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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