Tuesday, September 27, 2016

As Edo decides today

The die is cast! All is set for the Edo electorate to choose a new leader to govern them for the next four years. The governorship election had been shifted from the earlier scheduled date of September 10 at the prompting of the police and Department of State Services to enable them deal decisively with undisclosed security threats. The journey had been tortuous since the Independent National Electoral Commission, in March 2016, published the timetable and schedule of activities for the state governorship election. The actors and stakeholders keyed into the announcement and had been gearing up for today, September 28, 2016.
Come November 12, the Dennis Osadebey Government House in Benin will have a new host, the fourth governor in the state since 1999. Chief Lucky Igbinedion governed the state from 1999 to 2007. Prof. Osarehmien Osunbor took over from him until November 11, 2008 when the Court of Appeal nullified his election and declared the incumbent Adams Oshiomhole as the winner of the April 2007 governorship poll. It is Oshiomhole’s second term that is coming to an end on November 12.
Edo State has 18 Local Government Areas and a total of 1,925,105 registered voters; 192 Registration Areas; 2,627 Polling Units; and 4,011 Voting Points. The commission has deployed one Returning Officer; 18 Local Government Area Collation Officers; 192 Registration Area Collation Officers; 263 Supervisory Presiding Officers; 2,627 Presiding Officers 12, 036 Assistant Presiding Officers  I, II and III; 2,530 Assistant Presiding Officers; 728 Reserve APOs (five per cent); 19 LGA Supervisors + 1 HQ Reserve; and 97 RA Cluster Supervisors + HQ 1 Reserve (2RAs/Supervisor).
On the part of the security agencies, the police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, have deployed a combined force of 45,000. According to the Nigeria Police spokesperson, Don Awunah, in a press statement released last Monday, September 26, “In order to achieve the expected outcome of credible election acceptable to all stakeholders, the police will deploy 25,000 conventional police officers for the election. Tactical teams comprising of Police Mobile Force, Counter Terrorism Unit, Explosive Ordinance Disposal, Special Protection Unit, Force Animal Branch, Police Air wing (Aerial patrol) and Marine Police Unit (Riverine Patrol) will also be deployed”.
Awunah equally revealed that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim K. Idris, has approved the activation of a revised operation plan for Edo State. The plan is expected to guarantee free, fair and credible election, secure electoral process, enable eligible voters exercise their franchise freely and voluntary, protect election materials and officials and ensure adequate security before, during and after the election.
The Commandant General, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Abdullahi Gana, also directed the immediate deployment of 20,000 personnel for the election. This was stated in a press release issued by Assistant Commandant, Emmanuel Okeh, Corps Public Relations Officer in Abuja on Monday. He said Gana had directed the acting Deputy Commandant General, Operations, Hillary Madu, to relocate to Edo State for the purpose of the election.
Okeh stated that Madu would be assisted by two Assistant Commandant Generals in charge of Zone G Benin and Zone E Owerri with five commandants drawn from neighbouring states. He noted that the personnel were to be re-deployed from Kogi, Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa and Anambra state commands respectively to complement the Edo Command.
In addition to the robust security personnel deployment, the Edo State Government has also declared Tuesday and today (Wednesday) as public holiday to enable residents to participate in the civic exercise. The police authorities have equally declared restriction of vehicular movement from 12:00 midnight Tuesday, September 27 to 6:00pm, Wednesday, September 28, 2016 except those involved in essential duties who must be properly identified. The knotty issue of candidates sitting for their West African School Certificate examination has also been resolved as they have been urged to get to their examination venues latest by 7am.
On the part of the media and civil society groups, many of them have been accredited to observe the electoral process. In fact, 44 observer groups, both local and international, were accredited for the Edo election by the electoral umpire. They have in turn trained and deployed their members while many of them have been involved in voter education prior to the poll.
Now, as the election gets underway, given the assurances and reassurances by INEC and the security agencies, and having listened to the campaigns of the 19 political parties and candidates contesting today’s election, it is incumbent on all patriotic citizens of Edo State who have registered and collected their permanent voter cards to turn out en masse to vote for the candidate of their choice. They should resist any attempt by politicians or their agents to buy their vote and should go about this important exercise peacefully. Nonchalance to a civic duty such as being performed today can be costly as it can result in a wrong candidate being elected. There is no gainsaying that votes now count in Nigeria, otherwise politicians will not be resorting to underhand tactics to render election inconclusive. If the outcome of the election had been predetermined or that the votes do not count, INEC could simply have allocated figures and declared a winner rather than declaring election inconclusive.
I wish to remind the Edo electorate of Joachim Macebong’s admonition in a piece entitled, “The Importance of one Vote” on April 1, 2011. He said: “The most often heard excuse for not voting in an election is ‘my one little vote won’t make a difference.’ Yet, history is full of instances proving the enormous power of one single vote. In many cases, the course of nations has been changed because one individual ballot was cast or not cast”.
“In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England.  In 1649, one vote literally cost King Charles I of England his head. The vote to behead him was 67 against and 68 for — the axe fell thanks to one vote. In 1714, one vote placed King George I on the throne of England and restored the monarchy. In 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German. Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Rutherford B. Hayes all became US Presidents by a margin of one vote.  In 1868, one vote in the U.S. Senate saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment. In 1875, a one vote margin changed France from a monarchy to a republic. On November 8, 1923, members of the then revolutionary political party met to elect a leader in a Munich, Germany beer hall. By a majority of one vote, they chose an ex-soldier named, Adolph Hitler, to become the Nazi Party leader. South Africa lost the bid to host 2006 world cup to Germany by one vote.”
 Remember, your vote is your power, use it well!
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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Towing Nigeria out of her economic quagmire

It is no longer news that Nigeria is in economic recession. Inflation is officially at 17.1 per cent, unemployment is said to be at over 18 per cent while more people are dropping below poverty line for not being able to afford one dollar per day. The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been greatly criticized for being long on lamentation and blame game of past administrations for our present economic woes. Opposition Peoples Democratic Party has called on the president severally to resign; a call that has been scorned by the ruling All Progressives Congress. Of recent, different ideas are being pushed forward to tow the nation out of her economic quagmire. Some have called for restructuring, diversification, reduction in the cost of governance and just as the National Assembly resumed from its six weeks recess last Tuesday, September 20, 2016, there have been cacophony of voices about the need or otherwise for the country to sell some of her critical national assets.

The kite for the country to sell some of her key national assets to bailout the economy was flown by African richest man and Nigeria’s business octopus, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.  Among the national patrimony that Buhari administration is being counseled to sell off include the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas company (NLNG), the country’s comatose four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna, some of Nigeria’s airports especially those of Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt, the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, Aladja Steel Complex, disposal of the bulk of aircraft in the presidential air fleet and several others. The reasoning behind the call which has divided Nigerian Senate and indeed members of the general public is that if these assets are sold off, monies realized will be used to fix the infrastructural deficits. The argument is that many of these assets are moribund and have become a bottomless pit or drainpipe of the country’s scarce resources since they are not operating at optimum capacity and are being used by a cabal to milk the country dry.

My take on the way out of Nigeria’s economic woes is that there is no one size fit all solution or a single magic wand that will get us out of the rot. There is need for a cocktail of solutions. I for one am not against the sale of some of our key national assets. However, the history of privatization in Nigeria has been heart rending. There are a lot of underhand dealings and sharp practices involved as these assets are mostly sold well below their current street value and also to cronies and fronts of people in government who lacks the technical depth to revive them.

If we can have a transparent and accountable process, I will throw my weight behind the auctioning of some of these liabilities that we call assets. On June 2, 2011, Presidential Projects Assessment Committee (PPAC) led by Ibrahim Bunu said in its report to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan that the Federal Government was at then executing 11,886 projects at the cost of N7.78 trillion, out of which N2.696 trillion had been paid to contractors.. Some of these projects are white elephants which will not add any value to our dear country even if completed. There are those projects whose needs have been overtaken by events and no longer desirable in contemporary times. Given our parlous state of the economy,  I suggest another committee should be set up to categorise these abandoned projects into those that are still important to be completed and those to be auctioned off. The resources generated from those sold off should be channeled to complete those vital ones. Public – Private – Partnership model or Build – Operate – Transfer model could be explored for the completion of the key abandoned projects if government does not have the funds to complete them.

It cannot be overemphasized that Nigeria’s economy needs to be weaned off overdependence on oil and gas which apart from facing glut in the international market are also being viciously attacked by pirates and vandals in Niger Delta area. Investment in sports, tourism, agriculture, solid minerals and Information Communication Technology are some of the areas Nigeria needs to incentivize people to set up businesses.  I do not subscribe to the school of thought that government has no business in business. That is fallacy of overgeneralization. Government has a role to play in business. While it may not put its money in business, it is expected to set up legal and policy frameworks that will inspire investors’ confidence to put their monies in the identified areas. I for one do not support government putting more money into prospecting for crude oil in Nigeria’s Lake Chad basin, an effort which has yielded no encouraging result in spite of the huge quantum of resources spent on the exploration exercise in about thirty years. Private investors can however be incentivized to continue the search.

If Nigeria will get out of the wood, economy wise, it has to do a number of things. These include the following: Fix the electricity challenge. Electricity is vital to our economic revival. The cost of doing business in Nigeria is astronomic largely because of lack of affordable and clean energy from government. Even though government has privatized the electricity generation and distribution companies, there is still a huge challenge with transmission of power generated due to the weak transmission lines. There is still huge controversy surrounding appropriate pricing of electricity due to lack of prepaid meters. Other issues include huge indebtedness by government ministries, departments and agencies, energy theft by companies and individuals and inconsistent government policies. 

Government also needs to do something about the cost of doing business in Nigeria. Our global ranking on the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ rankles. We are in abysmal position. Something has to be done to ease the bureaucratic bottlenecks on company registration processes, visa issuance, and access to land including getting Certificate of Occupancy on acquired land for business. Also imperative is access to affordable loan facility with single digit interest rate. It is disheartening that high interest rate in Nigeria which is in double digit is a business killer as many entrepreneurs who could not get cheap fund to inject into their businesses have had to fold up thereby worsening the very dire unemployment situation in the country.   Worst hit are small and medium enterprises which are actually the pillar of every economy. Many of these SMEs have been finding it extremely difficult to break even, let alone making profit, because of the high cost of their goods and services which are not enjoying patronage from consumers due to the low disposable income of workers many of whom are being owed salaries and wages.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Celebrating Nigeria’s Rio Paralympians

Congratulations to Team Nigeria’s contingent to the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games for their sterling performance which fetched the country the best performing African nation at the global event. For the umpteenth time, our special athletes wiped our tears, did us proud and burnished the dented image of our dear country. Unlike their Olympian counterparts who participated in 10 events with over 80 athletes and won one bronze medal in men’s football to take 78th position overall, 23 paralympians participated in three events – para-athletics, powerlifting and para-table tennis – to cart away 12 medals (eight gold, two silver and two bronze) which placed them 14th position on the final medals table and number one in Africa.
Of course, the victories did not come cheap. According to the report in Sunday PUNCH of September 18, 2016, “Nigeria’s preparations for both events were in tatters, right from when the athletes began camping in May in Abuja and Lagos, and it remained so until both contingents embarked on the trips to Rio. The Olympians and the Paralympians’ training were marred by lack of payment of camp allowances, poor facilities, and poor feeding, with the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports complaining of non-release of funds by the Federal Government, to kick-start preparations for the Games in Brazil.”
The above mentioned challenges have been Nigeria’s trademark. It has been a recurring decimal. However, while the physically challenged athletes were able to turn their lamentations to testimonies and their agonies to glory, their Olympian counterparts continue to wallow in self-pity and self-defeat.  The latter managed a marginal improvement on the London 2012 Olympics where they returned empty handed.
Let’s take a look at the statistics as provided by the SUNDAY PUNCH report put together by ‘Tana Aiyejina. It shows that Nigeria debuted at the Paralympics at Barcelona ’92 and won three gold medals to finish 35th on the medals’ table while the Olympians won three silver and one bronze. It took the Olympians 44 years of participation to win their first gold courtesy in long jumper Chioma Ajunwa and the U-23 football team at Atlanta ’96. Incidentally, while that performance is still being celebrated, not many know that the Paralympians did even better than the Olympians at Atlanta, winning three gold, two silver and three bronze medals. At Sydney 2000, Team Nigeria won seven gold, one silver and five bronze medals and finished in the 22nd position while the Olympians had just one gold and two silver medals.”
The report further revealed that, “Though the Paralympians managed five gold, four silver and three bronze medals at Athens 2004, they ended up better than the Olympics athletes, who had just two bronze. The story continued in Beijing 2008 and London 2012. The Olympians managed one silver and three bronze in Beijing and came home empty-handed from London four years ago but their Paralympic counterparts scooped eight gold medals from both Games, four in each editions. Expectedly, it was not different at the Rio Games; it was the Paralympians who as usual, had the last laugh.”
What a feat by Nigeria’s Paralympians! There are several things that made Team Nigeria contingent to Rio Paralympics stand out. It was their best thus far. Not only that, several world records were broken by Nigerian power lifters. The 38-year-old Lucy Ejike, who was competing in her fifth Paralympics, shattered the Paralympic and world records three successive times by winning gold with a lift of 142kg. Bose Omolayo also broke her personal and world records in the -79Kg powerlifting event. Lauritta Onye also set a world record twice on the way to clinching gold in the shot put event. Her first throw of 7.83m saw her break her WR of 7.72m set last year in Doha.
Thirty two-year-old Flora Ugwunwa competing in Women’s Javelin Throw F53/54 also erased Tunisian Hania Aidi’s WR of 18.86m set at the 2015 IPC World Championships to win another gold medal for Nigeria. Josephine Orji also broke the WR to win the women’s +86kg powerlifting event. She lifted 156kg to set a new record. Paul Kehinde who competed in the -65kg men’s category lifted 218kg to beat his rivals to the gold medal, setting a new WR in the process. He then went on to beat his own record by lifting a massive 220kg! Roland Ezuruike set three Paralympic records while Ndidi Nwosu won the country’s fifth gold in the women’s -73kg powerlifting event when she raised 140kg to equal the Paralympics record.
In spite of these sterling performances, none of Nigeria’s special athletes failed the dope test which means that their victories were untainted. As with the previous achievements, it was the female athletes that got the country on the podium more than their male counterparts.  It was power lifters, Lucy Ejike, (women’s -61kg), Ndidi Nwosu (women’s -73kg), Bose Omolayo (women’s -79kg) and Josephine Orji (women’s +86kg) as well as field athletes Lauritta Onye (women’s Shot Put F40) and Flora Ugwunwa (women’s Javelin Throw F53/54), who made the country proud by winning the gold medals. Latifat Tijani (women’s -45kg) and Esther Oyema (women’s -55kg) also won silver medals in powerlifting while Eucharia Iyiazi won the bronze in the women’s discus throw F56/57. Roland Ezeruike (men’s -54kg) and Kehinde Paul (men’s -65kg) are the male gold winners while Innocent Nnamdi won bronze in the men’s -72kg.
The performance of our paralympians is a metaphor on the country.  When we say Nigeria is a crippled giant, it shows that we are only outstanding among the persons with disabilities. It is not altogether a negative achievement but we need to do a lot more and better if actually we intend to join the league of high flyers as we have conceived in Vision 20: 2020, that is to be among the 20 best economies by year 2020 which is barely four years away. For some 15 years, we failed woefully to achieve any of the eight Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations General Assembly.  In 2015, the MDGs were replaced by 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. How shall we fare? Time will tell.
 It is a sad commentary on Nigeria that it is the rejected stone that has become the cornerstone.The Persons with Disabilities that we care less about, and treat with disdain are the ones now doing us proud at the international sport arena. It is high time we changed our negative attitude and perception towards these special people. They have proved time and again that there is immense ability in disability. President Muhammadu Buhari should accord these sports heroes and heroines national honours, mouth-watering financial rewards and provide an enabling environment to do better in future sport meets.
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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Nigeria’s democratic culture and development challenges

"The implementation of the Goals must be underpinned by a strong and active civil society that includes the weak and the marginalised. We must defend civil society's freedom to operate and do this essential job. On this International Day of Democracy, let us rededicate ourselves to democracy and dignity for all." — UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

September 15 of every year has been earmarked by the United Nations as International Day of Democracy. The theme for this year’s celebration which took place last Thursday is “Democracy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.  According to the information gleaned from the website of the UN, ”In September 2015, all 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development -- a plan for achieving a better future for all, laying out a path over 15 years to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect our planet. At the heart of the Agenda are the Sustainable Development Goals, which call for mobilising efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Nigeria in a couple of weeks from now, precisely on October 1, will roll out the drums to celebrate her 56th independence anniversary. Indeed, the country has had a topsy-turvy democratic culture that has been interspersed with military adventurism in governance. In fact, for a cumulative 29 years of the 56, military junta held sway. Even after the return to civil rule in 1999, two out of four presidents we have had are former heads of state. I mean ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo who was Head of State from February 13, 1976 – October 1, 1979 and the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari who was Head of State from December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985. Thus, military has had a great influence on our polity.

In Nigeria all the indices and indicators of democracy are present. Since the return to civil rule in 1999 we have been having periodic elections and as at the last count in 2015, we have had five general elections – 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. We have the three arms of government – executive, legislature and judiciary – in place. The principle of separation of powers and checks and balances are also in operation. The Nigerian fourth estate of the realm, the media, is one of the most vibrant in Africa. With the advent of new media, free speech has been taken to another level with citizens holding government to account and demanding for good governance using both the traditional and social media platforms.

Furthermore, the principle of rule of law also found expression in Nigeria. The three core tenets of the principle viz. Supremacy of the constitution, equality before the law and fundamental human rights are also observed to some degrees in this clime. Nigeria also has civil society members which have been doing incredible works in various communities, both urban and rural, providing support and succor to people. Among several things, with funding assistance from international donor partners, they have been offering wide range of capacity building initiatives to both state and non-state actors inclusive of government’s Ministries, Department and Agencies.

In spite of the semblance of democratic culture in this country, it is still a long way to democratic consolidation. The performance of our democratic institutions still leaves much to be desired. Despite running a multiparty democracy with up to about 30 political parties accorded due registration by the electoral management body, our political parties have failed woefully to perform their critical role of political socialisation, public policy formulation and credible leadership recruitment. Political elites in Nigeria are highly fragmented and are a self-serving bunch.

 At elections, they do everything to undermine the electoral process including engaging in all forms of sharp practices and malpractices. They induce voters and other stakeholders like the poll officials and security agencies with money in order to gain undue advantage. They also orchestrate violence all in a bid to win elections. Our electoral process is highly volatile because of the adoption of the Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means’ by Nigerian brand of politicians.   In government, these politicians have been a disappointment. They have largely failed to deliver on their campaign promises. Many a time, the populace continually asks and hopes for democracy dividends which never came.

The democratic space in Nigeria is still not wide enough. The women, youth and persons with disabilities are still highly marginalised. The percentage of these vulnerable groups in elective and appointive positions is still infinitesimally low. Though there are policies drafted to enhance participations of these marginalised groups in government; however, these policies have been observed more in breach. The Gender Policy, Youth Policy and Policy on PwD are mere paper tigers. The advocacy for affirmative action to be adopted to bridge the gap and redress injustices done to these vulnerable groups has been largely unsuccessful. In order to ease the participation of these groups in the electoral process, there have been strident calls for independent candidacy and proportional representation principle to be inserted in our electoral laws. This has been ignored.   

Nigeria, unlike many democratic countries of the world, has two electoral management bodies. They are the Independent National Electoral Commission and the State Independent Electoral Commissions. While the former is responsible for all federal and state elections, the latter is saddled with the conduct of local government elections. These two institutions are at various levels of independence. While INEC is faring better in times of administrative and financial autonomy, SIECs on the other hand are tied to the apron string of the governors. INEC since 1998 has not failed to conduct periodic elections unlike SIECs which are starved of funds to conduct local government polls. As I write this, more than half of the 36 states in Nigeria have failed to conduct local government election as at when due. As against the express provision of section 7 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, many of the LGAs are governed by sole administrators or caretaker committees. This is an aberration!

Nigerian judiciary, especially at the lower echelon – magistrate and high courts – has been a source of worry because of high level of miscarriage of justice going on at that level. Many have alleged widespread corruption in judiciary and this is a bad omen for democratic consolidation. Nigerian legislature, both at federal and state level, has not lived up to their billing. At the state level, the parliament operates like an extension of government house. They are so pliable that they operate at the whims and caprices of the governors. At the centre, both the Senate and House of Representatives have been enmeshed in all kinds of corruption and certificate forgery controversies; including the recent budget padding brouhaha in the 8th House of Reps. Executive lawlessness and culture of impunity have been the norm at all levels of government in this country.   Little wonder there have been persistent calls for the restructuring of the country to make it efficient and effective. I do hope this will be urgently addressed so that the country can achieve sustainable development goals targets set last year at the UN General Assembly.

Jide is Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Edo poll and the allied forces against INEC

By now, we would have known the next occupier of the Osadebey House in Benin City. I mean the next Governor of Edo State, a state that prides itself as the heartbeat of the nation. That will have to wait till September 28, 2016 when the over 1.9 million eligible voters across the 18 Local Government Areas and 192 Wards of the state are expected to file out to cast their votes. Right from March 2016 when the Independent National Electoral Commission issued the timetable for the governorship election meant to hold on September 10, 2016, various stakeholders had keyed into preparations for the all-important off cycle election.
INEC on its part had conducted the Continuous Voter Registration to enable those who missed out of the pre-2015 general election registration to enlist on the biometric register. The commission had equally spent a lot of resources procuring sensitive and non-sensitive materials for the polls, recruited and trained poll officials, conducted massive voter education, accredited observer groups, held a series of stakeholder meetings and got the 19 candidates and their political parties to sign on to a peace accord.
According to the commission, it had implemented 12 out of the 14 items on the timetable for the Edo election and was 97 per cent ready for the conduct of the poll last Saturday. The electoral body was not alone. All other critical stakeholders and actors such as the political parties and their candidates, security agencies, media, the electorate and accredited observer groups also expressed their readiness for the poll. They had all deployed a lot of resources into the whole electioneering project. For instance, political parties had held their party primaries and nominated their candidates to INEC. They had equally been vigorously campaigning to woo voters. Going by the level of the sophistication of the campaigns, one would have thought only the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party were contesting in the election whereas there are more than a dozen of them that have nominated candidates. Indeed, as we say in election parlance, there are contenders and there are pretenders.
The PDP is also plagued with a dilemma. The party is factionalised between the Ahmed Makarfi‘s camp and Ali Modu Sheriff’s camp. Both held parallel congresses in Edo State and fielded candidates. Although INEC accepted the nomination of Makarfi’s while rejecting that of Sheriff’s.The latter group is still fighting tooth and nail to upturn that INEC decision by claiming to have a court order which had declared it as the authentic faction.
On the part of the media and civil society, they sought and got the necessary accreditation from INEC and had conducted their observers’ training. They had also been doing pre-election observation. Not only that, on Sunday, September 4, 2016, the Enough-is-Enough coalition in partnership with Channels Television held a debate for four out of the 19 candidates. They were candidates of the APC, the PDP, Labour and the All Progressive Grand Alliance. The various security agencies under INEC’s Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security had also assured the public at all the previously held stakeholder meetings about their readiness to provide robust security during the scheduled September 10 election. The police, for instance, had informed the public about the highly sophisticated security architecture they had put in place and their proposed deployment of 25,000 personnel for the poll. The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps was also planning to deploy about 10,000 personnel. All these elaborate preparations were being made at a very huge financial cost.
It is worth mentioning that both the party primaries and campaigns of the political parties in Edo State have been largely peaceful. To the best of my knowledge, no single life has been lost and clashes among party supporters have been at the barest minimum. This is very much unlike what happened in Rivers and Bayelsa states ahead of the court ordered re-run elections as well as the December 2015 governorship poll respectively.
It is therefore curious that the police and the Department of Security Services, barely 72 hours to the poll, decided to pull the rug off the feet of INEC by addressing a press conference in Abuja and issuing an advisory to the commission for it to postpone the scheduled election for “security reasons”. I found a number of things wrong with such an advisory both in terms of content and procedure. It is noteworthy that both the police and the DSS are both active members of INEC’s Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security. If there were any unforeseen security threats, the right thing to do was for the Inspector General of Police and Director General of the DSS to call the INEC chairman to summon an emergency ICCES meeting where such an intelligence report would be discussed and the pros and cons of postponing the election weighed. Sadly, nothing of such was done.
On that fateful Wednesday, September 7, INEC had held the last stakeholders’ meeting in which a deputy inspector-general of police stood in for the IGP where he reiterated the police’s readiness to provide adequate security for the election. A day earlier, on September 6, President Muhammadu Buhari had led several APC governors and party chieftains to a mega rally at the Ogbe Stadium in Benin. Nothing untoward was reported to have happened. At what point did the police and the DSS now receive the fresh “intelligence report” that necessitated the advisory to INEC?
In terms of the content of the press conference, the threat alleged by the two security agencies was envisaged for the Sallah holidays on September 12 and 13. Well, the Edo election would have been held and concluded by September 11. So, why the insistence on postponement?
All sorts of conspiracy theories have been read into the action of the police and the DSS. The entire charade was reminiscent of what happened ahead of the 2015 general election when the then National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki,  flew a kite in Chatham House, London that INEC was not ready for the poll and should postpone the election due to large number of undistributed Permanent Voter Cards.  Latter-day revelations showed that the ruling party then was trying to buy time to perfect its winning strategy for the election which in spite of the six weeks’ postponement it orchestrated, it still lost woefully. Was the Edo election postponement therefore stage-managed? Truth will be out sooner or later. I’m sure if the discussion for postponement had been taken to ICCES, the other security agents would have rallied round the police to curb and curtail any impending security threats given that the poll was taking place in only one state with 18 LGAs.  That way, we would have saved the nation hundreds of millions of naira lost to the needless postponement.
Going forward, INEC needs to guard against picking controversial times for the conduct of elections. Though the poll was rescheduled allegedly on the basis of security threats, there had been previous calls for the postponement by students sitting for the West African Secondary School Certificate exams as they would be having Mathematics, a compulsory exam, on that day. Secondly, some Muslims had also called for the shift in the date of the exams as some of them would be on Holy Pilgrimage to Mecca while the Eid-el-Kabir celebration would also be taking place about same time.
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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Buhari’s ‘change begins with me’ campaign

“It is safe to say today that honesty, hard work, Godliness have given way to all kinds of manifestations of lawlessness and degeneration in our national life. This is why we have among our cardinal objectives ‘change’, which implies the need for a change of attitude and mindset in our everyday life.”

-          President Muhammadu Buhari at the launch of “Change Begins With Me” on September 7, 2016.

Last Thursday, September 7, 2016 at the Presidential Villa in Abuja President Muhammadu Buhari launched a new national re-orientation campaign, titled “Change Begins With Me”.  In attendance were people from all walks of life from ministers to governors, media practitioners, business moguls, members of parliament, representatives of the judiciary as well as members of the civil society. The president was at his oratorical best as he waxes philosophical about Nigeria’s ethical challenges.  There were so many sound bites from the president’s speech. He was very much on point in his analysis of the nation’s malaise. 

Hear him: “The campaign……..is all about the need for us to see change not merely in terms of our economic, social progress but in terms of our personal behaviour on how we conduct ourselves, engage our neigbhours, friends and generally how we relate with the larger society in a positive and definitive way and manner that promotes our common good and common destiny, change at home, change in the work place, change at traffic junction, change at traffic lights, etc”. The president was not done.  He also observed that: “There is no doubt that our value system has been badly eroded over the years. The long-cherished and time honoured, time-tested virtues of honesty, integrity, hard work, punctuality, good neighbourliness, abhorrence of corruption and patriotism have given way in the main to dishonesty, indolence, unbridled corruption and widespread impunity.”

“The resultant effect of this derailment in our value system is being felt in the social, political and economic sphere.  It is the reason that some youths will take to cultism and brigandage instead of studying hard or engaging in decent living; it is the reason that some elements will break pipelines and other oil facilities, thus robbing the nation of much-needed resources; it is the reason that money belonging to our commonwealth will be brazenly stolen by the same public officials to whom they were entrusted; it is the reason why motorists drive through red traffic lights, it is the reason that many will engage in thuggery and vote-stealing during elections;  it is part of what has driven our economy into deep problem out of which we are now working hard to extricate ourselves. Every one of us must have a change from our old ways of doing things; we cannot fold our arms and allow things to continue the old way. We must resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship, pettiness and immaturity that have poisoned our country for so long.”

A standing ovation for the president for being so spot on in his analysis of the problem with Nigerians. However, as it is often said, talk is cheap. For the purpose of our youngsters who were not born in the 1980s, it is worth mentioning to them that in 1984 when Mr. President was Head of State, he did launch War Against Indiscipline with as much fanfare as last Thursday’s event. There was even a WAI Brigade and being a military era, coercion was used to make people behave. By the time General Buhari, as he then was, got booted out  in a palace coup by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida on August 27, 1985, discipline has largely been entrenched in our national life. People have adopted the culture of queuing at Bus Stops, Fuel Stations, Markets, Stadiums and other places. People were also not recklessly defecating and urinating in public spaces, etcetera.   

On July 25, 1987, Babangida also inaugurated Mass Mobilisation for Self Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER); a value orientation programme. When General Sani Abacha took over the mantle of leadership as Head of State in 1993, he also launched War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC). However, while the man was purportedly fighting corruption by jailing many rogue bank executives, he has his hand deep in public till, looting our common patrimony and stashing it abroad.. Dora Akunyili also launched “Good People of A Great Nation”. All these are pointers that what happened on September 7, 2016 was not a novelty. Yet our attitudes have largely been negative. What then is the missing link?

To my mind, if the “Change Begins With Me” will not be mere sloganeering as previous orientation programmes under MAMSER and National Orientation Agency have largely been, Nigerian leaders will need to live by example. It is said that example is better than precept and it is better to practice what one preaches. While the new campaign is desirable, our leaders must lead the way. There is an African adage that ‘it is the front horse that the back one uses to pace’ it is also an established fact that ‘fish decays from the head’. I would like our political leaders to comport themselves well in the public. They are the worst offenders in terms of inciting statements and inflammatory comments especially during electioneering campaigns. They do not obey traffic light nor pay toll like other members of the public. They waste public resources driving in a convoy of state of the art cars purchased at highly inflated figures and maintain by public treasury.

Mr. President, cut down the number of your presidential air fleet to maximum of three from the current eleven or thereabout!  Maintaining such a huge fleet in this austere time is wasteful and unnecessary show of extravagance. In addition, President Buhari must behave like the father of Nigeria that he is and shun all forms of provinciality and nepotism in his political appointments. Many of the appointments he has made have been viewed by a section of the country as being tilted in favour of his ethno-religious groups. Like Ceaser’s wife, I enjoined the president to be above board in all his dealings.

What will help the ‘Change Begins With Me’ to resonate with the people is role-modeling. When ordinary people see the positive change in our leaders, they too will imbibe such values. Target recruitments of children of the high and mighty and the politically exposed persons to choice organisations like the Central Bank of Nigeria, National Communication Commission, Nigeria National Petroleum Company and Federal Inland Revenue Service as was alleged to be the case under the president’s watch does not inspire confidence in the teeming unemployed Nigerian graduates who still feel pained that their joblessness was as a result of not knowing anybody at the corridor of power. Our leaders cannot be mouthing the need for us to buy ‘Made in Nigeria’ while their cars, furniture and clothing remain exotic. They cannot convince us to believe in Nigeria when they continue to go abroad to treat ear infection, and other treatable diseases in Nigeria.

Indeed, all and sundry must key into this new campaign. We must shun vices like armed robbery, kidnapping, vandalism and similar acts of crimes and criminality. Destruction of critical national assets is not helping our national development. Sabotage, whether economic or political, does not augur well for our prosperity. In conclusion, it is important for the right people to be honoured with state and national awards and when they run foul of the law, such honours should be withdrawn from them. This will send the right signal to people that government rewards virtues and deprecates vices.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Decent living in Nigeria’s recessed economy

It is no longer news that Nigeria’s economy is in recession. Austerity measures are now trending at both personal and corporate levels. Growth is shrinking; inflation is now officially 17.1 per cent; interest rate on lending is in double digits; unemployment soars and poverty deepens. A time like this calls for introspection and retrospection. At a personal level, I have been “restructuring”. As my disposable income becomes lean, I have had to adjust my lifestyle accordingly. No more expensive clothes and shoes.   I now cook more and eat out less. Oh, you’re asking why I cook? Well, it’s part of the “restructuring”. Other family members now live in less expensive parts of the country while I alone slug it out in Abuja and retreat frequently to meet the rest of the family in our new home.
Unfortunately, many Nigerians still live in Fantasy Land. They still hold lavish parties and indulge in their excesses, even doing so on credit. There are many who still can’t eat without soft drinks, wine or beer to “wash it down”. There are those who still enroll their children in expensive private schools even though they are heavily indebted to the school management as they perpetually default in payment of school fees and other charges. There are still those trendy guys and ladies who offer arms and legs to buy exotic cars in order to “oppress” their neighbours, friends and relations. These fashionistas can’t dress without perfumes and play the good guy by ensuring that they buy all the “aso ebi” chosen for socials. Sincerely, I do believe that it’s good to be trendy and enjoy the good things of life but only on one condition – if you can afford it!
My point of argument with many people is their inability to curtail their appetite for things they couldn’t afford. Why live in city centres for instance when your income can only get you a decent accommodation in the satellite towns? Why live in a duplex or three-bedroomed flat when your lean income can only conveniently pay for a two-bedroomed or a room and parlour apartment? I live in one of the satellite towns in Abuja and have seen many colleagues and acquaintances paying through their nose in eyebrow areas of Abuja like Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse, Jabi, Utako and Gwarinpa.  Their excuse being that they want to live close to their places of work. Should that be a deciding factor or your purse?
In truth, this austere time calls for change of attitudes, lifestyles and priorities. Hanging on to old values and proclivities is what has landed many couples in troubles, heartaches and depression. Why play the superman or hero when you do not have the financial muscle to back up your presumed status?  Why go into consumptive debts rather than borrowing for investment and productive purposes? Before I relocated my family to their present abode, many years back, I bought a plot of land in a developing area. The land was very cheap then but the area in question had no public electricity supply. I wasn’t so keen on acquiring the land initially because I thought it would take a long time before the area would become cosmopolitan. Wise counsel eventually prevailed and I paid for the property and commenced the development. It took years of savings and loans but to the glory of God, it’s completed now and my family now have a palatial home to live unlike when we were all squeezing ourselves in a two-bedroomed apartment here in Abuja. While the building project was on, I was using a 1998 model of Nissan Sunny which many of my colleagues call taxi.  Well, the car which I called “old faithful” served me well until I disposed it off last year having acquired a better car after the completion of the housing project.
When I see people being disgraced and embarrassed for defaulting on their rent, I take pity on them. At the same time, I wonder why some of them, especially those who are doing private business, insisted on staying put in an expensive environment like Abuja. I know that the illusory attractions to many city centres are the social amenities like good roads, pipe borne water, electricity, modern houses and offices and above all job opportunities. However, what many migrants to the cities do not know or choose to ignore is that there are limited opportunities in the urban centres. I have many curriculum vitaes of friends and relations looking for job in Abuja or anywhere for that matter. Sadly, much as I tried, I have not been able to assist any of them.
It is high time government at all levels worked collaboratively to develop the rural areas in order to stem the deluge of rural-urban migration. The white collar and blue collar jobs many desperate job seekers are angling for are thinning out. Look at the sheer volume of people who applied for the ongoing police recruitment. The same story with those who applied for the 500,000 teaching jobs advertised by the Federal Government. It behooves government to make our rural communities liveable so that many, especially the youths, that are daily flocking to urban centres will stay back to harness their potential in their various communities. If there are good roads, hospitals, schools, security, electricity, potable water, recreational facilities, internet connectivity and cottage industries in many of our rural areas, the inhabitants of these communities will not have the urge to seek a better life in the urban centres.
I recall that during the Babangida administration, he set up Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure under Air Vice Marshal Larry Koiyan. Something of that mould is needed now and urgently too. Dearth of basic amenities is what has been responsible for the rural-urban drift.
With rural electrification, efficient transport system, including rail line and marine transport, it will be easier for rural dwellers to daily commute to town. This will significantly reduce their cost of living and enhance their standard of living. As it is one of the utmost plans of government to diversify the economy, many youths in rural communities can be incentivised to stay back and engage in productive agricultural practice. There have been clamours for the restoration and expansion of farm settlements where government provides the land, accommodation farm implements, seeds and soft loans to young people. This is very important. One other good way government can help develop rural communities is by citing some of its Ministries, Departments and Agencies in developing areas. There is no gainsaying that the citing of the Nigeria Law School and Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board headquarters in the Bwari area of Abuja assisted immensely in opening up that area for rapid development.
Methinks it’s time for sober reflection, adjustment of priorities and living real.
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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Nigeria’s dysfunctional prison system

There has been series of jailbreaks in Nigeria in recent time. Four has happened in the last three months. A report in Daily Trust of August 20, 2016 entitled “Prison break galore: Why jailbreaks persist in Nigeria” chronicled them as follows: Kuje Medium Prison jailbreak of June 24, 2016.  That incident led to the escape of two high profile inmates, Solomon Amodu and Maxwell Ajukwu (both standing trial for culpable homicide).  They are still at large. Again, on July 30, 2016, thirteen inmates escaped from the Koton Karfe Minimum Prison in Kogi State. The Nigeria Prisons Service claimed it had recaptured six of the escapees who are pre-trial detainees. However, the remaining five are still at large.

On August 8, 2016, there was another jailbreak in Nsuka, Enugu State where 15 inmates, comprising 10 pre-trial detainees and three convicts allegedly escaped from the prison. Just ten days after, there was an attempted jailbreak, this time, in Ebonyi State.  The Abakaliki Prison, built by the British Colonial Government to accommodate 300 inmates presently houses no fewer than 1,000 inmates.  However, unconfirmed reports has it that about six persons were shot dead while few others sustained injuries from gunshots.

What is responsible for incessant jailbreaks in Nigeria? It’s largely due to our dysfunctional prison system which is a sub-sect of the wider justice sector decadence. News report has it that 72 per cent of the occupants of Nigerian prisons are awaiting trial inmates. The Leadership newspaper of August 31, 2016 quoted the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as saying that out of the 67,000 prisoners held in various Nigerian prisons, those awaiting trial make up 72 per cent of the figure. UNODC   lamented that these awaiting trial inmates wallowed in detention on an average of 3.7 years between arrest and actual commencement of trial. The newspaper’s independent findings also revealed that 95 per cent of riots, escapes and jailbreaks are perpetrated by this category of inmates. As the popular saying goes, ‘justice delayed, is justice denied’. It is an unjust and unfair system like ours that will keep detainees in perpetual prison custody for so long without proper trial and expect such suspects to behave themselves. It is normal for ATI to become restive and want to leave our hellish prison where the most basic facilities are lacking.

The Daily Trust report earlier referenced noted some obvious lapses in the country’s prison administration which include:  overcrowding caused by delay in the administration of justice; inadequate personnel to man the prisons facilities; unmotivated personnel who work twelve-hour shifts; lack of modern equipment needed in prison administration and lack of logistics (serviceable and well secured vehicles) to convey inmates to courts.  The newspaper gave the statistics of prison inmates as follows:  “Kuje Prison with 560 inmate capacity locks 804 prisoners out of which 576 are awaiting trial. Also, Koton Karfe prison has a capacity of 160 prisoners but keeps 263 with 228 awaiting trial while Port Harcourt prison, built in 1918 for 804 prisoners, now houses 3,849 with 3,356 awaiting trial.  Abakaliki prison has an inmate population of 922 out of which 793 are awaiting trial.” The newspaper gathered that as a result of congestion, the convicted and awaiting trial inmates are being kept together, against procedure.

The Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau said most of the prisons in the country are either a century old or badly constructed.  He reportedly claimed to have alerted the Prisons authorities on the security loopholes in the prison formations across the country immediately he assumed duty as Minister. Unfortunately, his advice, he alleged, was ignored, hence the jailbreaks. He also claimed that top officers of the service were to be held responsible for the continuous jailbreaks in the country. He accused them of not doing what is required to ensure the security of the prisons “like patrolling the prisons, manning the towers, keeping records, knowing how many prisoners you have by names, not by numbers”, saying this is a function of failed leadership.

The indiscipline within Nigerian prisons could have aided jailbreaks. Other unprofessional conducts by Nigeria prison staff include:  aiding and abetting inmates to access hard drugs such as marijuana and other narcotics; preferential treatment of inmates who are politically exposed or very rich after heavy financial inducements (there was allegation that Kuje Prison in Abuja which does not have female inmates has predominance of female warders some of which get into inappropriate relationships with VIP prisoners). There was also unproven claim that some prison staff sexually abuse female prisoners. It is puzzling that some female inmates get pregnant and have children in prison custody. How did this happen?  Sadly, some of the children are kept with their mothers in prisons. It was also alleged that some convicts do get someone else to serve their prison term after compromising the prison officials. These are grave allegations that Minister of Interior and indeed the Comptroller General of Prisons should investigate.

Nigeria Prison Service has not been condoning indiscipline within the rank and file of its staff. According to the earlier referenced Daily Trust newspaper report, on Monday, August 15, 2016, twenty-three Prisons Officers were dismissed, while another 11 got suspended for the first three jailbreaks. Similarly, the Comptroller-General of Prisons, Ahmed Ja’afaru in his capacity, approved the dismissal of seven junior staff serving in Kuje Medium Security prison and 10 other junior staff serving in Koton Karfe prison also implicated in the escape saga, while the officer in charge of Nsukka Prison DCP Okonkwo Lawrence and 10 others have been suspended over the recent prisoners’ escape from the prison.

In order to decongest our prisons, a forum was recently held in Abuja. A national conference on ‘Effective Implementation of Non-Custodial (Alternatives to Imprisonment) Measures in Nigeria,’ took place on August 30, 2016. The conference was jointly organised by the Nigeria Prisons Service, International Corrections and Prisons Association and Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, but sponsored by the UNODC. At the conference, UNODC Country Representative, Christina Albertin said there is an initiative aimed at supporting the efforts of the Nigerian government to improve justice delivery through effective coordination and cooperation among justice sector institutions with improved legal and policy framework, among others. She explained that the project is being funded by the European Union and would be implemented at the federal level and in nine states of the federation. She listed the focal states to include Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Imo, Kastina, Lagos, Osun and Yobe.

At the event the Interior Minister noted that the non-custodial measure was primarily designed for minor crimes or other special category of prisoners without restriction of confinement while in prison custody. The minister reeled out the benefits of non-custodial measures to include saving offenders from the trauma of imprisonment, preventing further crime contamination through prison informal socialisation process, offering the opportunity for genuine penitence, promoting effective re-integration of offenders and reducing the financial burden on government in the administration of criminal justice. Given these numerous benefits I think it’s high time Nigeria fully embraced non-custodial measures as alternative to imprisonment. Nigerian government should stop abusing the rights of prisoners particularly awaiting trial inmates who have right to speedy trial. Indeed, prisoners and ex-convicts have right to education, vocational training, health, and voting at elections. Enough of aforementioned discriminations and injustices!

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.