Freedom, Real Dividend of Democracy



At last, Attorney General Abubakar Malami took a wise step last Tuesday in “ordering” the State Security Service (SSS) to comply with court orders by releasing from custody Colonel Sambo Dasuki and Mr. Omoyele Sowore. Well, it is better late than never, as they say.

But it could have been a wiser thing to do if the chief law officer of the federation had elected to “comply with court orders,” (to use his exact words) , some months or even years ago especially in the Dasuki case.

It is certainly less than wise that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari chose to obey the law only after it had needlessly inflicting upon itself enormous public relations disaster, as Dr. Reuben Abati, aptly put it on this page some weeks ago.

Strident voices from within and without have risen unison to warm against Nigerian’s descent into authoritarianism and an egregious assault on human freedom.

For instance, not a few observers of the Nigerian scene must have noted that just a few days before Malami took action, a group of American legislators had addressed to him a strongly worded petition. In respect of the Sowore case, the congressmen said: “We are deeply concerned that established legal procedure and the rule of law are not being followed in his case.”

More significantly was that, regardless of what Malami may say now, internal pressures are mounting against the tendency towards authoritarian rule. A groundswell of opinions is already building against reckless disobedience of court orders and official lawlessness. Even from otherwise reticent quarters, warnings are issued against a “recipe for anarchy” which the assault on the rule of law squarely represents.

It is commendable that forces of genuine democracy are awake to see the reality that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Unwittingly, human rights abuse has been added to the list of the nation’s challenges which include mass poverty, insecurity and youth joblessness.

The tangible problems of bad roads and bridges along with epileptic power supply and physical insecurity may not actually define the administration in democratic terms. Instead what Buhari does or fails to do in the intangible realms of human freedom and national integration might be the ultimate defining factors.

After all, some of the monumental bridges and roads in Nigeria were constructed during military dictatorship. So roads, bridges and boreholes are not necessarily “dividends” of democracy. It is the respect for human freedom that is the real dividend of democracy.

To read the direction of the Buhari administration in these terms is, at least, consistent with liberal democratic ethos. The public sphere is suffused with liberal thinking on the implication of curtailment of human freedom under any guise.

For those who might like to discount the question of freedom in the race for development; when such a logic prevailed in the past it had tragic consequences. This is possibly why the Yale historian, Professor Timothy Snyder asserts that : “History does not repeat itself, but it does instruct… History can familiarize, and it can warn.” A lot of admonition against attack on freedom is embodied in his On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

Up till his demise, eminent economist, Professor Sam Aluko, told anyone who cared to listen to him that there was a sound logic to economic management under the maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha. Some even refer to some efforts of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) under the leadership of General Buhari. While economic historians may continue to debate Aluko’s proposition, there is, however, no argument that the regime of General Abacha was largely defined by the grand assault on human freedom and the shrinking of the democratic space.

It is precisely because of the centrality of freedom to development that those strategising for the Buhari administration should take seriously the mounting opposition to abuse of human rights and disrespect for the rule of law. This should be of interest particularly to the economic advisers of the administration as they think about holistic development for the country.

In fact, the 1998 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Amartya Sen, actually equates development with freedom in his work, Development as Freedom. According to Sen, development efforts mean “the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency.” Among the limiting factors to freedom identified by Sen are ‘poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or over activity of repressive states.”

While federal security agents descend heavily on protesters, some state governments charge their critics with terrorism and all kinds of crimes in the book.

Under a previous administration, Buhari himself and his running mate in a presidential election, the late Senator Chuba Okadigbo, led a public protest against alleged electoral manipulation. The sensibilities of decent people were assaulted when the police teargassed the protesters. The protesters went to court and the court upheld the constitutional rights of citizens to protest. The court said the police should protect the protesters rather than molest them. The court indeed affirmed the proposition of the legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, that human rights constitute a “property” of the people and not a “dash.”

It is, therefore, one of the huge ironies of Nigeria’s political history that the police harass citizens asserting their democratic rights to protest under Buhari’s watch.
The president has proclaimed his conversion to liberal democracy. He should prove the skeptics wrong by making strict adherence to the rule of law a central part of his agenda.

Depending on the competence in economic management he may be ultimately vindicated on the huge loans to build roads, railways and bridges at the objective level.
However, what is happening at the more subjective realm may actually define his administration in a more enduring way. This includes his disposition to human freedom, fostering national unity and strengthening the moral fabric of the society.
It is time the president began to ponder how his administration would be defined when all would be history even on January 1, 2024.

Lest We Forget
By Issa Aremu

There was no dull moment in the political economy of Nigeria in 2019.
Recalling my reflections in 2019 actually passes for another word counts of reflection: no dull moment.

More for the better than the worse!
Of special importance was the remarkable innovative corporate governance of CBN. Whoever fails to plan, is planning to fail, goes the popular received wisdom. As it is for human beings, so for public institutions and indeed nation states.

In 2019, CBN emerged as the singular institution that commendably sets corporate agenda for the next five years of the second tenure of its Governor. Mr Godwin Emefiele is the 11th Governor of the apex bank. Appointed by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014, he was rightly reappointed by President Muhammadu Buhari for another 5 years term in 2018.
After eventful five years of what I perceive as activist autonomous central banking, Emefiele announced a renewed vision for the next tenure.

In his words: “Put succinctly, our priorities at the CBN over the next 5 years are the following; First, preserve domestic macroeconomic and financial stability; Second, foster the development of a robust payments system infrastructure that will increase access to finance for all Nigerians thereby raising the financial inclusion rate in the country; Third, continue to work with the Deposit Money Banks to improve access to credit for not only small holder farmers and MSMEs but also Consumer credit and mortgage facilities for bank customers.

Our intervention support shall also be extended to our youth population who possess entrepreneurship skills in the creative industry…. Fourth, grow our external reserves; and fifth, support efforts at diversifying the economy through our intervention programs in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

We are confident that when implemented, these measures will help to insulate our economy from potential shocks in the global economy. In my second term in office, part of my pledge, is to work to the best of my abilities in fulfilling these objectives”. Will other public institutions be audacious to set agenda in 2020 upon which we can hold them accountable?

Precisely because I was involved, I bear witness that with respect to intervention in manufacturing sector, CBN’s measures had renewed hope of the revival of cotton, Textile and garment sectors (CTG) policy.

Nigeria for once is moving from the old era of perennial cotton shortage to cotton surplus, thanks to CBN’s creative supports for cotton farmers in Katsina and other cotton growing centers through improved seedlings and credits. Understandably,€Stakeholders in the renewed drive to re-industrialize Nigeria praised CBN for the restrictions of sale of forex to importers ( read: smugglers ) of textiles into the Country.

This is one singular praise for the CBN Governor not too much. The Central Bank of Nigeria on Tuesday March 5, 2019 at its meeting with stakeholders in the Cotton, Textile, Garment value chain in Abuja listed all forms of textile materials among items prohibited from foreign exchange in the official windows. There is also an historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) facilitated by the bank between uniformed services: army, police, civil defense, customs service and textile manufacturers. The MOU envisages production of the service uniforms by local textile firms in line with presidential executive order 003.

The year 2019 was also the year of elections.
We can debate the quality of elections especially in Kogi and Bayelsa, but Nigeria democratically transited at Federal and many states. Kwara election was the most nationally adjudged free and fair under the OTOGE movement. It was indeed a revolution made possible through voters’ cards and vote counts not by some instant proclamation from the streets!

Also last year, on the 16th of May, at the plenary, the senate passed the amendment to an Act in concurrence with the House of Representatives which approved the new date of June 12th as new Democracy Day earlier in December 2018, following the adoption of a report by Senator Ahmad Lawan, the Majority Leader, for the Senate to concur with the House. The bill was passed almost one year after President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the date would replace May 29 for Nigerians to commemorate the return to the civilian government.

That singular presidential action closed the chapter of June 12 saga. With as many as 85 million registered voters, in quantitative terms, Nigeria remains a democracy destination. But this democracy needs quality control that must start with issues based politics of development and productivity as opposed to politics of corruption and violence.

In November, President Muhammadu Buhari accented to the new Deep Offshore (and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract) Act. It was what I called a smart patriotic economic move from above. This singular amendment of the Deep Offshore Act for once commendably balanced the age long corporate greed in oil and gas sector with urgent national needs in terms of revenue. Nigeria henceforth would receive “it’s fair, rightful and equitable share of income” from its oil and gas, hitherto made impossible with the old law that kept oil taxes to the barest minimum, disregarding the upward swing in oil prices.

The Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act was last enacted on March 23, 1999, with its commencement backdated to January 1, 1993. The provisions of the Act stipulate that the law shall be subject to review to ensure that if the price of crude oil at any time exceeds $20 per barrel, ( even when prices were in triple digits decades after!) the share of the revenue to the Nigerian government shall be adjusted under the PSC.

The new amendment promised to enhance national benefits from the non-renewable oil and gas resources. At international level, 2019 marked the centenary of International Labour Organization ( ILO). A century-long ILO remains “the principal centre of authority in the international system on labour and social policy”. ILO has come of age with 100 years of rich history in promotion of peace and social justice in the world of work.

As part of the ILO centenary activities, Nigeria for once played host to the Director General of the ILO, Guy Ryder at a global summit on youth employment creation in Abuja. Worthy of recalling is also the fact that, after addictive medical trips to Singapore, Robert Gabriel Mugabe (RGM) on September 6, 2019, heaved the last breath at 95 years . In 2019 foreign policy observers also hailed the proactive historic visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to South Africa between October 2 to 4, 2019.

Both leaders rightly damned xenophobic violence and the reprisals. The two Presidents also directed their Foreign Affairs Ministers to give practical expression to the Early Warning Mechanism for prevention and monitoring platform.” Nigeria and South Africa also agreed to exchange a list of frequent travelers, notable business people and academics to facilitate the issuance of long term multiple entry visas for 10 years.

Nigeria looks forward to an eventful 2020, the year late President Musa Yar Adua envisaged that Nigeria would be one of the leading 10 developed countries. Of course Nigeria missed out on all the 8 goals set for Millennium Development agenda that elapsed in 2015.
Will Nigeria meet the new Sustainable Development Goals ( SDGs) of 2030 which is just a decade to go from today? Happy 2020!

Issa Aremu mni, is a renowned labour leader