Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NiGERIA @50: Nigeria & Indonesia, spot the difference!

·         Both Indonesia and Nigeria,  are the giants of their region, home to tens of millions of people.
·         Both were formed as one nation by Europeans around 1900.
·         Both were governed by the colonial system of "indirect rule".
·         Both once made money from palm oil, and later discovered oil and gas.
·         At independence, the standards of living in the two countries were comparable on most measures.
·         And since independence, both have suffered three decades of military misrule and corruption.
·         Their first coups were launched within months of each other - in September 1965 in Indonesia and in January 1966 in Nigeria
·         Military rule came to an end within 12 months, in May 1998 (Indonesia) and 1999 (Nigeria)
·         In Indonesia, the life expectancy of a child at birth had risen from 45 to 70 years since independence.
·         In Nigeria, life expectancy remains stuck just above 45; today it is around 47.
·         When Indonesia's second president, Haji Muhammad Suharto, took power in 1967 the number of people living in poverty was the same as in Nigeria; around six out of ten.
·         Three decades later, it had fallen from six to two. In Nigeria it had risen from six to seven.
·         Currently, Indonesia lies almost 50 places above Nigeria on the United Nation's Human Development Index.
·         Adult literacy in Indonesia stands at 92%, 20 points better than Nigeria.
·         Per capita income in Indonesia is close to $4,000, is almost twice that of Nigeria.
·         Basic healthcare is strikingly better in Indonesia, and the same is true for education.
·         Access to clean water and a good balanced diet are better too.
·         GDP: Nigeria $207.12bn, Indonesia $510.73bn
·         Population below poverty line: Nigeria 70%, Indonesia 17.8%
Source, UN, World Bank, BBC, CIA World Fact Book

I think it is time we need to ask ourselves, where exactly did the wheels fall off?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Election 2011 Campaign Finance: A Serious Challenge By Reuben Abati

THERE are issues beyond the constraint of time that INEC has identified with regard to the 2011 general elections which also need to be addressed, considering the implications for electoral outcomes and the integrity of elections, with consequential effect on governance. The first of these is the cost of elections, from the collection of nomination forms all through the campaigns and eventual election into office. The country experience has been that the monetization of the electoral process has resulted in such a situation whereby every candidate sees election expenses as an investment, and should he or she get elected, the immediate objective in office is to re-coup the investments made, thus providing a curiously self-serving justification for corrupt conduct.
One prominent Senator once publicly confessed, following allegations that he had collected a N50 million bribe to facilitate the passage of a Ministry's budget,  that his mission as a lawmaker in Abuja was first and foremost to recover his election investments, and that no one should talk about service. Past testimonies have revealed that many political office aspirants took loans, or sold their property or relied on the sponsorship of Godfathers and corporations to be able to meet the required high financial outlay.  In many instances this resulted in embarrassing outcomes with the most celebrated perhaps being the Chris Ngige-Chris Uba crisis in Anambra state, and the Rasheed Ladoja-Lamidi Adedibu face-off in Oyo state, with the Godfathers (Uba and Adedibu) insisting that their clients needed to pay back the investments made by giving them a share of the security vote in addition to other privileges. The refusal of both clients resulted in their summary removal from office. The root of that crisis is the monetization of election processes which makes poor but qualified aspirants utterly vulnerable.  This is one problem that electoral reform, now a postponed aspirational objective, could have solved. But now, we are going into another round of general elections, with so much emphasis on money both officially and otherwise.
The genesis is official. What the law stipulates is rather high given the level of poverty in the country.  It amounts to saying that only the rich can aspire to political offices. Section 84 of the Electoral Act 2002, Section 93 of the Electoral Act 2006 both deal with election expenses; the same subject is addressed in Section 91 of the Electoral Act 2010. There is a quantum 100% increase in stipulated election expenses between 2006 and 2010 whereas the objective of the law should have been to make elections less expensive.  For example, whereas Section 93(2) of the Electoral Act 2006 requires a Presidential candidate to spend no more than N500 million total,  Section 91(2) of the 2010 Act stipulates N1 billion for Presidential candidates, and the same quantum percentage increase applies to other offices- Governor (N200 m, up from N100 million in 2006), Senatorial seat (N40m, formerly N20m); House of Representatives (N20m, formerly N10m), House of Assembly (N10m, formerly N5m), Local Council Chairman (N10 m, formerly N5m) and Councillorship (N1m, previously N500,000). Section 91 (9-12) of the 2010 Act which is in pari materia with Section 93 (9-12) of the 2006 Act, outlines penalties for the violation of these regulations.
Both in the past and now, and in utter disregard of Section 95 0f the 2006 Act, and now Sections 92-93 of the 2010 Act, politicians and political parties have routinely abused the rules on campaign finance and deliberately raised the cost of participation. This speaks to the failure of regulation and the reluctance to ensure campaign finance reform. There is no record of anyone being punished for violating the rule on election expenses. The twin issue of donations to political parties and likely undue influence was addressed in Yusufu v. Obasanjo (2003) 16 NWLR pt.847 but generally there is neither a structure nor mechanism in place for tracking campaign finances and enforcing INEC's rules as spelled out in the Electoral Act.   INEC officials at the end of their recent retreat in Calabar asked among other things, for an Electoral Offenders Commission, but until that emerges, there are already existing rules and penalties which only need to be enforced. The neglect of the rules on election expenses creates the room for the hijack of the process by moneybags; it results in the exclusion of otherwise capable and well-meaning but poor aspirants, and provides the basis for corruption.
The political parties often do not shy away from demanding the equivalent of ransom from candidates, this forms part of the total expenditure stipulated by the Electoral Act, but almost always, so much money is spent beyond the legal limits. Out of all the 62 political parties vying for offices in the 2010 general elections, the ruling People's Democratic Party was the first to roll out its guidelines and an outline of required fees. What has been done in this regard so far before the suspension of other activities in the light of the imminent review of the election timetable, illustrates the continuing monetization of elections. The PDP National Headquarters in Abuja requires aspirants to pay the following to pick up nomination forms: Presidential (N10 m), Governors (N5m), Senate (N3 m); House of Representatives (N2.5 m); state Houses of Assembly (N1 m). But so much more is spent, that at the end of the day, every aspirant has to look for money by all means or borrow or steal, or pay through the nose.
In the PDP example, the state branches collect the nationally stipulated fees from aspirants, but they also add their own charges. In Anambra state, the request for an additional two per cent nomination and expression of interest fee already caused a row within the party (The Guardian, September 21, at p.5). It is worse in other states. The standard fees, and initial expenses in the PDP say for the position of Senator and what is called "formalization of political intent" is as follows: N0.2m for the expression of interest form, N2m for the nomination to contest primary election form; state chapter administrative charges -N300, 000, another N150, 000 is paid to the state branch for "intent formalization form". Every candidate is also required to present tax certificates for three years: this is about N100, 000 per year (total N0.3m).  For the nomination to contest primary election form to be accepted, the aspirant must be sponsored by 30 persons drawn from different wards in all the local councils in the senatorial zone – each of these persons must be a registered member of the party and they all expect to be paid for their services!
The party also requires a lorry load of documents which have to be photocopied thus creating a boom for owners of the ubiquitous business centres in our towns. The sociology of this matter is that the moment an aspirant declares his interest in a particular office, he is immediately surrounded by a group of sycophants who immediately start addressing him or her as "your Excellency", "Distinguished Senator," "Honourable!", this of course includes the usual team of thugs or able-bodied men as they are more respectfully known: all of whom expect to be paid and fed, even if they have more than one client! The aspirant is also required by convention to visit and pay homage to traditional rulers within his constituency, the police chief, the SSS Director and so on, and everywhere he goes, he is required to pay some unstated charges.  By the time the aspirant becomes a candidate, he spends even more. In the PDP, female aspirants are allowed to collect nomination forms free, but they also have to pick up all the other additional expenses. Technically, every candidate spends a lot more than the limit prescribed in the enabling law. Adopting a rule of thumb assessment, even a formal, public declaration of political interest could cost more than the total amount prescribed by law for that particular position. But who will enforce the law?
Election finance is an important issue for reform. We cannot afford to run elections on a profit-motive basis: profit for the business centres, thugs, political Godfathers, the party, traditional rulers,  market women and others who are given free clothes, the media, rented crowds, printers, sycophants, cash-collecting voters, and the banks; the general assumption that election time is harvest time and boom time turns the whole event into a commercial undertaking rather than an opportunity for nation-building. ThisDay newspaper has reported that within ten days of selling nomination and expression of interest forms, the PDP raked in N3.5 billion (ThisDay, September 25, p.1). It stands to make more. In 2006, the party made N4 billion from the sale of forms alone. The excuse is that the party needed funds for the elections, but in 2007, the party soon announced that it was broke (didn't it?) and yet there was no clear indication that the party complied with the section of the law requiring each political party to submit its audited accounts for vetting by INEC, and of course in the Nigerian context, it is not the parties that fund individual campaigns, the candidate is required to do so.  The PDP has also talked about preventing a bandwagon effect whereby every Peter and Janet would express interest in political office because it is easy to obtain a form. This kind of snobbery translates into deplorable politics of exclusion, one that is driven by financial muscle and sheer illiberality. It should be possible for anyone that is interested in political office to gain access to express that interest. The ultimate choice must be made by the people and this must not be a function of cash.
The 1999 Constitution spells out the grounds for qualification for particular offices at Sections 65,66, 106, 107, 131, 137, 177, 182: the key highlights of which include the fact that the person must have attained a particular age, and a particular level of educational qualification, must be of sound mind, must be a citizen of Nigeria, must not be bankrupt and must not have been indicted for corruption by an administrative panel of inquiry, must not have been convicted for an offence, and must not be  a member of a secret society. When political parties erect additional barriers, they invariably make the process of leadership recruitment rather exclusive; when their emphasis is on financial muscle, they prepare the grounds for future compromises; they reduce politics to the level of big money fit only for the highest bidder.
The monetization of the nomination process in the PDP is perhaps "good" for the polity, if it would encourage the other political parties to be more liberal and less business-minded, and if that would encourage aspirants who for financial reasons cannot access the PDP to go to the opposition parties and strengthen them. Unfortunately in Nigeria, party politics has not worked that way before now and may not even now. The political aspirant is not driven by ideology or public-spirited beliefs; he is interested in winning by all means and if the PDP is the party that he or she believes can bring him closer to his or her dream, he or she would be prepared to make the investment, knowing that after winning, the treasury is available for looting. This corruption-driven political culture is what must change for Nigeria to raise the integrity of the election campaign process. It is one challenge that INEC should begin to consider even as it struggles to gain the breathing space it so desperately seeks

Thursday, September 23, 2010

2011 election timetable: Matters arising By Reuben Abati

THE Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has requested for an extension of the timetable for the 2011 general elections till April 2011, to enable it prepare better for the elections, its initial advertised timelines having already gone awry leaving no leg-room for adjustments. This proposal which would require consequential legislative action has already been endorsed by the political parties virtually with no exception and even many of the aspirants are so far enthusiastic that more time will be advisable. There can be no doubt that the extension is in the interest of both INEC and the professional politicians, but there are underlying consequences and possibilities which must be examined to ensure that in the long run, it is the people's interest that prevails. The INEC Chairman had consistently drawn attention to the limitation of time, although he kept promising at the same time that he and his team will do their best under the circumstances. A strategic meeting held in Calabar by INEC officials however came up with the resolution that the timing of the election is practically impossible. The schedule is "too tight", they said.
INEC deserves praise for its new-found honesty, for its earlier resort to ambivalence and double-speak seemed like an exercise in grand deception. Jega, the INEC Chairman must have seen that his so-called perfect alibi would not work after all. The political parties which have quickly endorsed Jega's proposal (they probably pushed him into it, anyway) have also done so for self-serving reasons. The Electoral Act 2010 leaves the political parties very little room for manoeuvre with its very strict deadlines. The parties for example were required to give INEC a 21-day notice of their primaries and conventions, without fail, by September 18,  no political party had met that deadline, and there was no clear indication that the various political parties had actually decided on whether to have direct or indirect primaries, or taken a decision on the content of their constitutions, because all of this was still an issue among the various stakeholders.
Section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010 on the mode of conducting primaries had also changed the nature of power relations within the political parties with regard to the selection of delegates. In the Peoples Democratic Party, this was meant to free the sitting President from the stranglehold of the Governors who in previous primaries held sway with their army of assistants and political appointees and all-powerful Godfathers, but in reality, the new structure requiring primaries at ward levels in all the 36 states still made the Presidential aspirants utterly vulnerable, and the process more expensive than hitherto.
Some of the parties, notably the PDP and the Presidency, were desperately looking for a way round this. Even the PDP time-table, which places the Gubernatorial primaries before the presidential, made an interested sitting PDP President vulnerable. It is therefore not surprising that although President Jonathan had signed the Electoral Act 2010, he and his aides had at the same time been asking for an amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 before it takes effect. The President's refusal to append his signature to the amended 1999 Constitution now appears deliberate and strategic. If this hypothesis is true, then our earlier argument that there may be a hidden agenda with regard to the 2011 elections may be provable after all.
So, what is likely to follow and what should be our concerns as citizens? If the emerging consensus that the elections be shifted to April holds sway, then there will be need for a review of the enabling legal framework, particularly the Electoral Act with regard to the timing of elections and the amended 1999 Constitution, on which the INEC September-January timetable is based, as well. Contrived as the controversy over the President's signature with regard to the amended 1999 Constitution may be, it is now an issue that also has to be resolved for Nigeria to move forward on the question of elections. Will the Electoral Act 2010 be amended to fit the 1999 Constitution or the amended version? And should the Supreme Court rule one way or the other when it suits it on the matter of the President's signature, what would be the implications? Is there enough time to embark on another round of constitution amendment? Will it not be safer to repeal the 2010 Electoral Act and use the 2006 Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution? If the professional political class manages to resolve this conundrum, the public must be watchful to ensure that the amendments do not end up as an attempt to re-jig the existing framework to favour particular aspirants following a posteriori realizations; for that would amount to a manipulation of the system to deliver pre-determined outcomes.
But in simpler terms, what all this tells us is that Nigeria is not really prepared for the 2011 elections. When John Campbell, a former US Ambassador wrote on September 12 about the possibility of the failure of the 2011 elections in Nigeria,  the current Nigerian ambassador to the US, Professor Adebowale Adefuye wrote a rejoinder telling Campbell he is a prophet of doom writing "an offensive… and jaundiced" article (The Guardian, September 13). Campbell and other commentators along the same lines would now appear to know what they were writing about and Ambassador Adefuye, merely pleasing the Nigerian authorities, fails the diplomacy test particularly with his second rejoinder available online in which he says "may the likes of John Campbell never come our way again."  No other general election in Nigeria since 1999 has been prefaced with as much confusion, anxiety and uncertainty as the proposed 2011 general elections. In retrospect, the preparations for the 2007 elections considered one of the worst polls in Nigerian history appear comparable, if not better in terms of certainty. Professor Attahiru Jega is certainly setting the stage for the loss of his own credibility, beginning with the current jagajaga (confusing, mixed up, incoherent) arrangements for the 2011 elections.
This is the situation, not because Jega does not mean well, but because in Nigeria there is very little institutional memory and our various institutions are driven not by traditions but circumstances and individual whims. Jega inherited from Maurice Iwu, an existing institution, but he met so much misalignment between mandate, objective and operational capability, he is having to reconfigure the institution afresh; this is something the Ghanaians next door have not had to do from one election to the other in the last decade. And as Jega and his team encounter new demons in the process of that reconstruction, they are compelled to come up with excuses. In a statement justifying the request for a change in timetable, the INEC Chairman has already offered an explanation in that regard, but there are additional questions that remain unanswered.
If what he is asking for is a leg room, more like elbow room, then why April? Why not February since the main challenge is that of the voter's register? Why not March? A two-month window before the inauguration of new government on May 29, 2011, may give the tribunals and courts a little room to treat election petitions expeditiously. But with the elections in April, Nigeria is more or less back to the situation in 2007. It means that practically nothing has changed. The various promises about electoral reform have come to naught. One major element of the electoral reform proposal was to ensure that election-related litigations are disposed of before swearing in to prevent a situation whereby persons enjoy stolen mandates for up to two or three years before they are found out and dismissed by the courts.
With the elections now likely to be held in April 2011, we are back to that old order, and meeting the challenge of ensuring credible elections has been postponed. The INEC budget was based on the plan to prepare the voters' register within two weeks and to run the election process between now and January 2011.  If the target is now April 2011, what happens to the INEC budget for the elections? Is it going to prepare a supplementary budget? Or is additional cost already anticipated in the earlier budget? If new costs will be involved, INEC must take the pains to explain that to the public and state exactly how much is required or may be saved from the existing budget.
Professor Jega has affirmed that whatever happens the hand over date of May 29, 2011 will remain sacrosanct. That is important, lest further credence is given to the suspicion that some politicians are bent on extending their tenure in office for selfish reasons. As it were, so much is being said about the importance of time. But this is not even, now in retrospect, the more pressing issue at stake. It is the quality of the Nigerian process and its leadership.  The various political parties that are now jumping on the time-extension bandwagon, were they proper political parties would have been ready for the next elections long ago and would not need to behave as if they too are starting afresh. But this is the Nigerian malady. Fifty years after independence, we are again talking about how to begin to plan for the future.
When the various issues are resolved however, Jega must be reminded that he no longer has any reason to offer additional excuses and he must begin to resist the temptation to sound like another prominent public official who comments on everything from the acting styles of Aki and Paw Paw to the eating habits of bank CEOs and much less on his core mandate. For now, our hopes about the 2011 elections are mixed. If the elections are free and fair, fine, but if not, we already know why