.
However, many of the indicted states have been churning out press statements debunking the ICPC claims.
There is no doubt that Nigeria, being a monoculture economy, with over-reliance on crude oil proceeds has been having it rough since the last quarter of 2014 when the price of crude in the international market nosedived.  Just last week, the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, announced loan deferral (deduction of loan repayment) of about N10.9bn for states for the month of March 2016 while asking states to take some actions. The finance minister was quoted as saying: “We have prioritised getting the states back into good financial health. Now, part of that is this commitment to fiscal sustainability and that is why we have asked the states to commit to cleansing their payrolls, commit to efficiency, and maximising their internally generated revenue.”
Some states are already asking for another round of bailout forgetting that by its very nature, the scheme is a short-term ad hoc intervention. While it is most desirable for the states to be supported through this harsh economic quagmire occasioned by the dip in oil revenue, it behoves the states themselves to start to think out of the box. Many states have yet to get it that the era of profligacy in government ought to be over by now. Unfortunately, many of the states are still embarking on all sorts of white elephants such as building of airports, overhead bridges, and new government houses. Some states have yet to cancel annual government sponsorship of pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem; appointment of hordes of aides, chartered flights, including purchase of jets for the comfort of the state governors. It is also criminal for the governors to have diverted the bailouts meant for the payment of workers’ salary arrears to other areas for which the intervention fund was not ab initio meant.
State governors should come off their day dreaming for perpetual bailout by the Federal Government. Times like this call for critical thinking. What most governors have been doing since assuming office is to blame their successors for running the states aground. That is unhelpful. After all, they expectedly were supposed to appraise the situation before offering themselves for election into the office of governor. It wasn’t the only office they could contest. They could have chosen to be lawmakers at the state or federal level or even stay off politics altogether. Having offered themselves to serve and having wooed the electorate to vote for them, they have no excuse indulging in perpetual blame game.  If per adventure they did not do their homework well to know the enormity of the problems they are coming into office to face, they can as well resign and allow some other people who are better prepared to administer the states.
I should expect governors to cut down drastically on their overheads. That has not happened in many states. Where is the economic blueprint of many states? There is none. Those that managed to put theirs together have decided to shelf it or “kill in view”. If states will work with the Federal Government to provide an enabling environment for business growth, there are so many private investors willing to stake their resources in the 36 states of Nigeria. This is where I have problems with obtaining loans for consumptive rather than wealth creation purposes.
While it is true that workers deserve their wages, critical infrastructure such as roads, electricity, information communication technology, pipe-borne water, hospitals, metro line, schools as well as provision of adequate security are most needful. It is true that many states have lean purses, however they can go into joint ventures on some of the infrastructure such as roads and metro lines with private investors who will build, operate and transfer or will co-share the costs of construction with mutually beneficial cost recovery plans. The Oodua Investment initiated by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo is a testimony to how states can pool resources together to embark on successful joint ventures.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nigeria needs inclusive education for children with disabilities

 Inclusion is not a strategy to help people fit into the systems and structures which exist in our societies; it is about transforming the system and structures to make it better for everyone. Inclusion is about creating a better world for everyone. Let our actions be a yardstick of quality to greater height for our betterment.” - Dana Richeler, past President of Inclusion International

On Tuesday, April 19, 2016, Nigerians from all walks of life gathered in Abuja to demand unequivocally for inclusive education for children with disabilities. It was the official media launch on ‘Inclusive Basic Education for Children with Disabilities’ and official presentation of a baseline survey report, factsheets, policy briefs and the Model for Accessible & Inclusive School Environment poster.  The event was organised by Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities with support from USAID Strengthening Advocacy and Civic Engagement Programme in Nigeria. In attendance were representatives from the Federal Ministry of Education, Universal Basic Education, House of Representatives, civil society organisations and the media. I happened to be one of the special guests of honour at the event.

Did you know that the World Bank reported that less than 3 per cent of persons with disabilities receive any formal   education, especially in the Global South, Nigeria being one those countries listed? Did you also know that research has shown that children with disabilities constitute more than 30 per cent of the over 10 million out-of-school children in Nigeria? Are you also aware that even if all primary and secondary schools were adequate for all school-age children in Nigeria, children with disabilities would still remain out of school because virtually all primary and secondary schools in Nigeria are designed, built and managed in ways that is totally not inclusive of, and not accessible to children with disabilities?

According to UNICEF, over three million children with disabilities are out of school in Nigeria. This is because their education is confined to the very few, archaic, poorly funded and inadequately staffed special schools which are mostly sited in very distant hard-to-reach locations.

It wasn’t that there are no laws or policy framework in place to deal with this ugly phenomenon. I know for a fact that Nigeria has signed and ratified the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 24 of which provides that all schools must be inclusive of, and accessible to all children including those with disabilities. Nigeria has equally signed-up to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal 4 of which targets that by 2030, all school-age children including those with disabilities must have access to qualitative, functional and effective basic education. The National Policy on Education provides that education must be inclusive and that all children including those with disabilities have the right to qualitative, functional and effective basic education. The Universal Basic Education Act of 2004 provides that basic education is free and compulsory for all school-age children while Section 42 of Nigerian Constitution speaks of freedom from all forms of discrimination.

Why then are we still back-bencher in the provision of inclusive education in Nigeria? According to Dr. Dikko Suleiman who is the Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission, some challenges being faced in inclusive education include insufficient educational fund, high cost of educational materials, lack of proper architectural designs for special institutions and ineffective implementation of policies.

When we talk about inclusive education, what do we really mean?  According to Mrs. Anne O. Okonkwo, the Director, Basic and Secondary Education at the Federal Ministry of Education who also represented the Hon. Minister of Education at the media event, “Inclusive Education is concerned with all learners, with the focus on those who have traditionally been excluded from educational opportunities – such as learners with Special Needs, Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Inclusive Education therefore, brings together different children to learn in the same environment, irrespective of background, socio – cultural status, special learning needs or abilities.”

Despite the daunting challenges at providing inclusive education, government has been making attempts to redress the ugly phenomenon.   According to Mrs. Okonkwo, the Federal Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria, has developed a draft National Policy on Inclusive Education with the active participation of stakeholders including JONAPWD. It is expected that with the policy, the diverse learning needs of all children will be achieved through equitable access to appropriate education irrespective of individual strength, weaknesses, hopes and expectations in the same safe school environment.

On the part of UBEC, as part of the efforts aimed at providing basic education for all Nigerian children irrespective of their situation and location, the Federal Government enacted the Universal Basic Education Law in 2004 and also makes a provision of 2 per cent  of its Consolidated Revenue Fund  to finance the UBE programme. To this effect, Universal Basic Education has disbursed funds for construction of special education schools, instructional material, learning and teaching aids to State Universal Basic Education Boards in all the 36 States and FCT.  A percentage of the funds was earmarked and disbursed to some selected private providers of special needs education across the Country as a support from the Federal Government.

What are the demands of JONAPWD on this nagging issue? It wants the states and federal government to provide required infrastructure and facilities like accessible classrooms, toilets, playgrounds, offices, assistive technologies, mobility aides, visual aids and hearing aids. It says further that government does not have to build new schools. Rather, existing regular basic schools should be rehabilitated and provided with the aforementioned infrastructure and facilities to make them inclusive of and accessible to children with disabilities.

 It opined further that strategic and intensive capacity-building for teachers should be the priority of the state and federal government. Regular teachers should be adequately exposed to the nature, practice and demands of special and inclusive education. More course units on special and inclusive education should be made compulsory for all teachers-to-be, especially those going to teach at primary and secondary school levels. JONAPWD also called on Federal and state governments to set-up Special Fund for the implementation of inclusive education as well as make adequate annual budgetary allocations to ensure proper delivery of inclusive basic education for children with disabilities in Nigeria. It also challenged the media organisations to rethink their educational programmes, features, documentaries, articles, and news to effectively mainstream issues of PWDs. In truth, failure to cater to the needs of these special children may haunt us as a country tomorrow as they may constitute security threat to our collective existence.

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


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Budget: NASS and Presidency as partners in crime

If you listen well around you these days, you will hear not a few Nigerians mutter to no one in particular: “This is not the change Nigerians voted for last year!”  Since the coming into power of the All Progressives Congress on May 29, 2015, it is instructive that all it has done is to blame previous administrations for the nation’s woes. All you hear is that the Peoples Democratic Party destroyed Nigeria in its 16 years at the helm of affairs. To my mind, it is not the PDP or any political party for that matter that should be held responsible for the country’s miserable state. It is the ruling elite across all political platforms. There are the PDP governors that did well and former opposition governors that performed poorly too. Even if we acknowledge without admitting that the PDP fared badly in governance, that exactly was the reason the electorate voted out the party at the centre and most of the states. The APC has been at the helm of affairs in the last 11 months, what has it to show in terms of good governance credentials?
Shortly after coming into office, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari sponsored a supplementary appropriation bill which was passed into law by the National Assembly on December 1, 2015. The N575bn budget was used mainly to fund the fuel subsidy payment and counterinsurgency operations in the North-East. There was no hue and cry about that budget. However, since Buhari presented the 2016 appropriation bill to the National Assembly on December 22, 2015, all hell has been let loose. No sooner was that symbolic exercise done than we began to hear of padded, doctored and missing budget.  The executive later admitted to all the faults and tried to clean up the budget, though the errors never got fully rectified. The Presidency had to dismiss and transfer some employees of the Budget Office for the numerous blunders in the financial estimates.

One had thought that National Assembly would salvage the situation and play by the rules. That was not to be. In the process of exercising its constitutional powers of appropriation, the lawmakers further compounded the executive mistakes on the budget. In passing the 2016 budget on March 23, 2016, they decided to rewrite the financial plan. It removed some of the executive’s proposed programmes and projects and substituted them with their own. This is preposterous! The National Assembly obviously overreached itself by that singular act.
One of the most contentious projects removed from the budget was the Calabar-Lagos Railway project which the National Assembly claimed was smuggled in by the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi. If the National Assembly would not accommodate that project on the premise that it was not in the original budget submitted to it by the President, where does it derive the powers to also pad the budget with extraneous projects not sponsored by the executive? I have perused Section E of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which gives the National Assembly powers and control over public funds including the budget and I do not see anything which says the legislature has the right to smuggle in projects not planned for by the executive. `The powers of the legislature on budget are to increase or reduce budget benchmarks including cost allotted each of the proposed projects not to smuggle in projects.
It is not the first time Nigerian lawmakers are doing this. It has been their pastime. Be it at the federal, state or local council levels. The constitution, it must be stressed, has set out individual arms of government’s powers with each acting as a check on the other. While the legislature makes laws, appropriates funds and oversights the executive arm, the executive implements the laws passed by the legislative arm while the judiciary interprets the law. None of the three arms has absolute powers under the principle of checks and balances. This attitude of the legislature trying to usurp the power of the executive should not be tolerated in a wholesome democracy. The unhealthy rivalry between Nigeria’s executive and legislative arms is counterproductive to national development.
In competing with the executive branch, the Senate recently purchased 108 new cars at an inflated price. According to a press statement released by the Nigeria Labour Congress President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the Senate inflated the unit cost of the Toyota Land Cruiser Sports Utility Vehicles it procured for senators by over 100 per cent. The NLC  said while the Senate bought each of the cars for N35.1m, the actual market price stands at N17m. The congress also accused the Senate of spending money without appropriation while the vehicles were also being bought after the senators  collected  their car “loans” last August for the same purpose. The NLC quoted the Senate spokesperson, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, as offering a childish and laughable defence on the matter when he said: “Special advisers use SUVs, why not senators or do Nigerians expect them to trek to work? And in any case, cars are capital projects!” Did he actually say that? If truly he did, that is an indication of the mindset of Nigerian leaders. It’s all about self-aggrandisement rather than national interest. Well, the NLC has unequivocally demanded the return of the SUVs.  It remains to be seen how all of this will pan out.
On the 2016 national budget embarrassment, it is heartwarming that the leadership of the National Assembly, having met with Vice-President Yemi Osibanjo and the Minister of National Budget and Planning, Udoma Udo-Udoma, have agreed to rework the financial estimates rather than maintain their initial intransigent positions asking the President to sign the budget in its current flawed state and submit a supplementary financial estimate for consideration in due course. I do hope this reconsideration will be done expeditiously. As things currently stand, the country is at a standstill, economically.
It was recently revealed that the Federal Government has been borrowing N60bn or thereabout monthly to pay its workers. Investors, both local and foreign, are hedging to put in their money, waiting to see what is in the Federal Government’s financial plan for 2016. The Nigeria Stock Exchange has also been at the receiving end as investors take their profits or divest completely from Nigeria due to the government’s unserious nature about financial planning. The financial year ends on December 31, and even with the National Assembly’s extension to March 31 of this year, that too has come and gone. We are already inching towards the end of the first month of the second quarter of FY2016 and no capital budget has been released.  It is also unclear where government intends to pluck the about N2tn deficit in this year’s budget. Oil price is still very volatile in the international market and it is unknown if the $38 per barrel benchmark is going to be realisable. With all this in mind, it remains to be seen if the 2016 federal budget is going to achieve any meaningful result.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Taming the incessant market fires in Nigeria

Nigerian economy is obviously in a bad shape, some analysts said it’s in recession. The indices are frightening. There is growing inflation, unemployment and poverty. Several reasons have been adduced for the state of the economy. These range from bad leadership, corruption, profligacy, policy inconsistency, overdependence on imports, lack of proper national planning, nepotism, political instability and many others too numerous to mention. Every economy depends on the informal sector to grow and develop. Nigeria is not an exception. The total strength of government employees across the three tiers of government, that is, federal, state and local government is perhaps one per cent of the total number of the country’s entire workforce. What that means is that the organised private sector made up of small and medium enterprises makes up the chunk of the country’s working population.  Many of the country’s labour force are found across the Nigeria’s open markets.

Markets had been in existence from time immemorial. It is part of community set up. There is no hamlet, village or town that does not have one or more markets where people in those communities trade. Historically, marketing was said to have started with trade by barter where people exchange goods for goods.  Thus, a farmer who has yam and needs fish will go in search of a fisherman in need of yam in exchange for his fish. It was a complicated and cumbersome trade but people live with it. As civilisation evolves, and to facilitate trading, money was devised as means of exchange. Historians told us that the earliest means of monetary exchange in this part of the world was cowry. Later on, a more acceptable national currency was designed. The British colonialists made us to adopt their national currency which is Pounds and Shillings. By the time the country gained independence in 1960, it designed its own national currency as Naira and Kobo. This is what is still in use.

There is no gainsaying that markets contribute immensely to any country’s economy, Nigeria inclusive. People profitably engage in businesses there by hiring, buying or building shops in the markets. Some that has no resource to own a shop still find a portion of open space to display their wares. Some market traders are not stationary. They move about the market environment to hawk their products or offer their services. The markets are somewhat regulated. Market operators appoint or elect their leaders who try to control activities in the markets and interface with government. At election time, politicians go through these market leaders to woo their members to vote for them. While many of the markets are sited, built and regulated by the communities, many others are built and controlled by government especially the state and local governments. They sell or hire the stalls to traders and collect taxes and rates from the operators thereby contributing to the internally generated revenues of these states and concomitantly national growth and development.

Unfortunately, many of these markets have had to contend with incessant and perennial fire outbreaks leading to loss of lives and properties. A news story in The PUNCH of Wednesday, April 13, 2016 said fire eruptions in markets between January 2015 and March 2016 have claimed 600 lives and properties worth N5.30tn. The information was credited to the Controller-General of Federal Fire Service, Mr. Joseph Anebi. These, he said, included N2tn property lost in the recent fire incident at Abubakar Rimi Sabon-Gari market, Kano.

According to a statement purportedly released on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 in Abuja by the FFS Public Relations Officer, Elechi Collins, the CG of Federal Fire Service reportedly said that during his condolence visit to the Governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje. The CG attributed the inability of the fire service to respond to fire outbreaks in time to inadequate fire stations, lack of fire hydrants and water source dedicated for firefighting. Other factors identifed include compromised access to the markets by illegal structures, improper housekeeping, flagrant abuse of power generators, poor fire safety management and control due to low personnel strength and absence of sustained training and re-training. Anebi therefore called on all stakeholders to support government efforts towards finding solutions to the incessant fire incidents in markets, stating that the FFS was prepared to partner with the state government and relevant stakeholders to address fire outbreaks at our trading centres.

The fire service boss was spot on in highlighting the root causes of these numerous fire disasters. Both the regulators and operators of our markets are at fault. Many markets are not well planned. They lack thoroughfare for vehicles hence when there is emergencies, access road is denied for rescue missions. Many market traders are also very reckless. They are ignorant of how to handle combustible materials and often engage in illegal electricity tapping.  Some smokers in the market drop cigarette butts indiscriminately. All these can lead to fire accidents. As admitted by the FFS Controller General, they are not well resourced.  Imagine the gargantuan loss incurred in the last 15 months which is put at 600 lives and over N5tn. This is preposterous! The lives lost are irreplaceable while the valuables destroyed and job losses have caused further distress to the ailing economy. Something therefore has to be done to nip this ugly phenomenon in the bud.

Nigerian Fire Services at both federal and state levels need to be well equipped to perform their statutory roles of fire prevention and management. They have to be more proactive by collaborating with market unions to educate traders on dangers of fire, prevention and control mechanisms. State and local governments should work collaboratively to ensure that they build modern markets with access roads, toilets, security posts and other essential services such as light and water in order to make trading in those markets convenient. The market union leaders too must weed out illegal stalls and unscrupulous traders from their midst otherwise they will all suffer collateral damage in the event of fire outbreaks. Market operators should also embrace insurance policy which will mitigate their loss in the event of any disaster.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Much ado about INEC's inconclusive elections

On Saturday, April 9, 2016, the Independent National Electoral Commission pursuant to the powers conferred on it by the Electoral Act 2010 as amended in Part VI, to conduct periodic elections into the six Area Councils of the Federal Capital Territory held the polls into Gwagwalada, Kuje, Abaji, Bwari, Kwali and the Abuja Municipal Area Council. The elections were largely peaceful but witnessed low voter turnout as well as glitches with the Smart Card Readers, particularly for the voter authentication.   The elections were initially scheduled to hold on March 19, same day as the rerun elections in Rivers State, but had to be shifted by three weeks by INEC due to shortage of ad-hoc staff.

The most unfortunate thing about the April 9 polls was that five out of the six Area Council’s chairmanship positions, with the exception of that of Bwari, were declared inconclusive by the electoral umpire. The reasons advanced for that include violence, over voting and non-use of Smart Card Readers for voter accreditation. According to the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner for the Federal Capital Territory, Professor Jacob Jatau, supplementary elections will hold in the affected 39 polling units in 20 registration areas of the capital city today, April 13, 2016. Since the inauguration of the Professor Mahmood Yakubu’s electoral management board in November 2015, the Commission has been battling raft of inconclusive elections. The off-cycle governorship elections held in Kogi and Bayelsa states on  November  21 and December 5,  2015 respectively  were inconclusive and now this FCT Area Council polls.

I must state that Yakubu is not the harbinger of inconclusive elections, it precedes his appointment. There were inconclusive governorship elections in Ekiti State in 2009, Anambra in 2010, Imo in 2011, Abia, Taraba and Imo again in 2015. A number of other elections had been declared inconclusive and supplementary elections held to conclude them later basically because the minimum threshold to declare a clear winner had not been met.

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 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended as well as the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. 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. It also developed Political Party Finance Manual and Handbook.

Let us do a little excursion into how winners emerge into executive positions in Nigeria.  By this I mean how a president, governor and Local Government or Area Council chairman emerges in an electoral contest. For the president, he or she has to fulfill the provisions stipulated in section 134 of the Constitution. For a governor, he or she   has to meet the criteria set in section 179 of the supreme law while  the Area Council chairperson has to be elected in accordance with the provisions of section 111 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. What these provisions emphasised across board is that for a winner to emerge, he or she must win majority of the valid votes cast as well as one quarter of votes cast in at least each of the  two thirds of all the states, local government areas or wards  in the case of the president, governor and LG Chairman respectively. 

However, in meeting the above twofold criteria, the electoral framework wants the winner to win fairly and that is why there are additional provisions to be met. The electoral law frowns and indeed criminalises rigging and electoral manipulations. For instance, different sections of the law classified incidences such as vote buying, electoral violence and over voting as electoral offences. In fact a whole chapter of the Electoral Act, Part VIII, contained a laundry list of all electoral offences.  Section 53 of the Act specifically condemns over voting and prescribed what should be done in the event of occurrence. The Act says in section 53 (2) that: “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.”  Subsection (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 in pages 22 – 23, and paragraph 4, Section N, 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”.  These are what gave legal backing to INEC to declare elections inconclusive. It is important that people know the rationale behind this phenomenon and stop being cynical by rebranding INEC as Inconclusive National Electoral Commission. Would Nigerians have preferred INEC closing its eyes to electoral heist in order to please them? Would that have served the course of democratic consolidation?  

Let us put the blame where it rightly belongs. We have in this clime a band of incorrigible political elites whose stock in trade is electoral malfeasance. I recall that the Transition Monitoring Group’s official report on the 2003 General Elections was “Do the votes count? Votes have started to count now since 2011 as the electoral commission embarks on the use of sophisticated technology to frustrate merchants of electoral fraud. Among other innovations, INEC has perfected the use of customisation of sensitive electoral materials such as ballot papers and result sheets, colour coding of the ballot papers which renders it useless in other constituencies when pilfered or snatched, biometric voters registration, issuance of chip-embedded and machine readable Permanent Voters Card as well as the introduction of the Smart Card Reader.   

INEC itself will be the first to admit that it is yet to perfect its act as there are saboteurs within the system who collaborates with politicians to undermine many of its noble innovations. The Commission is still grappling with the challenge of Election Day logistics hence perennial late commencement of polls. Politicians are Nigeria’s worst nightmare in our bid at democratic consolidation. It behooves on INEC and security agencies to rein in this elite group who are hell-bent on truncating our democratic journey.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Resolving the Nigerian herdsmen and farmers conflict

In February 2016, some fiends alleged to be Fulani herdsmen swooped on 10 communities in Agatu Local Govern­ment Area of Benue State killing about 500 persons and setting ablaze properties worth billions of Naira. This was said to be a repris­al attack for the killing of some of the cat­tle of these nomads when they grazed on the farmland of the Agatu people. For the records, it was not the first time this hap­pened, just that the February faceoff was of genocidal proportion. It is not also in Benue alone that such armed conflict between the herdsmen and farmers had happened in Ni­geria. It has occurred and still does in sever­al places across the country. Elder Statesman, Chief Olu Falae similarly was victim of this menace in 2015 when part of his farmland was destroyed by herdsmen who brought their cattle to graze there. It is thus a peren­nial problem with a long history.
Researchers are of the opinion that climate change has a role in this. For example, deser­tification in the savannah region of northern Nigeria, due to low rainfall, has substantially reduced the grazing land and water sources for cattle. Thus, the herdsmen in order to feed their animals have to migrate to where they could get grass to nurture them. In the course of doing that, the cattle swoop on farmlands and destroy crops planted by farmers. Of course the farmers have to fight back over the destruction of their means of livelihood hence the bloody conflict between the two set of people helping the country to solve its food security challenge.
Some ignoramuses have attempted to give ethnic and religious identities to this recur­ring conflcit. Far from it! It is largely an eco­nomic issue as two set of entrepreneurs’ battle for survival. Among the victims of this crisis are people of the same religion, tribe and so­cial class. Fulani farmers have suffered sim­ilar fate in the hands of their brothers who are cattle-rearers.
I reliably learnt that many of the cattle be­ing reared by the Fulani nomads do not be­long to them but to some wealthy individuals who gave it to them to nurture on a mutual­ly agreed terms of payment. In fact, it was al­leged that it is these wealthy owners that gave arms and ammunition to these herdsmen to fight the farmers anytime they kill their cattle. I was also told that some of the lead­ers of the communities where there is con­flict between the herdsmen and the farmers were paid reasonable sums of money to al­low the nomads to allow their cattle to graze in those areas. What that means in effect is that some of the community heads sold-out their people for pecuniary gains. At a recent peace meeting between the Agatus and the Fulani herdsmen which was held in Abuja, it was also alleged that some of the herds­men who mastermind the grazing of their animals on farmlands and murder farmers are actually non-Nigerians. They were said to be from neighbouring countries such as Chad, Mali, Niger Republic and even far away Senegal.
There is gender dimension to this cri­sis. Many of the farmlands destroyed by the cattle are owned by women. Not only that, when these herdsmen take their cattle to drink at community rivers, the water is polluted by the animals as they indiscrim­inately urinate and defecate in them. Thus, women and children who source water for household use are put through a lot of stress seek­ing clean water for drinking and cooking. It has also been reported that some of these Fulani herdsmen kidnap, beat up, rape and murder some of the women that dare to challenge them about the destruc­tion of their farmlands or pollution of their water sources.
From the Agatu episode, we know that thousands of people have not only lost their lives and means of livelihood to this crisis but have become internally displaced per­sons in their country. This is mind-bog­gling! Over twenty thousands persons are reportedly in different IDP camps in Benue State right now. These are able-bodied men and women who are breadwinners in their own right now turned beggars and para­sites who have to survive on government and peoples charities. Their children, who should be in school, have now had their ed­ucation truncated due to no fault of theirs. Very unfortunate!
In seeking a lasting solution to this men­ace, a number of options have been high­lighted among which is the need for grazing reserves, banning of itinerant cattle- rearing and making it compulsory for cattle owners to establish ranches. It was reported that in the First and Second Republic, federal gov­ernment established grazing routes and re­serves much of which has been taken over by transgressors who have either turned them to farmlands or build on such. It is important for government to recover these grazing reserves and even establish more. Am not sure the banning of nomadic cattle rearing will work given that it is a cultur­al practice of the Fulani herdsmen. I think it was in recognition of this that made pre­vious government to establish nomadic schools for the children of these herdsmen. I must confess that I’ve not researched into the effectiveness of this form of education.
The most effective solution is ranching. That is the best practice in civilised coun­tries. Poultry and animal husbandry are supposed to be done in an enclosed envi­ronment. It is pathetic to see cattle grazing at our airports and major highways. Eve­rywhere in Nigeria you see these herds­men with their cattle on the roads and ve­hicles have to park for them to cross. This is preposterous! I do know that a large ex­panse of land is needed for ranching and government will need to help out to secure such plots for the herdsmen. They can form themselves into cooperative societies and jointly operate a ranch. Government can also grant them soft loan to aid the estab­lishment of such ranches. Effective border control is equally needed to ward off Fulani herdsmen who migrate from other countries to wreak havoc here in Nigeria. It’s going to be tough to implement all these measures but they are doable if the political will is there.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Campaign Finance in Uganda

Campaign finance is sine-qua-non in all democracies. Contestants to all elective offices have to spend a lot of money on different aspects of their campaigns ranging from purchase of expression of interest and nomination forms, setting up of campaign offices, hiring of consultants and vendors, renting and setting up of campaign venues, communication and publicity, and several other logistics. Politics is therefore not a tea party. It is a rich man’s game.

I was an accredited short term observer under the aegis of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) during the just concluded general elections in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa. I was there from February 12 – 22, 2016 and observed the presidential and parliamentary elections in Masaka District. Before our deployment to area of observation, from February 13 – 15 we received briefings from various actors and stakeholders in the electoral process ranging from civil society organisations, the Electoral Commission of Uganda, representatives of political parties, and EISA secretariat staff.

In the course of the briefings, I was able to garner a lot of information about the Ugandan political system. While the country has a lot of similar features to Nigeria’s political system, there are also a few variations. For example, just like in Nigeria, Uganda runs a multi-party system and has 29 registered political parties. However, in addition, it has provision for independent candidates. In fact, four out of eight presidential candidates that contested the February 18, 2016 presidential poll vied for the position as independent candidates. As with the case in Nigeria which though is a de jure multi-party democracy but a de facto two party state (All Progressive Congress and Peoples Democratic Party; similarly, Uganda though a multiparty country however has two dominant parties viz. National Resistant Movement (NRM) which controls the presidency and the parliament as well as Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) which is the main opposition party.

The registration of political parties in Uganda is regulated by the Political Parties and Organisations Act. The procedures for nominating candidates vary, depending on the position being contested. For presidential seat, aspirants must obtain support from at least 100 registered voters from at least two thirds or seventy-five of the country’s 112 Districts. In addition, presidential candidates are also required to pay a non-refundable sum of UGX20m (Twenty million Ugandan Shillings, equivalent of $5,797) while parliamentary candidates pay non-refundable fee of UGX3m, equivalent of $870. It is noteworthy that this money is paid directly to Ugandan Government treasury and not to the country’s Electoral Commission. This is unlike what obtains in Nigeria where contestants only pay Expression of Interest and Nomination Fees to their political parties. In addition, contestants under party platform also pay to obtain Expression of Interest Form. In NRM, which is the ruling party, about UGX2m is charged each aspirant.

It was reliably gathered that the nomination fees charged by government was hiked last September or thereabout when government rushed through amendment of the old regulation on the eve of commencement of political campaigns. This sudden and unprecedented increment reportedly scared away female contestants who do not have financial war chest to bankroll their political ambition.

It is worth being flagged that campaign finance regulation in Uganda is very weak. There is no ceiling to the amount each candidate can raise and spend on their electioneering campaigns. However, there are limits to the amount foreign government and corporations can donate to the campaign funds of political contestants. The law also forbids the use of State and Administrative Resources (SARs) for campaign. Ugandan law equally criminalises vote buying. Unfortunately, these regulations are observed in breach and with impunity. During the just concluded general elections, a lot of vote buying allegedly took place especially by the National Resistant Movement candidates. There is a saying in Uganda that “I’ll eat quietly and vote wisely.” In fact, this may not hold true as it was reported that electoral victory in Uganda is tangentially related to vote buying.

There was also gross abuse of state and administrative resources.  The incumbent president patently used SARs to his advantage and the disadvantage of opposition candidates. There was repression of opposition candidates by government security forces. On more than one occasion, the campaign rallies of main opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Bisigye of the Forum for Democratic Change was disrupted. He was also severally arrested without prosecution. The media was not left out; there were reports of uneven media coverage. There were alleged threats to media houses who allow opposition political parties and candidates to campaign on their stations. The candidates of NRM on the other hand have unfettered coverage in the media. It is worth mentioning that in order to shut out opposition parties from independently reporting election irregularities, the social media platform viz. Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp were shut down on February 18 and 19, 2016 in Uganda.

Given the quantum of the financial resources as well as SAR deployed by the National Resistance Movement towards the 2016 Ugandan General Elections, it does not come as a surprise to many keen observer of the political climate in the country that the party won majority of seats in the parliament while its presidential candidate, incumbent President Yoweri Museveni won the presidential election for the record sixth time of five years each. This current victory will extend his reign to 35 years having already being in power for 30 years. It is however not all rosy for NRM candidates all over as 19 ministers in Museveni’s candidates lost their re-election bid.