Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Ekiti Crisis

Why has the nation ‘fountain of knowledge’ turned ‘fountain of anarchy’? Can we ever conduct a credible election in Nigeria? And if yes, how can it be done? Are we actually practising democracy in a true sense? And perhaps, is democracy the answer? Or should we explore alternative governance process? These are the questions been asked in the last few days following last Saturday Gubernatorial election re-run in Ekiti State. We may probably just need to remind ourselves that the election re-run was only to be conducted in 68 electoral wards (!). So why on earth has an election with only 25,000 votes for grabs turned into a ‘free-for-all’ violence? There has been report of widespread violence with political thugs are having a filled day. Journalists have also been attacked with machetes. We now understand that State Resident Electoral Commissioner has gone AWOL. We have also heard allegations and counter-allegations among the political parties of fraud. And as of Tuesday 28 April, elections are yet to commence in Oye-Ekiti, and therefore the gubernatorial election remains inconclusive.

The current situation is not an isolated case. These events are just a sad reminder of the ‘wild wild west’ of the second republic. Some of the older generation may remember the bloodshed caused by the political rivalry between the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). It is right to say that some of the victims of the mayhem have since not recovered. But the question remains, can there ever be a free and fair election in Nigeria?

The conduct of ‘free and fair’ elections is a collective responsibility of everyone. The government must ensure that it promotes an environment that will encourage a fair electoral process. And when I say ‘environment’, I mean the ‘electoral system’ in its entirety. Legislations and processes that support the electoral system must also be fair. The nation’s citizens and politicians are also charged with the responsibility of complying with the ‘rules of engagement’.

In Nigeria, what we have is a political system that is at odds with the principles of democracy. Our electoral process is devoid of any form of transparency. We have a democratic structure that is riddled with inherent conflict of interests. Our law enforcement agents have been compromised. The system grants enormous power to the incumbent. The electoral commission is not in anyway ‘independent’. How can an elected President be responsible for appointment of the INEC Chairman? The President is also responsible for the appointment of heads of law enforcement agencies. Now tell me, how can you unseat an incumbent who has all the state machinery at his disposal? We have seen situations in the past when law enforcements have been used to harass opponents of the ruling party. I remember Ex-President Obasanjo accused of using the EFCC to intimidate and harass opponents of his ‘third term’ agenda. I also need not to remind you of how ‘men in uniforms’ have colluded with the ruling party to snatch and stuff ballot boxes.

The effect of this obvious imbalance in our political system and democratic structure has rendered the opposition helpless. And that is why most of the opposition parties engage in thuggery, rigging and so on. The fact is, every political party in Nigeria is engaged in one form of electoral fraud or the other. The only difference between is that the ruling party is normally aided by other state agencies. The winner of an election is mostly determined by how much resources you have at your disposal to rig the election.

So how can we begin to address these problems? Until the principles underlying our electoral and democratic system is addressed, free and fair elections will only be a mirage. After 10 years of continuous democratic rule, I’m beginning to support the idea of a sovereign national conference. I used to believe that those clamouring for a sovereign national conference were doing so for selfish reasons. However, I have now come to realise that it is important that we start to redefine the structure of our existence as a nation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not agitating for the break up of Nigeria. In fact, I believe our diversity, which is often seen as a challenge, is one of our greatest strength. However, the ‘bolts and nuts’ of our constitution needs to be re-engineered. We need to engage in serious discussions about on our style of governance. If we want to practice Federalism, let us practice true Federalism. The current Federal structure does not make any sense. There is too much power vested on the President. We do not have clear separation of powers within our governance structure. Our electoral process needs serious overhaul. We need a genuine electoral reform. Not the one currently being proposed by the current government. It is unlikely that any ruling party will support such a true electoral reform. And that is why these issues have to be discussed at a non-partisan level.

Until these fundamental issues are resolved, the Ekiti crisis will be a child’s play. With 2011 elections around the corner, how this crisis will pan out over the next few weeks will of course be a matter of interest to everyone.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Okiro Panel

The ongoing twist in the Halliburton bribery scandal seems to be never ending. Sometimes I ask myself, for how long will this government continue to take Nigerians for a ride? And as someone rightly said, the Halliburton bribery scandal is now ‘hallucinating’. This week’s inauguration of the Okiro Panel, set up by President Umaru Yar’Adua to investigate the bribery scandal, reiterates the obvious, that this government is a time waster when it comes to fighting corruption.

Haven’t we seen it all before? Once upon a time, there was the Pius Okigbo Panel which looked into the ‘1991 Oil Windfall’ during the Babangida regime. Then, there was the Oputa Panel, which look at human right abuses post-1966. Lately, we have also had the Uwais Panel on ‘electoral reform’. However, government’s track record on the release and implementation of Panel Reports has not been very convincing. The politics been played with the Uwais Panel report speaks volume about the insincerity of the Yar’Adua administration. And for me, the inauguration of the Okiro Panel might just spell doom for the current investigation of the Halliburton bribery scandal.

The investigation panel is headed by the Inspector- General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro, and includes Chairman of the EFCC and a representative each from the Office of the National Security Adviser, Nigerian Intelligence Agency and the Department of State Security Service. One of the justifications for inaugurating the investigation committee was the need to get ‘vital’ evidence required to prosecute those found to have compromised themselves.

The questions we need to ask ourselves is, ‘do we need to set up a panel consisting of the Inspector-General of Police and EFCC Chairman before vital evidence can be obtained from the law courts’? We all know that this investigation started in the US, but was the US Director of FBI or CIA engaged to investigate Halliburton? I can remember reading anywhere that the US set up any ‘high level’ committee to investigate the allegations levelled against Halliburton. I want to believe that the US investigation would have been carried out by officers. This is considering that the former US Vice-President Dick Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton when these crimes were committed.

This is not the first time foreign companies have been found guilty of bribery in Nigeria. We are all aware of the AG Siemens and Wilbros cases. So, why was a panel not set up to investigate these cases? Or is the Halliburton case any different from the Siemens and Wilbros cases? My concern is that this panel will spend the next eight weeks wasting taxpayers’ money, while embarking on a wild goose chase. I wouldn’t be surprised, if their first assignment will be to fly across the Atlantic, claiming estacodes, all in the name of gathering evidence. For starters, it will do Nigerians a lot of good, if the government can disclose the how much budget is made available to this panel. We have already seen the Attorney-General junketing all over the since in the last few weeks ‘gathering’ evidence.

I’m right to believe that the investigation and prosecution of Halliburton in the US did not just start two months ago. For those who may not be aware, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission opened a formal investigation of Halliburton's involvement in the bribery scandal in June 2004. I also found out that, the Nigerian government ordered its own investigation in February 2004. This suggests that the Nigerian government commenced its investigation before that of the US Justice Department. So what was the outcome of the 2004 investigation? The fact that an investigation was carried out in Nigeria in 2004, and that no one was charged is also a confirmation that the previous Nigerian administration is an accomplice and can be accused of ‘cover up’.

My view about President Yar’Adua on corruption is, as genuine as he may look, this man will be shooting himself in the foot if he dares attempt to fight corruption. Either directly or indirectly, he his one of the biggest beneficiaries of corruption in the country. It is common knowledge that his election was bankrolled by some of the nation’s most corrupt individuals. As silly as it may sound, some of the PDP Presidential aspirants (who were heavily enmeshed in corruption) had to drop their ambitions and support President Yar’Adua after they were been threatened with prosecution.

Also, we are now been told that the Attorney-General cannot prosecute any individual without the approval of the President (!). I don’t know when the AG’s discretion to exercise prosecutorial powers became subject to the approval of the President. If that is case, why not appoint the President as, the Commander-In-Chief and Attorney-General of the Federation. If I can remember, we were once told that the EFCC, ICPC and the Police prosecutorial discretion are subject to the Attorney-General’s approval, in compliance with ‘rule of law’. And now that the AG has to seek the President’s approval, someone probably needs to explain to me where the separation of powers and ‘checks and balances’ lies in the government.

Considering this government’s track record, I think I can predict the outcome of this panel investigation. The panel will submit its report in eight weeks as planned. President Yar’Adua will inaugurate another panel, which is likely to be headed by the Attorney-General to review the findings of the report. Mr Attorney-General will then recommend that the evidence tendered in the US courts to charge Halliburton officials were not obtained through due process (what ever that means!) and therefore, it cannot be tendered in Nigerian courts. To affirm his support for ‘rule of law’, Mr President will accept the recommendation., and that will be case closed!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lagos-Ibadan Expressway Concession

The recent approval by the Federal Executive Council of the concessioning of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway for 25 years to Bi-Courtney Nigeria is a call for sober reflection. Under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP), Bi-Courtney will invest N89 billion on rehabilitation and upgrade of the highway and recoup the cost of its investment through charging of tolls.

As we know, the concessionaire (Bi-Courtney) is not a new player in the emerging Nigeria PPP market; it currently operates a $250 million Build-Operate and Transfer (BOT) contract at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport Terminal 2 (MMA 2). The Lagos-Ibadan Road project will be done under a similar BOT deal with 100 per cent private investment funding.

On paper, this deal seems to represent a ‘win-win’ situation for all parties. The government will enjoy a 25-year rehabilitation and upgrade of arguably the busiest and most strategic federal highway without spending a kobo. Also, Bi-Courtney will enjoy a 25-year ‘monopoly’ on providing a strategic road link between the south-west and south-east region. And the average punter is also enjoying a well maintained road- albeit at a cost.

Countries all over the world are currently struggling to find private investors to fund toll roads projects due to the current global economic crisis and the unreliability of the traffic forecasts used in financial modelling of such projects. However, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway will be a ‘money spinner’ because of its ‘monopoly’ status. So why is it a money spinner? There is currently no decent alternative route between the south-west and south-east region. There are also millions of religious worshippers who travel on this road on a weekly basis. And most importantly, there is no competing public transport system such as rail. And sadly, road public transport vehicles will also be subjected to toll charges. For me, this is probably the most viable PPP road project I have seen from an investment point of view. But whether it provides ‘value for money’ for the taxpayer is a different ball game altogether.

I have always questioned the rationale behind of some of these so-called PPP. The more I look into the details, the more disillusioned I get. Following my review of some of these PPP road projects and the emerging trends, I have come to a conclusion that PPP is now becoming a mode for ‘legalised’ corruption. Most of these PPP contracts lack transparency. As an example, I can’t remember seeing the public ‘Call for Tenders’ for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway anywhere. We only got to know it’s been approved on the front pages of the newspapers. How can a contract of N89 billion not follow any ‘due process’. And if it did, we are yet to know how many investors put in a bid. Or was Bi-Courtney the sole bidder? Or are you telling me that the public procurement rules in Nigeria allows a contract of N89 billion to be awarded on the basis of ‘sole-invitation’? These issues bring me back to the issue of ‘value for money’. And the question remains, when due process is not followed, how can we be sure that the taxpayer is getting value for money?

Unfortunately when these sorts of arguments are raised at public forums, you get shouted down by other members of the public for reasons I sometimes understand but do not entirely agree with. Due to the paucity in infrastructure development since independence, an average Nigerian just wants to see things done. The way and manner such projects are undertaken seems not to bother them at this stage. When you query the underlying principles of certain projects, the quick response is “at least Governor X or Minister Y is doing something, unlike in the past when nothing was done”. But does that mean we should all keep our mouth shut even if Governor X or Minister Y is mortgaging our future as a result of his/her ignorant or corrupt actions? I strongly believe that we should not sit back and allow our future to be mortgaged to few individuals under the guise of PPP.

With the specific regards to Lagos-Ibadan Project, I do not have any problem with Mr Wale Babalakin (CEO of Bi-Courtney), as he his just a businessman looking to maximise his opportunities.  But we need to challenge the system that is allowing these dubious PPP contracts to perpetuate. After reading about the Lagos-Ibadan PPP, the question I asked myself was, does it mean the government cannot undertake any project? If the government has to concession all the federal highways to the private sector, then it needs to tell us what it is set up to do. They keep complaining that the cost is too much for them to bear. But that has been the excuse for the last 20 years or so. The same excuse was given for the failure of the power sector, the same excuse was given for the failure of the refineries, the same excuse is given when civil servants are retrenched, and the same excuse is currently being paraded regarding the looming removal of petrol subsidy. But it was not the case, when the Speaker of the House of Representative and Deputy purchased five bullet-proof ‘special utility vehicles’ at a cost of N300 million! A government that cannot undertake mundane tasks such as road maintenance is nothing short of a ‘failure’. I still maintain that the government cannot abdicate its statutory responsibilities. The government is set up to promote social equity and not to encourage the rise of Oligarchs.

While the government might saved itself N89 billion, someone is still picking up the cost. And that is the average Nigerian that will be using the highway on a daily basis. And let’s not be deceived, it does not mean that the savings made by the government will be used to provide key infrastructure in other sectors of the economy.

Let’s accept that the government is a ‘failure’, but why the choice of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway? Why can’t the N89 billion be invested in providing an alternative route (i.e bypass) through a PPP and tolled accordingly.

You need not to be transport specialist to know that the strategic importance of this highway has been undermined by the proliferation of religious organisations in the last 10 years or so. Vehicular accesses have provided along this corridor without any regard for highway safety and efficient movement of through traffic. The corridor is also one of the fastest growing in the country due to rapid urbanisation. For me, it is a ‘glorified’ local road. And it is difficult for the government to remedy these inherent problems now because of public outlash. How Bi-Courtney will deal with these religious organisations will be very interesting. It would have been better if this road is ‘downgraded’ and probably handed over to respective state governments. The government should have then worked in partnership with the private sector in providing an alternative. Upgrading the road to three and four lanes in each direction will only offer little benefit in the long term.

Lastly, whether we agree or not, the monopoly advantage given to Bi-Courtney will further undermine the possibility of having a decent rail system connecting Lagos-Ogun-Oyo states at least in the short to medium term. We need to understand that the more vehicles using the road, the more money Bi-Courtney makes. Do you think Mr Babalakin will support the construction of a rail line that will have a huge impact of road traffic numbers on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. One of the unintended consequence of the government action, is the introduction of another major player that will work against (either secretly or openly) the development of a mass transit system along the Lagos-Ibadan corridor. But having invested N89 billion can he really be blamed?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Federal Character Principle

The Chairman of the Federal Character Commission (FCC), Prof. Oba AbdulRaheem, was quoted recently as saying, “18 states are not currently benefitting from the ‘federal character principle’ of the 1999 Constitution”. The states were described as having low representation in appointments into Federal Ministries and Agencies. According to the Prof. AbdulRaheem, each of the 36 states is expected to have about 2.5 % and 3.0% representation in appointments made by Federal Ministries and Extra-Ministerial Departments. A source from the FCC was also quoted as saying “the implication of the current irregularity is these states may not have civil servants from their states in the hierarchy of the Federal Civil Service in the next few years”.

One of the major fundamental errors in the 1999 Constitution is principle of ‘federal character’. Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution states that “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”. While some might disagree, it is my opinion that the inclusion of this provision within the constitution has contributed immensely to the paucity of development in the country. It is time we begin to challenge some of these principles. Firstly, we need to ask ourselves, what can be defined as our federal character?

Unfortunately, this principle has been used to accelerate the promotion of mediocre and incompetent civil servants into top government positions. The same can also be said about Ministers. People get handed ministerial portfolios not because they are competent but because they are representing the interest of particular state or ethnic group. I agree that ministerial appointments are political, and in most cases the President has to satisfy his electorates. However, what about Director-General of federal ministries and parastatals? Why can’t appointments be made purely on individual merit?

We seem to have dug ourselves into a big hole by having such a ridiculous provision in our constitution. And by the way, I can’t seem to understand the rationale behind what is considered as the ‘federal character’. The fact that a state is properly represented in the civil service doesn’t mean that an ethnic group within that state is not marginalised. Nigeria is a very diverse country. We have states with more than four ethnic groups. To say that the principle of federal character satisfied because Ogun state has 5.8% in the top echelon of the federal civil service is misleading. I can count five different ethnic groups just in Ogun State. Tell me, how can you represent 140 ethnic groups in the top echelon of the civil service? And now that we have started towing the path, where do you stop? So the more states we create, the more we have to represent. Does someone think this is the solution to the inherent ethnic problem in the nation?

This problem is also further compounded by the recognition of just three languages in Section 55 of the 1999 Constitution. So are you telling me that there are only three languages in Nigeria?

The principle of federal character is similar to policies of equal opportunities in the western world. While sections of the community that are deemed to be underrepresented are actively encouraged to apply for jobs, it does not mean that they will be handed a job if there are incompetent. But in our case, the primary concern is the state of origin, while skills and ability are secondary.

These are fundamental issues we need to address. It is time we start looking beyond ethnic divide. The diversity in our culture and ethnicity should be seen a strength. Election into leadership position should not be based on ethnic sentiments. I wouldn’t vote for someone just because he his Yoruba. For example, what did the Yorubas benefit from eight years of Obasanjo rule? Has Katsina developed any better than Lagos since President Yar’Adua assumed office?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Letter to President Umaru Yar'Adua

Your Excellency,

I hope this letter finds you in good health.

Firstly, I will like to commiserate with you on the exclusion of Nigeria from the last G20 meeting. I am happy that you expressed your disappointment at the exclusion of a country of 140 million people and sixth largest producer of the world’s ‘most sought after’ commodity, from such an important gathering. However, let me be quick to point out that, the greatness of a nation is not just dependent on its population size or mineral resources, and neither is it dependent on cosmetic re-branding programme.

Your Excellency, you will agree with me that it’s been almost two years since your assumption of office. While there has been no tangible developmental progress been made by your administration, it is unfortunate that we are now beginning to talk about your ‘second term’ in office.

Sir, I agree that as a Nigerian citizen, you have the right seek a second term in office. I also acknowledge that you have not come openly to confirm or deny the current media speculations. However some of your closest aides have made it a point of duty to start the 2011 Presidential campaign on your behalf. But before you make a decision, there is an important question you need to ask yourself. Do I really understand the complexity of challenges facing the country?

Sir, following my review of your first two years in office, I am convinced beyond every doubt that you do not understand the challenges of your office. Just as the Americans will say. “You just don’t get it”. And if you can’t get it in two years, what makes us think you will in eight years.

I remember all the rhetoric about ‘rule of law’, vision 2020, seven-point agenda when you came into office. The only thing this administration has been successful at doing is reversing all policies of the previous administration. Your government has been stuck in reverse gear for the past two years. You spent seven months to re-constitute your cabinet, within which there was approximately three months of inaction in government ministries, department and agencies. Two years on, your administration is still ‘fart-assing’ around with the Lagos-Kano rail modernisation project. You still don’t have a blue-print for energy sector, the refineries are still not working, you are still talking about highway concessions. How many years of planning do you actually need?

It was interesting to read the comments of one of your closest aides, that the seven-point agenda has been designed to be implemented in eight years. And that you need two years of planning, and six years of implementation, hence the need for a second term. Haba!

If indeed you need two years of planning, then I want to believe that you were never ‘ready’ for the position you currently occupy. And in your case, I want to blame the wicked and callous farmer from Otta, who saddled you with this responsibility. Nobody can be forced into the office of a President, especially in a complex nation like Nigeria. Serious presidential candidates have plans and programmes before they assume office. They undertake series of research into the workings of the government during their campaign. They identify where they can make ‘quick wins’. They develop of list of programmes they will implement in their first 100 days in office. They set targets and benchmark for measuring their success in office. I’m not saying a presidential candidate should be a ‘jack of all trade’, but that is why they appoint intelligent advisers, who x-ray each government departments and help develop policies.

Some of the decisions you have made recently, has highlighted the handicap that exists in your administration. There is an ‘information gap’ within the current government. Mr President, for me, it seems that you lack information on key challenges you are trying to solve. As an example, you announced that you intend generate 6,000MW of electricity before the end of 2009. However, you have failed to tell us how this will be done. You shouldn’t be telling us this after two years in office. An informed President comes into office with mapped out strategy. If President Obama is to spend two years to study America’s problems, then the whole of the US will be sleeping on the streets before then. Nigeria needs a President that will hit the ground running. The challenges facing Nigeria does not require a President that will learn on the job. For goodness sake, been the Governor of Katsina for eight years does not make you an informed person. I’m sorry to say, your actions recently has shown an utter display of ignorance.

I also want to query your judgment in the recent sacking of NNPC Directors. I’m not sure if you read the recent article of Dr Patrick Dele Cole in Guardian Newspaper 6 April 2009 and 7 April 2009. This was the most shocking indictment of the NNPC I have read in my life. I found it interesting that the NNPC Directors were sacked the day after the articles were published. While the nation is dire need of such actions, I can’t seem to understand why the sacked Directors were quickly replaced by their subordinates. These are the same people that have failed to bring any integrity and accountability into the NNPC. Mr President, we need a change from the status quo. Institutions such as the NNPC, NRC are not ‘fit for purpose’, and are in need of thorough cleansing.

I do hope you will take these issues very seriously. While you have a right to seek a second term, it is not a birthright. I understand the enormous power at the disposal of the incumbent in Nigerian politics. The Nigerian Presidency demands more than a ‘good man’. We do not want to be held hostage for another six years of your administration.

Long live Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Michael Aondoakaa and the Halliburton Bribery Scandal

The more I look into the unfolding events of the Halliburton bribery case, the less I tend to see. I can almost bet on my mortgage that no single Nigerian individual will be prosecuted. The recent comments by the nation’s Attorney-General Chief Michael Aondoakaa cast further doubts on the intent of the nation law enforcement agents to prosecute the culprits. Let’s remind ourselves, this is not first high-profile bribery case involving multi-national companies. We are yet to see any successful prosecution in the Wilbros and AG Siemens bribery cases. A former petroleum Minister was fined five million Euros in France for money laundering few weeks ago in the Wilbros case. However, as I write, no action has been taken by the either the AG or the EFCC to at least question this individual. Considering the track record of the President Yar’Adua ‘anti-corruption’ crusade and supposed adherence to ‘rule of law’, why would anyone think the Halliburton case will be any different.

As we can remember, the US Justice Department indicted two citizens of the United Kingdom for their role in bribing Nigerian government officials to win a lucrative natural gas construction contract for Halliburton Corp. Last September, the Former CEO of Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) Jack Stanley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and conspiring to violate the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The Justice Department noted that he paid more than $180 million in bribes to Nigerian government officials so KBR could win the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas plant contract.

Following these revelations, the Attorney-General (AG) and the Minister of Information have been very quick to make series of remarks and comments. The AG first noted that the government will sue all foreign companies involved in bribery cases in Nigeria for libel, because they have brought the name of the country into disrepute. Following that, the Minister of Information, Mrs Dora Akunyili noted that names of Nigerian officials indicted in the bribery case will be made public once received from the US Justice Dept. We were also led to believe that the AG has written to the US Justice dept three times regarding the indicted officials, but yet to receive any reply.

I will note that all sorts of names have been banded around in the media. I’m not interested to join in the speculations about who is or who is not involved. However, I want to advise the AG that he does less talking for now, as some of the comments he has been making recently can be considered to be ‘prejudicial’. The bribery case is still under investigation in Nigeria and therefore it is improper for him to be making such remarks and the nation’s Chief Law Officer.

The remarks being made by the AG, are the reasons why I want to believe that nothing will be achieved in this investigation, and the AG might only be paying a lip service to the ‘fight against corruption’. According to the AG, $150 million of the alleged bribe has been discovered in a Swiss account. While he refused to name the account holder, he was quoted as saying “…..government does not prosecute out of the newspapers' cuttings. If somebody said I voted $40 million for you, which is his own wish, and if the money does not reach you, can I come and prosecute you because in his book he wrote $40 million”. I find this statement damaging and insidious, and could potentially derail the current investigation.

I accept that the government cannot initiate prosecution based on newspaper reports and that ‘hard evidence’ is required. And in actual fact, the ‘burden of proof’ is on the government to demonstrate beyond every reasonable doubt that any named suspect was actually involved in the alleged bribery. You may call me a conspiracy theorist but I want to draw one important thing from that statement, which proves to me that the so-called AG/EFCC investigation is joke.

Initially, we were told that at least more than six top Nigerian officials were involved in the bribery scandal. But now, the AG noted the $150million has been discovered in one account. According the AG’s tone of language, he wants us to believe that the money might have been pocketed by someone. Also, that all named suspects might not even have collected any bribe in the first place, and the fact that they were named in the US trial is not good enough.

But my question is why the AG is so quick to jump to such conclusion? On whose behalf is he actually acting? The fact that there is no evidence to show that Mr X was paid A$million does not mean he is not guilty of the charge. The first thing that should be established in this investigation is ‘intent’. If Mr X has agreed to receive A$million, and for some reason he couldn’t be paid then he is culpable.

My concern is that the ongoing investigation will be based on whether money was actually received by the suspected individuals. As we can see with $150 million found in one person account, there is already a presumption of innocence. I agree that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. However it is for this reason why I think the AG should at least keep his mouth shut! This case is not just about money being paid or received. For the KBR officials to have named the Nigerian officials, there must have some form of agreement to collect and transmit bribes. By the way, the KBR officials are not Nigerians, and what do they stand to gain from name dropping? It is my understanding that KBR established a highly sophisticated network, which facilitated the bribe payments over a number of years. Therefore the evidence and statement provided at the US court is very crucial to the Nigerian investigation.

I’m not convinced that there is no ulterior motive to bury this case. My suspicion is, the investigation will only focus on the account holder. And since EFCC or the AG will not be interested in establishing whether there’s been collusion or intent to receive bribes, the major actors in the bribery scandal will be absolved from any wrongdoing.

Whatever be the case, the whole world is watching.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Road Traffic Accidents In Nigeria

The way in which deaths caused by road accidents are treated in Nigeria, confirms that the government has not regard for human lives. It is disturbing that to know that human lives are treated purely as ‘statistics’. I’m yet to see any genuine attempt by the government to reduce the number of road accidents fatalities.

The Corp Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Corps Mr Osita Chidoka noted during a media briefing that 5,157 lives were lost through road accidents in Nigeria in the last three years. According to the statistical breakdown, out of a total of 18,308 accidents reported, 5,157 deaths were recorded, while a total number of 13,251 persons sustained different forms of injuries. He further noted that 2,119 accidents and 301 deaths were as a result of tanker drivers/road haulage trucks between January and March 2009. For me, these are depressing results. It is an indictment of government ineptitude. On the average, it means 23 daily accidents and daily loss of 3 lives between January and March. It will be interesting to know how the number of accidents and fatalities measure against the number of registered haulage trucks and average kilometre travelled.

In the build up to major national holidays, it is now a common occurrence for the Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to brief the media on road fatality statistics. Honestly, I do not understand the aim and purpose of such press briefings, without effective follow-up actions. The number of road deaths has also been increasing exponentially for the last few decades. The first question is, where did the Corps Marshall obtain his data? Secondly, are these press briefings meant to be awareness campaign?

The Corp Marshall also noted at the press briefing that the commission has mapped out strategies to regulate the operations of motorists in order to forestall unnecessary loss of lives and property on the roads as part of the Easter holidays preparation. I’m also aware that the commission has purchased additional 24 ambulances to ensure effective patrol of the highways to guarantee compliance to traffic codes. But really, are these things not just the right thing to do in all circumstances? Is it only when we are approaching a festive period that the FRSC should be mapping out strategy and investing in traffic reduction measures? For goodness sake, people die everyday on the national highway and not just during festive periods.

I want to believe that the causes of road accidents are not just human error or driver negligence. Our highways are arguably one of the most dangerous in the world. The road infrastructure in Nigeria has suffered from decades of neglect. The lack of planning and regulation of accesses has also undermined the function of our strategic highways. Allowing direct access onto a major highway such as Lagos-Benin Expressway by religious organisations smacks in the face. From north to south, east to west, the federal highways have become death traps. Hoodlums have now taken advantage of the perpetual government negligence in the discharge of its statutory functions. Innocent lives have lost through robbery attacks on the highway. Every year, we only hear about of billions of naira spent on road rehabilitation. It was learnt that a former Minister put up a comedy show at the Lagos-Benin Expressway. She broken into tears(!), after witnessing the state of the Expressway. But the question remains, what actions did she take after that visit? None!

It is common knowledge that many of road accidents are caused by haulage trucks. The failure of our rail system has contributed immensely to the proliferation of haulage trucks. I’m sure Nigeria will rank as highest on the list of countries with largest number of haulage trucks per capita. It is not just the ownership of haulage trucks that is the problem, but most of these trucks are not in anyway ‘road worthy’.

The menace of road traffic accidents should call into question, the role FRSC and Federal Ministry of Transport. .It is unacceptable that so many lives should be wasted unnecessarily on account of avoidable accidents on our roads. I even doubt very much if the figures quoted by the Corps Marshall reflect the total human loss to accidents in the country.

The Nigerian public expects more than annual press briefings on numbers of road fatalities. The FRSC and Ministry of Transport need to develop clear actions and strategies. Road traffic accidents reduction actions and strategies should be iterative and dynamic process and, not just dependent of holidays or festivities. Reduction of traffic accidents demands more than 24 ambulances. The FRSC should be setting annual traffic reduction targets. This is the only way; the effectiveness of its performance can be measured.

The main objective of setting up the FRSC in 1988 was to minimize road traffic accidents. Part 11, Section 11 of the FRSC Act clearly spells out the functions of the agency. In addition to minimising road accidents, the FRSC is charged with the responsibility of conducting research and collecting statistics on road traffic accidents. However, how can any informative research be undertaken in the absence of reliable data? A visit to the FRSC website further illustrates this problem. Agencies task with collection and analysis of national statistical data have always been non-performing. The creation of the Bureau of National Statistics to replace the old Federal Office of Statistics has not yielded any meaningful results.

Finally, the ownership and use of heavy duty vehicles is also in need of better regulation. Heavy duty vehicles should be required to meet minimum safety standards. The safety regulation of heavy duty vehicles should not be undertaken by the FRSC. I have always called for the need for a 'Traffic Commissioner', who should be responsible for licensing and safety regulation of heavy duty and public carriage vehicles.

Monday, April 6, 2009

G20 Summit and President Yar'Adua

Last Thursday, President Yar’Adua was quoted in the media saying “I must say that today is a sad day for me. And I think it should be for all Nigerians. When 20 leaders of the leading countries in the world are meeting and Nigeria is not there. This is something we need to reflect upon. We have the population, we have the potentials, we have the ability and the capacity and we have the will. What do we lack? Is it the will?"

The G20 is a group of ‘important’ industrialized and developing economies. Together, member countries represent around 90 per cent of global gross national product, 80 per cent of world trade (including EU intra-trade) as well as two-thirds of the world's population. I will stress the word ‘important’ in this context because there are many other nations that can be considered industrialized but are not members of the G20. And Malaysia is a typical example.

Going back to President Yar’Adua’s comments, I think the influence of Nigeria as a nation in the global community is often exaggerated. Nigerian leaders can sometimes be described to be suffering from illusion in this context. With the current state of the economy and meagre infrastructure, it is preposterous for anyone to think we should be in the G20 - albeit our population and vast natural resources.

Yes, we have a population of 140 million. Yes, the G20 makes up two-thirds of world’s population. But the question is, of what importance is a country of 150 million, but with 50% unemployment? In fact we don’t even have accurate data on the number of unemployed in the country. Our leaders can only quote figures from UN, World Bank, IMF etc.

Do we have the potentials? Yes we do. We’ve always had the potentials since the word ‘go’ but have failed to deliver. We have failed to deliver in all aspects of our economy and society. As they say, Nigeria is the only place where nothing works! For how long would we continue to live on potentials?

On the BBC programme Hardtalk, Ex- President Obasanjo was asked ‘why more than 70% live in abject poverty, despite been a rich nation with abundant resources?’ The former President was quick to say Nigeria is only ‘potentially rich’ but not ‘rich’. He went on to say, “considering its population it has made the best use of its opportunities”. So in summary, President Obasanjo admitted that the nation’s population has been its Achilles heel, when compared to other oil-rich nations such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait etc. For me this is an admission from a former President that Nigeria is ‘failed state’. When countries like India and China are taking advantage of their human capacity to position themselves in the current global economy, we are still in the wilderness waiting for the Moses that will take us into the promise land.

How can we describe a nation producing over 2.5 million barrels of oil per day but can only generate 600MW? How can we describe a nation of rent-collectors, that is 95% dependent on proceeds from oil sales? How can describe a nation of 150 million without a mass public transport system? How can you describe a nation with four refineries but imports 85% of its petroleum products? How can we describe a nation where the educational institutions are closed for almost six months in year due to strike actions? How can you describe a nation, where politicians and civil servants loot the treasury with impunity? How can you describe a nation where the President does not have any faith in its health system, and has to travel overseas for medical check-up? How can you describe a nation where 70% have no access to pipe-borne water?

It is only in Nigeria that people have three generators in one house. It is only in Nigeria that you can loot the treasury and obtain court injunction to stop been probed. It is only in Nigeria where one individual dictates the retail price of diesel. It is only Nigeria where an Attorney-General can write a letter of support for corrupt politician in the name of ‘rule of law’. It is only in Nigeria, that you can award $8.5bn rail modernisation project without regard for ‘competitive tendering’. It is only in Nigeria that it takes 2 years to seek redress at the courts following a fraudulent electoral process. It is only in Nigeria that thieves and rogues are given national honours.

I’m sure the G20 is not interested in failed economies or failed governments. The nation has been experiencing continuous infrastructure decay post-independence. We are still living on infrastructure built by our former colonial masters. I sometimes wonder, what our nation would have been if we didn’t have colonial rule.

The curriculum of our educational system is archaic and at odds with modern trends. University and secondary school libraries are full of outdated books, most of which have passed their ‘sell by’ date. None of the nation’s universities is ranked among top 1000 in the world. We have failed to develop our human capacity in any shape or form. The vision of our leaders is bereft of any rational thinking and defies all logic.

Perhaps, if the G20 was about the 20 most corrupt or rogue nations, probably Nigeria would have been the host and voted as the life President.

I want to hope that the Nigeria’s exclusion from the G20 will sound as a warning signal to President Yar’Adua. He needs to start acting decisively on key challenges facing the nation. The public mood is not very encouraging. It is almost two and half years since his assumption of office. Nigerians are sick and tired of all the rhetoric about seven-point agenda, rule of law etc. The nation needs an ‘action leader’ and not a ‘servant-leader’.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Railways Act Bill 2008 - Who is winning?

The current review of the Railways Act aimed at encouraging private sector participation in the nation’s rail system is unlikely to achieve much in terms of private investment. The proposals contained in the bill are totally at odds with the original intent of the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) to remove the ‘inherent conflict of interest’ in the current Railways Act 1955 - which vests regulation and provision of rail services solely on Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC). As part of the privatization programme started by the Obasanjo regime, BPE did propose to separate the railway function into three separate entities, National Rail Development Authority; Rail Regulator, and Concessionaire (operations).

However, except for the amendment to the legislation with regards to, granting of track access to private operators through concessions, everything else in the proposed bill promotes the ‘status quo’. Although NRC will not continue to remain a monopoly service provider, it will still be solely responsible for rail development and regulation.

Under the proposed legislation, NRC will be the rail regulator, a service operator, grant concessions to private companies, retain ownership of the rail infrastructure and also be responsible for strategic rail development. This arrangement known as ‘vertical integration concession’ model, creates a conflict of interest and unlikely to yield any positive result.

What makes anyone think the NRC can perform these functions effectively considering its current deficiency in skills and history of mismanagement? How can the same organisation responsible for providing services regulate itself? Let’s assume the proposed change to the legislation achieves its objective and we have private operators competing with NRC. Are you telling me that NRC will certify its locomotives to be unsafe but certify that of its competitor to be safe? What skills does the NRC have in strategic railway planning? I think Honourable members of the Senate need to be educated in the difference between rail engineering and rail planning. You need to have identified the need for a rail line through rigorous planning techniques (demand forecasting, patronage modelling, origin/destination analysis, cost benefit analysis) before you start the ‘engineering’.

In Australia, the Queensland railway network is also managed through a ‘vertical integration concession model. Queensland Rail (govt-owned agency, similar to NRC) is responsible for the operation of services and ownership/maintenance of tracks. However, the regulation of rail services in terms of fares/subsidy and safety is undertaken by the State Government through the Department of Transport. The Dept of Transport is also responsible for all aspects of rail planning, and preservation of future rail corridors.

The Australian model is slightly different because the provision of passenger services is regulated by the state government. Whereas, passenger service operations is proposed to be deregulated in Nigeria. The Nigeria government will however need to subsidise these services because, if the actual cost is charged by the concessionaire it will be unbearable for commuters.

In the Nigerian context, there are two options available under the ‘vertical integration model’. The first option is, NRC to retain ownership of rail tracks, maintain rail tracks and set up delivery mechanism for new rail lines. Private companies to be responsible for provision rail services. Under this option, NRC will not be involved in operation of rail services. The Ministry of Transport will be responsible for negotiating rail concession contracts, and payment of subsidies to private rail operators.

The second option is, NRC continues to operate rail services but will have to compete with other private sector operators. It will also retain ownership of all tracks and maintain tracks on which it runs its services. Private sector operators will also be responsible for maintaining tracks in their concession areas. The govt through the Ministry of Transport will still be responsible for negotiating concession contracts/subsidies.

Under the two scenarios, the strategic long term planning for railways should either by undertaken the Ministry of Transport or a Strategic Rail Authority, but not NRC. The safety regulation of railways should also be undertaken by the MoT. NRC cannot be the safety regulator due to its interest in the ownership and maintenance of tracks. To have NRC undertake inspection or issue licence for rail inspectors on the rail track it owns will be a serious conflict of interest.

I’m sceptical about the intent of the proposed changes to Railways Act. It wouldn’t surprise me that the cabals that have profited from the inefficiencies and failure of the rail system are still at work. I also don’t think the Senate President was telling us anything new when you said “there are all sorts of interest groups that have now found themselves in the railway system. People who did not want the railway to work because they are benefitting from the failure of the railway at the moment”.

In actual fact, we can say the same about all sectors of our economy. As I wrote in my last piece, we are now a nation of Oligarchs. You will agree with me that, there are few individuals in Nigeria who have made colossal amount of money from the inefficiencies of the government. Where should we start, is it the failed railways, and road haulage cartel? or power generation and generator importers? or failed refineries and the petroleum products importers?. The list is endless. And when government-owned corporations that are set up to provide such services are put up for sale, they are sold to these same individuals under the guise of ‘privatisation’. Unfortunately, this is the product of ‘government failure’.

So tell me, who is winning?