Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My stand on restructuring of Nigeria

For quite some time now, there has been clamour for restructuring of Nigeria. Not a few people, I inclusive, believe that the solution to the heightening socio-political tension currently being experienced in Nigeria lies in making our federal system of government work better. Since the June 6, 2017 provocative Arewa youths quit order to Igbos to vacate the 19 northern states within three months, many observers had called on the federal government to dust up the 2014 National Conference report for implementation so that the brewing tension can be doused.
One thing most Nigerians agreed on is that our current federal system is fundamentally flawed and skewed in practice. It does not guarantee equity, justice and fairness. There are ample evidences to cite about the marginalisation, discrimination, criminal neglect and domination of one ethnic group against the other. The federal character principle which was designed to address the fears of the minorities and promote inclusive governance has been grossly abused by the operators of the system. Appointments and citing of projects are being done with heavy dose of politics and nepotism. These are what have led the Igbos to demand for sovereign state of Biafra or self-determination.  The major beneficiary of the status quo is northern Nigeria and it is not unexpected that its elites do not want restructuring.
Whether we like it or not, the salvation of this country lies solely on changing the current order of doing things. Like I said in my opinion on this page last week, there is need for inclusive governance, justice and development. In contributing to the ongoing debate on what needs to be tinkered with to make our federal system work better, I have decided to highlight a number of things. To my own mind, there is need for restructuring of our politics, governance and economic structures. How do I mean?
In terms of politics, there is need to sanitise our electoral process and political system as a whole. Multiparty system is best suited for us and that should not be compromised. However, a scenario where about 90 applications of political associations wanting to register as political parties after the Independent National Electoral Commission recently licensed five new political parties to the hitherto 40 worries me. Because the conditions for registering political parties are not very stringent, all Tom, Dick and Harry want to register one. My take on this phenomenon is that INEC should go on to register as many political associations as may want to become political parties. However, there should be condition precedent to having such parties been allowed to field candidates at elections. I shudder at a situation where we would have over 100 political parties by 2019 and all of them being allowed to field candidates and present party agents at the Polling Units. This will make voter education and election security very tasking. I believe in independent candidacy but there should be stringent conditions stipulated  to be met by anyone who wants to run as independent.  If this is not done it will create a logistic nightmare for the election management bodies.
As part of the wider political reform, there should be amendment of the relevant legal regime for elections to guarantee  electronic voting, out-of-country voting (Diaspora voting), early voting as well as  affirmative action for vulnerable groups such as the youths, women and Persons with Disability. Establishment of electoral offences commission to deal with infractions and violations of electoral codes has also become imperative.
I don’t believe in   regionalism in the sense of scrapping the states to now go back to the pre-1963 status of having three regions. Rather, there should be no more state creation. We should maintain the 36 states structure for now. However, States should be the federating units while local government should be delisted from the Constitution and made to be subject of states. In this sense, revenue allocation should be between federal and state government while States are now at liberty to create the number of local government they desire.  I am of the opinion that there is need for State Police and Prison just like we have State High Court.  This will fasten the justice delivery system.  State Independent Electoral Commission need not be scrapped but granted financial and administrative autonomy just like INEC currently enjoys.
Part of the restructuring I am advocating should also see to the inclusion of power rotation and zoning clause in our Constitution for key leadership positions at all tiers of government. The rationale behind the strident call for self-determination by the Igbos is the allegations of being alienated from the presidency. If there is formal power rotation arrangement among the major ethnic groups it would help douse tension of political marginalisation. However, for there to be quick rotation, executive positions should be for one term of six years at the level of president and governors while it could be single term of three years at the local government levels.
I am a strong advocate of devolution of powers from the current omnibus exclusive legislative list to the concurrent and residual list.  At present, there are 68 items under the exclusive legislative list while the concurrent list has only 12.  Issues like prison, police, railway, electricity should be devolved to the concurrent list. Concomitant to the devolution of powers is the need for the review of revenue allocation formula in favour of states. At present, the Federal Government takes 46.5 per cent of the revenue while the states take 26 per cent and local government 20 per cent while 7.5 per cent goes to special fund. Given my advocacy for the local government to be subjected to state control,   therefore allocation due to them should go to states.
In restructuring Nigeria, there should also be fiscal federalism or resource control. This ‘suckling federalism’ where states and local government come to Abuja every month for allocation is wrong. Each state should be allowed to explore and control  all natural resources found in its environment be it oil and gas, solid minerals or agricultural resources  and retain 50 per cent of the accrued revenue while the remaining fifty per cent should be paid to the coffers of federal government to run its administration.
It is also imperative that the economy is diversified so that the country is weaned off over dependence on oil and gas for its national income. Other areas that need to be full explored by all tiers of government to boost their revenue include sports, entertainment, tourism, agriculture, and solid minerals. There is also the need to come up with tax friendly policy that will make people to voluntarily pay tax.  With more people paying tax, there will be more money available to government for development.

What needs to be done now? All the aforesaid are contained in the plethora of conferences and presidential committee reports currently gathering dust in the presidency. At least, we have among them the 1995 Abacha Conference report, the 2005 National Political Reform Conference Report, the 2008 Justice Muhammadu Uwais Electoral Reform Committee Report, the 2011 Sheik Ahmed Lemu Electoral Violence Report, 2014 National Conference Report and the 2017 Senator Ken Nnamani  Electoral Committee Report. I suggest that the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo should set up a technical committee to operationalise some of the key recommendations of these reports and start to implement those that have to do with policies while those that need constitutional amendment should be sent to the National Assembly as Executive Bill without any further delay. This technical committee should not be more than 15 and should sit for not more than three months. While this is going on, the Acting President should intensify his dialogue with different ethnic groups; start to correct the perceived injustices in terms of appointments and provision of infrastructure while ensuring that security agencies are on high alert to deal with any acts of internal insurrection.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Arewa youths provocative quit notice to Igbos

June 6, 2017 is an ominous day in the history of Nigeria. On that day, a coalition of Northern youth groups   addressed a press conference at Arewa House in Kaduna where they issued a proclamation that the 19 Northern States of Nigeria are pulling out of the country as they can no longer co-habit with the Igbos whom they labeled as being acrimonious, ingrate, violent and the architect of the 1967 – 1970 civil war. They therefore gave three months quit notice to all the Igbos living in Northern Nigeria to relocate elsewhere while also asking all Northerners living in the south-eastern states to leave the region and return to their respective states. The youth groups accused Northern elders of being unperturbed with the secessionist activities of the Igbos and pursuing a fruitless pacifist agenda with the Igbos.
 According to Alhaji Abdulaziz Suleiman who spoke on behalf of the groups, “We are hereby placing the Nigerian authorities and the entire nation on notice, that as from the 1st October, 2017, we shall commence the implementation of visible actions to prove to the whole world that we are no longer part of any federal union that should do with the Igbos. From that date, effective, peaceful and safe mop-up of all the remnants of the stubborn Igbos that neglect to heed this quit notice shall commence to finally eject them from every part of the North. And finally, all authorities, individuals or groups are hereby advised against attempting to undermine this declaration by insisting on this union with the Igbos who have thus far proved to be an unnecessary baggage carried too far and for too long.”
Since it was made, this infantile and provocative declaration by the misguided Northern youths has generated heated controversies. Many political watchers have labeled it as treasonable and called for the arrest of the leaders of the youth groups. The Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir while  addressing  leaders of Igbo community and other Nigerians residing in Katsina State called the Northern Youth Group who issued quit notice to Igbos as ‘enemies of peace’ and  promised to protect the Igbos. He was quoted to have said emphatically that “Here in Katsina, I am ready to sacrifice my last drop of blood to ensure peace and protect all Nigerians residing in the state’’.  While many well-meaning Northerners including the Northern Governors Forum have disowned and condemned the reckless and inflammatory declaration of the Northern youths, some of the elders of the region have openly expressed support for them.
For instance, the Northern Elders’ Forum expressed support for the call by the Coalition of Northern Youth Groups for Igbos to leave the region within three months. Prof. Ango Abdullahi, the NEF spokesperson told newsmen in Zaria on June 9, 2017 that it was hypocritical for the Igbos to continue to live in other parts of the country while agitating for Nigeria’s break up.
Now this is my take on all these ruckus and brouhaha.  If you must blame the hawk for wickedness, first blame mother hen for exposing her children to danger. The agitation by Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and that of its offshoot, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for self-determination provoked the Northern youths to issue the quit notice. Over the years, Igbos have complained of being marginalised in Nigerian federation. The declaration of the Biafra Republic and the eventual fratricidal civil war of 1967 – 1970 were borne out of perceived marginalisation and discriminations against the Igbos. The reemergence for the agitation for Biafra by MASSOB and IPOB in the recent past is also linked to the same issues of injustice, inequality and unfair treatment.  
The arrowheads and masterminds of these militia groups are quick to point out lack of federal presence in the South East Nigeria, bad state of infrastructure in the zone, discriminations against the Igbos in federal appointments under this All Progressives Congress government of President Muhammadu Buhari, lack of support for Igbo presidency, the fact that South East has the least number of states among the six geo-political zones are some of the reasons cited to back their claims for secession and self-determination.  The members of House of Representatives from the South East recently made a heavy weather of the rejection of South East Development Commission in the green chamber. They claimed it is part of the marginalisation of the South East to prevent the region from developing.
There is also an element of politics in what is happening between the Arewa youths and the Igbos. The latter is angling for presidency in 2019 and the Northern elite will have none of it.  The PUNCH of Wednesday, June 14, 2019 reported that the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council said the Ndigbo must produce the country’s President in 2019.  “It is Igbo Presidency in 2019 or Biafra 2020,” the OYC, the umbrella body of Igbo youths allegedly declared in a communiqué signed by its General Secretary, Okwu Nnabuike.
My reading of this whole saga is that the Igbos stepped up agitation for self-determination in a similar manner that the Yorubas and Ijaws did to attain the presidency of Nigeria. As I noted in a piece entitled “Restructure for Inclusive Governance, Justice and Development” published in The PUNCH of Wednesday, June 14, 2017, “The point being made in reference to the emergence of pressure groups and ethnic militias is that they are ‘children of necessity’ formed to demand for the redress of certain inequalities, injustices, discriminations and marginalisation.  The Yorubas were demanding for the Oodua Republic until the atonement of the annulment of June 12 election was done by first naming Chief Ernest Sonekan who is also an Egba man like the late MKO Abiola as the President of the Interim National Government and later in 1999 the fielding of two eminent Yoruba sons (Chief Olu Falae and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) as presidential candidates out of which the latter became the first president of the Fourth Republic Nigeria. The emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan first as Vice President in 2007 and later as Acting President in 2010 and eventually as an elected president in 2011 cannot be devoid from the agitations for the emancipation of Niger Delta by Isaac Adaka Boro and his group, the Ken Saro Wiwa and his Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People’s lieutenants and the activism of MEND”.
Now, with the debilitating health of President Muhammadu Buhari keeping him out of the saddle and leaving power in the hands of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, a Yoruba man who is acting president, the North is afraid of the repeat of 2010 scenario when due to the death of President Umaru  Musa YarAdua power was reluctantly transferred to Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as Acting president who after serving out the remainder of YarAdua’s presidency sought and won a fresh mandate in 2011 and even put himself forward to contest in 2015 against the gentleman’s agreement he allegedly had with the Northern elite. To me, Arewa youths are a counterforce to IPOB and MASSOB. Thus, all the agitations and vituperations by the Northern and South Eastern youth groups and militias are manifestations of power struggle for 2019. That needed to be understood.
Secondly, the power struggle is also geared towards arm-twisting the North to support the restructuring of Nigerian federation in order to ensure justice, equity and fair play. In restructuring, part of the issues that need to be taken on board is power rotation and zoning, not between North and South but among the major ethnic groups in the country, devolution of power from the omnibus exclusive legislative list with 68 items to the concurrent legislative list with about 12 items, review of the revenue sharing formula in favour of states, scrapping of local government while making states federating units with each state at liberty to establish the number of local government it can cater for, diversification of the economy from oil and gas dependence to agriculture, solid minerals, tourism, sports, entertainment and manufacturing .
In restructuring, I do not support the convocation of sovereign national conference. The 2005 National Political Conference Report and 2014 National Conference Report should be distilled by a small technical committee within two months with some of the key recommendations that will ensure inclusive governance, justice and development sent to the national assembly as executive bill to be passed expeditiously. Failure to restructure this country may lead to either a military coup or balkanization of this country. Already, the indigenous people of Abuja have commenced their protests against their perceived marginalisation in terms of appointments and provision of welfare services.

It is commendable that Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has commenced wide consultations with various interest groups starting with Northern Elders and South-East leaders. While the peace talk is a soothing balm to calm frayed nerves, the ultimate solution to rein in agitations which is driving the country to the precipice of war is good governance, justice to all and egalitarian society where none is oppressed or suppressed.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Restructure for inclusive governance, justice and development

Rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that somewhere, in some way, you are justified          - Albert Camus
 The call for restructuring has never been this strident. Virtually on daily basis the trending news is about the need to restructure this country, Nigeria.  The demand by Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra and its offshoot, the Indigenous People of Biafra for self-determination and similar demand by groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta as well as Niger Delta Avengers have kept the issue in front burner. The agitations for self-determination are borne largely as a result of real and perceived marginalisation by different ethno-religious groups.  
Last Monday was the 24th commemoration of the fiendish annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election by the military junta of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. The poll was considered by political observers as the most peaceful, freest and fairest in the over 90 years of Nigeria’s electoral democracy.  I recall with nostalgia that the mass protests organised by the labour and civil society organisations sent shockwaves around the world and precipitated the eventual return to civil rule and birth of the Fourth Republic in 1999. Aftermath of the annulment emerged the National Democratic Coalition better known as NADECO as well as the ethnic militia known as Oodua Peoples Congress.  
The point being made in reference to the emergence of pressure groups and ethnic militias is that they are ‘children of necessity’ formed to demand for the redress of certain inequalities, injustices, discriminations and marginalisation.  The Yorubas were demanding for the Oodua Republic until the atonement of the annulment of June 12 election was done by first naming Chief Ernest Sonekan who is also an Egba man like the late MKO Abiola as the President of the Interim National Government and later in 1999 the fielding of two eminent Yoruba sons (Chief Olu Falae and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) as presidential candidates out of which the latter became the first president of the Fourth Republic Nigeria. The emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan first as Vice President in 2007 and later as Acting President in 2010 and eventually as an elected president in 2011 cannot be devoid from the agitations for the emancipation of Niger Delta by Isaac Adaka Boro and his group, the Ken Saro Wiwa and his Movemet for the Survival of Ogoni People’s lieutenants and the activism of MEND
Like I said in an interview granted a number of media outlets on the issue of restructuring, the declaration of the Biafra Republic and the eventual fratricidal civil war of 1967 – 1970 were borne out of perceived marginalisation and discriminations against the Igbos. The reemergence for the agitation for Biafra by MASSOB and IPOB in the recent past is also linked to the same issues of injustice, inequality and unfair treatment.   The arrowheads and masterminds of these militia groups are quick to point out lack of federal presence in the South East Nigeria, bad state of infrastructure in the zone, discriminations against the Igbos in federal appointments under this All Progressives Congress government of President Muhammadu Buhari, lack of support for Igbo presidency since 1966 when the tenure of the presidency of Dr. Nanmdi Azikwe and General Aguiyi Ironsi were cut short by military coups. The members of House of Representatives from the South East recently made a heavy weather of the rejection of South East Development Commission in the green chamber. They claimed it is part of the marginalisation of the South East to prevent the region from developing.
The cry of marginalisation is not only against the presidential action or inactions of the Federal Government; even intra-state, similar agitations obtains. People of Oyo North are clamouring for the introduction of power rotation that will factor them into the governance structure of Oyo State. No indigene of Oyo North had been governor of the State. Similarly, the Yewa/Awori people of Ogun State had never been governor since the state was carved out of Western Region in 1976. In Benue State, no Idoma person had ever been governor of the state. Late governor Patrick Yakowa was the first indigene of Southern Kaduna to be governor of Kaduna State. His emergence was regarded as accidental. In Kogi State, someone from the Okun-land in Kogi West had never been governor. Likewise, am told that only a Kanuri man can be governor in Borno State. All the aforementioned iniquitous acts are the underlining factors behind the strident call for restructuring of Nigeria.
In a bid to contribute to the discourse on the issue of restructuring as well as proffer solutions to the lingering agitation for it, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies on May 30, 2017 organised  a Think-Tank Conference on the theme: Federalism and the Challenges of Dynamic Equilibrium in Nigeria: Towards a National Strategy. I was privileged to be among the distinguished participants. According to the Institute’s Acting Director General Mr. Jonathan Mela Juma the conference was designed to provide answers to some of the following questions: “What kinds of policies are favourable for maintaining unity in diversity in the operation of our federal system? How can our federal system be made to increasingly protect and accommodate a veritable crucible of diversities within the country? What mechanisms, among other aspects, could be considered to guarantee equal access to basic services for all groups living within the federation? In other words, are there mechanisms to provide all groups with equal access to economic and political decision making processes, arrangements for affirmative action to protect the rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups, policies for effective communication, and to ensure equal inclusion of all groups in development policies? What factors have proven key to the success (or failure) of federalism in Nigeria to play its potential role in reversing or quarantining deep-rooted conflicts? Indeed, how can Nigeria’s federalism maintain a dynamic equilibrium between centrifugal and centripetal forces in the country without excessively overheating the political system?”
Speakers and discussants which include the Attorney General and Minster of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, former Minister of Information, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, Resident Electoral Commissioner Designate, Prof. Sam Egwu, INEC National Commissioner, Prof. Okey Ibeanu as well as other academic juggernauts like Prof. Adele Jinadu, Prof. Dakas C.J Dakas, SAN  and Professor Etanibi Alemika all gave insights into how best we can restructure our warped federalism in order to have an inclusive, just and egalitarian society.  
In the opinion of the Minister of Justice, ”It is true that Nigeria’s federal system has been experiencing challenges and there have been agitations and prescriptions to reform and modify it. Reforms and modifications of institutional arrangements, systems and processes are normal in federations but are not done in single swoop as being advocated in Nigeria. Mega changes are not healthy for federations. Change is a gradual process that must be democratic and subjected to legislative and administrative processes as provided by law”.
The chief law officer of Nigeria further stated that  “As political realities and experiences across the world have shown, all federations, whether established by a 'coming together' or ‘holding together' process, experience deep-rooted conflicts and ours cannot be an isolated case. In Nigeria today, there are demands for restructuring, for deconstructing the excessive concentration of powers at the center, for a dispersion of power to the lower levels of government along with special provisions for the empowerment of women and other socially disadvantaged groups, for the country to move away from the cooperative federalism of several decades to a more competitive form of economic federalism, for a fiscal federalism that presents the challenge of addressing regional inequalities, and of balancing the concerns of equity and efficiency in intergovernmental fiscal relations, among many others.”
I align my thoughts with those of the AGF. We all know the problems of Nigeria’s federalism. I have earlier in this piece highlighted some of them. Shall we then fashion out enduring solutions to them? For me, whatever will bring about good governance, dividends of democracy, higher standard of living for majority of citizens, inclusive governance will get my support. End of story!

Follow me on twitter @jideojong 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Buhari, second half is more important to win game

The game of football has a number of striking similarities with politics. Both are team game. They have referees who ensure that team members play by the rule. In the game of politics, the referee is the election management body which conducts elections. Football teams have coaches and team captain. So do the game of politics. Party executives who organise party primaries from which candidates are nominated for general elections can be likened to the technical team who are responsible for players’ selection in football game. The leaders who emerged after election such as the President, Governors, Local Government  Chairpersons, Senate President, House of Representative Speaker and Speakers of respective State Houses of Assembly could be regarded as team captains. Most importantly, there are two halves in football, likewise in politics.  In football, the second half is more important than the first because that is when games are won and lost.
In a football game, a team could be leading by a wide margin only for the losing team in the first half to rally round after the half time break, draw level and even go ahead to defeat the opponent who was leading with wide margin in the first half. It happened in Saudi ’89 when Nigeria recorded what was regarded as a rare feat. According to Wikipedia “The Miracle of Dammam also known as The Dammam Miracle was the name given to the result of a quarter-final football match between the Nigerian U-20 football team and the USSR U-20 football team at the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia which the Nigerian U-20 team went on to win on penalties. The match created a footballing record as Nigeria became the first team to come back from four goals down to equalize and then go on to win a FIFA World Cup match at any level.
In politics, as in football, a government may be up to a bad start. It could wobble and fumble in the first two years of a four years term and after an objective SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis; the government with sincerity of purpose can turn its weaknesses to strengths and threats to opportunities. Akin to the game of football, second half of a government is more important than the first half.
The All Progressives Congress government of President Muhammadu Buhari had just clocked two years on May 29, 2017. This Friday, June 9, the Eight National Assembly will be two years since inauguration. There has been a lot of kudos and knocks since the celebration of this second anniversary of APC government started. While those in government at all levels – federal, state and local – are busy congratulating themselves and awarding pass mark for their laudable achivements; a lot of Nigerian masses are wearing long faces, bemoaning their fate under a government that promises a clean break from the ignominious past. I have had a rare privilege of discussing the achievements and challenges of this administration in its two years in power on different media platforms particularly on television and radio.
Sincerely, if one is to use the federal government as a barometer to measure performance, my personal verdict will be a fair performance. However, if one is to throw all tiers of government into the mix, the score will be bad or failure.  I visited the site named ‘Buharimeter’ established by the Centre for Democracy and Development to track performance of President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign promises. CDD had collated 222 campaign promises out of which it claimed only two had been achieved while 54 are ongoing. The other 166 promises were not rated.
Perhaps CDD was being uncharitable to PMB administration. Let’s look at what a foremost Nigeria opinion survey company called NOI Polls published as Buhari’s scorecard in two years. According to the Agency, it conducted performance rating of the current administration in the week of May 22 across 10 indicators. The result shows that Nigerians rated the President highest in the area of Security with 47 per cent followed by Corruption  -  45 per cent, Agriculture and Food Security  –  40 per cent,  Power  – 28 per cent, and Healthcare – 27 per cent. Other indicators rated are: Infrastructure - 23 per cent, Education – 19 per cent, Economy – 14 per cent, Job Creation - 13 per cent and lastly, Poverty Alleviation – 9 per cent.  It should be noted that the administration did not score up to 50 per cent out of all the ten areas rated. This shows that this administration has a long way to go to convince Nigerians that voting it to power in 2015 was not a mistake.
In fairness to this government, it has achieved a number of things particularly in the areas of security and anti-corruption. For instance, as enunciated in the speech of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on May 29 as well as the media chat by Publicity Secretary of APC, Malam Bolaji Abdullahi on the two years of his party in power, the administration has been able to reclaim all the territories previously occupied by Boko Haram insurgents as well as secured the release of over 100 kidnapped Chibok school girls. It has also decimated the capacity of the religious extremist group. However, on the flip side, there is a spike in the incidences of crimes and criminality with cases of robbery, kidnapping and herders and farmers conflict assuming alarming proportion.
In the aspect of anti-corruption, in the last 24 months of this administration, it had introduced a number of measures which had yielded positive results in blocking economic drainpipes as well as recovery of loot. Some of the measures include the Treasury Single Account; Setting up Efficiency Unit in the Federal Civil Service;  Wedding out of ‘Ghost Workers’ from public service; Introduction of Whistle-Blowing Policy;  Arrest, investigation and prosecution of some alleged corrupt judges as well as the recent suspension of the Secretary to the Federal Government, Engr. Babachir David Lawal and Director General of National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayodele Oke over corruption allegation and abuse of office.
Quite unfortunately, the federal government has not achieved much success in the area of the economy. In 2016 we slipped into recession and getting us out of it has been a Herculean task. There was a huge revenue fall from sale of crude oil due to low oil price in the international market as well as volatility and restiveness in the Niger Delta region; with illegal oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism being carried out with reckless abandon.  Thankfully, oil prices has picked up in international market while some semblance of peace has been achieved through dialogue in the Niger Delta. Even the foreign exchange challenge has been largely resolved with Naira now gaining strength against Dollar and other international currencies like Pound Sterling and Euro. The N500bn Social Intervention Programme of this government is also on course.
 In order to shore up its dwindling revenue, this administration started to enforce N50 Stamp Duty on banking transactions, brought more people to the tax net, increased pump price of premium motor spirit from N87 to N145, sold off some of the aircraft in the presidential air fleet, launched ‘Change Begins With Me’ part of which is ‘Buy Made in Nigeria’ products. It has also launched agriculture and solid mineral roadmaps as well as the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.  A couple of weeks back, the Acting President also signed off three Executive Orders aimed at promoting ‘Ease of Doing Business’  and general business climate.

All said, our warped budgeting system has been a cog in the wheel of economic progress. Imagine, the federal budget is not yet ready for implementation mid-year! Public electricity is still very epileptic while many other infrastructures are yet to be fixed. Worse still is backlog of salaries being owed workers, pensioners’ as well as contractors especially at sub-national level. My unsolicited advice to this APC government is to seize the opportunity of this mid-term review to redouble efforts to tackle poverty, unemployment, infrastructure and security so that come 2019, Nigerian electorate can still return it to power. Otherwise, PMB and his lieutenants should know that the cane used to beat the senior wife is still at the rooftop to discipline the new bride. Enough said! 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Good governance as antidote to illegal migration

“Migrants are being sold in the market as a commodity. Selling human beings is becoming a trend among smugglers as the smuggling networks in Libya are becoming stronger and stronger. The migrants – many from Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia – are captured as they head north towards Libya’s Mediterranean coast, where some try to catch boats for Italy.”
-           Othman Belbeisi, Head of the IOM’s Libya mission, addressing journalists in Geneva in April 2017.

There you have it. Modern day slavery thrives in Libya after the abolition of slave trade over a century ago. Story has it that West African migrants interviewed by the International Organisation for Migration have recounted being bought and sold in garages and car parks in the southern city of Sabha, one of Libya’s main migrant smuggling hubs. Migrants are reportedly traded for between $200 and $500 and are held on average for two or three months.  There is a prayer we say in Yoruba land that as we go about looking for what to eat, may we not encounter what we eat us. Issue of illegal migration has assumed a worrisome dimension that all people of goodwill, including the government of Nigeria must find decisive solutions to.
True, migration is a fundamental right of every human.  There is a freedom of movement which is backed by Nigerian constitution as well as other international treaties, protocols and covenants. However, this right to free movement is not absolute. Everyone emigrating from one country to another is expected to do so with valid documents. Every traveller visiting another country is supposed to have valid entry visa. Even in West Africa where there is ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons and goods, one is expected to possess genuine ECOWAS passport and is expected to be stamped in by immigration officials at the border.
It will seem that with the harsh economic situation in the country, kick started by austerity measures of 1980 under the administration of former President Shehu Usman Shagari and reaching a zenith under President Muhammadu Buhari when the country moved into economic recession; more Nigerians have come to believe that abroad is where their salvation lie. They therefore emigrate in droves in search of greener pastures.  Today, our dear country is plagued with the ugly phenomenon called brain-drain. Under this, Nigeria has lost hundreds of thousands of highly skilled manpower, world class professionals in various field of human endeavours be it medicine, engineering, law, sports, entertainment and the likes.
It is said that medical doctors of Nigerian descent that have migrated to United States of America to practice stands at about 25,000. Many more are in the Middle East, United Kingdom, Asia, Carribeans and Australia. Many of our sportsmen and women have changed nationality and are today representing other countries and winning laurels for their adopted countries at international sport meets. I must hasten to state that not all those who are involved in brain drain are illegal migrants. There are those who traveled initially with valid travel documents but overstayed and thereafter seek asylum or wangle their ways to seek permanent residency of their new country of abode.
Of greater concern to me are those Nigerians who from the commencement of their journey to another country do not have any valid travel document. Many of them have in their possession forged passport and visa and are hoping that they will not be detected by eagle-eye immigration officials. While it is true that many illegal migrants are victims of human trafficking, there are also significant number of those who voluntarily signed on to be ‘helped’ to foreign countries. They even pay whatever is demanded of them for that trip.
Saturday PUNCH of May 20, 2017 has this screaming headline “Illegal migration: 10,000 Nigerians die in Mediterranean Sea, deserts – NIS”.  Wow! Could this be true? Reading the story, I learnt that the information was credited to Nigerian Immigration Service Assistant Comptroller-General in charge of training, manpower and development, Mr. Maroof Giwa. He said no fewer than 10,000 Nigerians have died between January and May 2017 while trying to illegally migrate through the Mediterranean Sea and the deserts. Of that number, 4,900 died in the Mediterranean Sea while the rest died while going through the deserts in their bid to cross to Europe. Giwa spoke in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital last Friday, May 19 on the sidelines of a training on ‘trafficking in persons/smuggling of migrants at various borders,’ organised by the NIS.
Imagine, this country has lost that huge number of persons in about five months of this year alone. Will the number not triple by year-end? Do we even know how many are in slave camps in Libya and other countries? Shocking! Heartrending!
Deputy Head of EU delegation to Nigeria, Mr. Richard Young, was reported to have expressed concern on the increase in the number of migrants travelling to Europe illegally. He said the number increased from 280,000 in 2014 to 1.8 million in 2015. “In 2014 the number of people travelling illegally into Europe was 280,000 people; in 2015, it rose to 1.8 million. Within this number, people coming from Nigeria (to Europe) in 2012 were 800; in 2013, the number was 2,900; in 2014, the number was 8,700; in 2015, the number was 23,000 and between January and September 2016, the number is 22, 500,” he had said.
What is to be done? Awareness creation through comprehensive and sustained civic education is imperative. Migrants should know that the streets of Europe and America where they are fleeing to are not paved with gold. There is not one country that has not been hit by economic meltdown. That is why protectionism has become the new world order. The recurring xenophobic attacks in South Africa, the Donald Trump’s America First policy, the Britain’s exit of European Union (BREXIT) are all part of the protectionist agenda of these countries. There aren’t just enough jobs and welfare services to go round everybody hence most countries are introducing stringent immigration policy.

What is happening is a challenge to Nigerian government. It needs to make this country livable for its citizens. Security and welfare of citizens are the primary purpose of governance, so says the Nigerian Constitution. The untold hardship inflicted on us by high cost of living, inclement business environment, corruption of gargantuan dimension, infrastructural deficit, low unemployment opportunities and grinding poverty are some of the factors driving my compatriots into becoming illegal migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The only way the sad narratives will change is when there is good governance with concomitant high standard of living.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Time to expedite action on electoral reform in Nigeria

Seven months after its inauguration, the 24 member Senator Ken Nnamani led Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee has submitted its report. On  May 2, 2017 the Committee presented its report to the Attorney General and Minster of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN. It would be recalled that President Muhamadu Buhari had directed the AGF to inaugurate the Committee last year. Precisely, on October 4, 2016, the Minister of Justice set up the Committee to among other things look into possible amendments to the Constitution and Electoral Act and come out with a more robust and generally acceptable electoral system and review recent judicial decisions on election petitions as they relate to conflicting judgments and absence of consequential orders. The Committee was urged to take a holistic look at the recommendation of Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee report of 2008.
Members of the Committee are: Ex-Senate President, Ken Nnamani, Oluwole Uzzi, O. O. Babalola, Duruaku Chima, Musa Maryam, H.A Tahir, Ike Udunni, S.O Ibrahim, and Esther Uzoma. Others include Muiz Banire, Eze Philip, Bashir Ibrahim, Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Utum Eteng, Ejike Eze, Mamman Lawal (Secretary), A.C Ude and E. Ifendu, Also among are Francis Bullen, Anike Nwoga, Cecilia Adams, Clement Nwankwo, C. Jude, Mohammed Tukur and Juliet Ibekaku.
At the report presentation ceremony held at the Ministry of Justice, Abuja, the AGF said: “The inauguration of committee was the first major step taken by the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration towards realising the goal of improving Nigeria’s electoral process and to put a stop to wanton destruction and violence often occasioned by failure of law enforcement agencies to tackle electoral fraud”.
He expressed joy that the committee had made meaningful recommendations on “how to strengthen the Independent National Electoral Commission, the participation of independent candidates, the management of political parties, tackling of electoral offences, management of electoral dispute resolutions as well as issues affecting State Independent Electoral Commissions”. Other areas he disclosed are “the use of technology in elections, Diaspora voting and access for Persons Living with Disabilities”.
According to Senator Nnamani, the report of the Committee was in two volumes, “the first volume is the main report containing recommendations on how to improve the electoral process in Nigeria. Attached to it are four draft bills on the amendment of relevant provisions of the constitution, amendment of the Electoral Act, establishment of Political Parties and Electoral Offences Commission and the establishment of Constituency Delimitation Centre. The other volume contains minutes of our meetings, cluster reports, proceedings of the retreats and public hearings and copies of memoranda we received from the public.”
In a piece entitled “Another electoral reform committee? Not again! published in The Punch on October 5, 2016, I had expressed my reservation and indeed kicked against the setting up of another electoral reform committee. I saw it as a waste of resources and wrongly timed. I said inter alia that “Sincerely, my worry about the inauguration of Ken Nnamani electoral reform committee is that it has a tendency to distract the electoral commission from its plan for 2019 general elections…..National Assembly is already neck-deep in constitution reform exercise. Will it hold back for the Nnamani committee to finish its work and pass on its report to it?  Whatever timeline the committee is given to do its work, presidency will still set up a white paper committee to review it before it will now forward the recommendations that need legal reform to NASS which may decide to filibuster on it and pass the bill late so as to make it inapplicable in 2019.  It is a truism that beneficiary of a systemic malaise will be reluctant to change the status quo………What we need is the implementation of the extant reports on this critical issue plus attitudinal change of stakeholders’ without whose support and buy-in there can never be credible and successful polls.”
Recent event had proven me right. The Nnamani Committee was reportedly given six weeks to do its work. It ended up spending seven months. In the course of that period, INEC had on March 9, 2017 rolled out the timetable for 2019 General Elections while Senate had passed its own version of the amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act on March 30, 2017. What these mean invariably is that the Nnamani report is arriving late for any meaningful electoral reform exercise. As it is, the AGF on receipt of the report last week Tuesday promised to transmit it to President Muhammadu Buhari who thereafter will set up a white paper committee to review the Committee’s work before sending those in need of legal reform to the National Assembly. As at today, unless the report will be presented to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo for immediate action, President Buhari is out of the country on indefinite medical leave. As I have observed in my earlier commentary on this issue, PMB, if at all has a felt need for it, ought to have set up this Committee in his first year in government so that its recommendations could fit into legislative agenda of the NASS.
I have earlier expressed concern about the way the entire electoral reform project of the Buhari administration is going. In my review of the recent Senate Electoral Act amendment entitled “Gaps in Electoral Act amendment“ published in The Punch on April 5, 2017. I had noted among other things  that:  “The other concern I have about the Senate amendments is that I would have preferred the constitution amendment to be concluded first and then a consequential amendment in the Electoral Act to reflect the constitutional alterations. This is tidier. This is because it is easier to amend the latter than the former. There are some amendments by the Senate that may need constitution amendments to be on sound legal footing. What I would have preferred is a comprehensive, once-and-for-all amendment of the constitution and Electoral Act with inputs from the report of the Nnamani committee.” Needless to say that all the review exercises have to be expeditiously concluded to give sufficient time for proper implementation ahead of the 2019 polls.
Specifically on the snippets in the public domain on the recommendations of the Nnamani committee, I laud and concur with many of them even though they are a rehash of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee proposals of 2008. I however will like to place on record that I disagree with the call for the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission. In federalism it is not out of place to have two electoral management bodies. I know that SIECs have problem of undue interference from the governors who deliberately starve them of funds to conduct local government elections and tend to dictate to the Commission. The way out of that quagmire is to give financial and administrative autonomy to the electoral management body. INEC before the 2010 constitution and electoral amendments was like SIEC until its funding was made to be a first line charge on the Consolidated Revenue Fund with a good dose of administrative independence as well.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Why you should register to vote

Last Thursday, April 27, 2017, the Independent National Electoral Commission moved to a critical phase in its ongoing preparations for 2019 General Elections. The Commission began a three-in-one exercise named Continuous Voters Registration Exercise. CVR is an exercise meant for the registration of citizens who turned 18 years of age after the last registration exercise; or those who for one reason or another could not register in the previous exercises. Section 10 of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) mandates the Commission to carry out CVR nationwide and to make available to every political party within 60 days after each year, the names of the addresses of each person registered during that year.
According to information gleaned from INEC website page, the main activities during the ongoing nationwide CVR are: Fresh Registration, Transfer of Voters, and Distribution of Permanent Voters Card. The Continuous Voter Registration exercise is taking place at the INEC Local Government offices and designated centres between the hours of 9.00am and 3.00pm daily, Mondays to Fridays, excluding public holidays. The Preliminary Register of Voters shall be displayed for public scrutiny at Registration Centres at the end of every quarter before printing of the PVCs. The Registration Area Officers will print the list of registered voters for the quarter and display same at the Registration Centres for seven days.
It is noteworthy that the CVR is not an all comers affair. According to the electoral law, to be eligible for CVR, a person must meet the following criteria: Must be a citizen of Nigeria; Must have attained the age of 18 years, on or before the registration day; Is above 18 years and could not register in any of the previous registration exercise; Is resident, works in, or originate from the LGA/Area Council or RA/Ward covered by the Registration Area Centre; Not subject to any legal incapacity to vote under any law, rules or regulations in force in Nigeria; Must present him/herself to the CVR officers for registration and is able to provide proof of identity, age and nationality, if requested; Has registered before but his/her name/photograph/fingerprints were not captured; such a person must provide his/her Temporary Voters Card; Has PVC or TVC but names not on Register of Voters.
The registration process is based on the following: CVR is done in person and not by proxy: Anyone who wishes to register must appear in person at the CVR Centre of registration. Multiple registrations is not allowed. A Voter can only register in one registration Centre, if the voter resides in more than one constituency, he/she must choose only one location to register to avoid double registration, which is an offence punishable by law. Underage registration is a crime punishable under law. Thus, anyone under the age of 18 has no business at the registration centres. Registration Officers are to give priority and support to vulnerable groups including persons with disabilities, the aged, infirm, pregnant women and nursing mothers.
Registration is a pre-requisite for exercising the right to vote. Those who don’t have PVCs and whose names are not in the Register of Voters will not be allowed to vote on the Election Day. This is the crux of the matter. Many Nigerians complain about the mis-governance or bad governance in the country. Such persons need to know that one of the ways to effect leadership change in a democracy is through voting at elections. Thus, to vote leaders of their choice, they must register ahead of elections and must come out to exercise their franchise when the need arises. It is important for the electorates to note that the PVC, apart from giving them opportunity to vote, is also a means of identification for business such as banking transactions.
Last week Tuesday, April 25, I was on Midday Dialogue with Inya Ode on Nigeria Info 95.1 FM in Abuja to discuss INEC activities ahead of 2019 General Elections. Some of the callers were asking to know how they could transfer their voting details. Here is the INEC guideline for doing so.  A person who relocated to another place, outside the constituency in which he registered cannot vote in his new location unless he transfers his registration. Section 13 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended provides for Transfer of Registered Voters.
Procedure for Transfer:-  Step 1 -  The person who intends to transfer his registration will write an application to  INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner of the State  where he is currently residing. Step 2 - The applicant will attach his voter’s card to the application. Step 3 - The applicant must apply to the REC not later than 30 days before the date of an election in the constituency where he or she is residing. Step 4 - The REC will direct the Electoral Officer of the applicants Local Government Area to enter his name in the transferred voters list. Step 5 - The EO will assign the applicant to a polling unit in his constituency. Step 6 - The EO will issue the applicant with a new voter’s card. Step 7 - The EO will retrieve the applicants’ previous voter’s card.  Step 8 - He will then send a copy of the entry to the EO of the constituency where the person whose name has been so entered was originally registered. Step 9 - Upon receipt of this entry, that Electoral Officer shall delete the name from his voters list. Apart from State Headquarters Offices of INEC, applicants can also submit their applications at the INEC Office in their LGAs. The applications will be forwarded to the REC for necessary action.
Could you believe that there are 7.8 million Permanent Voters Card whose owners are yet to collect them from INEC offices nationwide? Yet, during elections many of these people will be accusing INEC of ineptitude and disenfranchisement. The current CVR exercise is another opportunity for those who have previously registered but are yet to collect their PVCs to do so. Those who have collected their PVCs must guard it jealously. They must handle it with care as it contains an antenna which, if damaged, will make the card unreadable by the INEC Smart Card Reader. They must also not trade with it by selling it to desperate politicians; neither should they seek to be bribed before they could vote.
It behooves INEC to clean up the National Register of Voters. I am not unaware of the weeding out of multiple registrants through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System software better known as AFIS. However, since the 2011 nationwide Voters Registration exercise, many potential voters must have died. Even, a sizable number of the uncollected 7.8 million PVCs may belong to those who engage in multiple registration or have died. INEC therefore must find a creative way to remove the names of the dead from its database.
Lastly, with the ongoing CVR taking place at INEC LGA offices, the Commission must move quickly to create additional Polling Units especially in many of the new settlements without PUs. It would be recalled that the immediate past board of INEC under Prof. Attahiru Jega attempted to create about 30,000 in addition to the existing 120,000 PUs ahead of the 2015 General Election but had to suspend it due to cries of lopsided distribution between the Northern and Southern Nigeria. Prof. Mahmood Yakubu’s Commission will do well to create new PUs in order to ease the stress on voters who have to go long distance to vote during election; more so, when there is usually restriction of movement. Voters must know well in advance of where they will vote since the Registration Centre does not approximate Polling Unit.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Between party supremacy and parliamentary autonomy

On April 10 and 11, 2017, a rainbow coalition of political heavyweights in Nigeria gathered in Abuja. Political party chairmen, present and past leadership of national and state assemblies, academics, international donor partners, members of the civil society and media juggernauts were all present at the national conference on “Political Party Supremacy and the Dynamics of Parliamentary Autonomy in Nigeria: Towards a more Harmonious Relationship” organised by the Political Parties Leadership and Policy Development Centre of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies.
The roll call include the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo represented by Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Senate President Bukola Saraki (represented), former Senate President Ken Nnamani and his Deputy, Senator  Ibrahim Mantu, erstwhile Speaker of  the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole and his Deputy, Emeka Ihedioha, another former Speaker of House of Reps, Ghali Umar Naaba, Senator Chris Anyanwu, Senator Shehu Sani, Ambassador Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, veteran journalist, Dr. Tonnie Iredia and Rt. Hon. Abdumumin Ismaila Kamba who is the chairman of Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures of Nigeria,  to mention but a few. I was one of the privileged participants at the august event.
According to Jonathan M. Juma who is the Acting Director General of NIPSS, the aim of the conference was to find viable answers to the following questions:  What should constitute party supremacy in the context of Nigeria’s political system? What is the limit of party supremacy? What constitutes parliamentary autonomy in the context of Nigeria and to what extent can this be influenced by the political parties?  What are the implications of a polarised party in the National Assembly? What happens when there are gaps in the understanding of members of the political parties as well as the National Assembly as to what constitutes party supremacy and parliamentary autonomy? What happens when the interest of a political party conflicts with the interest of the National Assembly? What constitutes an appropriate behaviour of political parties in their relationship with their members in the National Assembly? What a bouquet of posers!
Various paper presenters and discussants at the two day conference were unanimous that both the political parties and the parliament are weak despite 18 years of unbroken existence of the two institutions of democracy, since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999.  The reason is not far-fetched, each time there is military coup, both institutions are proscribed. So, at the turn of every return to civil rule, they have to be rebuilt. Another point of consensus is that party supremacy and parliamentary autonomy are both desirable but cannot be absolute.  It came out strongly that the ceding of the position of ‘Party Leader’ to the president and the governor is an aberration which has impacted negatively on our democratic culture. This has made them to wield a lot of influence on the bonafide elected party executives at different levels.  The confab also revealed that weak financial base of political parties and overreliance on few moneybags for the running of the institution has greatly undermined its supremacy and disciplinary powers over its errant members.
The phenomenon of according sitting president and governors ‘Party Leader’ was cited as the rationale behind the overbearing attitude of these people. They dictate to party executives who to become leader of the parliament as well as who among the members should be accused and punished for anti-party activities. Examples cited include the undue meddlesomeness of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the emergence of Senate Presidents and Speakers of House of Representatives under his presidency. The failed attempt by former President Goodluck Jonathan to impose Speaker of House of Representatives during his tenure as well as the unsuccessful bid by the All Progressives Congress leadership to railroad its members to vote for other persons than those that eventually emerged as Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives in the eight National Assembly.   Instance was also cited of the governors’ pressure on the Speakers of States House of Assembly to reject financial autonomy during the 2010 constitutional amendment exercise.  
It also came to the fore during the conference that the undemocratic way some of the party executives emerged (many of them are alleged to be surrogates and hirelings of the president, governors and big party financiers) made them not to be independent minded. Many of the party executives therefore jettison the country’s Constitution as well as those of their political parties. They are wont to acting ultra vires particularly during congresses, conventions and party primaries. The ensuing culture of impunity is what Prof. Mohammed J. Kuna from the Independent National Electoral Commission called the new normal.
In proffering solutions to enhancing harmonious relationships between the political parties and the parliament, various speakers put out different suggestions. Among them is the call for credible leadership of both institutions which will be responsive and responsible to the yearnings of their members. Issue of internal party democracy has to also be taken serious with party members having a huge say in the decision making processes of their political parties. Public funding was also advocated for political parties in order to whittle down overdependence of political parties on political barons and godfathers. Negotiation was equally identified as key to amicable resolutions of conflicts between the two institutions. Supremacy of political parties and autonomy of the legislature should also be within the context of rule of law and legality.
In order to bridge the communication gap between political parties and the parliament, I suggested at the conference that parties with representatives in the legislature should also have liaison officers the same way president and governors have in the national and state assemblies. This will ensure that parties are not caught unaware about any brewing crises that may warrant their early intervention. Many speakers at the meeting also called for the reestablishment of the Centre for Democratic Studies to train elected political office holders on positive core values they need to uphold while in office. It was brought to the attention of the participants that the Act setting up the National Institute for Legislative Studies has been recently amended to include democratic studies. This is commendable. It is hoped that the institute will be well resourced to play this pivotal role.

Four things shocked me at the conference. The first is that I learnt that the Ministries, Departments and Agencies which are being over-sighted are responsible for the provision of logistics for members of the parliament. This is an aberration! National and State Assemblies are supposed to adequately provide the logistics for the various committees set up to conduct oversight of MDAs. Two, former Deputy Senate President Ibrahim Mantu said Nigerians are ‘greedily corrupt’ and need to be born again. Third is the absence without representation of the All Progressives Congress chairman, Chief John Odigie- Oyegun who was supposed to speak on “Political Party Supremacy and the Challenges of Parliamentary Autonomy in Nigeria”. The last shocking revelation was that made by Dr, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed  who is the Chief of Staff to Senate President when he said you cannot call someone thief if he or she has not been convicted by a competent court of law. Amazing! 

SGF, NIA Suspension: Analyst Asks Nigerians To Give FG Benefit Of The Do...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

If Buhari’s ERGP will not be a paper tiger

On April 5, 2017, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari took a bold step towards revamping the comatose economy by launching the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. The ERGP is the blueprint that enunciates the details of how this government intends to get the country out of recession and put it on the path of prosperity.
At a brief ceremony held inside the Aso Presidential Villa, the president, in the presence of key government functionaries, said the ERGP focuses on agriculture with a view to ensuring adequate food security as well as energy, industrialisation and social investment. He said the ERGP is an ambitious plan that seeks to achieve a seven per cent economic growth by the year 2020. Buhari opined that the roadmap is not just aimed at getting the country out of recession, but to put it on the path of strength and growth, away from being an import dependent nation. He stated further that the ERGP clearly sets out what his government is committed to doing by creating an environment for businesses to thrive. He called on state governors to draw inspiration from the plan and articulate their own plans that will lead them to real growth.
Commenting earlier, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, said the plan has put together in “one place, for easy access, all the sectoral plans that the government has been working on, from inception, including the strategic implementation plan for the 2016 budget.” He claimed that many of the initiatives in the plan are contained in the 2017 budget proposal which was submitted to the national assembly last December. According to the minister, “The broad objectives of the ERGP are to restore growth, invest in our people and build a globally competitive economy”. Udoma also stated that the president has already approved the establishment of a unit in the presidency that will monitor the implementation of the plan.
I have had the rare privilege of analysing this document before and after its launch. I have discussed it in the Sunday Guardian of March 19, 2017 as well on Radio Nigeria and Love 104.5 FM Abuja. My personal view about the ERGP is that it is a laudable initiative. As I observed in my earlier comment on the document, the roadmap looks good, with all the niceties, sound-bites and desirable action plans. However, experience from the past has shown that we are long on rhetoric, but always short on delivery of all our noble plans.
I could recollect that we have had several developmental plans in the 1960s and ‘70s and in the ‘90s we had Vision 2010. Under President Olusegun Obasanjo we had National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy. Thereafter, we had Vision 20:2020 aimed at making Nigeria one of the 20 strongest economies by Year 2020.  Under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration’s we had the Transformation Agenda. How have they all fared? Woefully! I do hope this ERGP will not follow suit of failed promises and unrealised ambitions.
In truth, I am excited about the promised diversification of the economy, ease of doing business, increase oil production, reduction of inflation, effective collaboration between the public and private sector, as well as between the federal and the state governments, the leverage on science, technology and innovation and building of a knowledge-based economy. It is also heartwarming that the economic blueprint is consistent with the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals given that the initiatives address its three dimensions of economic, social and environmental sustainability issues. It is also laudable that the document is a product of wide consultations.
One of my worries however is that ERGP came late. As I observed in my Guardian newspaper interview earlier cited, “Launching this, two years into this administration, with 2020 deadline is a big minus. This administration will face election in 2019. Should it lose reelection bid, the ERGP may be in jeopardy, more so that there is no law backing it up. Even if there is, there is nothing that stops a new administration from repealing such law and coming up with a fresh plan.”
Another major concern I have about the ERGP is that while the plan aimed at a partnership with the state, it left out the 774 Local Government Areas. This is a significant composite unit of the country that is being neglected. This seems like a costly omission. Furthermore, the global ascendancy of protectionism may impact negatively on many of the projections as several countries of the world and political groups like European Union embark on economic protectionism, which will necessitate review of trade agreements and economic partnerships. Widespread restiveness, terrorism and pervasive insecurity will pose a major threat to the realisation of the many beautiful recommendations in the ERGP.
If this Buhari’s economic blueprint will not be mere paper tiger, the nuts and bolts of its implementation has to be tightened. Vertical and horizontal synergies have to be built among the three arms of government as well as the three tiers of government. The private sector will need to be incentivised through an improved investment climate devoid of undue bureaucratic bottlenecks. The Small and Medium Enterprises as we know is the engine of growth in every society. To stimulate this economic cluster, cost of doing business needs to be scaled down through provisioning of adequate social infrastructure such as electricity, potable water, as well as good road and rail networks. Access to single digit interest rate loan facilities and a robust import substitution policy are needful.  It is also imperative to normalise our budgeting process. Our financial year should be January to December and not the warped system we currently run. Government will also need to eschew wasteful spending and combat corruption in truth and indeed.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Gaps in Nigerian senate’s electoral act amendment

Last Thursday, March 30, 2017, news broke that Nigerian Senate had passed the amended 2010 Electoral Act. The passage of the Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and for other related matters (SB 231 and SB 234) followed the consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission. According to the Daily Trust newspaper of April 1, 2017, there are 17 key highlights of the newly passed legislation. It would be recalled that INEC on March 9 this year announced February 16 and March 2, 2019 as the dates for the next general elections. It is heartwarming that Nigerian Senate had keyed into INEC plan to ensure early conclusion of electoral reform so as to give sufficient time for implementation of the new law. How adequate are the Senate amendments of the legal framework for Nigerian elections? However, before I go on to answer that poser, I need to voice my worry about what may be a snag in what the senior lawmakers had done.
Before what the Senate had done can become law, two critical steps had to be taken. First, the House of Representatives must agree with Senate on its amendments  or if both chambers passes different versions as it is most likely, there will be a conference committee of both chambers set up to harmonise the two positions. It is the clean copy of the harmonised version that will be transmitted to the president for his assent. I foresee a situation where the president may withhold his assent on the ground that some of the major  recommendations that will likely come from the Senator Ken Nnamani Presidential Electoral Committee will not be reflected in the amendment passed by the National Assembly. Recall that in October 2016, the presidency decided to set up 24-member Nnamani Committee which was meant to sit for about six weeks but almost six months after just concluded holding public hearings across the six geo-political zones. By the time it will eventually present its report to the president, there will still be a white paper committee to review its work. That is the tradition which does not lend itself to expediency given the snail pace nature things get done in this country, especially in government circle.
The other concern I have about the Senate amendment is that I would have preferred the constitutional amendment to be concluded first and then a consequential amendment in the electoral act to reflect the constitutional alterations. This is tidier. This is because it is easier to amend the latter than the former. There are some amendments by the senate that may need constitutional amendments to be on sound legal footing. What I would have preferred is a comprehensive, once-and-for-all amendments of the constitution and electoral act with input from the report of the Nnamani committee.
Having flagged that however, there is no gainsaying that many of the changes are desirable in order to enhance transparency and accountability in our electoral process and thereby deepen democracy.  Those that caught my fancy include the lifting of ban on electronic voting, approval of the use of Smart Card Reader, electronic transmission and collation of result, reduction in the amount payable by political aspirants as nomination fees to their political parties, expansion of electors of party delegates to include all party members, strengthening of the oversight role of Party Agents in tracking of election materials, and publication of Voters Register on INEC’s website.
Other well thought out amendments include the disempowerment of political parties from imposing extra-constitutional provisions on aspirants (for example, demand for tax clearance as a qualification requirement), resolution of Kogi electoral conundrum where a party candidate died midway into the electoral process. The Senate now prescribed that “A political party whose candidate dies after commencement of an election and before the declaration of the result of that election now has a 14-day window to conduct a fresh primary in order for INEC to conduct a fresh election within 21 days of the death of the party’s candidate.”
In all honesty, the aforementioned amendments will help to improve our electoral process. However, they are not far reaching enough. There are several things left out of the desirable electoral reform. Some of them include early voting provision especially for the millions of people who are disenfranchised from voting in election due to the nature of their work. These include many who will be on election duty during the voting period; they are the accredited observers, party agents, security agents, election officials, and journalists. This category of people, in well-established democracies, is usually allowed to vote few days to election at designated voting centres. Their votes would however not be counted until the day of the general elections. Apart from United States of America, some African countries like Ghana have these provisions in their electoral law.
Out-of-country voting also known as Diaspora voting has been agitated for over the years. Given the positive impact that foreign remittances from Nigerians abroad has over the country’s economy, this should have been granted.  More so as Justice Adamu Bello of Federal High Court, Abuja had in 2009 given judgment asking INEC to make provision that will enable this category of Nigerians to participate in the electoral process. There is also nothing in the Senate electoral act amendment that seeks to improve the participation of women, youths and persons with disabilities in the electoral process. There has been agitation for affirmative actions for these vulnerable groups of people. Nothing in the amended Act guarantees inclusivity or better enhancement of the less privileged groups in the electoral process.

The nagging issues of establishment of Electoral Offences Commission/ Tribunal , independent candidacy,  political finance reform, desirability of timeframe  for dealing with pre-election disputes, conditions for registered political parties to be on the ballot, need to increase the number of days for organising presidential election run-off from seven to twenty-one days (section 134 of the 1999 Constitution  of Nigeria as amended)   have all been left out of the amendment exercise, yet they are highly desirable if we’re not to return to another protracted electoral reform exercise post-2019 general elections. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Stemming the rising cases of preventable deaths in Nigeria

 I am deeply worried about the rising cases of terminal sicknesses, auto accidents and suicides in Nigeria. These days, many diseases that used to be prevalent in old people are now afflicting young ones, even teenagers. Hypertension, diabetes, stroke, cancer, kidney failure, liver damage, are few of them. What could be responsible for this change? How can we stem this ugly tide? Who are the responsible actors that will bring about the desired change?
There is no gainsaying that lifespan of Nigerians is diminishing. World Health Ranking said “According to the latest World Health Organisation data published in 2015, life expectancy in Nigeria is: Male 53.4, female 55.6 and total life expectancy is 54.5 which gives Nigeria a World Life Expectancy ranking of 171.” According to WHR, the  following are the top 20 causes of death among Nigerians:  Influenza and Pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, Stroke, Coronary Heart Disease, Diarrhea diseases, Malaria, Diabetes Mellitus, Meningitis, Prostate Cancer and  Liver Disease. Others include: Road Traffic Accidents, Malnutrition, Low Birth Weight, Maternal Conditions, Tuberculosis, Breast Cancer, Birth Trauma, Falls, Violence and Fires. Take a critical look at these conditions and you’ll find out that all of them are preventable. Why then do we lose thousands of lives to these avoidable occurrences?
My preliminary research has revealed that there are several factors that are responsible for the current state of untimely deaths in the country. Top among them are environmental factors, ignorance, poor funding of Nigeria’s health sector, self-medication, fake and adulterated products, unhealthy lifestyles, technology, corruption and religious bigotry.
Modern technology has completely changed human orientation. Industrialisation brought with it huge emissions of carbon-monoxide from many of the factories and industries. Emissions from the exhaust pipes of these industries coupled with industrial wastes generally have contributed in no small measures to ozone layer depletion, thereby causing climate change. Nigeria may not be a highly industrialised country but oil exploration activities in the Niger Delta region has led to gas flaring for over 50 years now as well as countless oil spillages. This is responsible for environmental degradation including the destruction of aquatic lives and farmlands. For some time now, there have been reports of soot covering most part of Port Harcourt in Rivers State. The toxicity of Niger Delta environment has been known to cause serious health challenges ranging from coronary hearth diseases to many types of cancers.
Still on negative impact of modern technology, the advent of mobile phones and other Information, Communication Technology such as computer and television have been harbinger of good and bad. Much as these ICT tools make life easier and better. However, some of them cause radiation which is inimical to human health. They are said to cause brain damage, visual impairment, cancer, low sperm count, and many others. These happen when they are not handled with care and used safely.
Desertification as a result of deforestation has contributed to ozone layer depletion and climate change. The windstorm arising from that has been one of the causes of blindness in Northern Nigeria.  Our lackadaisical attitude to proper hygiene and sanitation is phenomenal. Many households are very filthy. More like  refuse dumpsites. Solid and liquid wastes are indiscriminately disposed. Open defecation is still a serious issue in many homes and communities in Nigeria.  Environmental sanitation policy of government is observed in breach.  Little wonder preventable sicknesses like malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, polio, cholera and meningitis still cause thousands of death in this country.
I have read, watched and listened to many stories of production of substandard and fake products for human consumption. This is very common with drugs, beverages, water, foodstuffs and even petroleum products circulating in Nigeria. Some of these products are imported into the country from some Asian countries like China and India. Hundreds of others are also produced locally. Some of the companies manufacturing these adulterated, substandard or fake products have been busted by law enforcement agencies. However, this is usually after much damage had been done to human health by these merchants of death.
There are many of us who indulge in self-medication. We rarely subject ourselves to proper clinical and laboratory diagnosis. We are in the habit of walking straight to a pharmacy and asked to be sold drugs which are not prescribed for us by qualified medical practitioners. Since the pharmacy owner is in business to make money, he or she will be too eager to sell to any willing buyer who may inadvertently be complicating his or her heath issues. It is common knowledge that many never took cases of headache, stomachache, malaria, cough and catarrh to hospitals. Yet, these sicknesses may just be symptoms of more deadly diseases. Oftentimes, by the time such patients report to hospitals, their cases are hopeless, medically.  
Much as one may want to blame many sick people for avoiding going to the hospitals and indulging in self- medication or resorting to faith clinics; it is also important to note that many of  our hospitals, both public and private owned are not patient friendly. In many public hospitals, many of the facilities are obsolete and overstretched. The workforce is also inadequate while industrial action is the norm. Because it is cheaper to access healthcare in government owned hospitals, many patients go there and because of understaffing prompt attention is rare there except it is an extreme emergency. On the other hand, many private hospitals offer prompt services but that in itself is if the patient is ready to pay the prohibitive charges.
Our unhealthy lifestyle is also a contributory factor to the high incidences of terminal diseases and mortality in Nigeria. The eating habits of many Nigerians are a cause for concern.  Parents indulge children in too many sweet things like cakes, beverages and ice creams. Eating out has become the norm among many working class people. And what do they eat at their so called choice restaurants? Junks! There are many people who prefer snacks to proper food and have preference for fried foods. Many of them also drink several bottles of beer or soft drinks daily. To worsen things, some of these people who eat and drink indiscriminately hardly work out. I mean they don’t exercise. They eat their junks and cruise around in their air-conditioned cars and live in well air-conditioned homes. So they have no means of burning the huge calories they consume daily. Sooner than later, they develop congenital heart diseases and diabetes.
It is important to also mention the role of religion in premature deaths and sicknesses of many Nigerians. There are several clerics that have misadvised and misinformed their followers about western medicine. While growing up, my family used to attend a church that believes in “holy water” as solution to every problems and diseases. Church members were indoctrinated not to go to hospitals for any treatment. My mum nearly died of an ailment as a result of this brainwash. We now know better. However, there are many who are enslaved by such strange doctrine. Many have died while many have suffered permanent disability due to this religious bigotry.

The way out of this ugly phenomenon is simple. Much of it rests with us as individuals. We need to change our attitudes to the environment and ourselves. We need to embrace hygiene and sanitation, live healthy lifestyles and learn to use information communication technology responsibly. Government need to ensure that regulatory and law enforcement agencies are well resourced with adequate manpower and working tools to be able to perform their statutory responsibilities. Public hospitals need to be made patient friendly with affordable services. It is imperative to encourage and incentivise more Nigerians to enroll in health insurance so that they will no longer have to pay out-of-pocket. Above all, public enlightenment is very important.