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2023 Election: THISDAY Editorial Board Intervention
SPECIAL EDITION – EDITORIAL
In the world in which we live today, too many people find it difficult to take a public stand on critical issues, according to Michael Gartner, a 1997 Pulitzer Prize winner for editorial writing and author of ‘Outrage, Passion and Uncommon Sense’. Yet, there are times when we must, as individuals, take positions in promotion (or defence) of the public good. “You’ve got to believe in something. There are a lot of things I believe in and strongly. And you’ve got to care about what you’re writing or,” Gartner reportedly told an interviewer in laughter, “it reads like an editorial.”
The positions taken by the editorial board of a newspaper on burning issues of the day are collective ones. However, at THISDAY, we have also established a tradition by which, from time to time, individual members can share their own perspectives and interpretations of events, especially at critical moments. With the 2023 presidential election just ten days away, our members have decided to highlight some of the pressing issues that the eventual winner would have to contend with. These issues, we believe, should also guide voters in their choice. It is our contribution to the dialogue for a better Nigeria.
A Time to Choose
If there is anything to pick from the 2023 report on global inequality by United Kingdom-based charity, Oxfam International, it is that the days ahead are daunting regardless of who wins the presidential election. Grim as the global reality appears, the Nigerian condition is one of the most troubling: Three richest citizens are wealthier than 83 million others put together. According to the report, the richest 0.003 percent Nigerians (6,355 individuals worth $5 million and above) have 1.4 times more wealth than 107 million other Nigerians.
Different factors, including politics, differing life outcomes, lopsided opportunities, and favouritism/nepotism, among others breed inequality. And in putting its report on inequality together, Oxfam underpins its conclusions on specific countries on three core pillars: public services spending for each country, how the taxation system is configured and how progressive it is as well as labour rights and wages. These are some of the challenges that whoever wins the presidential election next week will confront in the socio-economic sector.
On the security front, the situation seems to be getting out of hand. The Southeast has become a killing field for “unknown gunmen” while opportunistic criminals continue to operate freely in the Southwest. Meanwhile, insurgency has since been overtaken by banditry in most parts of the North. Worse still, the traditional authority from which one should ordinarily look for solution is now increasingly being implicated. The Makaman Katsina, District Head of Bakori, Idris Sule, was recently dismissed by the Katsina Emirate Council over allegations of aiding banditry in his domain. He has joined a growing list of traditional rulers in Katsina and Zamfara States who have been sacked for allegedly hobnobbing with bandits and terrorists.
Whichever the sector one looks at today in Nigeria, the challenges are enormous. By implementing its Naira redesign policy in a manner that has only worsened the plight of the ordinary people, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has added to the security challenges at a most critical period. And as we approach the 2023 general election, members of THISDAY editorial board have decided to, once again, share their perspectives on the way forward for the country.
For GIMBA KAKANDA, the crisis of tertiary education in Nigeria and the perennial strikes that define our public universities is one of the major problems whoever is elected the next president will inherit with no easy options. From security to power supply and the general economic malaise that the ordinary Nigerian now must contend with, PETER ISHAKA argues that the next president already has his job cut out for him. In recommending that we need a president who understands how modem economy works, SANYADE OKOLI contends that the argument that many governments, including those in the developed world, run on budget deficits, ignores the fact that the structure of Nigeria’s economy is atypical: The federal government’s revenue as a proportion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is extremely low whilst its debt to revenue ratio is high. SONNY ARAGBA-AKPORE looks forward to the kind of cabinet the next president will appoint while hoping that they would be men and women who would not hamper the work of the regulators in critical sectors like most of the current ministers do. From the perspective of KAYODE KOMOLAFE on the political parties, it is easy to understand why many of the gladiators do not seem to remember the names of their political parties since they represent the same things. Yet, as he argued, “the tendency to render political parties irrelevant could only impoverish the liberal democratic process” and stunt the nation’s political development. When the poor quality of governance translates directly into insecure lives, lost jobs, dangerous neighbourhoods, declining income, and general alienation, according to CHIDI AMUTA, the common man becomes an active political agent with a keen interest in elections, as we see today in Nigeria. WAZIRI ADIO, who zeroes in on the projected tightness of the presidential contest, sees it as “a double-edged development, worth celebrating and risk-proofing at the same time.” In asking Nigerians to dispense with the usual cynicism and nonchalance which can only prolong their woes, MONDAY PHILIP EKPE, tasks them to adopt a positive attitude that their vote will count and exercise their franchise. BOLAJI ADEBIYI x-rays the track record of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, concluding that the material conditions of Nigerians have not improved. JOHNSON OLAWUMI, a retired Major General of the Nigerian army who has held several command positions, examines the security challenges and how they can impact the election. In setting agenda for the next administration, AISHA SHUAIBU believes that fixing the local governments is important to fixing Nigeria while BENNETH OGHIFO is concerned that the presidential candidates have not shown sufficient interest on the issues of climate change and the environment. PAUL NWABUIKWU discusses why members of Nigeria’s elite are deeply divided over both mundane and profound issues of nationhood and national development. And I close the page with an admonition that regardless of the challenges at hand, we should do everything to avoid a constitutional crisis.
Ordinarily, members of the editorial board of a newspaper hide under anonymity to intervene on issues of the day by way of the editorial opinion. But beginning from 1st October 2011, we have done a series of interventions at critical moments with each of these distinguished professionals offering individual perspective on topical national, and international issues.
Ten days to the 2023 presidential election, we have once again decided to share with readers not the collective position of THISDAY Editorial Board they have been accustomed to reading Sunday to Friday in the newspaper’s editorials but rather the diversity of voices and ideas behind those interventions.
– OLUSEGUN ADENIYI
Securing the Electoral Process
BY JOHNSON OLAWUMI
Election, as the German born American political philosopher Leo Strauss puts it, is the only safety valve against tyranny and anarchy. For an election to be credible, it must enjoy popular participation. In the build up to this year’s elections, concerns have been raised on the possibility of people not being able to vote in some parts of the country due to insecurity.
Even for the most incurable of optimists, a few cases of recent attacks and abductions would send chills down the spines of eligible voters in some parts of the country and may deter them from coming out to vote. In the Northeast, there is no doubt that the Boko Haram insurgents have been overly decimated, and we must give kudos to the men and women of the Armed Forces. However, the threat of prepense attacks and abductions is still real in areas around Abadam and Guzamala Local Government Areas of Borno State.
Away from the Northeast, Yiaga Africa in its ‘Watching the Vote: Third National Pre-Election Observation Report’ identified some local government areas with reports of security threats that could limit access for elections. Specifically, the report expressed doubts of elections being held in Maru, Maradun and Kaura Namoda LGAs of Zamfara State, Shiroro LGA in Niger State, Bali, Wukari and Gashaka LGAs in Taraba State, Ihiala LGA in Anambra State, Ohaukwu LGA in Ebonyi State and Ehime Mbano, Okigwe, Oru West, Oru East and Orlu LGAs in Imo State. Also, in a recent interview, Governor Nasir El-Rufai praised the military’s efforts in Kaduna but nonetheless confirmed that out of the 23 LGAs in the state, bandits are still operating in three.
Just recently, 40 people, mostly herders, were killed by a suspected drone attack in Rukubi village on the border between Nasarawa and Benue States. Since that attack, there have been reported cases of reprisal attacks by herders, on neighbouring communities in Benue State. Meanwhile, Nigerians woke early this month to the news of bandits’ killing of 84 people in Katsina State.
The situation in the Southeast is also troubling. In the past one year, there have been reported abductions and killings of several persons, mainly government officials, politicians, and personnel of security agencies allegedly by the so-called Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). IPOB has also perpetrated wanton destruction and arson on police stations and INEC facilities in Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia and Anambra States.
The horrible signature of IPOB’s attacks, mostly circulated on social media platforms is a pointer to the group’s clear resistance to elections holding in the SE, a claim it has often denied. One thing is however clear, despite whatever assurances that could be given, we may have low voters’ turnout in some states of the Southeast due to the threats by IPOB. A precursor to this was observed in the 6th November 2021 Governorship election in Anambra State. Despite the huge resources expended and the massive deployment of security agencies, the election witnessed the lowest turnout of voters ever in the state, which INEC puts at 10.27 percent as against 24 and 22 percent in 2013 and 2017 respectively. A society where only about 10 percent of the population determines those to lead it cannot be said to be truly democratic and this has been the misfortune of our elections over the years.
For some reasons, our previous elections have been characterised by low voters’ turnout. Except for the increase from 64 percent in 1999 to 69.08 in 2003, the figures have continued to decline thereafter; from 57.49 in 2007, 53.68 in 2011, 43.65 in 2015 to 34.75 in 2019. The accuracy of the figures from 1999 to 2011, a period when massive rigging was profoundly aided by arbitrary thumb printing of ballot papers and underage voting, will of course remain contentious. Since it is safer to rely on the integrity of figures for 2015 and 2019 based on the innovations introduced by INEC especially the use of the card reader machine, we can see low turn-out of voters.
With the further introduction of the BVAS machine and the effect noticed on voters’ turnout since its deployment for off season elections in Ekiti and Osun, we might witness a further decline in voters’ turnout in the 2023 Elections despite the increase in total registered voters by about 11.26 percent above the 2019 figure. This underscores the need to ensure that actions are taken to encourage all eligible voters to come out and vote. The concern is that Nigeria’s future must not be decided by a minority of the entire voting population. We have seen voters’ turnout for elections in other democracies. In the 2020 United States presidential elections, about 66.8 percent turnout was recorded. Brazil’s 2022 Elections that ushered in President Lula had 79.05 percent voters’ turnout, while India’s 2019 Elections recorded a 67.4 percent turnout. With over 20 years of our democratic journey, our elections must be truly participatory, and all stakeholders must work assiduously to ensure that the people are free, safe, and secured to vote anywhere in Nigeria.
As part of their preparations for the elections, the police, which usually provides the lead on internal security matters as well as the military must expectedly have done a thorough assessment of the threats and mapping of the hostile environments. They must have also prepared their contingency plans to deal with identified threats and made requisition for resources to back their plans.
It is incumbent on the government to back its assurance of credible elections with concrete action, by ensuring timely provision of resources to facilitate police and military deployment. It could be recalled that when in 2015 Nigeria was faced with a similar threat to the conduct of elections in some parts of the Northeast, the military rose to the occasion. Backed with necessary resources, it was able to clear the areas and provided conducive conditions for the conduct of the 2015 Elections. The military must sustain its ongoing operations in the Northeast, Northwest and Northcentral to keep those bandits who may disrupt elections dislocated and unsettled. Effective surveillance and security must be provided for all INEC infrastructure, facilities, organic and adhoc staffs as a matter of priority before, during and after the elections. On election day, security agencies must in synergy raise their alert levels and ensure they act within the confine of their constitutional roles and code of conduct. In the identified hostile environment, their rules of engagement must be robust enough to envisage and deal with any threat with minimum collateral damage.
Security agencies must also brace up for possible post-election violence going by the spate of pre-election skirmishes and the aggressive campaigns that we have seen in the past few months. Unlike in the past, the 2023 general election is widely projected to be a four-horse race not minding that 18 political parties are involved. So far, the drums have been louder in the camps of the supporters of ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as Labour Party (LP) and the New Nigeria Democratic Party (NNDP) especially in states where there is no clear dominance. Likewise, the allegations of violence have hovered around supporters of these leading parties who daily engages in bellicose verbal altercations in support of their candidates. To further heat up the political space, the spokespersons of the leading parties have been enmeshed in a sort of ‘asymmetric verbal campaign’ where every foul language is considered fair to the admiration of their supporters.
Equally of concern are the somewhat vague opinion polls that are periodically pushed to the media space, many of which lacks clear methodology and reliable analytical data. These survey polls may give a false sense of hope to some party supporters, and with the ferocious anger from the preceding campaigns, this could trigger some post-election violence if the results are not in their favour. INEC therefore owes the antidote by getting its act right through effective logistics arrangement, efficient performance of its BVAS machines, impartiality of its staff, proper and accurate entry as well as prompt transmission of results.
State governments would need to support and cooperate with the security agencies to ensure that their citizens are not disenfranchised due to insecurity. Community leaders, various local vigilante groups, and the people must support the security agencies by providing useful information that could assist them in their operations. In areas where kinetic operations have become imperative, state governments and community leaders would need to support possible relocation of those vulnerable to minimise collateral damage. Concentration of people in IDP camps on election day may present visible opportunity targets to bandits and militants, and so they must be duly secured. The mainstream media has a responsibility to swiftly denounce any fake news that may emanate on social media, which could trigger violence especially on election day and post-election period.
Overall, the people must realise that an election is but a means to an end, and it is not a war. In the words of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the election of an individual is certainly not worth the blood of any Nigerian; a phrase that all those seeking elective offices must continue to reverberate. On its part, the federal government must ensure safe and secured polls by guaranteeing the peoples’ security without counting body bags in the process.
Wanted: The Best Economic Manager
BY SANYADE OKOLI
With the extreme difficulties currently being experienced due to the cash shortage crisis, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that our economy was already in a precarious position and that the present pain is likely to have more long-lasting and far-reaching negative impact than first considered. The approved 2023 budget spoke volumes to us if we were willing to listen. It clearly stated that though the revenues expected by the federal government was only N10.4 trillion, the plan is to spend N21.8 trillion in the year. Essentially, the forecasted budget deficit exceeds the anticipated revenues. Meanwhile, for over 10 years Nigeria’s governments have failed to achieve forecast revenues and, especially with the current cash and fuel crises, there is no reason to believe 2023 will be different.
I often hear the argument that many governments, including those in the developed world, run on budget deficits and Nigeria’s deficit to GDP ratio is within reasonable limits. Such a premise ignores the fact that the structure of the country’s economy is atypical. The federal government’s revenue as a proportion of GDP is extremely low whilst its debt to revenue ratio is high. In 2020, Nigeria’s tax-to-GDP ratio was 5.5% compared to an average of 16% for 31 other African countries. Furthermore, Nigeria has relatively high interest rates on both local and foreign debts, and a weakening currency which increases the Naira equivalent of foreign borrowings. Therefore, what is most pertinent is the government’s ability to fund the budget deficits and service the resultant increasing debt.
To put this in context, 60% of 2023’s forecast revenues is expected to be spent on debt service alone. In fact, the amount allocated to only fuel subsidy and debt service for the first half of the year is 124% of the expected revenue for the period. So how do we plan to fund 2023 deficit? Borrow more!
There is, however, a new challenge to that plan. Moody’s recently issued the country a ratings downgrade. Consequently, borrowing will become more difficult and expensive. At best, the government’s borrowing plans will crowd out that of the private sector, making it more challenging and costly for the latter to access capital. The timing is most unfortunate as the next government looks to the private sector to drive much-needed economic growth to generate greater tax revenues, create jobs, reduce poverty, and decrease the stimulus for security challenges.
As things stand, the government may be forced to once again turn to the Central Bank to fund its deficit; a move that could further destabilise the economy. The government is still in the process of finalising the restructuring of the existing N23.7 trillion ways and means facility (essentially an overdraft) from CBN, an amount that exceeded the legal borrowing limit from the apex bank.
We should all be concerned that Nigeria seems to be heading into a debt spiral, a path that has led to disastrous consequences in other countries. What for some may seem like “the government’s problem” could well become a headache for us all. Take for example Ghana which is currently facing a debt crisis due to a rapid increase in its debt-to-GDP ratio over the past few years. This has been caused by several factors, including excessive borrowing to fund campaign promises and rising interest rates, resulting in persistent fiscal deficits. The government has also faced challenges in managing its currency, leading to inflationary pressures and a depreciating Cedi.
Returning to the topic of the current cash shortage, CBN had targeted to raise the financial inclusion rate from 53.7% in 2010 to 80% by 2020. Though some progress was made over the decade, the actual attainment was 64% and a new target of 75% by 2024 was set. Sadly, due to the serious mistrust that has entered the current financial system because of bank customers’ inability to withdraw their funds as and when required, the expectation is that many will revert to keeping their money outside the formal financial system. Furthermore, the drive towards a cashless society has been impeded by the failure of the digital platforms to cope with the surge in demand for their services and the widespread pain that has caused.
As of 2015, the informal sector represented 41.4% of the country’s GDP. A large proportion of micro and small enterprises are dependent on daily cash inflows to meet their personal and business day to day expenses. Without the pre-existing digital structures and with the significant drop in cash available in the system, business activity has been grounded for many. Soon enough, economists will be able to quantify with more accuracy the toll this currency crisis has taken on an economy that was barely growing faster than its population. Especially considering the drag already caused by the prolonged period of fuel shortages across the country.
As the Nigerian presidential candidates battle it out at the polls, one does wonder the extent to which they have a good grasp of the real war they are looking to inherit. More than ever before, the winner of this election will truly have his work cut out for him. More importantly, however, as we (the voters) head to the polls to make our selection, it is critical that we do so with a heightened sense of responsibility. This is not business as usual. We must ensure that we are making decisions informed not by our religious, tribal, party or pocket affiliations but based on who, in our considered assessment, not only understands the economic challenges facing the nation but can also effectively lead the country through these trying times.
Our next president, together with his selected team, must be able to successfully navigate the economic land mines highlighted above, as well as address the issues of the popular but unaffordable fuel subsidies, unjustifiable foreign exchange subsidies, and high inflation, to name a few. This will have to be done in the context of continuing global headwinds with the Russia-Ukraine war showing no signs of abating and climate change driving the move away from fossil fuels upon which our economy has been dependent, etc.
One dares not contemplate what could be the possible outcomes were we to choose a president that lacks an understanding of the gravity of what we are facing and implementable ideas to redress the situation. As I consider who I think would be best placed to lead Nigeria come May, there are three key factors I am assessing: Technical capacity, political will and the ability to implement. Nigeria’s next president needs to not only have a good grasp of the issues the country faces but also the intellectual capacity to proffer and/or understand implementable solutions. Such capacity comes from a mix of intellect, education, and experience. What we currently face is too complex to “manage”, as we often do.
We have all seen many cases where those in positions of influence have the required technical capacity but have insufficient political will to do what is necessary. The lack of political will stems from multiple places but it generally all boils down to one word, “interests”; be it personal and/or political party. I have come to understand that when a government decision seems to make no sense to me, it is usually because they are solving for something different to what I had in mind. Electing political leaders who truly care about Nigeria and its people and therefore desire to do well by them will be a true game-changer for the fortunes of this nation.
However, even when the first two attributes are in place, many simply lack the skill to implement. Often, the policies, plans, and programmes required to move Nigeria forward necessitates going up against entrenched interests. Many lack the courage and/or political dexterity to do so. It becomes even more difficult without (reasonably) “clean hands”.
It’s easy though to sit on the sidelines and opine on what is required of our political leaders. Equally important is that we, the citizens, understand what is required of us to ensure we get the political leadership we desire. Each one of us must recognise and diligently exercise our responsibility to not only vote but to do so wisely. If not for us, then for our children. We the electorate have a say regarding the direction our country heads once every four years. We cannot afford our politicians to fail us; but worse than that, we cannot afford to fail ourselves.
Tackling the Education Conundrum
BY GIMBA KAKANDA
Last October, following a stalemate in the efforts to end the eight-month strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the federal government took a surprising move by registering two new parallel unions: the Congress of Nigerian University Academics and the National Association of Medical and Dental Academics. This seemingly divisive act was intended to undermine ASUU, but it also revealed a deeper concern – that President Muhammadu Buhari was growing tired of the demands of the striking union and unwilling to invest in the future of academia.
The crisis of tertiary education in Nigeria and the perennial strikes that define our public universities is one of the problems the next president will inherit. At the core of ASUU’s demands, as articulated by its president, Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, are several key issues. These include the release of funds for the revitalization of public universities, the honoring of earned academic allowances, the adoption of the University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS) as the preferred payment platform over the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), and a reconsideration of the 2009 Agreement.
ASUU’s demands have become repetitive and well-known. Since President Buhari took office in 2015, ASUU has gone on four major strikes to hold the government accountable to its promises and to further their vision for universities. These strikes have resulted in a total of 21 months of lost time. With each strike, the union has reminded the government of its previous commitments, including the 2009 Agreement. This agreement called for the allocation of at least N1.5 trillion to each federal university and N3.6 million per student to each state university, as well as the allocation of 26% of the annual budget to education, with half going specifically to universities.
President Buhari’s unfortunate distinction of having presided over the longest and most frequent ASUU strikes in history highlights a harsh reality: Both parties are reluctant to acknowledge that relying solely on MoUs and Agreements is not a sustainable solution. ASUU’s pursuit of autonomy without developing alternative sources of funding separate from the government is a flawed and unrealistic notion that both sides have allowed to persist for far too long. The decision to break away from this cycle is not an easy one, but it is necessary to move towards a more sustainable solution.
For universities to become largely self-funded and independent, ASUU must face the reality of increasing tuition fees. This solution, which has already been implemented by some public universities, has not been seriously considered in the past due to the populist argument that the targeted demographic may not have the financial means to pay. This, in turn, conflicts with the goal of promoting literacy and education in the country. Nevertheless, it remains a crucial step towards achieving true independence and sustainability for universities.
The collateral damage of this serial disagreement between ASUU and the federal government has always been students and potential students from low-income families, those who can’t afford private university education and have been at the mercy of these public universities closed for a cumulative period of over four years since the return to democracy in 1999.
The political leaders targeted by ASUU’s demands for sponsorship are largely unaffected by the strikes. Their children are enrolled in prestigious private universities abroad and would not be impacted by the closure of public universities. The victims of the strikes, on the other hand, would likely end up as uneducated workers serving the political elite, or find themselves in a competitive environment where they are unable to match the education level of the political elite’s offspring. The disparity between those affected by the strikes and those immune to them highlights the need for a sustainable solution that benefits all stakeholders, not just a select few.
As Nigeria’s current Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, once wrote in his then column for the Daily Trust newspaper, “Calling off the strike is no big deal nor yet a cause for celebration.” What’s more important than the pointless strikes, he argues “is what eventually happens to the university system as a result.” This sentiment highlights the need for a long-term solution that addresses the underlying issues affecting the education system in Nigeria.
For too long, Nigeria’s public universities have been at the mercy of populist ideologies that resist the idea of operating beyond the constraints of a tight-fisted benefactor. The impact of this has been felt by the students who make up most of the population, who may be forced to endure seven years or more for a four-year degree program, while more affordable options like student loan systems go unexplored. The policymakers, who have been at the forefront of ASUU’s demands, are not dependable allies in the union’s journey towards financial independence. If there is going to be any change in the education sector, the next administration must do things differently.
Telecoms and the Next President
BY SONNY ARAGBA-AKPORE
Ministerial powers in respect of the telecommunications and broadcasting industries manifested gravely during the military era when their words were laws for both the operators and consumers. I recall a particular experience. In July 1996, an early morning mystery fire gutted the telephone exchange belonging to the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) and the Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha gave a matching order to the Communications Minister at the time Major General Tajudeen Olanrewaju to ensure that the facility which served several thousands of subscribers be fixed by whatever means possible.
With paucity of funds to rehabilitate the facility, subscribers connected to the exchange which also served as an international gateway were asked to pick the bill. While many Nigerians revolted against the decision by the government, they eventually caved in as some subscribers working through high profile pressure groups agreed to contribute some funds to add to the rehabilitation process. Such funds were used to defray consumption of services bills when the exchange came back on stream. The Minister technically didn’t have a direct say in the matter even though he represented the government in the negotiations.
The last 24 years or so have seen Ministerial powers encroach heavily on the independence of regulators of the Telecommunications and Broadcast sectors so much that there are no lines drawn between government policies and regulatory independence of the regulators.
Indiscriminate awards of licenses by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) have been rife.
Although the NCC rejigged its licensing procedures in 2001, when it conducted the Digital Mobile License auction, that did not remove ministerial influence on the organization.
Both NCC and NBC were products of the Military having been set up by Decree 75 and Decree 38 of 1992 respectively, the entry of Civilian government changed the enabling laws as the parliament enacted Nigerian Communications Act 2003 and NBC Act 2004 thus creating rules that were expected to stand the test of time.
Notwithstanding, civilian ministers held on to these regulatory organizations like personal estates. That is why we suggest a change of focus for these regulatory agencies and ensure their true independence in the next government. For instance, the NCC should run its full circle unlike how it is now being at the beck of the Minister who annexed some departments including the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) and other departments.
Ministers’ military style administrative powers should be streamlined to limit them to policy decisions and allow the regulators to run in line with the provisions in the Act instead of being appendages of the Ministers.
During the military era, Decree 75 of 1992 had prescribed for a NCC board but when a minister was asked about when he would constitute one, he boastfully retorted: “Board for NCC, which board? I am the board”.
While civilian ministers have been smarter, nothing has changed.
In the next dispensation, the boards and management should be given free hands to run the NCC according to the rules of engagement. The same goes for the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and NITDA. The next President should review the relationship between its Ministers and the regulatory agencies to avoid such pitfalls.
As for NBC, awarding broadcast licenses has been done allegedly on sentiment the way fines have been imposed especially on broadcast stations without proper investigations. The NBC board and management are believed to be operating from the minister’s office in Radio House. The next President cannot afford to allow this to happen if there is expected to be a stable regulatory environment where there are rules of engagement. Licenses should be given to those who deserve them and not necessarily along party lines or other primordial considerations. Broadcast infractions should be properly investigated to avoid unnecessary harm to operators.
NCC Act is clear about its independence. In Chapter 1(b) to wit that the Act shall:
“Establish a regulatory framework for the Nigerian communications industry and for this purpose to create an effective, impartial and independent regulatory authority.”
The Powers of the NCC are derived from Section 3 of the Nigerian Communications Acts (NCA) of 2003 giving written directions to licensees. Consulting with Consumers, commercial and industrial organizations. Delegating its functions to a committee constituted by it. Summoning persons to appear before the Commission. Entering contracts with any company, firm, or persons. But that independence has been taken over by the Minister since 2019. The Minister annexed the USPF and turned the independence of the regulator to his fiefdom.
The USPF grew out of the Universal Service Fund (USF) a global phenomenon with over 50 countries as signatories to an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) agreement with a mandate to set aside funds to provide access to technology to the citizenry of their countries no matter where they live. The World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) declared that – everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information society offers.
Therefore, Universal Service Fund (USF) became for the NCC an opportunity for every National Government to extend the benefits of the Information Society to all communities.
The next government should revisit the position of the USPF according to Section 112 and reposition it to carry out its proper mandate. Industry players believe that the NBC Act 2004 may have been bastardized by ministerial incursions as the regulator has been under the iron grip of the Minister who determines what should be and what not. This is clearly manifested in decisions taken and not taken so much that the regulator has no say over its activities.
To redress the situation, the next government should review the Act to reposition it for effective and independent regulation away from ministerial incursions and interference.
Where Cometh the Redeemer?
BY PETER ISHAKA
Emperor Augustus would sometimes tell his Senate: “Words fail me, my Lords, nothing I can say could possibly indicate the depth of my feelings in this matter.”
It is simply impossible to compact the gloom that has ruled and ruined our lives in the last decade in few words and sentences – a decade of poverty, and hunger, and neglect, and suffering, and injustice. It was a decade where words like tragedy and disaster are the stuff of everyday life, where violence is a method of choice, a means of solving problems, where bandits and surly soldiers walked the streets and gave substance to fear, and where many lost their power to shock. Who among us is unscathed? It was a decade that packed so much change in a lifetime.
Electricity has long been the bane of Nigeria’s economy. One of the most significant events in 2013 was the privatisation of the power sector. For years, Africa’s most populous nation was generating next to nothing – about one-tenth the power of South Africa, a country that has one-fourth of our population. In October 2013, Nigeria was generating a mere 3782 MW having peaked at around 4518 MW in December 2012. Many industries and homes were compelled to generate their own electricity.
After more than a decade of prevarication, the state-owned Power Holding Company of Nigeria was balkanised and replaced with six power generation companies and 11 distribution companies with the hope that there would be a remarkable difference in energy supply. The assets were formally handed over to private investors by the government on November 1, 2013. But a decade into the so-called privatisation, we do not know whether to laugh or cry. After billions of dollars and naira had been spent to boost power supply, electricity is getting scarcer, grossly insufficient as it is seriously rationed, near and far.
Nigeria is a nation in darkness. The other day, after the power greed had collapsed, as of routine, there was less than10 megawatts to spread round a population of 200 million. In the year 2023! Many manufacturing firms have packed up or lost their power to compete because of the prohibitive cost of generating power with expensive diesel generators. Our national economy has been damaged as much as our individual psyches.
Power is significant to the economy, and to all of us, but its sheer absence is not the only reason why the decade is lost. In April 2014, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls brought the world’s attention to a brutal Islamist insurgency in Nigeria led by Boko Haram. Their kidnapping of some 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, underlined their opposition to Western education, in the 21st Century. At its peak, in 2015, Boko Haram was ranked the world’s deadliest terror group by the Institute for Economics and Peace. In the more than the decade-long insurgency, thousands of innocent Nigerians have been killed or maimed while many millions have been displaced. Shamefully, more than 100 of the Chibok schoolgirls are still being held hostage. Beyond the individual tragedies, there are hundreds of thousands of children without parents, and wives without husbands. Farms were laid waste. Who will grow the crops to feed the survivors?
By some estimates, the insurgency has subtracted about 3% per year in Nigeria’s GDP since 2014, forcibly moving money from education and infrastructure to fighting wars, besides the cost of massive displacement of farming communities. Yet after more than a decade, the militants are still deadly, with fighters from a Boko Haram faction loyal to Islamic State said to be behind an upsurge in violence ahead of the general election. And so, the confounding question: why have a well-funded Nigerian Armed Forces found it so difficult to crush the insurgents?
This is a lost decade where promises are carelessly dumped. President Muhammadu Buhari came to power with the hope that his administration will bring down the insurgency, secure the country and put the nation on the path of economic growth. But the years have been a continuum of sadness, bracketed in Nigeria’s economic worst decade. Millions of Nigerians are today worse off. Or are you better off today than you were at the beginning of the decade?
Within a space of four years, first in 2016 and later in 2020, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted in two major recessions, due mainly to slump in oil prices and the crippling impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These came with rare economic hardships for the people in form of surging inflation amid widespread unemployment. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) went on one of its longest industrial actions because of the inability of the government to meet its responsibilities.
Acute shortages of foreign exchange severely weakened the national currency. Inflation is helped by the mass devaluation of the naira as one dollar now sells for almost N800 on the parallel market, which reflects the value of goods in the open market. Living conditions are further worsened by the 2022 floods which devastated about 34 states and claimed more than 600 lives. At the last count, inflation has shot through the roof, hovering at more than 21 per cent last November, just as a record 33 per cent Nigerians have no means of livelihood, with millions of youths constituting more than 50 per cent.
The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) also revealed that crude oil and refined petroleum products valued at $41.9 billion were stolen from Nigeria in 10 years (2009 – 2018). The last two years were perhaps worse. It is therefore little wonder that Nigeria has the world’s highest number of people living in extreme hardship. In response to the times, thousands of educated and talented young people have been fleeing the country, with a local phrase “Japa” coined in place of “Andrew” of the earlier less dreary decade of the 90s to depict the phenomenon.
Perhaps even more remarkable in the decade is the failure to put a tab on corruption. President Buhari was elected to office because he was perceived as a no-nonsense man who would wield the big stick against anyone who dips hands in the public coffers. That was in the past. Corruption has become a state policy. Public officers did as they like, without any restraining hands. Billions of public monies were diverted to private pockets and without consequences, even when most of the money being stolen is borrowed and the country is paying back through the nose. The rampart corruption, in addition to the inability of the state to secure and protect the citizens, is one of the reasons the country is gradually tipping over from weak to a failed state. Transparency International’s latest latest corruption perception index ranks Nigeria toward the bottom—at 154th of 180 countries.
The last decade, painfully, is another lost one. There are one or two things to its merit – perhaps the feeble attempt at mounting some rail infrastructure at a great cost, but whose viability is again being lost to insecurity. So, the decade is lost – enhanced by division and nepotism, selfishness, mismanagement, and appointments without merits. Will the next one make up for the laxity? That’s a question whoever is elected the next president will have to answer.
2023 and The Vanishing Party
BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
The following anectode is, perhaps, illustrative of the point that political parties are increasingly becoming irrelevant as institutions of democracy. In a video, a woman was interviewed on her choice in the presidential election. She mentioned the name of her preferred candidate. But when she was given a sample of the ballot paper and asked to show the party for which she would vote the lady enthusiastically pointed to the logo of a party different from that of her preferred candidate.
An observer may quickly attribute that action of the lady to poor voter education. But the problem seems to be deeper than ignorance on the part of a segment of the electorate.
Nigerian politicians and commentators alike are actively promoting the irrelevance of political parties in action and words. One of the consequences of the disparaging comments on the place of the party in the political process is that in the popular imagination the party doesn’t matter anymore. The wrong political education being given is that the important thing is the personality of the politician seeking votes. As they say in pidgin English: “Abeg, who party epp?”
This trend is myopic, but it seems to be dominant in Nigerian politics. What those who rationalise this trend often ignore is the reality that organic parties in a liberal democracy act as institutional intermediaries between voters, the civil society, and the political class. It is no accident that no viable liberal democracy operates a zero- party system. The obvious fact is that the 1999 constitution makes the platform of a political party an indispensable factor in the process of seeking power.
Nigerian politicians often change their parties when they fail to secure party tickets or when they could read on the political horizon that their political ambitions would not be realised on the platform of their present political parties. In some other instances, it could just be a matter of the politician evading party discipline where it exists. The concept of party supremacy is often treated with contempt and fierce hostility. Hence, the intriguing migrations of politicians from one party to the other.
A politician may defect from a political party to another one with a word of finality; yet a few years later he may return to the party. Years later he may quit his original party again for another party and in a matter of months he could return home to the first party. If you ask the politician on why he makes the back-and-forth movement across the political landscape, the retort would most likely be the invocation of the “freedom of association as enshrined in the constitution.”
Meanwhile, in this tortuous partisan journey, the politician carries on as if he owes no one any justification for the indubitably unprincipled actions. Hence a culture of political opportunism is flourishing in the land. Talking about party and principle, compare the political culture in Nigeria to that of the UK. Two years ago, former Speaker of the House of Commons and a Conservative Member of Parliament John Bercow defected to the opposition Labour Party. On his way out of the Conservative Party, Bercow clearly made public his reasons for defection. It was based squarely on principle. He described the party as “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes xenophobic.” He called for a democratic replacement of the government of Boris Johnson. On his attraction to the Labour Party, Bercow said: “I am motivated by support for equality, social justice, and internationalism. That’s the Labour brand.”
So, while a politician has the liberty to change his political party, the polity would be enriched when principles are stressed in taking the action. If you think drawing the contemporary UK parallel is inappropriate, the historical fact is that the trend in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic is a marked decline in party politics viewed against the background of what happened in the previous republics.
In the Second Republic, the split in the left-wing People’s Redemption Party (PRP) was to a large extent based on principle. The faction led by Mallam Aminu Kano and Mazi Samuel Goomsu Ikoku was accused by the faction led by Comrade Michael Imoudu of jettisoning principles in fraternising with the conservative National Party of Nigeria (NPN), which was in power at the centre. The two governors elected on the platform of PRP demonstrated solid principles which bore a great resonance across the nation.
Alhaji Balarabe Musa was impeached early in his tenure by the reactionary NPN elements in the old Kaduna House of Assembly because he remained uncompromising based on principle. His counterpart in the old Kano State, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, resigned as governor following the split in the party and contested the 1983 governorship election on the platform of another party, the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. In the characterisation of the Second Republic parties, NPP was grouped in the league of progressive parties. Yes, Rimi resigned as a governor elected on PRP platform before defecting to NPP!
However, in the contemporary political shenanigans, a governor elected on the platform of a party takes the party mandate along as he migrates to another party in a move often bereft of principle. Welcome to the new political saw in Nigeria: there is no morality in the process of seeking power. The point at issue is that PRP was associated with some ideological positions. It is unlikely that in 40 years from now, the political parties of the Fourth Republic would be viewed in retrospect as the PRP of 1983 is being remembered today.
Earlier in the First Republic, there was indeed an ideological provenance to the split in the political party that was in power in the old Western Region, the Action Group (AG) led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. This fact is hardly remembered as the story of that era is now reduced to the disorder of “Wild, Wild West.” At the 1962 Jos conference of the AG, a faction of the party led by Premier of Western Region Samuel Ladoke Akintola was opposed to the adoption of the ideology of “democratic socialism” by the party.
Ikoku, a Marxist, was the National Secretary and one of the ideologues of the party. Akintola famously offered a sarcastic definition of socialism amid the profound crisis of the party, which could be paraphrased as follows: in socialism if you have two wives the state would take one from you and give her to your neighbour. Sarcasm or no sarcasm, at least some ideas came into the fore in the dispute within the party.
In contrast, the Fourth Republic political parties hardly hold party conferences. The parties are hardly associated with any discernible ideas for which their members are passionate. The only passion demonstrated in political parties is that of securing the party tickets. If you are lucky to have the ticket you remain a devotee of the party, if you are “denied” the ticket you head for the exit door of the party.
To be sure, even in the realm of theory, scholars hardly agree on any universally applicable concept of party structures and operations. The peculiarities of each nation shape the evolution of the party system. Indeed, the typology of parties also varies from system to system and from one historical situation to the other. Hence parties in liberal democracies (the type that Nigerian political parties claim to be) are different in structure and organisation from revolutionary parties or religious parties.
By the way, the degeneration of political parties is not only a Nigerian (nay African) problem. Parties in the West, where liberal democracy has been deeply rooted, also have problems in the face of the onslaught from right-wing populism. Such is the fate of the United States Republican Party, which is still wrestling with Trumpism, and the European socialist parties risking emasculation with the rise of right-wing nationalist parties.
However, as a group of people who share political interests, values and views, a political party should rest organisationally on well-defined principles.
All told, the role of political parties in a representative democracy cannot be discounted. It is the political parties that should develop policies to be sold to the electorate during elections. In fact, candidates should be nominated to contest on the platform of a party based on their acceptance of the party programme by the politicians. It is because parties are not based on programmes that the campaign season is not defined by rigorous debates of issues.
It is no idealism to imagine that it is the ideological colour of a party that would distinguish a politician as progressive, liberal, or conservative. And these are not empty categories. The content of each category becomes manifest when making policy choices as a party in power or opposition. And in the Nigerian situation, the political spectrum would be delineated based on principle instead of primordial sentiments. Imagine that (for hypothetical purposes), the four leading presidential candidates are not identified by their ethnicities and religions, but by the agendas of their parties as progressive, liberal, left of the centre, conservative etc. The choice would be better informed. And the political stage would be tidier. That is why it is more organisationally meaningful for parties to own the fundamentals of programmes.
The tendency to render political parties irrelevant could only impoverish the liberal democratic process. It will stunt the nation’s political development. As institutions of democracy, the party system should not be turned into a vanishing breed.
From Frying Pan to Fire
BY BOLAJI ADEBIYI
In a recent article, Femi Adesina, chief spokesman to President Muhammadu Buhari, lashed out at critics of his boss who had insisted that his last seven years plus were of no significant benefits to the people. “They have eyes but cannot see. Pity!” was the title of his rebuttal of the perceived failure of his principal. Expectedly, he reeled out the big infrastructure projects done by the president that he said critics could not see despite their bulgy sizes: “Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Second Niger Bridge, Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, Bodo-Bonny Road and bridges, Loko-Oweto Road and bridge, brand new airport terminals in Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Enugu, Port Harcourt, rice mills everywhere.”
Obviously angry, Adesina wrote, “What of Abuja-Zaria-Kano Expressway in the works? AKK pipelines. And many other projects. No, they can’t see, because Buhari has done nothing. Fickle minds. Caviling. Carping. Flippant. Unserious.” Adesina’s anger could be understood within the context of his perception of the critics as mischief makers who had decided to overlook the president’s works. But is it not possible to critique the critics without resort to vulgar abuse?
Eight years ago, Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) hounded President Goodluck Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as good-for-nothing, dismissing his five-year rule, and the party’s 16 years in the saddle as a colossal waste of the nation’s resources and time. They subsequently convinced many Nigerians who accepted their point of view and voted the ruling party out of power.
Now, the shoe is on the other foot. It is the turn of the APC to face the heat and all they seem capable of doing is to trade blames. Somehow, Buhari and his APC got a second term in 2019. Those who allowed them to repeat their class after failing their promotion examination in the hope that their performance could improve with more time and experience appear to be dissatisfied and are complaining aloud that there had been underperformance on all counts. Attempts to resort to the weather-beaten pastime of blaming the PDP’s 16 years have now been roundly rebuffed as many Nigerians call for responsibility on the part of the APC, asking it to own up to its failures.
Looking at the facts, are Nigerians and the nation better than they were in 2015? Not quite, both in terms of records and practical reality. Buhari met an economy that was the biggest in Africa and was worth $500 billion with 4.50 per cent growth rate. Capacity utilisation was 60.5 per cent with 8.09 per cent unemployment rate. Foreign Direct Investment was $3.06 billion. Although the debt portfolio was N12.3 trillion, the external reserves stood at $29.13 billion with an exchange rate of N197/$. While inflation was pegged at 9.01 per cent, poverty rate was 33.5 per cent.
What is the state of play under Buhari? After taking the economy in and out of recession twice, it has been an epic struggle for economic revival. The growth rate has just made it back to 2.25 per cent. Despite the quantum growth of the foreign reserves to $37.08 billion with FDI lowering to $1.5 billion, there has been an acute shortage of forex forcing the rate to as high as N448.89/$ (N750/$ in the parallel market) bringing capacity utilisation down to 51.3 per cent. With inflation moving up to 21.34 per cent and unemployment at all time high 63 per cent, it is little wonder that poverty rate ballooned to 47.3 per cent. Meanwhile, national debt found its way up to N44.08 trillion.
The poor economic situation, which senior officials of the administration insist is improving, is as bad on paper as it is on the streets of Nigeria for many Nigerians, over 100 million of who live below the poverty line. If anyone is in any doubt about this, the experiences of the people in last one year should have cleared the doubt. Despite posting trillions of Naira as fuel subsidy, long queues have been a constant feature of filling stations across the 36 states of the federation and Abuja. This, a clear testimony to the humongous corruption that has plagued that industry, demonstrates most intensely the failure of the fight against corruption. In fact, the corruption index has worsened under Buhari from 136 in 2015 to 150 in 2022.
Principal officials of the administration habitually speak about perceived strides in the infrastructure and agriculture sectors. No doubt, a couple of railways have been completed while several road projects are ongoing. For instance, the Abuja-Kaduna, Lagos-Ibadan and Warri-Itakpe rails have been completed in the life of this administration. On its scorecard are also the infrastructures mentioned by Adesina as stated earlier. Although the administration would not recognise the efforts of the past governments that started the projects, it is only fair that the Buhari administration is credited for completing them.
However, the benefits that would have accrued to the people have been undermined by the worsening security situation which has discouraged both rail and road travels as armed non-state actors have been on the prowl. Their raids have kept many farmers off the farms, jeopardising the heavy investments of the Central Bank of Nigeria through its Anchor Borrowers programme. Not a few social analysts have, therefore, wondered how things have come to be this bad. When Buhari ascended the saddle in 2015, the main security challenge was the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east. Whilst the administration started with claiming the technical degradation of the insurgents, it soon became obvious that the security crisis was spreading beyond the traditional strongholds of the outlaws.
In the North-central was added the menace of armed and violent pastoralists who raided at will farm settlements, forcing Samuel Ortom, the governor of Benue State, to engage in an open confrontation with Buhari and the federal government over what he called the kid-glove treat of the marauders. The North-west would soon be engulfed by the orgy of violence as bandits took up arms wreaking havoc and displacing many citizens from their communities.
The southern parts of the country have had a fair share of the rising insecurity. Insurgent groups have held the entire South-east hostage for years, enforcing a stay-at-home regime every Monday. Besides, gruesome killings have become the order of the day with security agencies at their wits end on what to do to abate the violence. For a moment, kidnapping for ransom, which had become a thriving industry in the North, made an incursion into the South-west. This has taken a concert of efforts by the governors of the region to tackle it.
An interesting debate has been on among the principal officials of the Buhari administration, state governors of the North-west and North-east and the federal legislators of the insurgency-infested regions on the effectiveness of the efforts of the security agencies to route the bandits. While the federal officials insist that the menace is under control, some of the governors and the federal legislators complain that several of their local governments are under the control of non-state actors. What is clear though is that insecurity has festered significantly across the country, forcing many citizens into internally displaced persons camps.
The most profound evidence of the gravity of the security situation is the testimony of Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission in several media interviews. Asked on his greatest fear about the impending general election, he said it was the orgy of violence, particularly in the North-east and the North-west.
Incidentally, events of the last two weeks arising from the redesign of the Naira and the poor implementation of the swap of the old and new have beclouded the manifest negative impacts of a worsening economy and security. But even the acute shortage of fuel and cash that is now on display emanates from the same malady that afflicted the economy and security: incompetence. This, for instance, was a major highlight of the letter of Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria, who in a letter to Nigerians in the brand-New Year summarised the impact of the Buhari administration on the country as moving from frying pan to fire.
The good thing though is that ten days from now, Nigerians will have the opportunity to chat a way out of the quagmire they have found themselves. With the presidential and federal legislative elections billed for 25 February, and governorship and state Houses of Assembly poll slated for 11 March, Nigerians have a chance to elect a new set of leaders who they believe would change their fortunes. May the best candidates win at all levels.
Hopes, Impediments and Fears
BY CHIDI AMUTA
In a matter of days, the 2023 general elections will be upon us. What seemed like eternity a few years back is now a matter of days away. In the post military era, perhaps no other election has generated so much interest and anxiety as the imminent one. Our national discourse in the last three or four years has been consistently predicated on 2023 as a watershed year of democratic change in Nigeria. The change widely expected is from a rudderless incumbency to a more willful and purposive political destination. The reasons are many and obvious.
First, the incumbent Buhari administration has earned for itself a long list of negatives in the business of governing the country. Consequently, most citizens cannot wait for the administration to quit.
The prevailing national consensus is a rehash of what the mood was in 2014/15 when Goodluck Jonathan was on the ballot. Then the rhetoric was: “Anything but Jonathan!” It was that consensus that heralded Major General Buhari’s return to centre stage. Today, the street consensus has changed to something like: “Anything different from Buhari!”
In something with the echoes of Greek tragedy, hubris has re-enacted the chorus. The mob and mass that shouted “Sai Baba!” to welcome Mr. Buhari eight years ago has done a 360 degree about turn into: “Just Go Baba!” In place of the garlands and wild welcome praise songs from wild mobs of cultic devotees, Buhari is now being welcomed into major northern population centers with a hail of stones and unprintable salutations. This scenario was enacted in Katsina, the president’s home state, as a welcome parade a few weeks ago. It also happened in Kano a fortnight ago when the mob was even stoning the police helicopter accompanying the president!
As a direct testimonial to the serial bumbling of the outgoing administration, the nation that is about to go to the polls is beset with myriad problems and crises. They hardly need further rehashing. These range from perennial fuel scarcity to comprehensive insecurity, spiraling poverty, institutional decay, and unprecedented disunity. At no other time in our national history has the survival of the Nigerian nation been put to such severe test as in the past eight years. The strongest indication that Nigeria will survive is the general optimism and hope with which most Nigerians are embracing the forthcoming elections.
For most ordinary Nigerians, the elite discontent around the present dysfunction of the state could easily be glossed over. But then the incapacity of government has directly threatened the lives, limbs, and livelihood of most ordinary Nigerians. The rich and the poor are now united as victims of a bad time and bad governance. When the poor quality of governance translates directly into insecure lives, lost jobs, dangerous neighborhoods, declining income and general alienation, the common man becomes an active political agent with a keen interest in who becomes the next president, governor, or local government chairman. This is one reason why these elections are so consequential and popular.
Curiously, then, it does appear that bad government could have a positive consequence after all. In times of good governance and general peace, order and prosperity, fewer citizens get actively interested in matters of politics and elections. Voter registration as a percentage of the population is usually low. Voter turnout is low as well and partisan political enthusiasm and participation is relatively low. But in a bad time and place when it all seems that the only credible salvation from adversity and hardship is in a change of political leadership, even the lowest common denominator of citizenship becomes partisan and engaged. At the beginning of the current political season, well over 100 Nigerians expressed interest in vying for the office of president. Even as we write this, there are 18 presidential candidates in the forthcoming ballot!
The Buhari administration’s unequalled record of bad governance has united the nation around the banner of urgent change. Over 93 million Nigerians are registered to vote in this election, a number that is astounding by every measure of voter demographics. Nearly every adult Nigerian is engaged in the political process in one way or the other. Similarly, most people are anxious about the outcome of the elections for the same set of reasons. Most people desire a leadership that will end the prevailing hard and uncertain times.
Adversity has its uses. Happily, therefore, the popular eagerness to change the quality of government through the ballot box is a plus for the nation’s growing embrace of a democratic culture. Nigerians are not just clamoring for change but rather the populace now believe that only democracy can usher in the kind of change that they desire. This is the strongest explanation for the massive interest in the imminent election and its outcome.
A close observation of the campaigns that are about to wind up reveals the changing mood of the electorate. There seems to be a perceivable movement away from strict partisanship followership towards a ‘movement –based’ political followership. The movements are fuelled by the common adversities that the people face. Add to this the predominance of the youth bulge as the most consequential political force of the moment and the future.
The expectations of the youth and those of the older generations from these elections are however divergent. While the older generations are desirous of the return of order and peace with some prosperity, the youth want a new nation in which their expertise and participation can add value to the management of public affairs. Above all they want a nation in which they can compare their fortunes with those of their opposites in other countries. The internet age and advances in communication, information and transportation have created a world in which the expectations of youth in Beijing. London, New York, and Lagos are now fairly identical.
The forthcoming election is therefore about meeting both local and global expectations of our citizens and the rest of the world for whom Nigeria’s 200 million plus population is a significant percentage of the global population. The success of democracy in Nigeria is important not only for Nigerians but for the rest of humanity. This is the basis of hope in the forthcoming elections.
But even in signaling hope, the forthcoming elections are set against a background of the consequential problems in the Nigerian environment that could hinder the smooth conduct of the elections.
Against the background of the prevailing insecurity across the country, fears remain that elections may be interrupted in parts of the country. In the southeast, for instance, repeated attacks on INEC facilities and personnel in Imo State have raised fears that the elections may be interrupted by violence and heightened separatist agitations. Of course, IPOB, the lead separatist group in the zone has issued a statement absolving itself of the threat to the elections.
Similar fears have been expressed about parts of the north like the northeast where remnants of Boko Haram and ISWAP still constitute a security concern. The troubled states of Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina and Niger remain places of high security interest. The possibility that terrorists and bandits in these areas could be determined to disrupt the elections is a matter of course.
In recent weeks as well, embarrassing hiccups in the nation’s essential systems have crept into play and could imperil the elections. An avoidable nationwide fuel scarcity has crippled energy supplies in most parts of the country. It is hoped that renewed initiatives by the NNPC and a new government task force headed by the president will ease the scarcity in time to allow for hitch free elections.
Similarly, a badly bungled currency change exercise has virtually crippled the national economy. A severe scarcity of cash in the system has adversely affected the lives of citizens and businesses. In addition, widespread discontent about the currency change crisis has threatened an already fractious national security landscape. For hitch free, free and fair elections, the hiccups associated with this exercise need to be quickly cleared up.
Taken together, this wide range of circumstances in the national social and economic environment are enough to truncate the best intentions of those who have designed and marketed an orderly democratic transition through a free and fair election. And the possibility of botched elections would open a range of undemocratic possibilities in a bid to ensure national survival and collective security. All informed assessments of Nigeria’s chances with this month’s elections have never failed to factor in undemocratic interventions in government if the elections do not go well.
There are credible fears about the outcomes of the elections. This is based on the possible complications that could arise from the vdery configuration of the major contestants for the presidential elections.
First, for the first time in our post military partisan politics, the three top contenders represent an unconscious replay of Nigeria’s tripodal ethnic equation. Tinubu from the Yoruba southwest; Atiku from the perennial Hausa Fulani north and Mr. Peter Obi who gatecrashed to the top of the race is the unexpected Igbo man flying the most nationalistic and detribalized flag. By accident or design, this representation puts on display the familiar stock assumptions of Nigerian politics. Each of them therefore comes with a baggage of deficits, unstated assumptions and supporting attributes.
Secondly, the three candidates come with an interesting mix of religious profiles and undertones. Mr. Atiku Abubakar is an undisguised northern Fulani Muslim. Mr. Tinubu is a Yoruba Muslim with a Christian wife parading a Muslim-Muslim ticket with Mr. Kashim Shettima, a Kanuri fellow Muslim, as his running mate. On the other hand, Mr. Peter Obi is an unadulterated Igbo Christian, an unrepentant Roman Catholic.
This mix and match of backgrounds of faith and ethnicity is perhaps representative of the Nigerian diversity. The campaign has been all about each of the candidates proving that they can transcend their ethnic and regional identities to be more Nigerian than the others. But the combination comes packed with multiple electoral and political permutations, possibilities, and advantages.
Thirdly, this is the first time in the post military political era that the presidential race is not featuring a war time military hero or general. Therefore, it is the track record of the candidates in previous elective public office rather than the myths of military and battlefield heroism that is being invoked in marketing them to the Nigerian electorate. To that extent, none of them can frighten us with tales of war time leadership and sometimes dubious heroism.
Even if the elections go well, there remains a fear about the outcome and the possibility of post-election upheaval. The configuration of backgrounds and loyalties among the three major contenders for the presidency leaves room for contentious outcomes. If the ailing Mr. Tinubu wins the election with his Muslim-Muslim ticket, there remains a fear that the Christian population of the south could rise against his victory on religious grounds. His Aso Villa based traducers could also engineer a rejection of his victory for all manner of reasons. Widespread triumphalism among his devotees in the southwest could grate badly on the feelings of other nationalities.
An Atiku Abubakar victory would in the same vein meet with a faith-based series of protests. Against the backdrop of Mr. Buhari’s jihadist antics, the fear that another Fulani Muslim president could deepen existing fears of sectional hegemony and herdsmen violence may spark pan-southern protests and a violent rejection of the outcome of the elections.
On the other hand, a surprising Peter Obi victory would be the most tectonic outcome of the 2023 presidential election. An Obi victory would unsettle some of the assumptions on which the Nigerian federation has existed in the post-civil war era. An Igbo man as president of Nigeria would unsettle the political, security and even psychological comportment of the Nigerian state and society. Christians would rise triumphant just as the Igbos would feel a new sense of inclusion in the Nigerian federation 53 years after an unfortunate civil war.
That outcome could produce unintended resistance and even violent protest in parts of the federation since the fear of Igbo ascendancy is one factor that has continued to unite the rest of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities. For the youth and most urban educated Nigerians, that would perhaps be the most desirable outcome of the forthcoming presidential election. A feeling of real change is likely to sweep through the nation as most people have become enamored of Mr. Obi’s gospel of a new Nigeria in which power is returned to the people.
The forthcoming election is perhaps the greatest test of Nigerian’s resilience as a nation. It will test our capacity for mutual tolerance. It will also test our readiness to embrace the full implications of a democratic culture which requires that those who win must win on behalf of all Nigerians. The burden of managing the outcome of this consequential election will test the will of the incumbent Buhari administration in statesmanship.
As a soldier, President Buhari must face up to his last duty as a leader: to hand over a united nation to a successor in a painless transition from one elected government to another through a credible democratic process as it was with his ascension in 2015.
What the Candidates Have Ignored
BY BENNETT OGHIFO
In 2030, about seven years from now, the transition to the use of energy from renewable sources such as wind or solar from the use of fossil fuels (oil and gas) would have started. Yet, that’s where much of Nigeria’s wealth is generated. As that diminishes, there will be a reduction in the development of the technologies that enable the use of fossil fuels. But a few days to the crucial presidential election, it is obvious that environmental issues are not high on the agenda of those who seek to be president of Nigeria from 29th May.
Besides trading in fossil fuels, Nigeria uses it as a source of energy to generate the meagre power that is supplied to homes and factories in the country. But this is no longer sustainable because, as scientists have determined, it contributes to the production of carbon that causes global warming/climate change. According to climate experts, humanity has until the year 2030 to stop the continuous global warming of the planet. Failure to achieve this, they warn, will cause “irreversible effects” of climate change — more super-typhoons, flood, and wildfire.
Scientists and politicians have for years argued that the climate battle will be won or lost in the next decade. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that global emissions must be halved by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 to avoid climate catastrophe. Net zero means cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere, by oceans and forests for instance, according to the United Nations Climate Action.
It is noteworthy that Nigeria and other developing countries, particularly in Africa, contribute very little to global warming but they are worse hit by climate-induced disasters. For instance, experts stated that “Despite recent increases, in 2019, Least developed countries (LDCs) were estimated to account for about 1.1% of total world CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion and industrial processes – the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Even in per capita terms, LDCs’ CO2 emissions barely reach 9% of the world’s average.”
This forms the basis of the demands of developing countries for the rich nations that are the main emitters to bear the cost of energy transition and to pay for loss and damage, which is described as reparations for impacts that are difficult to adapt to for vulnerable countries like Nigeria. For instance, the devastation caused by the flooding in October 2022.
Annually, all Parties to the UNFCCC gather to discuss and decide on the actions required/Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to bring down greenhouse gas emissions known as ‘mitigation’, make adjustment to economic, social, and ecological systems to cope with the impacts of climate change, known as ‘adaptation’, and reparations for impacts that are difficult to adapt to for vulnerable countries like Nigeria, known as ‘loss and damage’.
Loss and damage, one of the most pressing issues of COP 27, was officially accepted as an agenda item for the biggest annual climate change congregation. This is the first time that loss and damage is on the official agenda of a UNFCCC COP. The loss and damage agenda item were being pushed by developing country negotiators, especially from small island states, for the past year since COP 26 in Glasgow.
The Nigerian government in its Nationally Determined Contributions proposed a commitment “to reduce Greenhouse gas Emission by 20% unconditionally and 45% with international support and has finally developed and finalised the Sectoral Action Plan (SAP) for the implementation of the NDC in the key priority sectors; Energy; Oil & Gas; Agriculture & Land use; Power; and Transport.
Interestingly, COP27 took place in a year when several countries were ravaged by multiple climate-induced extreme weather events, particularly flooding in Nigeria that wrecked infrastructure and claimed many lives. These events, most of which have been partly attributed to global warming, affected both developing and developed countries.
Unlike the developing countries, developed countries have the finance and technologies to cope with the consequences.
Developing countries need financing, technology and support from developed countries for mitigation, adaptation and addressing loss and damage. President Muhammadu Buhari and leaders of other African nations in the African Union, as well as those of other developing nations at COP27 negotiated what type of assistance they can receive from developed countries and how soon. For instance, at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, rich nations made a pledge to channel US$100 billion a year to less-wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature.
These nations contribute little or nothing to global warming, but the developed countries are yet to honour their $100 billion pledge. There is a shortage of about $17 billion, according to a report released in July 2022 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental body made up mostly of developed countries.
The OECD said it based its assessment on reports from the wealthy nations themselves. They contributed $80 billion in climate finance to developing countries in 2019, up from $78 billion in 2018. Most of this money came from public grants or loans, transferred either from one country to another directly, or through funds from multilateral development banks (MDBs). A smaller amount is private finance that the public money is said to have mobilised, such as loan guarantees and loans given alongside public funds.
In September 2022, the World Bank said it disbursed $31.7 billion as climate financing for the 2022 fiscal year with Nigeria receiving $700m for an Agro-Climatic Resilience in Semi-Arid Landscapes Project to develop 20 watershed management plans covering the Northern part. Climate change, according to the World Bank, is causing severe water stress in Nigeria, causing droughts to increase in frequency and intensity. “This affects Nigeria’s economic growth – it could cost the country as much as 30 per cent of its GDP by 2050, affecting the livelihoods of millions of households, worsening food security and livelihoods, and increasing the risk of violent conflict.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, while addressing participant at COP26, demanded for financing and technology from developed nations to enable Nigeria to decarbonise and tackle the climate crisis, as well as transition to cleaner energy. He made the same point at Glasgow in 2021: “It begins with transitioning to cleaner but consistent energy production. Fossil fuel power generation that can provide electricity 24 hours a day in all conditions can be re-tooled to be greener through carbon capture and the conversion of coal and heavy fuel oil power stations to biomass.”
So, it is imperative for all the presidential candidates to pay particular attention to the global negotiations and resolutions. Thus, they must perish the thought that they can act independently without enormous consequences to the Nigerian economy in the years ahead. The thought that “it is not going to happen during my watch” should not cross any of their minds.
Unfortunately, what some of them have said so far is that they would use every fuel available, including coal, which according to scientists is in the frontline of fuels oozing carbon dioxide that is implicated in global warming. Besides, it has been agreed that no new coal fired plant will be built, while existing ones will be shut gradually. It is also important to carefully review the advice of the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January, this year, about using a mix of energy sources for industrialisation in the years to come with a transition plan, stating that “if Nigeria succeeds, the whole of Africa will succeed.”
Preparing for the Morning After
BY WAZIRI ADIO
With a few days left to the commencement of the 2023 landmark general election in Nigeria, the consensus among pundits and keen political observers is that the result of the February 25th presidential poll will show a keen contest among three or four candidates. That will make this election cycle the most competitive since 1999.
If things go as projected, this will be a major shift in and a toast to the health and maturity of our Fourth Republic. But the projected tightness of the race is a double-edged development, worth celebrating and risk-proofing at the same time. This duality is worth exploring.
First the exciting and commendable part. Since 1999, Nigeria has effectively been a multi-party democracy only in name. The contest has largely been between two political parties, with the gaggle of other parties (sometimes numbering more than 80) merely making up the numbers. You can call them paper parties.
In the five election cycles between 2003 and 2019, the two leading parties between them cornered between 86.26% and 98.92% of the valid votes. In 2019 for example, the two dominant parties snapped a combined total of 96.82% of the votes, leaving the remaining 71 other parties that fielded presidential candidates in that election to scramble for a measly 3.18% of the votes. The candidate that came third overall polled only 0.40% of the valid votes cast, and even that could have been because his party sounded almost like one of the dominant parties.
The highest proportion of the votes a third party has ever garnered in the presidential elections since 1999 is 7.45%. This record was set by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in 2007 when he was the presidential flagbearer of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). Some scholars like Thomas Carothers have a name for the divergence between multipartyism on paper and in reality. They call it feckless pluralism.
The projected competition in 2023 thus will make our electoral system truly more plural and will further expand options for voters. This is good for our electoral politics and for our democracy.
It is worth stating quickly that there is nothing wrong with having just two parties or with a multi-party democracy with two dominant parties. You can have real alternatives and good competition in a two-party system. In actual fact, most established democracies have two dominant parties that regularly alternate power.
The issue with our current two dominant parties is that they rarely offer voters much to choose from in terms of ideas or personalities, they are populated by the same criss-crossing politicians, and they run on the same philosophy of patronage politics. And most fundamental, they are too entrenched and too conceited to see the need to constantly read the room, reinvent themselves or embrace reform. It is thus easy to see them as two damaged peas in the same rotten pod.
The possibility of a third force or the viability of candidates running on previously obscure or relatively new parties is thus a needed wake-up call for the two leading parties and a necessary shock to the system. I suspect that no matter how this election goes, we will still have two dominant parties, even if those parties are not the current leading ones. I say this because I believe that the experiment started by General Ibrahim Babangida (when he forced two parties on the country during the aborted Third Republic) has become a major part of our political culture.
Based on the dynamics of the coming elections, my considered view is that the era when political parties take the voters for granted and do so without consequences is coming to a necessary end. Even if either of the two parties wins the elections, I want to believe they have seen the bold writing on the wall.
This thus will be a major win. And should be seen as another major marker of progress in the Fourth Republic, alongside other key milestones which include: holding out for more than two decades, featuring more than two consecutive elections in a republic and recording two term-barred presidents, three transitions and the defeat of at least a ruling party. The multiplication of options for the voters is also a potential incentive for better governance.
But every good thing has a potential downside.
The flip side of the expected keen contest is that the winner of the February 25th election may be elected by a minority of those who vote on that day. Between 1999 and 2019, the winning candidate secured between 53.96% and 69.60% of the valid votes. This time around, it is likely that the winner will secure between 30% and 40% of the valid votes.
This will be within the range of the percentage of votes scored by the losing candidates in the previous six elections (31.97% to 44.96%), save for 2007 when the candidate that came second got only 16.66% of the votes. (Of course, everyone—including the winner of the election—agreed that the 2007 poll belongs in the temple of infamy.)
Ordinarily, this likely turn of events should not be a cause for concern as we operate the first-past-the-post voting system. Apart from meeting the spread requirement of securing 25% of votes cast in 24 states and FCT, whoever scores the highest number of votes is the winner, even if the margin of victory is just one vote. In any case, most of the registered voters rarely turn up on election day. (Average voter turnout over the previous six election cycles is 51%, a range of between 69% in 2003 and 35% in 2019).
But a major shift may happen this time around (and this is not just about turn-out figures). For the first time in this republic, we are likely to see a situation where the elected president may not be the preferred candidate of the majority of those who vote on election day. This will be on account of good showing by the other candidates who are likely to split the votes of the majority of voters.
This scenario takes us back to 1979, when we held our first presidential election. That election remains our most competitive multiparty election till date. In the presidential election held on 11 August 1979, the five political parties of that era polled as follows: National Party of Nigeria (NPN), 33.77%; Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), 29.18%; Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), 16.75%; People’s Redemption Party (PRP), 10.28%; and the Great Nigeria People’s Party (GNPP), 10.01%.
Though UPN unsuccessfully went to court to challenge the election on account of the spread principle (the famous 12 2/3 saga), NPN’s Alhaji Shehu Shagari became the president even when 66.23% of the voters did not vote for him. The game is the game.
Why should a repeat of this possibility raise any eyebrow? My simple answer will be: because the contexts are different. The political climate in Nigeria today is more heated and more fragile than it was 44 years ago. The lines of division are sharper now, certain factors that didn’t register much on the political/electoral scales are now more salient, and our country is facing its most security challenges in decades.
Based on the way the competition is set up in 2023, most voters may include key ethnic, regional, religious, class and demographic groups that are hurting or feel alienated already. The outcome of the election may deepen the sense of hurt and alienation of some of these key constituencies and may negatively impact national unity and security, among others.
While it may be too late in the day to prevent this from happening, it is not too early to start preparing for that possibility.
Interestingly, 1979 offers some insight in practical and reasonable politics. NPN had a different challenge back then. It didn’t have the parliamentary majority needed to get the ministers approved and key legislations passed. For example, NPN had only 36 or 38% of the 95 senate seats while UPN, NPP, GNPP and PRP had 28, 16, eight and seven seats respectively. NPN formed an accord with NPP and ceded to NPP some ministerial positions, the Deputy Senate President position (Senator John Wash Pam), and the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke) even when NPP had only 78 of 449 House members.
If the winner of the 2023 elections gets elected by a minority of voters as I have sketched out here, he may or may not need to strike such a political bargain. But he will need to actively reach out to and assure the hurting and alienated majority that might have rejected him at the poll. His most important job will be national healing, accommodation, and reconciliation. Next in scale will be managing expectations and preparing the country for the pains of necessary adjustments.
(*This is an edited version of earlier piece in a three-part series on the 2023 elections published recently in Adio’s column on the back page of THISDAY)
A Battered Populace
BY MONDAY PHILIP EKPE
Going by today’s standards, an advert published in the New Nigerian Newspaper of 2nd August 1983, and which circulated on the social media recently, doesn’t offer much in terms of aesthetics and diction. But that becomes inconsequential when the black and white ad is weighed against its historical relevance and symbolism. “Shagari for all seasons” leads the copy whose body includes phrases that capture some of the yearnings of the people at the time. It reads: “Programme for ’83: Free qualitative education guaranteed plus. More houses for the masses. Industrial transformation of Nigeria. Self-sufficiency in food production. Effective medical services plus. Electricity and water for every town and village. Vote Shehu Shagari, the guardian of democracy!” The logo of the ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN) is placed strategically in four places. The message is also complemented by a passport of the meek-looking candidate of the party, a former teacher from Sokoto, Seat of the Caliphate.
One major significance of the publication is that even four decades after, it presents some of the country’s pressing needs and part of the common promises still being thrown at voters. Suffice it to say that Shagari went on to win that election, the celebration of which was short-lived as his government ended abruptly via the military intervention led by the then Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. Central to the rationale given by the junta for the putsch was that the civilians had failed in their pledge to operationalise the tenets of democracy and better the lives of the people.
The fate of that era notwithstanding, I have fond memories of some aspects. The leading lights then like Shagari, Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), Mallam Aminu Kano of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) and Dr Tunji Braithwaite of the Nigerian Advance Party (NAP) were respectable men who led organisations with identifiable values and ideologies. I happily served as a polling unit agent for UPN in 1983 in my town because of its free education agenda even though the party had no strong presence there. As far as my memories go, the flaws of that period did not include the transactional, ravenous politicking we’re faced with today. Corrupt practices had not become this institutionalised and deep. There is hardly any socio-political and economic variable then that ranks anywhere near what holds today. Clearly, times have changed substantially and most of the dramatis personae who call the shots now in our polity exhibit less lofty ideals than their forebears in the Second Republic, in my opinion. Somehow, the politicians in past dispensations managed to maintain some decorum, even with their own imperfections and the unique challenges of those days.
Now, the people who are at the receiving end of the actions and inactions of politicians are yet to demonstrate the kind of electoral sophistication that’s expected of citizens of a nation whose democratic credentials can’t now be described as nascent. Our political leaders understand this flaw and use it to enhance their own fortunes, oftentimes, by appealing to the fault-lines and primordial sentiments that keep the people divided at critical moments. At such times, many citizens become oblivious to a simple logic that adverse conditions like poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment, and unsafety do not have states of origin and are, therefore, not exclusive to any part of the country. They may be more pronounced in some places than others, but they’re all united in subduing the citizenry, particularly the less privileged.
The dilemma of Nigerians doesn’t stop there, sadly. An average voter bears some self-sabotaging mindsets: “I don’t want to waste my vote,” meaning, he votes for whoever he thinks might win, not necessarily his convictions. “I’m for anyone who can ‘drop’ something,” meaning, he isn’t sure of what he’ll gain from the candidate post-election, so he takes any handout that comes his way. “Whether I vote or not, they’ll put whoever they want there,” meaning, having witnessed ballot frauds over time, a recourse to pessimism becomes blissful. “Only God can help us,” meaning, even in areas that demand their own will and conduct, many Nigerians hand their responsibilities to God.
But cynicism, nonchalance and ignorance can only prolong the redemption date of a country in dire need of rebirth. Take the economy, for instance. According to World Bank’s December 2022 Nigeria Development Update (NDU), the nation is in a precarious economic situation with heavily reduced growth predictions. From the organisation’s findings, we can only make reasonable progress if maximum efforts are directed towards reforming three principal areas namely, macroeconomic structures and administration, functional and collaborative private sector participation, and effective policies and programmes in favour of the poor.
Those recommendations came against the backdrop of the bank’s damning report earlier in March that year. The 2022 World Bank Nigeria Poverty Assessment revealed thus: “Given the effects of the crisis (Covid19), the poverty headcount rate is projected to jump from 40.1 percent in 2018/19 to 42.0 percent in 2020 and 42.6 percent in 2022, implying that the number of poor people was 89.0 million in 2020 and would be 95.1 million in 2022. Taking the difference between these two scenarios, the crisis alone is projected to have driven an additional 3.8 million Nigerians into poverty in 2020, with an additional 5.1 million living in poverty by 2022.”
Unfortunately, those negative estimations have even been exceeded, confirming that our country which hosts the largest number of extremely poor people on earth requires a more pragmatic leadership to survive and thrive. And there’s no better way to produce that in a democracy than using the power of the ballot. Unfortunately, voter apathy remains an enduring hurdle in Nigeria. The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made this point in February 2022, a concern he still expresses. According to him, “Over the last two electoral cycles, including off-season elections, voter turnout across the country hovers around 30 to 35 percent. While a few elections had higher percentages, some recent by-elections recorded as low as 8.3 per cent voter turnout in urban and constituencies of over 1.2 million registered voters located in the nation’s most densely populated cities. This unfavourably compares to the average voter turnout of 65-70 per cent in other countries, even in the West Africa region.” Change in this regard is, without doubt, no longer optional.
Attitude counts a whole lot. Nigerians must rise above past disappointments, deliberate lies from office-seeking and serving politicians, antics of political predators, and the audacity of those bent on perpetuating the disillusionment and misery of the people. We can be inspired by marble-words on voting from some of America’s iconic political and civic leaders. Abraham Lincoln, late former President of the United States: “The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” Martin Luther King, Jr., late US civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” John Lewis, late civil rights activist and member of the US House of Representatives: “The vote is precious. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it.” And, Barack Obama, former President of the United States: “There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter. It all matters.”
The irony of our situation is that the political class is more united than the people realise. The bond among Nigerian politicians across ethnic, religious, and socio-political persuasions is, truly, incredible but understated. Whenever their personal interests are threatened, they can sacrifice anything, including those of their constituents and even the entire country. Underrating their entrenched self-interests and elite camaraderie is partially responsible for the continued subjugation of the generality of the people.
Here’s a warning to politicians, however. The seeming helplessness and docility of Nigerians may not go on forever. The long-standing divisions that weaken their capacity for collective action may also have been overrated. The 2020 EndSars protests, dismissed in some quarters as powered and prosecuted by young people from just one part of the country, is grossly misanalysed. But for the infiltration by sponsored thugs, they would have spread throughout the federation with unimaginable consequences. Now, triggers for mass action are visible everywhere. The recurring and stubborn energy issues, the nation’s rapidly dwindling macro and micro economic profiles, despicable living standard of the majority, fast fading hopes for tomorrow especially among young people, growing insecurity, and palpable threats to nationhood don’t show signs of abating.
These existential vicissitudes can pull down the walls erected in the psyche of unsuspecting citizens that have undermined the much-needed synergy to dismantle public exploitation and stagnation. It’s not too difficult to discern that taking the people for granted may no longer be a wise pastime for political office seekers and holders. One can easily perceive wounds in the souls of most Nigerians. Some of them find expression via the internet; others on streets; and, also, sundry other places. But whether the abundant angst in the land will be weaponised at the polls for meaningful purposes and surprises is conjectural.
Divided They Stand…
BY PAUL NWABUIKWU
Whenever any of the two chambers of the National Assembly – Senate or House of Representatives–is in session with the full complement of the lawmakers in attendance, the diversity of Nigerian culture and fashion is on full display. The annual presentation of the budget by the president is a prime example of such events. On one side of the chamber, you spot the flowing babarigas and agbadas of the far north and the Southwest. On the opposite side, the regal attires of the many Benin-influenced sub-groups as well as the Cross Rivers/Akwa Ibom, with cascading bead work, hold sway. The Igbo Isi-Agu outfits in their many incarnations are also well represented. So are the distinctive black-red and blue-white attire of the Tivs, Idomas and related groups. This is, of course, a small and very unrepresentative sample. There are many others.
Nigeria is blessed with a dizzying variety of ethnic groups with estimates ranging from 250 to over 600, depending on the source. And each one comes with its own language or dialect, history, culture and, of course, unique traditional dressing – as the turnout in the National Assembly regularly demonstrates.
We generally view this variety of cultural expression as a positive, a celebration of “unity in diversity”, a confirmation that Lugard’s experiment is functioning properly despite many challenges. The old National Anthem agreed with this view, quite emphatically. “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”, it confidently asserted, daring anyone to disagree. The current anthem concurs. While leaving problematic, un-woke word “tribe” out, it claims that we are “one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity”.
But there’s of course the flip side. Diversity can also be a negative when it becomes a metaphor for the serial failure of a country to come together, to coalesce and to blend into one indivisible whole. The patriotic assumption that the country’s diversity is always positive is challenged by the clear facts of our history which have shown, repeatedly, that we are more diverse than united. A patchwork of fabrics and colours is only useful when the components are part of a harmonious design. As Nigeria’s history and present circumstances show, we are far from a harmonious whole.
This is amply demonstrated in the country’s weak elite consensus which is so poor that the two words might well be described as an oxymoron. And under the outgoing Buhari administration which has conducted the affairs of state with the same insular, parochial, and often divisive mindset that defines the personality of the head of government, there is very little consensus within the country’s elite on what the national ethos and core priorities are or should be. In fact, huge swathes of the country’s history are in contention and there is serious disagreement about who the national heroes are or should be.
Murtala Muhammed, Chukwuma Nzeogwu and even Sani Abacha are, depending on which part of the country the Nigerian assessing their legacy comes from, are either great heroes or irredeemable villains. While that may not be entirely strange – Americans from the north and south view the confederacy, civil war, slavery and race relations through very different collective prisms – Nigeria’s case is worse because there is also very little consensus on even the most mundane priorities that should be taken for granted in a 21st century democracy beset by huge socio-economic challenges. Apart from a few notable exceptions, our leaders and elites generally prioritize the wrong things.
As respected scholar and former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) commissioner, Lai Olurode put it: “Nigerian elite focus on irrelevant issues of who governs and ethno-religious issues of identity politics… peripheral matters get elevated to the front burner whereas those issues that are essential to effective governance get buried under the rubbles of politics.” This disconnect between what may be described as our culture of “mechanical politics” and urgent national issues is a symptom of weak elite consensus. Because there is no larger, cohesive shared vision of the essence and direction of the Nigerian project, all that is left is politics in the most shallow and unprogressive sense.
But before we proceed further, what exactly is elite consensus?
The concept flows from the elite theory of power and governance which the Encyclopedia Britannica describes as “a theoretical perspective according to which a community’s affairs are best handled by a small subset of its members”. It adds: “in modern societies such an arrangement is in fact inevitable”.
Elite theory has many sub-theories, dimensions, and features but basically it refers to the universal phenomenon whereby a small group in society emerges to wield power that is disproportionate to their numbers. Some of them come from formal government structures in the form of people elected or appointed to public office. Others are products of informal but influential power centres such as religious groups, traditional monarchs and leaders of various stripes or other sources of recognized or organized political influence.
There are academic disagreements over whether it is desirable or in society’s interest for elites, some of whom are not products of the democratic process, to wield so much power. But it is safe to say that elites are inevitable in every society, for good or bad. Even under communist rule in Russia, POLITBURO, and other elites with a distinctly different lifestyle from the general population, residing in opulent dachas, emerged soon after the Revolution.
In Nigeria, popular understanding of who the nation’s elites is captured in the concept of “Nigeria’s rulers”, a phrase which is very common in political circles. This refers to the conclave of super powerful persons from different parts of the country who take some of the most important political decisions in the country, those behind the “magic” that appears regularly in the headlines. They include current and retired top military men, key traditional rulers, select ministers and heads of critical agencies, influential advisers close to these persons and other well-placed confidants whose access and counsel places them in the most exclusive political circles. Though there are semi-permanent key members who remain influential over decades, a significant proportion depart regularly through a revolving door when they lose their elective or appointive positions.
Former military leader, Ibrahim Babangida who regularly holds court at his famous mansion in Minna is perhaps the most consistent visible representative of the top echelons of the Nigerian political elite although age and the disruptive emergence of Buhari, the man he kicked off the saddle in 1985, as president may have blunted his influence.
Sadly, in the run up to this year’s presidential and legislative polls, amid the multiplicity of challenges confronting the country, Nigeria’s elite remains divided on key issues. Behind the patriotic speeches of the contestants, there is no evidence of broad, pan-Nigerian elite consensus on key national priorities. Take infrastructure. The same old regional, ethnic, and religious sentiments continue to drive our politics at the expense of critical issues like fighting poverty, achieving a national network of critical infrastructure like ports and rail system that blends the relative advantages of states and regions with defined national socio-economic goals. Rather, infrastructural development is still perceived primarily in terms of “ownership” by constituent sub-national entities rather than a national enterprise with national objectives.
The hope is that these elections will produce a president and other key elected and appointed persons in key positions with a more nationalistic mindset than the current players and that they will help to boost and drive national elite consensus away from narrow primordial considerations towards a deeper, development-oriented, pan-Nigerian direction. For Nigeria to start achieving its much-vaunted potentials, our elites must talk less about political power and contracts and more about the issues that will really make a difference in the most critical areas.
Taking Power Back to the Grassroots
BY AISHA SHUAIBU
Where there is crisis in Nigeria, the blame is always targeted at the federal government, where the president is deemed the source of all problems. But as responsible as a country’s president may be to the state of the nation, the other levels of government hold a chunk of that burden. In Nigeria, the 36 states and 774 local governments also bear enormous responsibilities. We hope whoever becomes the next president will push through a Constitutional amendment that will grant these local governments the needed autonomy to fulfil their mandates.
The Local Government system is a critical tier in a federal system which is traditionally aimed at serving grassroot communities by driving developmental initiatives and exercising authority within defined areas that affect those communities.
The Nigerian Constitution has outlined the functions of Local Governments as handling sanitisation, education, data collection, among other things within those communities. Subject to the proposition of the State House of Assembly, Local Governments may also be empowered to develop infrastructure like roads and hospitals. This level of government has the most measurable impact compared to the other tiers, as it deals directly with the people and their immediate needs.
With only ten days the 2023 general election, it is important that there be discussions on how to improve on governance at that level. The state of our Local Governments is of national concern because politics, they say, is local and the decisions made at the top eventually lead to what is seen at the bottom.
One of the many benefits of the Local Government system is in its civic engagement. The connection between the Nigerian government and the people begins at the local level, where the sense of responsibility to their immediate environment is expressed through dialogue and action. With that in mind, it is important that there is transparency when trying to earn the trust, support, and cooperation of the people. Good leaders who are disciplined and trustworthy must be a priority when considering the right ones for the job.
The true test of integrity is usually identified through the management of public funds. 60% of the Local Governments’ total revenue is from the Federal Government and it is projected that the removal of petrol subsidy, working refineries and an increased cost of crude oil will contribute to the growth of the FGs income, giving local governments more to work with. The Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) serves as the source of the local government funds from the state in a joint account as mandated by the Nigerian Constitution. The State House of Assembly then determines the distribution of funds across the LG.
In the instance of a corrupt State Government, middlemen may be placed to interfere with the distribution of the funds, weakening their Local Government and making them impotent. Institutional corruption makes its way into the system when states encroach on Local Government matters by making unilateral decisions to appoint counselors and chairmen of their choice. Despite the efforts of the federal level to deal with these issues more judiciously, it seems State Governments have just become difficult to deal with.
Historically, Local Governments in Nigeria have faced many problems. Although the functions of Local Government are meant to receive no interruptions from higher tiers of government, in practice, Nigerian Local Governments often must deal with officials who get into office and enable corrupt practices. Godfatherism has fuelled these practices and enhanced the failure of LGs. Sham elections, where state governors weigh power on the state independent electoral commissions, stifle citizen participation and undercut democracy, giving room to their chosen fraudulent counselors and chairmen to sign off on funds that do not end up where they should.
A possible solution is one that has been discussed for a while: Granting autonomy to Local Governments so they deal directly with the Federal Government and not the State. There must also be a strong dedication by the lawmakers at both the federal and the states to abolish kleptocracy by putting processes in place that make government officials accountable on every level, strengthening fiscal sustainability, transparency, and accountability.
The disconnect between the government and the people begins at the local level. Nigerians are hardly involved in Local Government elections, a result of low awareness and campaigns by the parties. It is the responsibility of the State Governments to educate voters on their Local Government leadership. Fixing the tenure for Local Government officials by the state allows their impact to be measurable, instead of holding an election at the will of the state governor. Local Governments must work for the people first and where that is not the case, the agenda has been completely lost. The average Nigerian is the most impacted by their Local Government.
A nation that aims to produce more empowered and educated citizens must prioritise the condition of its grassroot communities. In the coming government after this election, it is expected that there will be discussions on how to improve on local government administration in Nigeria.
Let’s Avoid the June 12 Road
BY OLUSEGUN ADENIYI
There is a joke I shared several years ago on this page of a lavish society wedding after which the couple retired home to commence their honeymoon. At bedtime, as the man joined his wife and attempted to consummate the relationship, she withdrew from under the pillow a court injunction perpetually restraining the husband from claiming “all his entitlements”. What made the “report” believable, as I said at the time, was that the said injunction was obtained from a court in Abuja, a city notorious for breeding judges for whom “justice” is a commodity that can be traded even on the Stock Exchange.
The point here is that the judiciary is becoming a source of concern, especially in this election season, and there are undercurrents to suggest that some judges in Abuja are being primed to game the process. Available reports indicate that some politicians and their agents are working the courts within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to ensure either that the elections do not hold as rescheduled or that the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and Card Readers are not used, knowing that without them, it would be a matter of simply writing results with all the attendant consequences for the peace of Nigeria.
The good bit though is that whatever anybody may say, this election is not being fought along, and would not be lost and won because of, Nigeria’s traditional fault-lines. The lesson here is simple: For the average Nigerian politician, whether from the North or from the South and regardless of the religion he/she professes, politics is more often about the pursuit of personal interests.
While June 12 may mean different things to different people, what is not in doubt is that Nigerians paid an enormous price for the contrived and prolonged crisis that held back our country from peace and progress and for a long period divided our people. Therefore, for us to avoid going back down that unfortunate road, critical stakeholders must pay attention to Abuja courts. A word, as they say, is enough for the wise!
ENDNOTE: I wrote the foregoing exactly eight years ago on 19th February 2015, in the prelude to the general election of that year. Sadly, we seem to have learnt no lesson from the past. With all the allegations of plots to impose ‘interim government’ or instigate military coup by operatives of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), there are increasing fears that the general election could be scuttled. But we must remind our politicians that in the Nigeria of today, the procedures by which power is granted, renewed, or lost, at all levels of government, are regulated by laws that must be respected. If indeed there are people planning extraconstitutional ways to power, we urge them to perish such idea that can only lead our country down the abyss.
Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to which Nigeria subscribes and which forms the basis of our Constitution states that “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives,” and that leaves no room for any ambiguity. Those who seek to govern us can only emerge through competitive election and not through any backdoor arrangement. Perhaps for amplification, the UDHR states further: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
In all these, the judiciary is important to the retention of our democratic order. And, as it was in the past, our courts and the men and women on the bench, are giving many causes for concerns. Already, there are tell-tale signs that some of them are being used by unscrupulous politicians. It is even more worrisome that the Supreme Court that should take the lead in the restoration of law and order is raising doubts in the minds of many Nigerians about its own integrity. Instead of writing rejoinders to critics, what is required of the Supreme Court is to lead (by example) the efforts to enthrone and deepen democratic ethos in our country, especially at such a critical period as this.