Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Kenya 2017 election: Lessons for Nigeria

On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, Kenya held its sixth general elections since return to multi-party democracy in 1991. Declaring the result of the presidential election last Friday in its Nairobi headquarters, the chairman of the country’s electoral management body known as Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission of Kenya, Barrister Wafula W. Chebukati said the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee Party had a total of 8,215,963 votes representing 54.2 per cent to defeat his arch-rival Raila Odinga of National Super Alliance/ODM   who polled 6,815,971 votes representing 44.9 per cent.  Total voters turnout was 79.4 per cent. The controversies surrounding the elections are still unfolding with the claim by Odinga that the IEBC rigged the election in support of the incumbent, President Kenyatta. Some lives have reportedly been lost to post-election conflict with international community appealing for calm and calling for caution.
I have been privileged to discuss the recent political events in Kenya on different media platforms in the last one week or so. I have featured on Global Update and news analysis on three different Nigerian Television Authority stations, African Independent Television and Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria. The more I read about the elections in the East African country, the more I understand certain similarities and marked differences between Nigeria and Kenya. 
Like Nigeria, Kenya is a multi-ethnic, plural society. Another similarity with Nigeria is that it is a British colonised territory. It gained independence from Britain in 1963 while we got ours three years earlier. Kenya was a one party state from 1982 to 1991 but has since become a multi-party state. The country is not new to electoral conflict. Since 1992, all elections held in Kenya had led to bloodletting with the exception of those conducted in 2002 and 2013. In fact, the worst electoral violence took place in Kenya in 2007 when an estimated 1,300 lives were lost and over 600,000 persons internally displaced. In the lead up to the 2017 general election, on July 27, Christopher Msando, the head of ICT Unit of IEBC of Kenya was tortured and murdered by unknown assailants.  In Nigeria, electoral violence is a common phenomenon with several hundreds of lives lost.  It would be recalled that in 2011, close to a thousand lives were lost to pre and post-election crisis. 
Kenya, like Nigeria has bicameral legislature at the centre and unicameral legislature at the state / county level. Both countries have also been adapting electoral technology to enhance credibility of their elections. In Kenya, technology is deployed in the areas of voter identification, candidate registration, result transmission and presentation as well as biometric voter registration.
Similar to what obtains in Nigeria, Kenya is plagued by endemic corruption, high unemployment and poverty rate. According to Washington Post of Friday, August 11, 2017, “One of the reasons, analysts say that Kenya’s elections are so hotly contested is that the central government has been an enormously profitable political machine, awarding contracts across a large patronage network. A report from Kenya’s auditor-general last year said that about $200 million meant for the National Youth Service had been paid to fraudulent companies, including some with connections to politicians. The United States earlier this year suspended $21 million in health funding due to corruption allegations.”  According to the 2016 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Kenya is ranked 145 out of a total of 176 nations profiled while Nigeria is ranked 136. In sub-Saharan Africa, while Kenya is ranked 26, Nigeria is ranked 28. Unemployment rate in Kenya is officially put at 22.2 per cent.
Politically, out of the four past presidents of Kenya, three of them had been from Kikuyu tribe while one is Kalanjin. No Luo has ever been president in the over 50 years of the country’s nationhood. This is similar to the situation in Nigeria where out of the three major ethnic groups the Igbos are yet to be president of Nigeria. This has continually generated political tensions and is one of the bases for the strident call for restructuring of Nigeria at present.
As there are several similarities between Nigeria’s and Kenya’s political systems, so are there legion of differences.  For instance, the Kenyan Constitution requires there to be a general election on the second Tuesday in August in every fifth year. That is why the elections were held last Tuesday. In Nigeria, we not only have our general election every four years, there is latitude of five months within which our election management body i.e. Independent National Electoral Commission could fix election.  The constitution says elections into the office of the president, governors, National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) and State Houses of Assembly are to be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days to the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent. 
In Kenya, unlike Nigeria, all elections are held in one day. Thus, on the eight of this month, six separate elections - president, national assembly, female representatives, governors, senate and county assemblies – were held simultaneously. No wonder there was huge voter turnout. In Kenya, there is provision for independent candidacy. Indeed, out of the eight presidential candidates that participated in the country’s 2017 election, three of them ran as independents.  In Nigeria, for executive positions such as President, Governor and Chairman of Local Government and Area Council, a candidate has to score 25 percent of votes cast in  two-third of his or her constituency as well as majority of valid votes cast while for legislative positions, a winner emerge by simple majority. However, in Kenya, a presidential candidate need 50 per cent plus one vote as well as 25 per cent of votes cast in 24 out of the 47 counties for first-round victory. Otherwise, there will be a run-off.
In Kenya, unlike Nigeria, there is affirmative action for the marginalised groups.  Out of the 349 Members of Parliament, 290 of them are directly elected while 47 seats are reserved for women to be contested for while six Youths and six Persons with Disabilities are nominated into the parliament. In the country’s 67 member Senate, 47 of them are directly elected while 20 are nominated. Out of the 20 nominees, 16 are women, two are Youths and two are PwD.  History was made last week during the country’s general election. Three Kenyan women were elected governors after beating some of the seasoned male politicians. Joyce Laboso, Anne Waiguru and Charity Ngilu made political history by becoming the first women to be elected as governors in Kenya. Previously, all 47 counties were governed by males.
IEBC of Kenya has chairman and vice chairman. While the chairman, Mr. Wafula W. Chebukati is a man, the vice, Ms. Consolata Nkatha Bucha Maina is a lady. This is called twining in political circles. Out of the eight members of the Commission, three of them are women. Also, Kipng’etich Kones, the son of a late Cabinet Minister Kipkalya Kones, who ran in the Kenyan parliamentary election lost to his mother, Beatrice Kones.  Unlike Nigeria that has 36 states, Kenya has 47 counties which is their equivalent of our state.
While Nigeria’s polling hours is between 8am – 3pm, in Kenya, it is between 6am – 5pm.  No sitting president has ever lost an election in the East African country of 48 million people. This jinx has been broken in Nigeria in 2015. In Kenya, prisoners who are not on death row or serving life sentence are allowed to vote in the presidential election. There is also provision for out-of-country or diaspora voting. In the August 8 general election, Kenyans in five African countries viz. South Africa, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda were registered to vote and approximately 7,000 of them voted in the presidential election. There is also public funding for political parties in the country. In August 2010, Kenya’s new constitution designed to limit the powers of the president and devolve power to the regions was approved in referendum.

Where lies the political lessons for Nigeria? In the noble provisions highlighted above which guarantee inclusive electoral process.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Stemming soaring cases of mental illness in Nigeria

So many strange things are happening in Nigeria today that give goose pimples. Oftentimes, I ask myself if those who indulge in many heinous crimes reported in the country are normal. There is tendency for many people to think that only those in hospitals or invalids are sick. Indeed, there are millions of sick people who appear normal. They go to school, work and seem to be okay until when something snap in them and they commit a crime that many thought they are incapable of perpetrating. Then their true health status is revealed. Indeed, many Nigerians are mentally sick.
According to information gathered from the website of MedicineNet, ”Mental illness is any disease or condition that influences the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and/or relates to others and to his or her surroundings. Although the symptoms of mental illness can range from mild to severe and are different depending on the type of mental illness, a person with an untreated mental illness often is unable to cope with life's daily routines and demands.” Medical researchers have revealed that mental illnesses are caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
The serenity of the  town of  Ozubulu in  Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State was shattered last Sunday when a lone gunman marched into St. Philip Catholic Church in the town while the early morning mass was on. By the time the merchant of death fled the premises, he had  killed 11 worshipers and injured 18 others. Can the murderer be said to be mentally fit? Those who rape minors, I mean pedophiles, can they be said to be mentally stable? Can the fathers who are raping their daughters be said to be in full control of their senses? What about the parents that the Nigerian Army claimed are donating their daughters to insurgents as suicide bombers, are they okay?
So many things are happening all around us today that buttress the fact that we live in odd world full of lunatics in decent attires. There have been many reported cases of parents selling off their children because of hunger, people feigning their own kidnap, husbands using their wives for money rituals, servants organising kidnapping and robbery of their bosses among several other crimes.
One of the several mental disorders is depression. According to American Psychiatrist Association, depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. It causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home. Last Saturday, Federal Medical Centre Lokoja, Kogi State held its 2017 Annual General Meeting and the Scientific Conference Week of the Nigerian Medical Association of the state chapter. The theme of the conference was: “Economic Recession and The Rise of Depression”. At the event, a Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr.  Adeyemi Egbeola, decried the increasing rate of recession-associated clinical depression in Nigeria.
According to him, a significant association has been demonstrated between macroeconomic indicators in recession and clinical depression as a mental illness. He was quoted as saying that: “For every suicide committed, there is an average of 20 attempts (ratio 1:20), due to unemployment, self-rated mental health, debts, financial difficulties and other common mental health issues. Depressive disorder account for 80 per cent suicide and hopelessness is the most predictive indicator of suicide, a depressive thought pattern.
The psychiatrist asserted that “In 2015 from January to November, record show that 25, 267 patients were treated on mental health at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba Lagos, while the number increased to 53,287 in 2016 within the same period”. That is more than 100 per cent increase. Note that these are those who came to hospitals to receive treatment. There are millions of other people suffering from mental illness that are living in denial or lack family care to support their treatment. There are several unaccounted for who are patients at many herbal homes and faith clinics with the hope of getting cured there of their mental problems.
Am sure that by next year when statistics from all our Neuro-psychiatrist hospitals would be out, the number of patients may have quadruple from the current statistics. Why? Starting from July 1, 2017, the Federal Road Safety Commission, worried by the astronomic rate of vehicle accidents in the country, has commenced referral of certain categories of traffic offenders for  psychological evaluation. According to a statement issued on behalf of FRSC Corps Marshal, Dr.  Boboye Oyeyemi by Bisi Kazeem, the FRSC Corps Public Education Officer, the test would focus on four areas of violations including use of phone while driving, traffic light and route violations as well as dangerous driving.  The move, according to him, was necessitated by continued violations in the identified four areas despite efforts by the corps to change the behaviour of motorists through education and enforcement. Truth be told, many Nigerian motorists have become incorrigible on these traffic offences. 
The step by FRSC is therefore in the right direction. However, FRSC should also encourage relevant authorities to make sure that there are properly installed road signs. Many a time, motorists are not notified about roads that are ‘one way’. Many traffic lights are also malfunctioning and in need of repairs.
The phenomenal increase in the number of people with mental illness should worry our government at all levels. This economic recession is biting hard on Nigerian masses and they need succor. There is need to reduce the high level of unemployment and poverty ravaging the land. Many people are today taking solace in crimes and criminality due to inability to meet basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Many have become hypertensive and suffered stroke due to these aforementioned predisposing factors. There are those who have committed suicide due to too much economic pressure from their families.

Am also in agreement with the suggestions of Dr. Egbeola that government should also provide cheap, but effective medications while individuals are enjoined to live  healthy lifestyle, take adequate sleep, exercise, eat nourishing balanced diet, avoid smoking and consume alcohol moderately. Above all, there is need for family and friends to help those perceived to have mental illness by taking them to hospital for treatment while not stigmatising them. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

NASS potential failed constitution amendment bid

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
                                                                                                   – George Santayana
The most trendy news last week, aside the visit of some governors to our ailing president in London, was the fourth amendment of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria by the National Assembly. On Wednesday, July 26, Nigeria’s Senate amended a total of 28 items among the 32 listed for alteration while a day after the House of Representatives amended 21 out of 30 clauses voted on. Since that epochal event took place, I have been privileged to discuss it on some media platforms among them are the Nigerian Television Authority and Silverbird Television.
It has been mixed reactions to the amendment. While some commends the federal lawmakers, many others have condemned them.  Those in the latter category did so on the basis that the two chambers failed to agree to pass the clause on Devolution of Powers from the Exclusive Legislative list to the Concurrent list  and Affirmative Action for Women.  The Gbagyi people who are the indigene of the Federal Capital Territory are also unhappy that their bid to have a minister of their extraction in the Federal Cabinet was aborted by the House of Representatives. In total, about ten items which either of the two chambers of the federal parliament could not pass will not make the list that will be sent to the 36 State Houses of Assembly to vote on.
By my estimation, the items that failed in either chambers apart from the three aforementioned  include the bid to separate office of Attorney General of the Federation and State  from that of  Minister or Commissioner  of Justice; a bill for state creation and boundary adjustment to remove the ambiguity associated with the procedures; the citizenship and indigeneship bill for married women;  a bill that provide for a change in the names of some local government councils; a bill to amend the constitution to allow INEC conduct local government elections in states and the bill to remove certain Acts including the National Youth Service Corps, Land Use Act  and  national security agencies and the Public Complaints Commission from the constitution.
A number of things worry me about this onerous national assignment. My concern stems from some of the constitution amendment bills passed. In April 2015, the four year effort of the National Assembly to alter the Constitution for the fourth time was aborted by President Goodluck Jonathan who refused to sign the amendment bill due to what he called “irregularities and an attempt by the lawmakers to violate the doctrine of Separation of Powers”.  Jonathan in a seven-page letter listed about 13 reasons why he withheld assent to the amendment.  Unfortunately, the National Assembly was unable to exercise the power vested in them to override the veto of the president as stipulated in section 58 (5) of the Constitution.  Though I know that there has been leadership change both at the executive and legislative arm, I do hope NASS has taken cognisance of the concerns raised by the immediate past president and are ensuring that the extant attempt is in full compliance with section 9 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended in 2010. That section enunciated the provision for altering the Constitution.
Let me be more specific. NASS last week passed Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (Fourth Alteration) Bill, No. 2, 2017 (Authorisation of Expenditure)  which seeks to alter sections 82 and 122 of the Constitution to reduce the period within which the President or Governor of a state may authorise the withdrawal of monies from the consolidated revenue fund in the absence of an appropriation act from 6 months to 3 months.”  President Jonathan raised objection when this bill was passed in the 7th National Assembly as part of Constitution alteration. He said:  “I am of the view that this provision has the potential of occasioning financial hardships and unintended shut-down of government business, particularly where for unforeseen reasons and other exigencies in the polity; the National Assembly is unable to pass the Appropriation Act timeously. Our recent experiences with the process of passing the Appropriation Act do not justify the reduction of six-month time limit in the Constitution”. The former president was spot on! Recall that this year’s budget was only signed into law on June 12, 2017. Thus I foresee a situation where President Buhari may also object to this amendment. 
The passage of Bill No. 17 seeking to alter section 84 of the Constitution to establish the office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government separate from the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation was also one of the bills passed by the seventh National Assembly but objected to by President Jonathan. His concern then was that it did not address the funding requirements for establishment of the office. “It is necessary to clarify, for instance, who staffs and funds the office of Accountant-General of the Federation and from whose budget he will be paid since he serves the three tiers of government,” he opined.
I also foresee President Buhari and indeed governors picking hole with the passage of Bill No. 10 which seeks to alter sections 58, 59 and 100 to resolve the impasse where the President or Governor neglects to signify his/her assent to a bill from the National Assembly or withhold such assent as well as Bill No. 24 dealing with Procedure for overriding Presidential veto in Constitutional Alteration. The Bill seeks to among other things provide the procedure for passing a Constitution Alteration Bill where the President withholds assent. It will be recalled that these bills were passed in the last constitution alteration exercise and was kicked against by ex-President Jonathan on the basis that they were not passed by four/fifth of each chamber of the National Assembly. Jonathan had further noted that “However, assuming without conceding that the necessary thresholds were met by the National Assembly, there are a number of provisions in the Act that altogether constitute flagrant violation of the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and an unjustified whittling down of the executive powers of the federation vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution.”
I sincerely do hope that our lawmakers in passing the new alterations to the Constitution did reckon with the principle of separation of power as well as checks and balances among the three arms of government and among the three tiers of government. I am raising this red flag early in this exercise so that all the noble efforts of the lawmakers do not turn out to be a wild goose chase like the last one turned out to be with huge financial resources squandered. It will be recalled that in the recent past there have been altercations between the executive and legislature over the right interpretation of sections  171 and 69 of the Constitution over the appointment of chairman of Economic *and Financial Crimes Commission as well as recall of Senator Dino Melaye respectively.

As the constitution amendment exercise moves to the State Houses of Assembly, I plead that the state lawmakers will be guided by patriotic zeal and not the dictate of their respective governors. The entire constitution amendment process should be concluded before the end of this year in order to pave way for early implementation of the provisions which has to do with election such as timelines for pre-election dispute resolution, reduction in the age qualification for the offices of the president, governor, House of Representatives and State House of Assembly, increase in the number of days for conduct of by-election, independent candidature, de-registration of political parties, as well as ensuring that the court does not impose anyone who has not participated in all the electoral process as winner. Timely conclusion of this constitution and electoral act amendment will assist INEC immeasurably to effectively plan for the next general elections already scheduled for February 16 and March 2, 2019.