Saturday, 16 January 2021

Parliament (610)

By Bayo Onanuga/ THE NEWS

Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader chose the most important day in President Buhari’s life, his birthday, to literally mock him, by releasing the video of captured schoolboys of Kankara Government Science Secondary School.

The video did not just confirm that the insurgents were the masterminds of the abduction last week Friday.

It was also a confirmation that the terrorists thought to have been contained on the fringes of Lake Chad, have opened another flank in the North West.

Intelligence reports have suggested many times that the terrorists are operating in the north west.

Kankara has shown our nation that our security operatives can not continue to deny the obvious.

According to reports, the bandits that stole Kankara students arrived the town on motorbikes, carrying AK 47 rifles.

They arrived early enough to be seen by security agencies, especially DSS operatives, who by now ought to know that their work is to gather intelligence from all parts of the country, to prevent an embarrassment like we have now.

But nothing was done, either by DSS or the police until the bandits or terrorists stormed the school and plucked the students away.

This egregious national embarrassment happened on the day Buhari arrived Daura, about 200kms away.

It is a misnomer to continue to call the gunmen marauding in the North west as bandits. They are Boko Haram.

Shekau from his hideout in northern Nigeria, even did a voice over in the video he released on Thursday, boasting that his claim that his group captured the boys has been proven.

As reported by the website ‘Humangle,” Shekau said many people thought he was lying when he claimed responsibility for the schoolboys’ abduction.

Shekau said he would be taciturn, since sceptics could now see the boys by themselves. And the sceptics are especially the Nigerian military chiefs.

“Even if I didn’t say anything, here are my people speaking and here are your boys speaking too,” he said.

Shekau was saying all this on Buhari’s birthday, virtually boasting that he could operate even in Katsina, Buhari’s home state.

Even as sycophantic governors, politicians and presidential aides were praising Buhari on marking 78, here is one proof that a major plank of his promise to Nigerians in 2015, has fallen apart.

It is now no more than mere sloganeering that Boko Haram has been technically defeated. The reality is that Boko Haram and its clone, ISWAP are very alive, active.

Boko Haram war has now lasted more than 11 years, with no end in sight. Five of the years has been under Buhari’s watch.

Buhari’s failure or underachievement in thrashing the insurgency first manifested in the kidnap of 110 schoolgirls of Dapchi in Yobe State in February 2018.

Many of the girls were later released, but the terrorists held on to one, Leah Sharibu. She is now almost forgotten.

Further signs of failure of the insurgency war was underscored three weeks ago, when Shekau’s Boko Haram slaughtered 78 rice farmers in Zabarmari, in Borno State.

Put this side-by-side with the kidnap of 520 schoolboys, two weeks apart, one begins to wonder, who actually controls the security of northern Nigeria: Buhari or `Shekau?.

Nigerians seriously concerned about the serious security gaps in the country have incessantly called for a change in the headship of Nigeria’s security apparati and a change in the entire security architecture.

Buhari has stubbornly stuck with his team, causing Nigeria and Buhari himself huge embarrassment all over the world.

May be one day, Buhari in his memoirs will reveal why he has stubbornly kept the service chiefs, who appear to have run out of ideas.

In Borno, the main theatre of Boko Haram, General Buratai operates a super camp policy, in which he masses troops and war weapons in some big camps, leaving many villages and towns unguarded. One does not need to go to military school to know that this policy protects the troops, by their sheer number, not the civilians, not our villages and towns.

This is at the root of the easy way Boko Haram fighters strut the Borno land, inflicting damage on the civilian population.

Only recently, after the genocide in Zabarmari, a retired general and Sultan of Sokoto wondered aloud, why the military authorities have not sent troops to occupy the entire Lake Chad islands, on the Nigerian side and take Boko Haram out once and for all.

Sultan Abubakar was not just making an unrealistic suggestion. This, he said, was the way things were some few decades ago, when he was in the army and he indeed led troops occupying those islands.

President Buhari must urgently rethink the entire security arrangement and do something quickly to redeem himself and preserve a legacy he hoped to bequeath to Nigerians, which is handing over a country secured from terrorism and banditry.

The way things are, Buhari has allowed Shekau to virtually gatecrash his birthday party.

Political opponents are also having a reverse dig on him. No more #Bringbackourgirls’ that followed the kidnap of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in 2014 under Jonathan. The reigning hashtag is now #Bringbackourboys’.

May Allah make President Buhari see the security light sooner.

Posted On Friday, 18 December 2020 02:04 Written by

By Segun Ayobolu

Have members of the Nigerian political class transcending, in particular, the two dominant parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) learnt any appropriate lessons from the over two-week #EndSARS protests that rocked large swathes of the country bringing the economy in many major cities virtually to a standstill? On the surface, the answer seems to be in the affirmative. For instance, in his well written and delivered speech to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Historical Documentation and Research Centre, also known as the Arewa House, the Ekiti State governor and Chairman of the National Governors Forum (NGF), Dr Kayode Fayemi, on Saturday, October 31st, gave a characteristically brilliant account of himself even if there was really nothing new in his observations and adumbrations that had not been rehashed, in different words, by analysts of the Nigerian political terrain.

Fayemi’s speech was titled, ‘Unfinished Greatness…Towards a More Perfect Union’. Its historical sweep was impressive and its philosophical depths at times enthralling. The central contention of the NGF‘s Chairman’s address is that, as far as Nigeria is concerned, “There was ‘greatness’ or at least a journey towards greatness which has remained unfinished”. He equally asserts that “it is only by building a more perfect union that we can accomplish the task of greatness for which we have demonstrated so much potential for the better part of our history”. This idea of striving for a ‘more perfect union’ is obviously borrowed from the imagination of the American federalist fathers and the ‘imperfect’ constitution they produced, which constantly inspires and motivates the citizenry in every generation to fight for a polity, that is ever in quest of a non-attainable ‘perfection’.

The NGF Chairman reiterates the right phrases, alludes to the elegant theories of democracy and federalism and emphasizes the need to steer Nigeria in the direction of continuously deepening her federal practice in the interest of enhanced political stability and economic progress. Referring to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in his October 1st, 2009, speech to commemorate Nigeria’s 49th anniversary, Fayemi quotes him thus, “Today should be a forceful reminder of our unfinished greatness, of the promise yet to be fulfilled, of dreams deferred for too long and of the work that is still outstanding”. Elaborating on the late President’s thought, Fayemi writes, “You cannot develop what you don’t have. When the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, asked “When is a nation?’, he was attempting to draw our attention to those questions of nation-building that remained unanswered till this day”.

Still speaking on an upbeat, optimistic note, Fayemi compares Nigeria with such formerly supposedly federal polities – Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union etc – that have broken up into diverse, separate countries, and contends that with our over 250 ethno-national groups, “Yet we were managing our diversity very well until we lost the values of tolerance, equity, fairness and justice which we inherited from our founding fathers”. Of course, this kind of idealistic and romantic portraiture of politics and governance in the First Republic has become all too fashionable among our scholars and sundry analysts. But let’ read our history. The political violence, crude and criminal manipulation of census figures, outright rigging of elections, diversion of public resources for private use and every other imaginary evil manifest between 1960 and 1966, leading to the collapse of the First Republic, were only a foreshadowing of the socio-political and economic vices that have plagued successive republics since then.

Speaking specifically about the #EndSARS protests, Fayemi asserts that “From the demand of the #End SARS, we have seen vigorous demands for greater accountability and greater efficiency in government. What I understand the youths to be saying is that we, the older generation, have failed them by our inability to create a system that supports their dreams and accommodates their aspirations”. But then, Fayemi is a proud and flaunting poster boy of the Buhari administration to the extent that he once publicly declared that he is not ashamed to be called a ‘Buhari boy’. If he has all these beautiful ideas in his head, pray what kind of advice does he offer a man he purportedly loves and admires so much? For, I believe that, especially as the Chairman of the NGF, Fayemi must be one governor who has the President’s ears.

In his opening remarks at the event, the host governor, Mallam Nasir’el Rufai, also vigorously advocated for the restructuring of the country towards a deepened federal system lamenting that the report of the APC Committee on true federalism, which he headed, had been submitted to the appropriate quarters since January, 2018, with nothing, inexplicably, done about it. El-Rufai stressed the imperative of moving fast within the context of the times “with a sense of purpose to remove the structural impediments that hobble our country”. However, like Pontius Pilate, can the Kaduna State governor simply wash his hands clean from any guilt as regards the non- implementation of the APC Committee on True Federalism? Like Fayemi, el-Rufai publicly and proudly proclaims himself a ‘Buharist’. Why then can’t people like this duo that are fiercely loyal to the President and have easy access to the inner recesses of power influence PMB to carry out the lofty ideas they peddle at public lectures and media interviews.

Detracting somewhat from the seriousness of the Arewa House event, the Kaduna State governor’s prefatory remarks were clearly not helpful. In his tempestuous manner, he posited that Fayemi was invited to deliver the lecture for a purpose because the North has a way of pursuing whatever goals it chooses to pursue. That purpose he said would be known in the course of time. Can analysts be blamed then if they concluded from el-Rufai’s insinuations and innuendoes that he has 2023 on his mind? More measured and restrained, the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar, speaking on the occasion described Fayemi as an adopted son of the late Sardauna of Sokoto, without explicating what he means.

Any members of the two major parties who are still focused on their petty 2023 ambitions without imbibing the lessons to be derived from the massive #endSARS protests are living in an utterly deluded world. If the protesting young and women can mobilize the same kind of energy, resources, enthusiasm, focus, discipline and sense of purpose towards achieving specific political goals in 2023, then let our politicians quickly wake up to the reality that it can no longer be business as usual. At the very least, there seems to be a tectonic shift on Nigeria’s political terrain thanks to the #endSARS protests. It is astonishing that a party like the APC does not realize that, given the direction it is currently headed, its victory in future elections, especially the 2023 elections, cannot be guaranteed.

The APC shot itself in the foot when it peremptorily and unwarrantedly dissolved the party’s National Working Committee headed by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole when only a minority of two or three aggrieved members was against the former Edo State governor in a NWC comprising no less than 40 members. Now, it appears that the tenure of the Extraordinary Caretaker and Convention Planning Committee will inevitably be extended. The governor Mai Mala Buni –led Committee even appears poised to commence registration of new members, which will have further implications for the holding of its intraparty primaries and convention as originally scheduled. In such circumstances, there will be little meaningful governance in most states controlled by the party until the most likely acrimonious intra-party polls are over.

Of course, this problem of being preoccupied with 2023 to the detriment of productive governance in the short term is not that of the APC alone. We have all just witnessed the defection of the Ebonyi State governor, Mr David Umahi, to the ruling APC. It is all said to be about 2023 and particularly the question of an Igbo presidency. Other big shots in the party are reportedly preparing to defect to the ruling party if the Prince Uche Secondus-led NWC of the party does not give a firm commitment now on which zone will hoist the PDP presidential flag in 2023. Just like the APC, the PDP is putting its cart before its horse. Rather than rediscovering its philosophy of existence, re-orienting itself ideologically, rejuvenating its organizational machinery to guarantee greater efficiency, transparency, effectiveness and inclusiveness, the PDP is unhelpfully obsessed with coming back to power in 2023. Given the organizational potency and vibrancy of the restive youths behind the #endSARS protests, the two parties may in future pay heavy prices for complacency and near total alienation from reality.

SEGUN AYOBOLU contributed to The Nation newspaper

Posted On Tuesday, 08 December 2020 00:11 Written by

By Femi Macaulay/ THE NATION

Insecurity is the question. What is the answer? Finding a solution to widespread and escalating insecurity in Nigeria requires tackling the menacing combination of terrorism, banditry and kidnapping.

The recent massacre of farmers by Boko Haram terrorists at Zabarmari, Borno State, was an alarming evidence of undefeated terrorism. The army gave an excuse, saying Boko Haram would have been defeated a long time ago but for the enemies of Nigeria supporting the group to destabilise the country.

The acting director, Army Public Relations, Col Sagir Musa, said in an article: “There is an international conspiracy to cut Nigeria to size and compromise national renegades making attempts to destabilise and dismember Nigeria if possible in subservience to the international paymasters, who are the owners of Boko Haram. They train them, arm them, finance them and supply their logistics.”

Who are these external enemies of Nigeria backing terrorists against the Federal Government? This claim needs to be clarified. It is not enough to make such a serious claim without supplying proof. Importantly, even if such a situation exists, it does not justify the apparent incapacity of the country’s armed forces.

The army also claimed that local saboteurs were working against the counter-terrorism effort, and issued a statement warning “all groups or communities hobnobbing with Boko Haram/ISWAP to sever such relations.” The army alleged that such collaboration included providing information and intelligence on troops, logistics supply and trading with the terrorists.

The statement listed Benisheik, Jakana, Mainok, Magumeri, Gajiram and Gubio, all in Borno State, alleging that these communities harboured “unpatriotic and heartless criminal elements.”

This accusation of local collaboration with Boko Haram terrorists also needs to be clarified. In a climate of fear, engendered by the reality of undefeated terrorism, it is predictable that locals could be forced to cooperate with the insurgents. The solution is to liberate the locals from the fear of terrorists by eliminating the terrorists.

Blaming alleged international backers of terrorism and alleged local collaborators for the prolonged war on terrorism cannot excuse the failure of the country’s armed forces. The armed forces are expected to surmount such challenges to achieve the objective of the anti-terrorism effort.

The truth is that the armed forces need to be strengthened in order to be able to win the war against terrorism. Notably, Lance Corporal Martins Idakpini of the 8 Division, Sokoto, of the Nigerian Army, dared to speak truth to power in a 12-minute video that went viral in June.

“I’m highly disappointed in your command,” he said, addressing Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai. He called the army boss “a coward, a traitor and a betrayer,” adding that the loyalty of the rank and file to the army leadership must be earned.

“You have failed,” he said, addressing Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin. “You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he said, addressing the National Security Adviser, Mohammed Babagana Monguno, and the Minister of Defence, Bashir Salihi Magashi, both retired army generals.

“I’m a concerned Nigerian,” Idakpini explained. “We cannot continue to keep quiet when people are dying… many of our colleagues are dying.” He added that “innocent soldiers” were locked up in the guardroom indefinitely for complaining about inadequate weapons to fight insecurity.

“We need to restructure this army in order to achieve peace in the country,” he declared. He also criticised the Muhamadu Buhari presidency and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). “I’m ready to face court martial,” he said fearlessly.

Significantly, in two other videos, soldiers involved in the war against terrorism had also claimed that the army was ill-equipped to defeat the terrorists. In one video, a former theatre commander, Major General Olusegun Adeniyi, was seen and heard telling troops that “it appears the people we are fighting have more firepower than us…” He has been court-martialled for embarrassing and ridiculing the armed forces.

The authorities cannot continue to ignore the apparent exposure of the incapacity of the armed forces to tackle terrorism. Blaming their failure on external factors, without addressing conditions within the armed forces that militate against the success of the anti-terrorism effort, amounts to denying reality.

Interestingly, it is not only the leadership of the armed forces that is playing a blame game. For instance, at the recent fourth quarterly meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) which discussed the challenges of insecurity and COVID-19, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, lamented that the North had become the worst place to live in Nigeria because of increasing insecurity.

“A few weeks ago, over 76 persons were killed in a community in Sokoto State in a day,” he recounted. The revered traditional ruler painted a disturbing picture showing a breakdown of law and order. He said: “People think the North is safe, but that assumption is not true. In fact, it’s the worst place to be in this country. Bandits go around in the villages, households and markets with their AK 47 and nobody is challenging them. They stop at the market, buy things, pay and collect change, with their weapons openly displayed. These are facts I know because I am at the centre of it.”

No one disputes the Sultan’s account. But he got it all wrong by blaming the media. “Unfortunately, you don’t hear these stories in the media because it’s in the North. We have accepted the fact that the North does not have strong media to report the atrocities of these bandits,” he said.

It is difficult to understand the Sultan’s blame game. It is puzzling that he introduced a regional perception. It is simply untrue that the media has under-reported insecurity, which is a country-wide experience. The media cannot be detached from the country’s realities because its essence demands professional reporting of real life. The need to find a solution to insecurity should override unprovable arguments about media neglect.

Insecurity continues to attract attention. But there are no solutions yet. It is the responsibility of the authorities to tackle insecurity, and it is necessary to move beyond the blame game and find a solution to the problem.

Tragically, increasing insecurity suggests that the authorities lack the capacity to tackle the security crisis. That is the ultimate failure.

Posted On Tuesday, 08 December 2020 00:04 Written by

In the “2021 Budget of Economic Recovery and Resilience” speech, President Muhammadu Buhari proposed a federal budget of N13.08 trillion with recurrent to capital expenditure ratio of 71:29. The projected oil revenue is N2.01 trillion, the estimated non-oil revenue is N1.49 trillion and debt service is N3.124 trillion. Also the projected federal debt service to revenue ratio is 89 per cent whammy. To finance the budget, it is proposed to take large amounts of domestic and external loans with government even borrowing to repay debt. However, it should be hurriedly pointed out that the 2021-23 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP), which preceded the budget proposals, had alerted that “The projected 2021 debt service/ratio at 47 per cent (actual for 2019 was 58 per cent) raises some concern about the sustainability of FGN debt”.

Expectedly, the NASS is currently considering the budget proposals for passage. Thereafter, a clean copy of the passed budget will be forwarded for presidential assent before 2020 year-end. In the absence of any disagreements, the implementation of the resulting 2021 Appropriation Act will duly take off on New Year’s Day 2021. Predictably, with the past as guide, under the heterodox business-as-usual implementation of the assented-to budget, come next budget presentation, the 2021 recurrent budget (is it really comprehensive amid outstanding salary arrears and the unresolved issues of the educational and health sectors?) would have been substantially executed, debt service would have been fully met, but the various elements of the capital budget would bear the brunt of the all but certain revenue shortfall, all of which would lead to recurring low budget implementation level. In the 2021 Budget speech, Buhari harped on the reason for the budgetary underachievement when he said, “Let me emphasise that revenue generation remains our major challenge.”

So instead of a humdrum review of the sectoral budget proposals, the worthwhile concern should be how to correctly implement the budget in accordance with the existing fiscal and monetary laws and in the process generate ample revenue to successfully fund the 2021 Budget and far much bigger ones in subsequent years. Before then, note that historically on paper, the federal executive and legislative arms of government produce fairly good yearly Appropriation Acts. However, successive budgets for several decades have not been implemented satisfactorily. As a result, administration after administration over the period has been unable to realise the grand objectives of the serial economic plans which the constituent budget should ordinarily bring about in annual instalments.

Despite parading seemingly intimidating credentials (in the Nigerian parlance), the present-day plan/budget formulators and entrenchers along with their long line of predecessors are hereby served barefaced notice to justify their unrelenting choice of inappropriate methods (some are highlighted hereunder) to implement failed after failed budgets. Their identities are known and include federal legislators whom the President as usual, reminded that the proposed 2021 Budget was prepared in a collaborative manner. To wit, there purportedly took place in July a virtual consultative session of the 2021-23 MTEF/FSP with civil society organisations, the organised private sector and the general public. The Budget Office of the Federation (BOF) subsequently produced the 60-page 2021-23 MTEF/FSP document. Although parts of the content particularly in section 7 were attributed to the CBN, they could be directives. When the NASS returned from recess in early October, the two chambers separately rubber-stamped the BOP document with the Senate doing so barely two days before the President presented the budget on 8/10/2020. Further belying the claim of collaboratively produced MTEF/FSP and draft budget is the fact that budget proposals annually laid before the NASS do undergo defence by ministries, departments and agencies, alteration and insertion of fresh items by legislators. Moreover, any amended version of the budget passed by the legislature may not be guaranteed presidential assent.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Mr. President’s position enjoys the collaborative support of the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC), which comprises past actors in one official capacity or another. They swallowed and executed the poisonous economic measures inherited from the ex-military regimes and tended the country’s steady economic decline. Apparently they lack the will to recant now. Also, there are unnamed economic experts being retained by NASS. The Senate President cited the experts’ approval as basis for the Senate’s acceptance of devaluation of the naira during the revision of the 2020 Appropriation Act solely for the purpose of increasing CBN-fiat printed naira amounts for sharing to Federation Account beneficiaries in the face of falling crude oil prices that led to diminished accruals of oil proceeds. The devaluation was a grave mistake. Not the least among supporters of the official economic framework is the Nigerian Economic Society (NES) which, purveying ex-military regime-dictated unsound economic practices, released a blanket apologia for the FG heterodox fiscal and monetary measures at page 25 of The Guardian on 9/10/2020.

From the horse’s mouth, Buhari in the 60th Independence Day address (some aspects of this address and 2021 Budget speech may be taken together) obliquely gave the score card of the above listed economic advisers and cheerleaders along with the economic policies exemplified in the 2021 Budget in the course of the first 60 years of independence. The economy, he indicated, was characterized by rising extreme poverty with low growth prospects in the future.

He repeated the administration’s economic “goal of being in the top twenty economies of the world and in the process of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years … it is important to strengthen our economy to provide sustainable means of livelihood for as many Nigerians as possible so as to eradicate absolute poverty from our midst”. The sad implication of Buhari’s message is that policies and measures that fuelled extreme poverty in the first 60 years of independence shall continue to be relied upon to eradicate poverty in the next 60 years beginning with the 2021 Budget. Also in the spirit of resignation to having the country wilfully kept down through inappropriate policies, Buhari both classified Nigeria’s population growth from 45 million in 1960 to over 200 million today as one of the critical development challenges and expressed desire to see the self-hamstrung country limp to be among the top 20 economies in the next 10 years. Surely, given GDP growth rate that has lagged behind the population growth rate since 2016, the highly unlikely event of a 27th ranked world largest Nigerian economy in 10 years would certainly harbour a proportionately higher number of persons living in extreme poverty than currently. Apparently, Buhari was responding to The Guardian editorial of 13/5/2020 which urged FG to adhere to the three existing fiscal and monetary laws in order to create conducive condition for the country to self-finance double-digit GDP growth rates to propel her to the rank of the world’s seventh largest economy by the year 2030.

To be continued tomorrow.

Posted On Monday, 07 December 2020 23:59 Written by

PENULTIMATE week, the governors of the 19 northern states condemned the #EndSARS movement in the country, saying that the recent#EndSARS protest championed by Nigerian youths was a ploy to actualise regime change. According to them, in protesting against years of police brutality, including extrajudicial killings, mutilations, extortions, torture and harassment, the protesters aimed to hijack the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. In a communique issued after a meeting held in in Kaduna, Kaduna State, to review the current security challenges in the country and read by its chairman and governor of Plateau, Simon Lalong, the Northern Governors Forum asked Nigerians to unite against“diabolical influencers and resist these enemies of the nation by supporting Mr President, the Federal Government and democracy at large.”

The communique added: “Forum also appeals to all citizens to restrain themselves from unwarranted disposition of sentiments, harassment and intimidation of other citizens resident in their home states. Forum notes that all these are antics of the enemies of the country who are violently pushing for regime change outside the ballot box. Forum resolve to further intensify strategic engagements among different levels of stakeholders in our respective states. Forum also notes the heavy presence of external influencers both locally and internationally and call on all citizens particularly community leaders and youth groups to be very vigilant and report the presence of such people to security agencies” In addition, the forum urged all Nigerians to see themselves as equal citizens of the country, whose unity could not be compromised. The northern governors expressed concern that the protests had persisted in spite of the ‘magnanimity’ of the Federal Government and the efforts being made at federal and state levels to put an end to the protest.

To say the least, the northern governors’ declaration was provocative and insensitive. It suggested, rather darkly, that members of the #EndSARS movement who had been campaigning to end police brutality in the country in the last three years and who conducted their advocacy with dignity, decorum and respect for the rights of all Nigerians were actually interested in overthrowing the government of President Buhari. Pray, how can peaceful protesters take over the government? In their bid to rubbish the #EndSARS movement simply because the brutalities of the disbanded police outfit were not witnessed in the North, the northern governors conflated peaceful protesters with the hoodlums who unleashed violence on the country after soldiers opened fire on peaceful protesters in Lekki, Lagos State. Pray, did the Nigerians who join the protests from around the world want to overthrow the government of President Buhari by protesting against police brutality? It is significant that the northern governors branded peaceful protesters as treasonable felons, yet they have not seen the need to apply such a tag to members of Boko Haram who have perpetrated the most infamous acts of terrorism in the country for over a decade, and whose professed mission is to take over the government and impose a dictatorial and lawless version of radical Islam on the country.

Indeed, no sooner had the defunct SARS been disbanded than some governors of the North began campaigning for its setting up in the North. By their logic and disposition, these governors are unmoved by the pains of Nigerians, including women who said they lost as many as three sons to the defunct police outfit in extrajudicial circumstances, simply because the victims were not northerners. We find it absolutely appalling and repellent that these governors could be promoting such a narrow-minded vision of nationhood while simultaneously asking for Nigerians to embrace unity. How can there be unity in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state without the terms and conditions clearly spelt out? It is appalling that a grave issue such as the clamour for an end to police brutality is being reduced to another weapon of North/South dichotomy. Instructively, during the Occupy Nigeria protests of January 2012 when Nigerians not only protested against fuel price hike but also called for good governance, the individuals who spoke during the Kaduna meeting sang a different tune. At that time, they did not claim that the protests were an opportunity to hijack the government of President Goodluck Jonathan. As a matter of fact, they took part in the protests.

What evidence do the northern governors have to back up the allegation that the #EndSARS protests were aimed at removing President Buhari from office? What manner of anti-democratic forces ask for increased pay for the police so that they can discharge their duties more efficiently? If the #EndSARS campaigners were “enemies of the nation,” then why did the Buhari administration agree to their demands? Why is the National Human Rights Commission probing allegations against SARS, and what need is there for the ongoing judicial panels of inquiry in states, if their position is correct? The Northern Governors Forum should avoid making statements capable of stoking tension in the polity. The governors need to do serious soul-searching and avoid clutching at straws. The country would be the better for it.

Posted On Wednesday, 11 November 2020 16:04 Written by

The recent nation-wide protest to end the obnoxious operations of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian Police Force, otherwise tagged #EndSARS, has left behind a lot of negative effects on the Nigerian economy.

The manifestations of the effects are bound to be pronounced in the weeks ahead, and will certainly constitute a huge challenge to the country. Governments at all levels need to act urgently to provide a recovery stimulus to assist affected stakeholders and by extension, the economy.

This protest came at a time the economy was tottering and gasping for breath because of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global lockdown that ensued. The negative effect, which the pandemic has had on the global oil market has been largely unpalatable on the Nigerian economy. Over this period, oil prices plummeted to as low as $25 per barrel, with devastating effects on government revenue. Prior to that, the state of the economy had been very precarious with many stakeholders, including government officials, anticipating an onset of another economic recession given that the GDP growth rate for the second quarter of 2020 had a whopping negative value of -6.1 per cent.

Expectation that the third-quarter GDP growth figures would also be negative has fuelled this anticipation of an impending recession, which would be the third in the country’s economic history. In a clear display of the poor state of the economy, macroeconomic indicators have not been desirable, with the inflation rate at over 13 per cent year-on-year, unemployment rate over 27 per cent, and the naira-dollar exchange rate recording values in the region of N450 in the parallel market. Invariably, these negative parameters represent a very sad commentary on the management of the economy, irrespective of the effects of COVID-19. The easing of the lockdown across many economies globally, prior to the onset of the #EndSARS protest in October 2020, had provided the much-needed breathing space for the economy with global oil prices manifesting progressive increases and inching up to the current average of about $40 per barrel.

Doubtless, the EndSARS protest dealt a big blow on the economy such that the slight recovery experienced with the easing of the lockdown was whittled away – leading to some significant setback for both the public and private sectors of the economy. The hijacking of the protests by hoodlums and the massive destruction of businesses and public property over the period following the Lekki controversial shooting of October 20, 2020, aggravated the decline of the economy with great loss to small businesses as well as the government. The damage runs into trillions of naira, by some estimates. Indeed, the crisis has posed a great risk to the Nigerian economy. The question now is how the needed to remedy can be brought on the already bad situation.

How and from where will funds be obtained to make up for the great losses experienced during the crisis? Will the country resort to further borrowing? For an economy that is largely public sector-driven and whose revenue sources are drying up with an unsustainable level of public debt, how can the country navigate through this crisis, to keep the economy on a path of recovery again? This is a great challenge, not only for the Federal Government but for all the state governments in the convoluted federation.

In the main, the government should first and foremost take adequate stock of the damage to the economy, to ascertain clearly the magnitude, particularly as it affects the micro, small, and medium scale enterprises. Many of these small businesses are the products of years of painstaking investments by their promoters, many of whom were hitherto unemployed individuals who had struggled to eke out a living for themselves through such ventures. They need urgent and substantial assistance from the government. These individuals contribute significantly to the economy, particularly to job creation as they employ two, three, up to ten individuals in their various enterprises. Government, at both federal and state levels, needs to develop a “Marshall Plan” to quickly give back life to these destroyed enterprises. These business owners should not be left to roam without any means of livelihood.

Some efforts are also required to make credit easily available in the economy. It is gladdening to note that the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria has reduced the Bank’s monetary policy rate by 100 basis points to 11.5 per cent thus making credit relatively cheaper. This should be supported by other policy designs to ensure that the economy is brought back to life, in support of the economic recovery from the effects of COVID-19.

It is also gladdening that reports from the CBN indicate that the country’s foreign reserves have recorded some increase. Other ancillary issues bordering on prevailing uncertainty in the direction of the economy should be addressed. These include a concerted effort to improve insecurity, manage the increasing public debt burden, and make effort to reverse the falling inflow of foreign capital inflow, among others. Overall, the stimulus to owners of looted shops should be urgent; else the negative economic effects could be aggravated.
Posted On Wednesday, 11 November 2020 15:52 Written by

It took Attahiru Jega, Professor of Political Science, guts and determination to move elections in Nigeria beyond the fictitious numbers politicians allocate to themselves. In those days, politicians determine their own scores at elections, hence the ‘landslide’ victories of yore.

But when Jega came, between 2010 and 2015, the activist Professor found one effective way around the antics of election riggers when he introduced the Smart Card Reader (SCR) just before the 2015 General Election. One of the reasons for introducing the SCR was to stop multiple voting on election day and it took some time for the import of this strange, handy device to sink in. By the time the riggers realized what had befallen them, the 2015 Presidential election had recorded significant improvement. Indeed, political analysts have said time and again that the Muhammadu Buhari victory was brought about largely due to the SCR. But while the 2015 Presidential election went relatively well, some of the governorship and national assembly elections were nullified by the Tribunals, resulting in many court-ordered off-season elections that Jega’s successor had to grapple with.

But trust the election riggers. They promptly returned to the trenches to fashion out the most effective way of dealing with the new INEC threat. In the interim, Mrs. Amina Zakari was asked to take charge at the Commission after Jega’s departure. Six months later, precisely on 9th November, Mahmood Yakubu, Professor of Political History and International Studies, was sworn in.

Many thought Buhari ought to have appointed a Southerner into that office for sake of ethnic balancing. Since the advent of this political dispensation, chairmen of the election management do not come from the same axis as the President. Many did not also think Yakubu had enough political experience to manage INEC. However, those who knew him associated Yakubu with three uncommon advantages. Firstly, he is a guerilla warfare expert, which metaphorically puts him in a good defensive position against the powers and principalities in the electoral system. Secondly, he had been Executive Secretary of the Education Trust Fund, (ETF), later renamed Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) and was thus well grounded in civil service administrative manners and government business. Then, thirdly and best of all, he is reputed as a calm, discerning individual with a rare ability, according to sources, to read minds correctly from a distance.

Within the first four weeks of his appointment, Yakubu had to conduct two end-of-tenure off-season elections – the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections – on 21st November and 5th December 2015 respectively. But Kogi presented two unique problems, one of which had never occurred in the history of electoral contest in Nigeria. One of the candidates in the election died suddenly before the declaration of results, a situation not envisaged in the existing legal framework. Then, the number of votes cancelled in 91 Polling Units as a result of various electoral malpractices exceeded the margin of lead between the two leading parties and this could affect the final outcome of the election.

To resolve the problem, the Commission applied the most proximate section of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) by requesting the party of the deceased candidate to replace him for the supplementary election held in 91 polling units on 5th December 2015.

Deluge of Elections, human losses
Since then, it’s been a roller coaster of some sort for INEC. Between November 2015 and October 2020, the Yakubu-led Commission conducted over 200 off-season, court-ordered, re-run and bye-elections. They include 11 governorship elections in Kogi (November 2015), Bayelsa (December 2015), Edo (September 2016), Ondo (October 2016), Anambra (November 2017), Ekiti (July 2018), Osun (September 2018), Kogi (December 2019), Bayelsa (December 2019, Edo (September 2020) and Ondo (October 2020).

Bye-elections have also been conducted into 163 electoral constituencies, comprising 15 Senatorial Districts, 47 Federal Constituencies and 101 State House of Assembly Constituencies, occasioned by death of the incumbent and nullification of the original election by the Election Petition and Appeal Tribunals. Besides, the Commission conducted the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Area Council election in April 2016. Of course, the 2019 General Election was the largest electoral undertaking in the country’s electoral history in which 24,353 candidates nominated by 91 political parties contested for 1,558 Constituencies, spread across 119, 973 polling units. Again, the voter population in the country, as at August 2018 was 84,004,084.

It was no doubt a challenging start for Yakubu at INEC, for no other Commission had conducted this number of elections since 1998. The costs, especially in terms of human lives and fatalities have been enormous, yet not often talked about. Figures obtained from the Commission revealed that during the 2019 General Elections alone, a total of 12 ad-hoc staff lost their lives in the course of duty. Three out of the 12 were killed as a result of electoral violence. They include Idoko Sunday, who was shot by hoodlums in Ogun State; Emmanuel Alison and Ibisaki Amachree who were both victims of gunshot in Rivers State. The other nine ad-hoc staff died in various accidents. Besides, 11 others sustained varying injuries from gunshots fired by hoodlums.

Between Riggers and Inconclusive elections
The Commission was compelled to hold a number of inconclusive elections, between 2015 and 2016, which were largely not the fault of the Commission. Yakubu had, in separate interviews revealed that when some desperate politicians or their agents unleash violence on INEC officials at polling units on election day or disrupt the process in certain areas with the hope of gaining advantage, and if the total number of registered voters in such places was more than the margin of lead between the front-runner and the runner-up in the election, the law forbids the Commission from declaring a winner until another election is conducted in the place where the disruption or violence took place.

Dealing with Vote buying
Ekiti governorship election of 2018 elevated the phenomenon of vote buying. According to the Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, “vote buying reared its ugly head in the Ekiti Governorship election as a result of the frustration that some politicians faced when they could not penetrate our processes and procedures. With no other way open for them within INEC, they opted to go after the voters on election day by offering cash and other gifts to sway voters.”

On what the Commission did to counter the menace, Oyekanmi said: “Remember that we conducted the Osun governorship election two months after Ekiti governorship election. That was why we banned the use of cell phones or any other photographic device in the polling booth on election day. We discovered that those willing to sell their votes would snap the ballot paper on which they had thumb-printed and then show vote buyers in exchange for cash.”

Changing the tide
However, the last three elections – the Nasarawa Central State Constituency bye-election held on 8th August, the Edo Governorship election conducted on 9th September and the Ondo State Governorship election held on 10th October featured the Commission’s latest innovation – the Result Viewing Portal (IReV Portal).

It all started with a statement issued on 6th August 2020 and signed by National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee (IVEC) Barrister Festus Okoye, in which the Commission announced its decision to introduce the IReV portal. Okoye said the Commission was aware that election result management had remained a major source of mistrust in the country’s electoral system and that “citizens were often concerned and sometimes rightly so, that results may not always be consistent with votes cast.”

He added: “It is a fundamental principle of democracy that in elections, votes are not only correctly counted, they also count. Consistent with its commitment to transparency in election management, the Commission introduced the Form EC60E, which is a poster version of the primary result sheet, the Form EC8A. This replica of the polling unit result is pasted at the polling unit after votes are counted, recorded and announced. This poster, now widely known as the ‘People’s Form EC8A’ has incresed transparency in result. To further strengthen the transparency in election management system, the Commission has decided to introduce a dedicated public portal that will enable Nigerians to view the polling unit results real time as voting ends on election day.”

Nigerians were pleased with the innovation and began to pour accolades on the Commission. However, Oyekanmi noted that INEC had introduced the People’s Result Sheet (Form EC60E) at the polling unit level from November 2017 when the Anambra Governorship election was conducted.

Apart from the IReV, the Commission has also put in place the Direct Data Capture Machines and portals for the recruitment of ad-hoc staff, candidate nomination, media accreditation, E-Learning, INEC Observer Group and INEC political party management system. There is also the online newspaper,

More inclusivity
The Commission has provided a number of incentives for Persons Living With Disabilities (PWDs) to take active part in the electoral system. For the visually challenged voters, INEC deployed Assistive Tactile Guide (ATVG) on election days to aid them vote without pressure from any quarter. Magnifying glasses were also provided, especially for persons living with albinism who are susceptible to sun rays during the day. This is in addition to Special Voting Support Systems for vulnerable groups and the development and implementation of the Framework for Voting by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) nationwide.

In collaboration with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), INEC conducted a baseline survey of Persons Living with Disabilities and subsequently developed a Framework on Access and Participation of PWDs in all aspects of the electoral process. This was intended to reduce the barriers facing them as voters, aspirants, candidates, party officials and election officials.

Perhaps, one of things that worked in favour of the Yakubu-led Commission is its constant consultation with stakeholders. From 2015 to date, the Commission held regular consultations with political parties, CSOs, Media, Security Agencies, Religious and Traditions Rulers. Before the 2019 General elections, Yakubu met with Northern Traditional Rulers, Catholic Bishops of Nigeria and Southern Traditional Rulers. The electoral umpire reaped bountifully from this habit in both Edo and Ondo governorship elections. In Edo, the intervention of the Oba of Benin is believed to have had tremendous influence on the political actors which resulted in peaceful governorship election. The same thing happened in Ondo when Yakubu met with the Traditional Rulers Council and appealed for its intervention in calming nerves. The Council responded and peace reigned during the election.

Way forward
Yakubu’s nomination for a second term by President Muhammadu Buhari, which is awaiting confirmation of the Senate, has attracted commendations from many stakeholders, some political parties and even critics. But stakeholders have also been listing the actions that they expect him to undertake over the next five years in order to strengthen the electoral system.

They have urged him to quickly work with the National Assembly for a timely amendment of the relevant sections of the extant laws to remove the current problems inherent in the electoral system and pave the way for electronic voting and transmission of results. They also want INEC to initiate the process that would enable Nigerians to register online for the Permanent Voters’ Card or in the alternative, enable eligible voters to walk into any INEC office in any local government in any state to register and obtain a PVC instantly. Besides, they want the establishment of the Electoral Offences Tribunal, specifically to try suspects arrested for electoral offences with dispatch. The stakeholders also want Yakubu to immediately commence the process of establishing new polling units in an even manner across the country, especially in areas where the population had increased substantially over the years.

Posted On Wednesday, 11 November 2020 15:46 Written by

I will like to start by thanking the leadership of Arewa House for the great honour of inviting me to speak at the golden jubilee of this great institution. I also want to congratulate you, both for this historic moment and for the wonderful work you have done in the last fifty years; mobilising and interpreting our history to explain the present and illuminate the path to our future. Through a faithful and relentless engagement with history, Arewa House has indeed built a great history for itself. Congratulations.

This institution was founded with clear and deliberate intentions. One, to immortalise the legacies of the great political leader and former Premier of defunct Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello. Two, to serve as a bastion of the collective memory of the people of Northern Nigeria in particular, and Nigeria at large.

As a student of history, the importance of the preservation of history in the evolution of any society is not lost on me. I must therefore commend you all for the great work that started in 1970 when Nigeria came out of an unfortunate civil war and the Interim Common Services Agency (I.C.S.A), was established to manage the common assets and liabilities of the then six Northern states and the “History of Northern Nigeria Committee” was inaugurated to, among other things, document the history of the “North”. A major recommendation of the committee was the establishment of a “Centre for Historical Documentation and Research”. Professor Abdullahi Smith, one of the foremost historians at Ahmadu Bello University took up the pioneering role of establishing the centre. Since then, the Centre, popularly known as Arewa House has grown in leaps and bounds, moving its base in 1972 to the residential quarters and office complex of the late Premier of Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto.

The pioneers, such as Professor Abdullahi Smith, Professor Abdullahi Mahdi, Dr. George Kwanashie, Dr Hammid Bobboyi, right up to the current leadership of Dr Shuaibu Shehu Aliyu, all ensured that within a relatively short time, the centre acquired such an international repute that it attracted scholars from all over the world. Upon the abolition of the ICSA, Arewa House was transferred to Ahmadu Bello University as a research centre, which houses an Archive, a Library, a rich collection of books, and a museum complex. I have gone down the memory lane to recall the history of Arewa House in order to underline the noble objectives as well as the deep commitment of the pioneers in establishing such an important centre of learning and knowledge sharing. No doubt, these great gentlemen must have believed that every successful society has been built on a strong foundation of knowledge and its pivotal role in human development.

I salute the memory of the great Sir Ahmadu Bello, whose central political philosophy like that of the great American founding father, Thomas Jefferson, was that every Nigerian, and indeed all human beings, are created equal and that they are all endowed by God with rights among which are life, liberty, equal opportunity, blessings and the legitimate pursuit of happiness. Throughout his life and career, the late Sarduana of Sokoto espoused high morality and intellectual virtues in the public sphere – virtues that we would all do well to revisit and pay more attention to these days. His choice of a motto for the North is “Work and Worship” and in his Christmas message to citizens in 1959, he underscored his deep belief in “unity in diversity” when he stated that “here in Northern Nigeria we have people of many different races, tribes, and religions who are knit together by a common history, common interests, and common ideas, the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us.”

Speaking in this great citadel of research and learning this morning, I must acknowledge that I am following in the footsteps of giants who had been guest speakers at the Annual Arewa House Lecture over the years. Elder Statesmen like General Yakubu Gowon, late President Shehu Shagari, and my boss and leader, President Muhammadu Buhari. Respected scholars like Professor Ishaya Audu and Professor Abdullahi Smith; technocrats like Alhaji Liman Ciroma and Ambassador Jolly Tanko Yusuf, Royalties like the late Sultan Abubakar III and Oba Erediuwa of Benin and; religious leaders such as the late Abubakar Mahmud Gumi and Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah. I really do hope that I am able to live up to the standards set by these previous distinguished speakers. I must thank the Planning Committee of the 50th anniversary for giving me the latitude to choose the topic of my lecture. Consequently, I have chosen to speak today on a topic that encapsulates the challenges of the last fifty years in addition to embodying our unflagging quest for unity and national integration. Quite incidentally, events of the past few weeks have brought into sharper focus our beleaguered journey to nation-building, which reached a significant landmark of sixty years on October 1, 2020.

The topic of my reflection is ‘’Unfinished Greatness – Towards a More Perfect Union in Nigeria”. This topic rests on a core assumption that there was a ‘greatness’ or at least a journey towards ‘greatness’, which has remained unfinished. It also asserts that it is only by building a more perfect union that we can accomplish the task of greatness for which we have demonstrated so many potentials for the better part of our history. This notion of our “Unfinished Greatness” was also expressed by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in his presidential address to commemorate Nigeria’s 49th independence anniversary on October 1, 2009. He noted thus: “Today should be a forceful reminder of unfinished greatness, of the promise yet to be fulfilled, of the dream deferred for too long, and of the work that is still outstanding.”

Indeed, not many would disagree with the view that there is a significant gap between our potentials for greatness as a country and the reality of where we are now. It is therefore incumbent on all well-meaning Nigerians to leverage all progressive avenues and platforms such as this to interrogate our journey to greatness, our historical missteps, our accomplishments, and most importantly, the imperatives towards a “more perfect union”.

These issues have become particularly germane against the backdrop of recent events. First, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which has undermined the economies of all countries, especially those in the global south. Nigeria was no exception, and the biggest challenge faced by governments at both the federal and sub-national levels is how to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on our economy to enable us to meet the expectations of our people. Second, the youth-led protests against police brutality #EndSARS, which eventually metamorphosed into agitations for more holistic reforms on issues of good governance, accountability, and greater inclusion of the youth demography that forms the majority of our population.

Nation-Building is a Continuous Work in Progress

Renowned Nigerian author, Ben Okri in his award-winning book, The Famished Road, tells of a people who, for several generations have been trying to build a road. But no matter how hard they work, they never go far in their endeavour. Even then, whatever little progress they make, is always destroyed by disasters beyond their comprehension and they would have to start all over; much like the curse of Sisyphus. Yet, every generation understands that it is its destiny to try and complete this road. History has taught them that the road would never be completed, but they never give up because each generation hopes that it would be the generation that gets the job done. Several commentators have noted that Okri’s unfinishable road is in fact, a grand metaphor for nation-building.

However, in relating this story to our country, Nigeria and our own efforts at nation-building, rather than the collapsing road, I would think in terms of an infinite wall of greatness with the natural potential to reach far beyond the skies. It is the destiny of every generation to build on this wall, and take it to a higher level, even though we know that the job will never be done because there is no real limit to how high we can build. Reflecting on our recent history, it is easy to point at our many false starts, or even several instances when we have out-rightly betrayed our generational mission. We may indeed wonder that despite the great efforts of the past sixty years, how come this great wall has barely left the foundation stage, even with our enormous wealth of bricks and mortars and expert builders?

Sixty years may be a long time in the life of an individual. But a sixty-year-old nation is a nation yet in its infancy.

Therefore, rather than despair over the failures of the past, I would be more productive than we look ahead with great hopes at the infinite future that lies ahead of us, armed with that immortal admonition from the French West Indian psychiatrist and political philosopher, Frantz Fanon that “every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, betray it or fulfill it.”

Over the years, Nigerians have agonised over the lamentably slow pace of our development. Successive governments and policymakers have responded with various approaches and strategies for achieving the much desired national development. Yet, even the most charitable analyst of our political economy would agree that we have not performed to our optimum capabilities. So many experts have made great efforts to explain our under-development, with some, like the late professor Claud Ake even arguing that development was never part of the post-colonial African political agenda. It appears to me however that the fundamental challenge is that all along, we have been placing the cart before the proverbial horse. Before we can think of development, we must first solve the problems of nation-building, because you cannot develop what you do not have. When the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka asked “When is a Nation,” he was attempting to draw our attention to those urgent questions of nation-building that have remained largely unanswered to this day. The development of every nation necessarily derives from “elite consensus”. However, this consensus can only be forged after some fundamental questions, what we call the national questions, have been settled. Where the very existence of the nation itself is easily brought to question at the slighted provocation, it should be clear that we have to ask and settle certain questions first, and it is the settlement that would then provide the grundnorm for our vision of society and the structure and direction of our national development. In short, the very notion of national greatness is directly consequential to nation-building.

Over the years, I have heard even presumably informed analysts referred to our country as the mistake of 1914. But was the amalgamation really a mistake? The American social philosopher, Eric Hoffer argued that divide and rule is most effective when it “fosters a multiplicity of compact bodies – racial, religious or economic – vying with and suspicious of each other.” Therefore, it is possible to argue that the toxic legacy of their ‘divide and rule’ strategy may be the reason that we have remained divided even 60 years after their rule has ended. However, to describe this amalgamation itself as a mistake would be wrong, both historically and conceptually. The hands that drew the map may not have been ours, but the map was possible only because we are here in the first place.

Every student of history will agree that as a people, if not as a country, Lord Lugard did not introduce us to ourselves. Long before the white man set his foot on our land, our people have developed an intricate network of relationships. Even though they lived in their various enclaves as independent people, they traded together, they married one another, they fought together as allies in battles and against one another as adversaries. Our cultures inter-mingled freely and produced a rich synthesis of cultures, in such a way that no single culture was left pure and unaffected from this intercourse, as evidenced in new vocabularies, diets, and even dress. It is also important to note that many of our empires and kingdoms were territorial rather than tribal. They luxuriated and thrived on their diversity and formed unions and alliances based on shared understanding and mutual respects. A cursory analysis of our languages and belief systems will reveal like the Sardauna Ahmadu Bello noted, that we actually have more in common than some of our differences would suggest.

Therefore, while the colonialists may have been “culpable” for creating the country that we call Nigeria without consulting us; the task of forging a nation out of this colonial invention, rests squarely in our hands. And this task must progress from a deliberate effort to remobilise and re-interpret our history, especially our pre-colonial history. If we take a sociological, we will see clearly that we did not arrive here by chance or as mere products of colonial misadventure. In his book, titled, “Can Anything Good Come Out of History?” famous historian, Obaro Ikime observed that it is not colonialism that introduced the Igbos to the Igalas; the Kanuris to its neighbouring states; the Efik to the Ibibios and the Igbos; the Itsekiri to the Urhobos or; the Yorubas to the Nupes, etc. Brought together, sometimes by forces of geography and history, all these people, he noted, “knew about themselves and respected their varying cultures and susceptibilities.” He went further to underline the important roles that historians and teachers of history must play as we strive to build a united nation out of this colonial legacy called Nigeria. He argued that “[t]here is a need to provide a general framework of our nation’s history; a need to indicate broad influences and operative factors in our history; a need to identify the nature and impact of contacts between our peoples; a need to identify factors that make for the differences discernible among our peoples; and so on.”

One of the most popular anecdotes that survived from our early efforts at nation-building was the one credited to the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. He was said to have retorted that in coming together as a country, we do not need to forget our differences, rather we only need to recognise and respect them. It is not clear to what extent this wise admonition was taken on board by our founding fathers as they tried to grapple with the challenges of nation-building in a post-colonial Nigeria. However, embedded in the notion of “unity in diversity” is a distinct awareness that sameness is not necessarily a precondition for oneness. Perhaps, one major area that the successive generation has failed is in the tendency to stigmatise difference and weaponise diversity. We are Muslims, we are Christians, we are animists, we are Idoma, Tiv, Angas, Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Kanuri, Fulani, and so on. We don’t need to apologise for these differences or attempt to hide them because there is nothing wrong with being different. The problem starts only when these social categorisations become the boundaries for inclusion or exclusion.

Development anthropologists have long concluded that culture plays a crucial role in development. In other words, every culture essentially contains the facilities for progress and advancement. The language in which we articulate our ideas; our diets and consumption patterns; our architectures and the way we live; our religion and how we understand our relationship with God and to the universe, our notion of ethics, morality, and justice, all of these, in different forms and at different levels, provide the essential driving force for development. What this means, therefore, is that the more diverse the cultures within a nation, the more resources they have for development and for progress. In essence, homogeneity is not necessarily a blessing and diversity needs not to be a curse. This is why it is important to always make the distinction between our difference, which is essentially benign, and the politicisation of those difference, which constitutes the malignant cancer in the body of our nation.

One thing we do not seem to celebrate enough is our ability to live together as a diverse but unified country despite the centrifugal forces of our politics. It is in fact what makes us better than even Europeans, who have found diversity management a lot more difficult. Countries in the Balkan Peninsula have collapsed into Yugoslavia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Herzegovinia, and gave us the word, “balkanise”. Czechoslovakia became Czech and Slovak nations; the Soviet Union couldn’t hold together, and Britain still has not found a definitive answer to the Irish, Welsh and Scottish question. But imagine Nigeria with over 250 ethnic nationalities and particularly in Arewa, where no state, indeed few communities can claim to be homogeneous. Yet we have managed our diversity very well until we lost the values of tolerance, equity, fairness and justice, which we inherited from our founding fathers such as the Sardauna of Sokoto.

I made reference earlier to the issue of inclusion and exclusion. It seems to me this is one important way that we have poisoned the well of our diversity. By misapplying our difference, our diversity, which should be the strength of our unity, then becomes its major threat. Because, as Shehu Usumanu Dan Fodiyo in his book Bayan Wujub al-Hijra noted, “One of the swiftest ways of destroying a State is to give preference to one particular tribe over another or to show favour to one group of people rather than another.” This view is also strongly supported in research conducted by the Arewa Research Development Project which emphasises that issues of nation-building is being “increasingly…centred around citizenship rights and equality in accessing these rights, special and conscious efforts to safeguard minorities and disadvantaged groups, gender equality in political and socio-economic spheres of a nation, protection of cultural assets….”.

In the days of the Sardauna Sir Ahmadu Bello, respect for each other’s faith was a norm. The late Ambassador Jolly Tanko Yusuf, one of the young technocrats close to the Sardauna once shared a story here at Arewa House of how the Sardauna supported them to establish the Northern Christian Association on the 10th of April 1964. He recalled that he and Mr. Edward Manuso, the then Provincial Commissioner for Sardauna Province wrote a letter to the Premier and engaged Sardauna on the matter without any form of hostility or reprimand. His testimony was equally corroborated by late Chief Sunday Awoniyi, who said that the Sardauna ensured that Muslims and Christians had equitable access to the corridors of power. This spoke to the motto, ‘Work and Worship’, and to the values of hard work, accountability, honesty, dedication to duty, selfless service to the people, religious tolerance, foresight, and vision. Many of these values cohere to what those from my part of the country know as the “Omoluabi” ethos and what is commonly known here as Mutumin Kirki – The concept of the Good Man in Hausa, an apology to Tony Kirk-Greene.

Despite the challenges that we have faced as a nation, which we sometimes unfairly exaggerate, it is important for us to constantly bear in mind that nation-building is a slow and dynamic process. The awareness that nothing in nation-building is finalised should give us hope and challenge us to do better and constantly look for ways and means to build a better country, by experimentation and learning, trial and errors, setting and resetting. And this is why the operative framework of any nation is never intended as divinely inspired scripture. Most of the challenges that we face today could not have been envisaged in 1999. But we must see these challenges as opportunities to test our governance system and its response capacity to issues of national co-existence. The integrity of our governance and administrative system must be continually measured in terms of its ability to deliver the greater good to the greatest number of our people. If it is not able to do this, we must be willing to press the reset button and ask ourselves why is the system that we all must submit to not working for us all?

However, for us to constructively confront these issues, we must start by first conquering the demon of mutual suspicion and distrust that has poisoned our politics and subverted our will to achieve the necessary consensus that is so crucial to marching confidently towards our destiny as a great nation. If we do this, we would have scaled the major obstacle to forging a great nation out of this colonial creation and show the world that we are finally ready to embrace our true destiny as the hope of all black people everywhere.

Imperatives for a ‘More Perfect Union’
The word “perfect” is superlative. Therefore, to speak of building a “more perfect” union is to be superfluous. But embedded in that deliberate superfluity is a fundamental notion of eternal work in progress, a perpetual commitment to perfection and improvement no matter how satisfying or dissatisfying the present condition is. The second stanza of our national anthem ends with an infinitive that underlines that nation-building is an unending search for perfection. It says: “To build a nation, where peace and justice shall reign.” For the next one thousand years, no matter the progress we would have made, as long as this country continues to exist, generations after generations, will continue to seek “to build a nation, where peace and justice shall reign.” It is a credit to the genius of whoever invented that line that both the mission and the means to achieve the mission is captured in one simple phrase. The path to nation-building is peace, the path to peace is justice, and the path to justice is equity and inclusion. Even for Americans who coined the mantra, of “a more perfect union’, it was done out of the understanding that the work of nation-building is never done. If a country like the United States, forged out of a common purpose and common consent, perpetually seeks to make a more perfect union, we have no excuse to give up on the task of nation-building in Nigeria.

Permit me to return to Ben Okri, who wrote in the same book, The Famished Road, that “each new generation begins with nothing and with everything. They know all the earlier mistakes. They may not know that they know, but they do. They know the early plans, the original intentions, the earliest dreams. Each generation has to reconnect the dreams for themselves. They tend to become a little wiser, but don’t go very far. It is possible that they now travel slower, and will make bigger mistakes. That is how they are as people. They have an infinity of hope and an eternity of struggles. Nothing can destroy them except themselves and they will never finish the road that is their soul and they do not know it.”

Okri tells us that the work of nation-building is for all generations. And how far each generation is able to go on the journey to nation-building and the attainment of greatness depends on the aggregate character and predilections of that generation. Perhaps, as products of a specific period of our history and national experience, we are distrustful of change even if the change is what our situation recommends. We must however take note that the generation that wants to take over from us are products of a different historical experience. A great number of young Nigerians who recently marched on the streets in protest never lived under military rule. They are akin to the people post-apartheid South Africans refer to as the “born free” generation. Because they can take the fact of democracy for granted, it is difficult for them to see democracy as an end in itself. What really matters to them is what democracy can do for them, how it can work for them, and how it can help to facilitate their dreams. Nurtured in the cusp of some of the most rapid transformation in human history, they are less fearful of change and experimentation. If it is not working, they want it fixed.

This is why anyone who holds a semblance of power or authority in this country should be deeply worried by the events of the past few weeks. What started as an innocuous online protest over police brutality snowballed before our very eyes into a mass movement that assumed more frightening dimensions. From the demand to #EndSARS, we have seen vigorous demands for greater accountability, and greater efficiency in government. What I understand the youths to be saying is that we the older generation have failed them by our inability to create a system that supports their dreams and accommodates their aspirations. From the language of their protests, we can see clearly that our youths feel pushed to the margin of our nation’s socio-political and economic structures. It is incumbent on us to listen to what they are saying and a lot more than they are probably not saying yet.

For over a decade, several analysts have noted that our massive youth population could be a major demographic advantage to our country if it is properly harnessed. Years of neglect and failure to make the right investments to support this population is now, quite predictably, turning it into a major disruptive force and a time bomb. I am afraid that the bomb has started to tick, we must therefore act fast and start now to create systems that provide opportunities for our young people and make it possible for them to attain their God-given potentials.

In responding to the challenges that this moment imposes on us, we must recognise that a business-as-usual approach will no longer be sufficient. What we need is a fundamental re-engineering of our governance system in a way that will make our country work better for everyone. I understand the recent protest as a discursive signal that encapsulates the frustration of our young people at multiple levels. We must therefore engage it as such and try to focus on the opportunities that the situation presents.

Restructuring, Devolution, Fiscal Federalism and Greatness
In our quest towards a more perfect union, therefore, the main challenge is one of re-creating the union and the basis of its fundamental national association. Unfortunately, this is one issue that we have allowed to be implicated in our instinctive mutual suspicion and unnecessary brickbats. Caught in our politics of difference and otherness, devolution, decentralisation, restructuring, and such other concepts have come to mean different things to different people, depending on the ethnic and regional toga they wear. Our age-long distrusts and suspicions of one another are now being tested and contested on the basis of this issue that should be the pivot of our nation-building effort. However, stripped of all opportunism and dysfunctional baggage, these concepts should simply refer to a way to reimagine and reinvent our country to make it work well for everyone. I associate fully with the views of a respected scholar and former Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega when he said that “sooner than later, these matters have to be addressed squarely but dispassionately. The challenge is how to address the issue of restructuring the Nigerian federal system without upsetting the apple-cart; that is, how to add value to the structure and systemic efficacy of the federal arrangement, without unleashing instability occasioned by the mobilisation of ethnic, regional, and religious sentiments and identities.” [Jega:2017]

I will argue, therefore, that our idea of restructuring must be motivated only by our generational responsibility to perfect our union and to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign based on an operative principle that true greatness lies in building a country that works for everyone, regardless of the language they speak, or how they understand and worship God.

The evolution of Nigeria’s federalism has not served our best interests and it is not surprising that we have witnessed protests at every attempt at constitutional reengineering. Two prominent examples were the 2005 Constitutional Reform Conference convened by President Obasanjo’s administration and the 2014 National Conference at the instance of President Jonathan. In the two conferences, the delicate issue remains that of restructuring (often dubbed Devolution of Power, Decentralisation, True Federalism, etc.). But for how long can we continue to run away from this issue and continue to pretend that somehow it would resolve itself someday?

In my view, structural changes (like state creation and merger) would appear to me unrealistic in a democratic dispensation. I also do not think we can easily go back to the pre-1966 regional structure or adopt the 54 federating-units proposals of the 2014 conference, which I find unrealistic, no matter the appeal or attraction. Rather, our preoccupations should be, how can we make the current structure work better for us in terms of, first our governance system; second, our economy and national productivity; and third citizenship and inclusion. There may be other issues that should be the object of our restructuring, but I consider these to be paramount. Therefore, in my view restructuring should be less about redrawing the map of Nigeria, but about building a more efficient governance system that is capable of delivering the greater good to the greatest number of our people.

In essence, our desire to build a more perfect union should be anchored on the principle of devolution of powers – that is, re-allocation of powers and resources to the country’s federating units. The reasons for this are not far-fetched. First, long years of military rule has produced an over-concentration of powers and resources at the centre to the detriment of the states. Two, the 1999 constitution, as has been argued by several observers, was hurriedly put together by the departing military authority and was not a product of sufficient inclusiveness. Part of the focus of such an exercise should be: what items should remain on the exclusive legislative list and which ones should be transferred to the concurrent list? Other topical issues include derivation principle; fiscal federalism and revenue allocation; land tenure, local government creation, and autonomy; etc. All points considered, the fiscal burden of maintaining a largely inefficient and over-bloated bureaucracy is a metaphor for shooting oneself in the foot.

Again, in arriving at a position on what ought to be in the quest for a more perfect union, I wish to further say that my sentiments are more associated with strengthening the sub-national units in the re-allocation of powers and resources. The assignment of functions that would be consistent with a devolved but strengthened federal system would have a short, exclusive federal list focusing on national defence and security, macroeconomy, foreign affairs, customs, and excise; joint responsibility in respect of certain functions that are currently assigned exclusively to the federal government (for example, internal security and policing) and primary responsibility of the sub-national governments in respect to other functions in the second schedule of the 1999 constitution whilst the remaining powers devolve to states.

On revenue collection and sharing, the position of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum which I head is that the sharing formula should be reviewed in favour of the states, especially given the argument of devolved responsibilities to the sub-nationals. In the context of the proposed new federal structure, Governors have argued for a formula along the lines of 42% to states, 35% to the Federal, and 23% to Local Governments.

Remaking Nigeria through the devolution of powers and re-organisation of the federating units is an idea whose time has come. To quote Attahiru Jega again, “by working hard and rationally, scientifically, to remove all the distortions in our federal system, we would have a better functioning federation with only states as federating units; with a conscious commitment to zonal cooperation among contiguous states, with local governments subsumed under states…with substantial devolution of power, responsibilities, and resources from the federal government to the states, and with mechanisms of ensuring greater equality of opportunity for all and affirmative action for the inclusion of the marginalised, minorities and groups discriminated against in the country…”[Jega:2017]

Greatness beckons – The Power of Leadership
While we set out as a country on a somewhat progressive footing under the ‘Founding Fathers’, the reversals that we experienced mainly from the implosions that arose within the polity and the incursion of authoritarian rule, alongside its ‘civilian’ inflections, enthroned a paradigm of government and public governance that coalesced around waste, bureaucratic inefficiency, red-tapism and certainly, corrosive corruption.

Thereafter, we witnessed how the State became more and more unitary, and how the contest for the privileges of the centre took on an increasingly desperate tenor among the different groups and stakeholders in the country. While corruption and state exclusion thrived, several groups began to feel a sense of alienation, leading to their desertion of a sense of national citizenship and affiliation to the State, which they subsequently considered as being a contraption to be exploited for individual gain – a ‘cake’ that everyone needed to grab a share of. Thus, whatever could be taken out of the centre – more so illegally – was considered acceptable and just within the perception of local interest.

From the foregoing, what is evident is that most prominently at the national level, the Nigerian post-colonial state has not behaved in a fundamentally different way from the colonial state. Even though operated by Nigerians, the post-colonial state has been as alien and as predatory as its colonial predecessor. As late Professor Claude Ake argued in the early 1990s, this legacy has its roots in the colonial era when political discourse excluded not only democracy but even the idea of good government, and politics was reduced to the clash of one exclusive claim to power against another. The question therefore is: How can the business of state be serious business in a context in which public governance is largely a predatory exercise in which power is captured from citizens and not freely given by citizens; a context in which the consent of the people is not integral to the constitution of legitimacy?

Against the backdrop of the post-colonial state in Africa, it is still possible to argue that political leadership remains a major determinant of good public governance. The African experience, among others, has shown that the quality, vision, patriotism, and competence of the political leadership is critical to the transformation of African states and the possibilities of good governance. In our specific experience in Nigeria, we also have instances of how the quality of the leadership has produced a good system of public governance, even if few and far between. One can readily give the examples of Northern Nigeria under Sir Ahmadu Bello and Western Nigeria under Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

Yet, important as the power of leadership is, until and unless we recompose the Nigerian State and make it derive her original consent and legitimacy from the people, then we labour in vain. Contrary to the pretensions of neo-liberal economists, without a modern state, there cannot be an economy or society; therefore, before public governance, there must be a modern state in the real sense. A predatory state cannot give birth to proper public governance and a sense of justice and fairness.

Those of us in public office may delude ourselves, but the events of the past few weeks have brought the contradictions of the Nigerian state into a sharper focus. Whether your immediate concern is police brutality and the need for police reform or you reflect upon the rationale and the challenges of those who insist that until Nigeria becomes a theocracy, there shall be blood and tears unlimited; whether you look towards the Niger Delta where, despite the amnesty and the industry of graft and greed that it has re-produced, there is a continuous and bloody demand for justice and equity; or you examine the endless pretexts for ethnic strife and blood-letting between the indigenous people and the “settlers” in the Middle Belt; whether you scrutinise the regular apocalyptic predictions of highly placed Nigerians about the fate of the country, or you contemplate what would happen if measures are not taken to arrest the drift, you cannot but come to the conclusion that Nigeria needs to be re-imagined and re-created.

Excellencies, Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Guests, I leave you with another famous quotation from Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo which I understand was the guiding principle of Sardauna’s leadership style in life. In his book, Bayan Wujub al-Hijra referenced earlier, the great Islamic reformer said, “A kingdom can endure with unbelief, but it cannot endure with injustice.” May we have the courage and the conviction to confront injustice in our country and make Nigeria work for all of us.

I thank you for listening.

Fayemi is the Governor of Ekiti State

Posted On Monday, 02 November 2020 14:25 Written by

For the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and the many stakeholders working to promote credible elections, 2020 will surely go down as a defining, but very challenging year.

Firstly, the entire electoral process had to grapple with the realities of the new normal as imposed by the outbreak of the Novel Corona Virus (COVID-19). The pandemic forced INEC to quickly return to the drawing board with the objective of working out strategies to ensure the electoral process does not become a super-spreader point, which could go on to multiply the number of COVID-19 fatalities. In fact, the Commission had to initially postpone senatorial bye-elections in Bayelsa, Plateau and Imo States in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19 in March.

The emergency mode, which the pandemic imposed on the electoral process necessitated drastic measures and INEC took full advantage of the legal provisions available for it to make the necessary adjustments. Nigeria’s Electoral Act 2010 as amended in Section 26 (2) empowers INEC to postpone an election “where there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies.” However, beyond the initial postponement, the Commission went on to create a balancing act by quickly adopting a modified approach for the conduct of elections. The Commission did this by invoking relevant powers as conferred by Section 160 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. This was done by putting forward the “INEC Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of the COVID-19.”

One of the positive developments in the 2020 electoral process was in the fact that there was in place a policy framework, which provided a robust set of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during elections. As part of the general protective measures, the guideline outlined INEC’s readiness to provide equipment and materials for voters to sanitise, just as handheld thermometers were deployed to check the temperature of voters in the polling units. Importantly too, the policy stressed the mandatory use of face masks for all involved in the election process. The policy also mandated the disinfection of the Smart Card Readers after the fingerprint of each voter is read. There were also rules to ensure physical distancing, not only on Election Day, but also at related activities including stakeholder engagement, and training.

However, despite the extra cost INEC had to incur to adjust to the realities of COVID, the attitude of voters in the post-pandemic elections conducted by INEC showed general non-compliance to key protocols for preventing further spread of COVID-19. The attitude of the vast majority of voters during the two off-cycle governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States made mincemeat of whatever efforts INEC had put in place to prevent the spread of COVID. In fact, adherence to the protocols was reduced to the partial wearing of face masks, just as voters defied rules for social distancing by continuing to stay within close range of one another. The major take away from INEC’s exertions to prevent COVID is the fact that the populace was not interested because they did not really subscribe to the notions about the lethal nature of the virus.

Beyond the challenge posed by the pandemic, however, there remained the historic gaps in the electoral process, which necessitated mitigation. In the aspect of logistics, for instance, INEC got some commendation for the largely timely deployment of election materials for the Edo and Ondo elections. Several election observers were quick to pick up this positive indicator, which was then used as a basis to encourage INEC to do better. Using the Registration Areas Centres (RACs) as the hub for the distribution of electoral materials appeared to have been a well-executed strategy in the two off-cycle elections. As such, stakeholders in their cautious optimism could only hope that INEC would be able to translate its new-found dexterity in terms of movement of materials to a more complex context, such as during a general election. With the dates for the 2023 general elections already set, interested parties have already begun projecting how to translate the logistical gains from Edo and Ondo to the wider context of national elections.

Another positive indicator, which brought some relief was the relatively peaceful conduct of the September 19, followed by the October 10, 2020, gubernatorial polls in Edo and Ondo. It would be recalled that in the build-up to the elections, particularly in Edo State, there was apprehension that the electoral contest would be a bloody one, which would take a serious toll in terms of life and property. Close watchers who had reflected volatile scenarios in the build-up to the elections were pleasantly surprised by the largely peaceful outcomes. While there were definitely incidents and skirmishes that affected the process in some areas, the outcome by independent observers was adjudged to be largely peaceful. In the post-election period, stakeholders have been particularly interested in identifying the factors, which made the process largely peaceful. In Edo for instance, a lot has been said about the peace efforts initiated by stakeholders to douse the tension generated by partisan bickering.

Although the political actors continued with their jaded and anachronistic tactics of inciting their supporters through hate speech, misinformation and spread of fake news, determined statesmen and women worked tirelessly to preserve the peace. Importantly, the frequent advisories and warnings about the likelihood of violence made peacemakers take their tasks very seriously. This would be gleaned in the fact that the candidates of the major parties were corralled to append their signatures to peace accords, which have become an enduring opportunity for the political actors to be made to reflect on the fact that their participation in the electoral process should be driven by issues, and not mutual recrimination, incitement and mudslinging. The capacity of peacebuilders to get this message across to the partisan actors, it is reckoned, made a massive difference in averting violence, which would have affected the polls on an unimaginable scale.

Subsequently, the threat of violence and the disruption of the electoral process by desperate partisan actors was largely neutralised, not only in Edo but also in Ondo. While the achievement of a peaceful outcome in Edo could be credited to the work of statesmen and women who appealed to the politicians and their supporters, the prevention of widespread violence in Ondo was attributed to the influence of issues-driven campaign in the build-up to the October 10 governorship election. The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), a major observer group, which was on the ground in the two states with a network of observers across the entire Local Government Areas identified the focus on core governance issues as bulwark against widespread violence. In its analysis on the pre-election environment in the build-up to the Ondo governorship poll, the Centre informed that citizens were more interested in raising questions about everyday issues that affect them.

In the build-up to the poll, the group said: “The people in this State have shown a refreshing resolve to focus their debates and conversations around the October 10 governorship election on key governance issues. CDD observation showed that the level of the spread of fake news and misinformation in the Ondo election has been relatively low when compared to recent governorship elections in Kogi, Bayelsa and Edo State. This positive trend is partly so because citizens are busy discussing issues of governance.” The CDD similarly informed that its social media content analysis for the Ondo State governorship election showed that the major concerns raised by prospective voters in their posts focused on preventing possible violence and voter inducement.

Interestingly, these positive outcomes from the 2020 electoral process have been quickly identified as signs that little, but important steps are being taken to improve the overall credibility of the electoral process. There are stakeholders who even went as far as declaring that the developments potentially augur well for the future of democracy and development in the country. In this context, they were full of praises for citizens who showed the resolve to protect their mandate. Commendations were also heaped on the electorate, alongside various strategic stakeholders, particularly INEC, the Oba of Benin and the Abdulsalam Abubakar led National Peace Committee, who worked and intervened firmly, under a very dire pre-election context that portended violent election conflicts. For most stakeholders who closely watched the Edo and Ondo election, the verdict was that these exertions in addition to the largely non-partisan role of the security agencies culminated in largely peaceful elections.

NONETHELESS, while the peaceful conduct of the elections was praised to the high heavens, stakeholders did not lose sight of the gaps and contradictions, which continue to assail the electoral process. The challenge, which left many close watchers befuddled is the dominant role that was played by vote-buying in determining the outcome of the two elections. The massive scale of vote-buying in the two states was one of the grotesque realities stakeholders had in mind when they warned in post-election briefings that there remained anomalies in the process, which if left unaddressed could turn the current euphoria into a mirage. Credible civic organisations, which engaged the process warned that the gains being celebrated could eventually evaporate, precipitating a reversal to the status quo ante of the country’s experience of seriously flawed electoral outcomes.

Specifically, observer groups bemoaned the level of sophistication and effort partisan actors were putting into the reprehensible activity of vote-buying. In Edo and Ondo, observers identified what they described as very consistent patterns of vote-buying. The tactics for vote-buying ranged from cash transactions, use of vote-buying outposts away from the polling area, and the act of rival political camps outbidding each other to induce voters in specific polling units. Other vote-buying tactics used according to observers involved political actors making available large sums for disbursement to community leaders for onward distribution to voters. The quandary for INEC and civic groups has been about how to effectively tackle vote-buying given the complexity of the problem. So far and given the scale of the problem, stakeholders are still ruminating as there is certainly no quick fix for this complex problem.

Subsequently, the other major challenge, which reared its head in the course of the recent off-cycle elections was the decline in voter turnout. Pro-democracy campaigners are expressing worries because the trend as seen in the two polls point to some form of disenchantment or erosion of citizens’ trust in the democratic process. Backing these assertions with figures, CDD data showed that in Edo State, for instance, the 2003 voter turnout stood at 78 percent of 1,432,891registered voters. In 2020 however, only 25.2 percent of voters turned out to cast their ballot out of a registered number of 2,210,534. The figures similarly showed a consistent decline in voter turnout from 78 percent in 2003 to 40.5percent in 2012, and further down to 32.3 percent in 2016. The conclusion, therefore, was that the decline in voter turnout in 2020, which came down to a low of 25.2 percent could be read as a steady loss of faith in the electoral process, as well the entire democratic system of governance.

For the Ondo governorship election, CDD data also indicated a consistent decline in voter turnout. The Centre analysed voter turnout rate in the 2020 governorship election and compared it with the 2012 and 2016 governorship elections. According to the figures, in 2012, the voter turnout was 38.10 percent; this went down in 2016 to 35.20 percent only to further nosedive to 32.70percent. Despite the decline in turnout, compared to the Edo election, Ondo election was adjudged to be an improvement.

One area of improvement, which was spotlighted is the increased level of compliance with the directive on upload of completed form EC8A to the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) platform. The upload of results, using zip files, enabled the public view results of polling unit in real-time as soon as voting ends on Election Day.

Although the elections conducted by INEC in 2020 notwithstanding the threat posed by the pandemic threw up a number of positive and not so salutary outcomes, there is cautious optimism in the pro-democracy community that it is possible to get things right. The nomination of the INEC helmsman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu for a second term by President Muhammadu Buhari, subject to the confirmation of the Senate could afford some continuity in the push to address the challenges in the electoral process. But with the menace of vote-buying and declining voter turnout lurking in the wings to subvert the sanctity, and robust participation in the process, stakeholders have come to the realisation that there remains a lot of work to do if the electoral process is to reflect the democratic preferences of the people of Nigeria.

Posted On Monday, 02 November 2020 14:16 Written by

Cassava is currently the fourth most important food crop in the world, followed closely by maize, wheat and rice. It is cultivated on over 24 million hectares in 105 countries in the world. Of the countries, Nigeria ranks the largest producer.

Though Nigeria is the largest producer of the root crop, its low average yield per hectare of about 7.7 metric tonnes compared with 23.4 metric tonnes and 22.2 metrics in Indonesia and Thailand, respectively, is still a source of worry to cassava breeders, agronomists and food scientists.

Available data has shown that Nigeria produced 53 million metric tonnes of cassava in the 2018/2019 season, and out of this, over 90 per cent of it was processed into food for human consumption, but a huge industrial demand exists for the output of processed cassava, primarily as substitutes for imported raw materials and semi-finished products.

With huge production potential and competitive advantage in cultivation, experts believe the country can grow and diversify the economy through industrialisation of the cassava roots to produce raw materials being imported by the ancillary industry users.

However, new commercial plantations should be established to take care of industrial demands for ethanol, starch, cassava flour and sweeteners. New plantations are imperative, according to Professor Kolawole Adebayo, former Regional Coordinator of Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (CAVA) projects.

The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, during a meeting with cassava producing states and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria Cassava Growers Association and large-scale cassava processors last year, said: “Economic diversification is an essential tool for national development and we are leaving no stone unturned towards repositioning Nigeria on the map of the world, not just as the leading cassava producer but a processor as well.”

Emefiele had said compared with any other country, Nigeria has one of the best climates and land resources to produce and process sufficient cassava not only for consumption but also for industrial uses and export.

On the gap and demand that exists in the nation’s cassava value chain, the CBN governor said the demand for High-Quality Cassava Flour (HQCF) in bread, biscuits and snacks is above 500,000 tonnes yearly, while supply is below 15,000 tonnes. The demand for cassava starch is above 300,000 tonnes, while supply is below 10,000 tonnes yearly.

Also, demand for cassava-based constituents in sugar syrup is above 350,000tonnes, while supply is almost non-existent and potential demand for ethanol in Nigeria as a fuel for cooking, to power vehicles (E10), and other industrial uses exceed one billion litres, while production is nearly zero.

“It was on this premise that we included cassava in the FX exclusion list to salvage the industry, encourage farmers to go back to their farms to boost jobs creation and increase output and improve the capacity utilisation of our processing companies,” he had said.

However, Professors Adebayo and Sanni Leteef said industrialisation of cassava is hampered by poor farm mechanistion for higher yields per hectare; inadequate power supply; multiple demands for the crop, in competition for food need and unfriendly business and policy environments.

Cassava industrialisation strategy
Deepening cassava’s the production and value chain for economic growth and development require certain fundamentals. They include production and productivity techniques, industrialisation and import substitution strategy.

President, International Society for Tropical Root Crops and the Project Manager, IITA’s Building Economically Sustainable Cassava Seed Systems (BASICS-II), Prof Sanni, advocates integrated production and processing for cassava farmers and processors.

He advised: “The concept of integration is to share your overhead cost because utilities and infrastructure are major key elements in financing farming. So, how would you share from that cost? It is when you integrate crops with livestock, or you have two or three crops. When you have only one crop like cassava, you have two to three products. If you produce garri, produce instant fufu flour. Then, learn more and move to food-grade starch.”

He explained that Nestle Plc needs nothing less than 7,000 tonnes of food-grade starch and 10,000 tonnes of high-quality cassava flour, saying, “I have not talked about ethanol industry and about pharmaceutical industry needs. The pharmaceutical industries now need starch, and CBN is assisting processors so they can produce pharmaceutical starch.”

On increasing productivity per hectare despite climate change and other challenges, Prof. Sanni recommended that farmers should plant drought-tolerant cassava varieties. Two, he said emplacing irrigation facilities is becoming more imperative, no matter how small.

“In Israel, drip irrigation is their best farming technology and is giving them precision agriculture, increasing their productivity and enhancing their capacity to sustain food production. So, Nigeria needs to learn from other countries and there is the need for us to learn it,” he explained.

He, however, lamented that despite the huge opportunities in cassava flour as a substitute in wheat, the enabling policy is still “sleeping.” Some people are diversifying now because of the pandemic because when you could not get quality wheat, you have to blend with something. Professionally, that is ongoing, but they will not want to say it out.”

Also, President, Nigeria Cassava Grower Association, Mr Segun Adewumi, emphasised five very major industrial derivatives that the country could maximize to safe the economy, and one of them is ethanol.

The ethanol that Nigeria consumes in wine and alcoholic drinks costs over N400 billion yearly and over 90 per cent of it is imported.

“Pharmaceuticals all over the world prefer cassava starch and certainly, we import almost 17 million metric tonnes of it at a very great cost. And we import over 90 per cent of the starch we use in pharmaceuticals, soap production and so many products,” Adewumi said.

He said if Nigeria substitutes wheat with cassava flour in bread, the country would save about N250 billion every year, just with about 20 per cent inclusion in only bread.

“At my last count, we use about 15,000 metric tonnes of flour and 20 per cent of that would be 3000 tonnes of cassava flour. We will be saving close to N300 billion every year,” he added.

On employment generation along the cassava value chain, Adewumi said cassava could replace oil, give more revenue to the country and create more job opportunities than in the oil and gas sector.

“Incidentally, these products are raw materials to other essential utility items with limitless market potential. This is to say cassava can trigger an industrial revolution in Nigeria and can actually change the narrative of the Nigerian economy,” he added.

CBN interventions in cassava value chain
Part of the strategic approach to deepening cassava industrialisation for all-inclusive growth is adequate financing of cultivation and processing at the small and medium-scale levels. However, this has remained a perennial challenge.

Posted On Monday, 02 November 2020 14:08 Written by
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