Nigeria: Of Political Parties and Alliances

The high point of political party discussion for 2013 in Nigeria was the emergence of the All Progressive Congress (APC), the outcome of a merger between Nigeria’s four largest opposition parties. Subsequently the overtures made to attract members of the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), led to acts of decamping (from PDP to APC) which will make 2014 a year to watch as the 2015 elections gain momentum. There has been much criticism of the ideology of political parties; what is the difference between APC and PDP? Does it lie with the political party or with its members? For all that may exist in different theoretical postulation, Nigeria is a difficult nut to crack.

Political parties constitute a social struggle between different classes based on principles of common interest. A platform which serves the general interests of individuals who may not have much in common is a convenient vehicle for achieving political objectives.  These political objectives are usually embedded in a call for change that carries the idea of what best suits the people. The political machinery is put into action by generating campaign-based opinions which are not necessarily evidence based. Depending on how sophisticated the electorate is, the ability to discern what is genuine or not is largely dependent on their economic and social status. It therefore becomes very important to understand the relationship between the internal structures of these political parties versus their actual engagement when voted into power.

Political parties are organized structures which the political class needs to convey their objectives; their collective will come to the forefront as they set aside their individual differences. Success via the political platforms is a confirmation that any platform will succeed only to the extent in which the individual interests is built into solidarity.  This solidarity may be vertical or horizontal in nature depending greatly on social and economic conditions. Without an economic advantage, qualitative numerical strength is of equal importance and influence - the emphasis on participation cannot be overstated.  Every party has its own hierarchy and norms and, democracy ensures its survival by depending on the principle of delegation and representation of the masses via its structures.  It becomes cumbersome to practice direct democracy on every policy of the government in a populous country like Nigeria therefore representation must come forth through the political platforms. These political platforms with the economical means and shared interests are expected to act in the best interest of the masses.  However class interests cannot be overlooked neither can the leadership of respective political parties be ignored in the grand scheme of events.

Although the leadership of each political party is a minority in numbers, yet they sign off the most important decisions of the party. Thus establishing a form of oligarchy which can only be challenged from within the system, where such internal system check is unavailable, absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is these party oligarchies that decide where the party parade moves to in Nigeria, wining and dining with the society’s most talented and intelligent individuals whilst seeking to build a consensus of interests across the divide and recognize individuals who will help to mid-wife their aspirations. They hunt out those institutionalized individuals who will deliver wards, states and entire regions to them at the next elections; for it is in these characters their aspirations may be fulfilled.  We should treat the political party like any other business organization; a platform created to secure an end.

Our 1960 independence was not without the influence of the global Second Wave Democracy.  One can assume from several indicators that Nigeria’s aristocrats and ruling elite gave in to democracy in theory, but remained anti-democratic in nature. Their quest for power and relevance compelled them to join the democratic movement by floating political parties especially when in possession of the wherewithal to fund political parties. In theory it appears that political parties are about the majority, but in practice the minority rules from within.

There are many individuals who join political parties with the aim of making change; they have lofty dreams of how they can effectively redirect the destiny of the country.  Each individual has to however contend with the vested interests of the generations before him who have created an order that must be followed.  Ye this may also be a new generation with access to power. He is now at the risk of standing alone unless he builds an alliance with others – not necessarily those with which he shares similar core interests – but those on platforms with a generalized interest.

A conservative candidate, who declares to his electors that he does not regard them capable of playing an active role in influencing the destiny of the country, and proceeds to tell them that for this reason they ought to be deprived of their universal suffrage, would be a man of incomparable sincerity but politically insane. 

 Roberts Michels, 1915.

This is the moral dilemma most politicians have to endure; they have to descend into the politicking of the system where they engage everyone as equals in order to win. They set aside their primary aim to frolic with whoever matters (what Robert Michels describes as howling with the democratic wolves) in order to secure the coveted majority. The inability to appeal to people of every class and veiled economic interests will guarantee failure at the polls.

General Muhammadu Buhari, popularly known as GMB is one candidate who decided to stick to his principles in the general presidential elections. His political ideology of what Nigeria should be is largely predicated on his anti-corruption stance. His inability to tolerate certain quarters that are perceived as corrupt in the polity earned him the support of some which unfortunately did not constitute the majority needed to win in the last 3 presidential elections.  Over the past year, the same man has been a key part of the merger that led to the formation of what can be called the mega opposition party. Beyond the quest to be the president, has Buhari now come to an understanding of how essential it is to build a political party with and without like minds? Would he willingly accept the verdict of the party if the presidential ticket is not handed to him? Time will tell but one thing is evident, GMB’s position on who to associate with on a political platform has changed. One thing that is certain is that he must accept the fact that the APC is now a political party of interests that goes beyond his person and for a chance at victory; the collective interests of the party must be accepted by all members.

In the past we had the likes of Gani Fawehinmi and Wole Soyinka floating political parties with the subsequent results speaking for their performance at general elections; activists alone don’t win elections but politicians and political parties do. The APC has been termed an unholy alliance, which when placed in context of the ideal society, is not a brilliant idea. The odds in Nigeria are not favored by idealistic western political ideologies and orientation because the independent variables which determine the outcomes of elections are not largely dependent on ideological factors. The average Nigerian politician recognizes this – votes count when they count and this in turn determines the ultimate goal, which is to gain access to power. Except in rare situations where there is an outright rigging of the ballot box against the will of the people e.g. as was the electoral petitions decided by the courts in Ekiti and Osun State, the ability to rig elections successfully in any area is largely dependent on the support for a political party with an electorate majority who turn out on election day.  It is undeniable that this support may have been induced; the build up to elections is full of Greek gifts from politicians to the elector.

Every state in Nigeria has its own peculiar political machinery and modus operandi that is largely based on the support of the people.  To dwell entirely on the political parties as a structure of ideology without analyzing the faces behind each party is a fruitless exercise. There are many factors responsible for late Obafemi Awolowo’s inability to build sufficient consensus across the divide to back his ambition, both in 1959 and in 1979. In the last 14 years of our pseudo-democracy, Kwara state reinforces the postulations that in several instances, individuals who influence the electorate in a certain region remain influential, regardless of the political parties they find themselves in.

Continuing with Kwara as a case in point, a quick glance on paper at the main political parties that have held sway in the state looks like an evolution from ANPP to PDP to APC. Without a background context analysis, one would think it is a swing state where there is a large pool of independent voters. This is not true; the political apparatus in Kwara has remained under the control of the Saraki dynasty for over three decades with genuine support of the people and it seems other political elements have become a thingamabob. Under the military junta, it was widely reported that the military head of states consulted the Sarakis before any military administrator was appointed to the state.  The Sarakis were in ANPP for the 1999 elections and practically seated Mohammed Lawal as Governor. By 2003, their fallout with the incumbent and subsequent support for PDP ensured yet another victory. Despite the cry of nepotism by a large number of non-Kwara residents over the emergence of Bukola Saraki as Governor, it seems a good percentage of Kwara residents did not seem to share similar sentiments.  Today, the same Saraki dynasty has moved on to the APC- without vehement resentment they have the clear understanding and support of the majority of their people in Kwara.  After all, democracy is about numbers.  A simple majority of the Kwara electorate supports the Saraki dynasty without questions, many claim elections may have been rigged with convenience but the courts say otherwise.

Recently one of the members of the Federal House of Representatives from Kwara was asked about moving the mandate of the people from PDP to APC and if their cross carpeting was fair to the electorate or the political party which sponsored their candidacy. He responded by saying, “we enjoy the support of our people in Kwara state, the people made the party and not the other way round; we have moved on”.  Perhaps the APC political machinery has come to the understanding that Kwara state will remain in the control of the Saraki dynasty for years to come and reasons along the lines of an alliance through which presidential votes could be delivered. Under the leadership of Tinubu, the Action Congress/Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) was not without worthy candidates for the leadership positions in Kwara but after four general elections they should know better. Perhaps the APC has come to understand the essence of embracing other grounded political elements in order to achieve its aims.  After all, cosmopolitan Lagos has been following a single trajectory in electing governors.

While the echelons of political parties continue to shield their self-interests, they hold no reservations in running any sellable agenda in the name of the people.  Nothing is more convincing than fighting in the name of the people and for the people- a crucial thing to be learnt in politics. But the political class cannot be done away with especially in a democracy. Yet some young people in the name of change seek to demonize or do away with them despite not having the organized numbers or the wherewithal to fund political parties.  They are not even the least of political “outsiders” who may be expected to make inroads when elections come up, politicians contest elections and win elections. Anyone willing to win elections must participate in the political process beyond merely casting a vote.  Economic empowerment can be balanced out with good organization of numbers, provided there are shared interests. Activism and advocacy serve as checks and balances in democracy, the actual political participation is on multi-level. The ideal versus the reality in politics is many shades of grey that is blurred with compromises.

Nigerian political parties will continue to manifest themselves within the context of the space in which they operate; an Angela Merkel may never win a ward election in Nigeria. Unlike the monarchy system where blood and lineage is a determining factor, it is possible to grow through the class system of what we have in our country, if one understands how this particular system works. Either you work from within the party or you have a movement worthy of attention by the political class, at the end of the day it’s all about power. What is done with this power is another cup of tea, just like Obama and the drones. The ideal versus the reality in the Nigerian polity requires much more understanding and engagement with the reality as the order of the day.

RE: ASUU Strike

Introduction

The Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities, ASUU, is on strike again and this time, it has been on for over 90 days. This is no longer news to Nigerians who are accustomed to the periodic refusal by this body of academics to return to the lecture rooms once negotiations break down.

In this episode, the bone of contention is over a 2009 agreement between the Federal Government and ASUU. On one side, the government claims that agreement cannot be implemented due to budget constraints while the other party claims gross irresponsibility and manipulation by the government in not fulfilling an agreement wilfully entered into by both parties.

The prevailing situation of Nigerian universities calls for a total review as captured in the 2012 Report of the Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities. This is not only about wage increase for academic STAFF as Government’s propaganda claims, but about the quality of education in these institutions.

In Feyi Fawehinmi’s blog, he aptly questions the qualitative capacity of ASUU members in tandem with the funding made available to our Universities. From this view, one gets a perspective of how unrealistic ASUU may be, which is not necessarily the situation. There is the pertinent question as to why Nigerian academics do not excel back in Nigeria but are rated first among equals when engaged in other parts of the world. The answer is simple; there is a conducive academic environment outside our shores that is designed to bring out the best in any average individual. We are intelligent and resourceful, but will never come to maximize our full potential in the absence of a facilitating environment.

There is no need to go down memory lane about the decades of waste and neglect that characterizes virtually all sectors of the Nigerian economy despite the abundance of natural resources. How can we call ourselves a rich country when we are yet to make anything of our potentials when compared to our contemporaries? While I support the strike in line with the right of an employee to decent wages and working conditions, the demands being put forward here may be impossible for the Federal Government to meet up with. About 68% of the national budget goes to recurrent expenditure while 32% goes to capital projects, about the same ratio for state budgets. With all sectors from health to education in dire need of funds, it will be a challenge to give in to ASUU’s demands.

The begging question is the way out of this recurring quagmire that does not seem likely to be going away in the next couple of years. This is no longer the 1960s when and where free education was the order of the day; the population has grown 3 times in size without parallel improvement in development.

University Autonomy

The debate on university autonomy has been a bone of contention between ASUU and the Federal Government. Like those who think voting at the polls alone is the solution to democracy, university students are not left out in joining the call for university autonomy without careful consideration of the ramifications of such prayers if answered. University autonomy comes with a lot of responsibilities to be borne by the University but should not mean that the government must stop providing grants to academic institutions for teaching and research, seeing as our future is dependent on a foundation of quality education.

The European Universities Association’s position on university autonomy appeals to universal practice, universities should be granted not just organizational and academic autonomy but such a move must include financial components. In practice, the government provides a fixed grant and the universities have to find means of supplementing their budget through endowments and internally generated revenue. IGR depends on several factors, e.g. it will be easier for the University of Lagos to generate funds than it will be for the University of Maiduguri, in line with the economy of their respective states/location. Some would argue that location is not a barrier for IGR in this technology age, but it does not work that easily. With reference to the American University of Nigeria, Adamawa and location may not be considered a major determining factor because it is a private university that has the freedom to allow the tuition rate reflect existing demand and supply. With autonomy comes decentralization of wages and I do not expect Nigerian Universities will have a unified wage for academic staff on the same hierarchy. However this should not be exclusive of minimum wage for entry academic level across the country.

Private endowments are very rare in Nigeria universities.  Rich citizens and corporate organizations are known for their endowments in political parties and promotional events to promote their business or political interests.

Should the universities be granted autonomy, they must be run like sustainable businesses. Have we considered the reason why an average Nigerian parent will not want to invest $4000 per annum at the University of Lagos but will easily part with same in a University in Poland or Malaysia? It is all about perception, qualitative education and the opportunities that exist in a conducive environment.

Tuition for a Business Management course at the University of Lagos is about $100 per session! No average primary or secondary school in Lagos would ever cost that little. Under the disguise of providing free education, we have built and come to accommodate a system of crappy education. If primary and secondary education must be provided for free, there must be a minimum standard. Is Nigeria able to adopt a free education system considering the depth of our debt and our dismal political system?

It is impossible to compare Nigeria with Nordic countries where education is free up to graduate level. The total population of the 7 Nordic countries is approximately 25.2 million which is less than the population of the 7 most populous states in Nigeria. With their sovereign wealth and steady rate of development over the last 3 decades, we pale in comparison.

Should Nigeria get it right, may we not find ourselves in the same predicament with Egypt, where University education is not free or cheap yet over 400,000 graduates per year continue to find it hard getting a decent job? Seeking for alternative solutions to the Nigerian educational system is long and overdue and it is high time we phase out the politically cheap taglines of free education at the tertiary level.

Are Nigerian students satisfied with the quality of education provided at the Universities? If no, are they willing to pay more to get more? Is the government willing to facilitate student loans for those who cannot afford the tuition? Who bears the burden, ASUU, the government or the students who mostly come from average to poor families?

Today the student loan debt in the United States stands at $1.2trillion. Are we willing as a nation to run our debts high for education to save our future? In my opinion, this may be a move that will be worth it in the long run.

In England where universities have their autonomy, this does not come without governmental support which is run through the Higher Education Funding Council for England, HEFCE, with a priority to invest government funds on behalf of the students and the wider public to promote opportunity, choice and excellence in higher education. For the 2013-2014 session, a total of 4.7billion Pounds will be allocated to 129 universities and higher education colleges spread out to cover areas such as teaching (£2.3 billion), research (£1.6 billion), knowledge exchange (£160 million), capital grants (£280 million) and  special funding (£149 million).

A focused government will not leave its education sector entirely in the hands of the private sector even though it is unable to provide 100% funding. Every penny  must be accounted for with clear provision and expectations, below is a sample quote from the HEFCE funding guide:

  1. In 2010-11 our recurrent grants to institutions are almost entirely allocated by formula according to our expectations of what each institution will need for various activities and the contribution that our fixed budget can make towards meeting those needs – alongside income from other sources, such as student tuition fees. This ensures we are fair, transparent and efficient. But we give the funding as a ‘block grant’, so institutions can target spending towards their own priorities. This means they can be autonomous and do not have the burden of accounting in detail for their expenditure.
  2. The block grant does not, however, come without strings attached. We have a Financial Memorandum which sets out the general requirements we make of institutions, and each year we issue a funding agreement that details further particular conditions. These include targets relating to student numbers. Accountability is in terms of what is delivered, by way of the numbers of students taught and audit outcomes and the quantity and quality of research.

Funding Universities must be tied to specifics. Above is a clear provision for university autonomy by a government grant agency with financial memorandum for accountability and delivery.

The UK government is not limited to just grants via HEFCE, it also facilitates student loans via its nonprofit making organization called Student Loans Company. When I come across Annual Report and Accounts of Universities i.e. University of Hertfordshire, I am compelled to agree with Feyi Fawehinmis’ opinion that ASUU and University administration have a long way to go in service delivery; none ( government or private universities) have a report on their activities and funding in public domain.

We have Nigerian universities with multi-million Naira entrance gates and palatial offices for the Vice Chancellors, yet the libraries and laboratories are empty with over cramped lecture facilities. Is this not a reflection of priorities? Are there any key performance indicators used to measure overall performance against student recruitment, management and financial inputs? Universities in the West declare profits year in year out with mega investment portfolios. Nigerian Universities must be encouraged to look in that direction.

The President in his September 2013 media chat questioned why Nigerian Universities want all properties transferred to the University management board. It is about time the government let go on this matter while putting in place policies to guide full University autonomy. Granting University autonomy while holding on to land, the main capital required to generate funds in some instances is rather tricky. As the Yorubas nicely put it: ‘why give a ram and hold on to the rope?’ About time it is done and responsibility shifts to the University Management Boards while government concentrates on more important issues at stake.

ASUU Strike is Political. Why are State and Federal Universities on Strike?

The President and the government as a whole, needs to put aside their victim mentality, come off its high horse and do what it is elected to do, run this country right. Propaganda & blackmailing will not solve the problems of ASUU, neither will just throwing funds at the Universities help, without a clear cut open and transparent process that is anchored on evidence-based interventions. I doubt if ASUU will not embark on the same strike regardless of which political party is in power at the centre. The government has 2 options; go to court or negotiate. ASUU is not made up of dumb entities who do not know their right from their left. * The President, a product of the same university system, should be in a better position to understand the disposition and stance of ASUU. He may also decide to meet with the leadership of ASUU if that will convey the importance this government places on education and the relevance of ASUU as a stakeholder.

The 36 states of Nigeria are not all run by the opposition parties, all public universities owned by the federal and state government are in tandem with ASUU strike, so we can logically dismiss the idea that the position of ASUU is aimed at discrediting the incumbent president or his political ruling party. If ASUU must make a sacrifice for the future of Nigeria via tertiary education, our elected political office holders must be seen to do same, walk the talk, stop the pretence and move swiftly to cut wasteful government spending.

How fair is it for the academia to continue to languish in a society where political office holders acquire wealth like mad men from God knows where. Our federal legislators have continued to shroud their humongous wages allowances in secrecy, the recent advocacy and match by young Nigerians under the guise of #OURNASS continues to ask for accountability from these over fed and pampered legislators who sometimes amuse us with exchange of blows in the parliament.

Regardless of the political parties, all are guilty when it comes to not cutting government spending to conform to our reality. Neither can President Jonathan openly declare his financial worth in comparison with his worth before entering the political space. The impunity in Nigeria is killing, all those who have the right and will to fight it, must not relent.

How do you expect a PhD holder earning less than $1300 monthly to survive in a city like Lagos where the cost of accommodation and healthcare is way beyond his reach?  How do we expect that he can give his best alongside looking for alternative ways to supplement his income? The incentive to give his best is dead on arrival, save for his wish to be different.  If we must sacrifice at all, for the sake of this Nation of ours, then let all, including the elected political office holders cut their pay and surrender to much needed changes.

Conclusion

Wages across universities must be decentralized to ensure sustainability based on economic indicators. The Government at federal and state level, must provide grants to universities within a structured transparent process, where the universities can plan ahead and justify their funding. Student bursary needs to be reviewed and possibly upgraded to student loans.

There is little the civil society can do than ask both parties to return to the negotiating table. The whole debate here is simply about financial allocation and who bears the brunt for outstanding costs in running the university. Who will bear the cost of providing qualitative education in Nigeria? At the end of the day, there must be a compromise on all sides. ASUU will have to return to work but not with the presently offered terms and conditions.

 

* I erroneously stated that President Jonathan was a former member of ASUU, correction has been made.

Where is the Socio-Economic Foundation for the Growth?

As long as the Nigerian government continues to battle fruitlessly with the legitimacy and morality to govern, the spate of on-going activities across the country will prevail.

The dilemma of governing is not farfetched from the pretentious attempts to rule in unity while divide-and-rule measures are applied to satisfy the divisions that abound in a heterogeneous state like Nigeria.

One of the greatest threats to democracy is anarchy and Nigeria is inching dangerously in that direction. The trend of wanton corruption, egregious human rights abuses, abuse of power and office, impunity, crime and violence continues to grow and these subtle or obvious indicators of lawlessness cannot be tolerated for longer.

More recently, there has been an alarming rise in kidnappings across the country. Sufficient prima facie evidence indicates that government does remit ransom to meet the demands of kidnappers and worse still their targets have expanded from oil expatriates, highly placed politicians or affluent Nigerians to now include ordinary citizens who live through the drudgery of daily frustrations.

We must not also be unaware that there are a number of incidences that do not get into mainstream news or social media, not to mention the increased number of “unknown” gunmen who perpetuate a cocktail of crimes in the land. Anyone and everyone can be kidnapped for a ransom as low as the cost of a couple recharge cards; the ransom demanded largely depends on the magnanimity or sophistication of the captors who play on the emotions of worried family and loved ones who have lost faith in the police.

There are rife but unconfirmed reports that some victims are made to write cheques and then escorted to their banks where they withdraw the ransom and hand over to the daring kidnappers.

The list of victims are endless – journalists, teachers, lecturers, students, doctors, lawyers, traders, the elderly, babies/toddlers, politicians, policemen, judges, pastors, imams and even unemployed youth have not been spared.

A friend told me of a story making the rounds about how youths in a certain community kidnapped a corpse and demanded that the bereaved family pay a ransom. What does one make of such?

The chairman of Ejigbo Local Government Area in Lagos was kidnapped some days ago and the ransom was set at US$1million. The persistence of unresolved high profile kidnappings that bore no consequences have surely influenced and encouraged the evolution of kidnapping gangs across the country.

It appears that the response of elected officials in both the executive and legislative arms of government is fortification of personal security of the individuals and their immediate family, which further depletes personnel available to secure the rest of Nigerians.

It remains a dream only attainable in Mars, for the Senate and the House of Representatives to declare how much they earn per month (basic salary + allowances). The senators and honourable of opposition parties are not left out in this uncomfortable silence over the status quo that enriches their private accounts in exchange for their ‘service’ to the nation.

While those who we have entrusted with checks and balances have turned into parliamentary rubber-stamp bulky-sitting ducks, the executives have not shown any intent to be above the fray. While one idle minister is led by the nose to embark on a road trip which has no value on good governance (hopefully Orosanye recommended the scrapping of the Ministry of Misinformation), the Presidency is largely drawn into weekly controversies by its action or inaction.

The turn of events which includes granting State Pardon to the international fugitive and ex-convict, DSP Alameiyesiegha to the shameless appointment of another ex-convict and certificate forger, Salisu Buhari (disgraced former speaker of house of reps, who was pardoned under the Obasanjo government), as a member of the governing council of one of Nigeria’s foremost citadels University of Nigeria, Nsukka. All these go to confirm that President Goodluck Jonathan has no moral scruples. He is simply a misfit and has consistently fouled the exalted office of the President of the Federation. His has severally abused the trust Nigerians placed in him when he was deemed elected in 2011.

Weeks after a former minister Obiageli Ezekwesili (known as Madam Due Process) challenged the Jonathan’s government to an open debate in respect of squandering funds inherited in the Excess Crude Account (ECA), the response has been laden with rhetoric and obloquy characteristic of the administration’s institutionalized lack of accountability. The pettiness of the presidency, which causes it to reason in a vacuum, begets the idea that only Mrs Ezekesili is interested in accountability and good governance and not the millions of taxpaying Nigerians who have seen no usefulness of the present government.

The governors also seem to be on another jamboree; from Akwa Ibom where the governor has run out of ideas on what to do with ‘overflowing’ state funds; one can easily deduce that the momentum is with the foolish leaders.

Who else declares N6million for lunch at an eatery or as hospitality donation apportioned to buy gifts for private citizens?

It is not only the oil producing states that have become clueless and unproductive as a result of the monthly allocations from Abuja, the non-oil-producing state governors have also turned profligate.  Another governor was showing off the private jet he acquired using taxpayers’ fund at a symposium with young people. His actions and audacity were short of him poking his fingers in their face as he branded them cowards who could never stand up for their rights. In this quagmire, the civil society can’t find its voice especially the civil liberties organisations.

We must come to understand and accept without bias that the intensity at which the country is being polarized on several issues will continue to weaken our institutions. The recent debates on what amnesty means for the extremists in the northern part of the country has been soiled by ethnic and religious sentiments. Unless we address these issues with a national approach and see that it is Nigerians who are being killed and not just Muslims or Christians i.e. place more value on every single Nigerian life, we are in for more years of tears and sorrow.

Sadly, Mr Jonathan who continues to portray himself as political victim of hatred on account of his place of origin is more concerned about regime security and how he will retain power beyond 2015 on behalf of his lackeys.

Mr Jonathan who declared gleefully on national TV that Obasanjo’s law and order approach to the security challenge in the Niger Delta did not solve the problem, must also confess that his touted Amnesty Programme has not in any way addressed the concerns of Niger Deltans beyond feathering the avaricious nests of his ex-militant friends. Any amnesty programme that does not first diagnose and acknowledge ramification of a crisis with intent to implement resolutions, apply justice and seek reconciliations, is an exercise in futility. It is bound to fail from the outset.

With millions of young unemployed Nigerians, it is sheer anathema that ex militants who have taken up arms against the state murdering thousands of innocent Nigerians in their path will earn monthly incomes far higher than the average university graduate or minimum wage of toiling public servants. Jonathan is indeed sending a dangerous message.

The obvious faults here are in our weak and ineffective institutions which are overwhelmed by different variables, chief of which is lack of the political will and wit to govern. The inability to enforce the rule of law because of de facto discretions and political patronage goes alongside the low durability of formal rules. Statutory institutions vested with the authority to represent the state in enforcing the laws upon powerful actors are either underfunded, drifting away or in cahoots with the rampaging politicians.

A few analysts have attributed such dysfunctionality to our wholesale adoption of institutional frameworks from other countries without adaptation to our peculiar context – all in a bid to conform to international tugging usually a prerequisite for granting ‘free’ foreign loans.

Bad governance coupled with poor economic performance is a recipe for disaster. The Minister of Finance and Central Bank Governor may continue to tout 7% economic growth, except this begins to sustainably impact on the life and livelihoods of ordinary Nigerians, it is meaningless and the growing discontent will not cease. Poverty, inequality and injustice will continue to debase the value and morals of our society. In the midst of abundant natural resources and a youthful population that can be harnessed to boost the economy, the will to effect a change is being overshadowed by the failure of the state, while those who should care are cocooned in the vile statistics churned out from New York or Washington or in keynote addresses delivered at Davos.

Is Nigeria truly a democracy? Many schools of thoughts are of the opinion that it is a developing country that should be allowed to grow. The dilemma is simply that since 1999 not even those in power could locate the site of the formidable foundation upon which the real socio-economic edifice mouthed daily in government speeches is located.

This piece was first published in The Scoop

Of Partisanship and Political Participation

In my private and public spaces, I have been an advocate of political participation by those who so desire, as well as civic engagement by all levels of the population. The engagement and participation of young Nigerians in our political arena today is however not devoid of intrigues and disclaimers. Despite the picture of politics that our fathers have painted for us – that of a dirty game reserved for the ‘devils’ or to put it mildly, the “dregs of the society”, we all as a nation have to endure the outcome of the process, whatever it may be.

There are more than enough literatures, which have severally examined the failure of the best citizens in the society, including those loosely described as technocrats, to be a part of the political process or work for the government. We must strive however, to create a healthy balance between criticisms and our ability to put our best foot forward in ensuring that our best men and women are at the vanguard of the change we so earnestly desire.

If Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 1999 had been swayed or deterred by the negativity attached to the political terrain, he would not today walk in these shoes of highest honour as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

My observations over the years show that the collective amnesia that seems to rob our country of pragmatic thinking encourages an atmosphere for propaganda that is not backed by facts or careful unbiased research. More than often, young people at the fore front of leadership in Nigeria attempt to present themselves as non-partisan and by extension, saints who irrespective of their actions or inactions should be absolved of any culpability of the development challenges that have befallen us a nation. How did we get to this point where it has become the order of the day to hide ones political leanings and engagements just so as to look politically correct on paper?

I have no respect for Nigerians who I know are actively involved in politics one way or the other, yet claim to be non-partisan. They swing back and forth whilst unassuming and more ignorant citizens swallow their pretensions hook line and sinker.

The priority of any business enterprise or organisation, and its board of directors, is to make as large a profit as possible, financial or otherwise; it is not a welfare agency. Likewise political parties, politicians and their associates have a priority to win elections and retain positions of power and influence. Political parties are by no means charity organisations; they are primarily driven by the quest for power and control.  It is what they do with this power (if attained) that subsequently goes on to define who they truly are and what their agendas are without the glare of campaign lights.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having an agenda – everyone including politicians, associates, interest groups, young people and even the voters have an agenda.  Even the so-called independents have one; they hold on their votes and swing it in any direction they please to influence the final outcome of elections. What is cynical however is the hypocritical attempt of some to take up the roles of saints as a form of smart play.

I grew up thumbing through my father’s library collection which included books covering pre independence and early Nigerian history. Quite at an early age, I had read through all of them and was debating Nigerian politics and history with my father. My interests have always centred on the particular roles any individual played in the history of Nigeria and the emergence of our democracy. By way of what we learnt in social studies classes, we all knew the historical landmarks and their outcome, but we were not taught about the specific actions of the many individuals involved in the process.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I find it funny when the likes of Femi Fani-Kayode and Akinloyes, attempt to rewrite history by painting their own fathers as saints. They remind me of efforts by the Belgians to rewrite history as regards the crimes against humanity committed by King Leopold II in the Congo.

When Reuben Abati wrote his piece titled ‘The Hypocrisy of Yesterday’s Men’ which made reference to political office holders in the last decade, asides the personal efforts to tarnish the names of his master’s political antagonists, I saw it as a piece to reckon with by examining it from another angle.

Take for example – President Olusegun Obasanjo whose third term bid and subsequent chess-like moves led to the installation of the late President Musa Yaradua as his successor, and resulted in one of the worst leadership fiascos that Nigeria has ever experienced. This same man who opposed the June 12 elections cannot be absolved of the 1979 mathematical redefinition of what two-thirds of 19 states meant; it was quite obvious that all efforts were geared towards installing Shehu Shagari as President. The similarities between the Shagari and Jonathan regimes are nothing but outright corruption – the Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye champagne and the abuse of export licenses back then is in tandem with the fuel subsidy crisis of this present regime. The only difference is that there would not be a military coup; this democracy must outlive our profligate politicians and their associates.

Since 1999, the pattern has been the same for most politicians, crossing from one side of the divide to the other. The political system to a large extent allows this and the citizens have not differed at the polls on matters such as this.

But my focus is now more on the younger generation and their political engagements. I cringe in dismay at the way we unapologetically exhibit memory loss on who did what in the last decade or even the last 3 years. Building up to the 2011 general elections, the Yaradua era was an eye opener for a lot of young people. From the protests to the general elections and up until the #OccupyNigeria episode, it is rather amazing that all these have happened in the span of 3 years but somehow they do not seem to carry an overriding influence in 2013. Are young Nigerians so forgiving or so forgetful, and in so short a time?

I recently came across the leadership series being written by Chude Jidenowo which threw me into fits of laughter.  The first picture it called to mind was that of Arthur Francis Nzeribe – the affluent Oguta politician and elite of his generation who got a scholarship from the Nigerian Ports Authority in 1958 to study Marine Engineering in England. By 1960, Nzeribe – the entrepreneur – sold life insurance in Britain and later moved to Ghana to work for Kwame Nkurumah. He soon after bought his first Rolls Royce. This was a man whose company reported an annual turnover of 70 million pounds by 1979. With a reputation of selling weapons to all warring sides across several African countries, he spent N12M to win a senatorial seat in 1983. Beyond this introduction of Francis Nzeribe, what struck me about him was his open support for Ibrahim Babangida through the ridiculous Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) in 1993 when the country was yearning for a democratic regime. Yet by the turn of the decade, the same Nzeribe would become a senator – the collective amnesia was firmly in place.

An article that caught my attention from Chude Jideonwo’s New Leadership Series was the article titled “What exactly happened to the Nuhu Ribadu we fell in love with?” I quote an excerpt from it:

“He was inviting myself and another of the persons gathered to work for that campaign – no doubt giddy in the excitement that young people would automatically root for the man. I said no to that offer as with other such offers; because I had no interest at the time in politics or public service. But even if I had been open to the possibility, I would still have said no. Because I immediately knew that Ribadu the Politician was a very, very bad idea.”

Reading this came as a surprise to me and I once again saw the same elements I have described earlier manifesting in another young person who is trying to be conservative with the truth in a bid to be seen as an independent.

I have so much respect for individuals who stand by their actions and openly declare their interests but not for those who try to rewrite history especially when it is plain to see to even the blind. I have no doubt that Ribadu reached out to various youth and youth groups to work alongside him on his presidential ambition. While I opted for Buhari, some of my very good friends and associates campaigned for Ribadu. There is no law in Nigeria that forbids us from openly supporting any presidential candidate and this amongst others, helped ensure that the friendship between my friends and I remained unbroken despite our supporting different candidates at the general elections.

That Chude Jideonwo claims he rejected the offer based on the fact that he had no interest at that time in politics or public service is far from the truth. It was about choices, and President Goodluck Jonathan was the choice.

He and his organisation were actively involved in the presidential campaigns of President Goodluck Jonathan. Coupled with some active young people, they facilitated the infamous Lagos Youth lunch with the President in 2011 where money was shared openly under the guise of transport fare.

The unsolved puzzle at that moment was: how did Chude Jideonwo of “The Future Project” who claimed to be non-partisan, not interested in politics when Ribadu’s friends came calling, active on the board of the Enough is Enough Coalition (A nonpartisan platform) and also part of the “What About Us?” campaign when the same President Jonathan failed to honour a youth debate pre-2011 general elections, turn out to be the facilitator of lunch with President Jonathan? Can it be like I presume that his individual paid services from the 2011 President Goodluck Jonathan campaigns facilitated his choice as one of the conveyors of the “youth lunch”?

If Mr Jidenowo regrets his association with the Goodluck Jonathan bid, then he must come clear about it as his leadership series does allude variously to indict the competence of his friend, Mr Jonathan.

In the Ribadu piece, Chude wrote: “Mr. Ribadu returned to Nigeria in February 2012 after a hiatus to do what he knows best – find criminal activity and expose it through the Petroleum Revenue Task Force (of which he is still chairman), despite the objections of fans and critics alike. This was a perfect fit for him and a match for his abilities; except for one crucial fact he shouldn’t have missed: he didn’t have a principal whose agenda was clear. Even more, he didn’t have the power to enforce.”

The principal referred to in the quote above is no one but President Goodluck Jonathan. Other articles in the leadership series contain subtle messages of lamentations of Jonathan’s leadership style that can only be fished out if one reads between the lines. Chude Jidenowo demonstrated a poor understanding of the Ribadu for president and the person of Ribadu in the piece which can easily be associated with political naivety.

The likes of Ohima Amaize, despite his new found love for PDP, are rather of a more concise personality who can be trusted to openly demonstrate where their leanings sway. They do not claim to be nonpartisan with the hope of being able to switch sides conveniently for the sake of political benefits.

I have never been a card carrying member of any political party but will continue to openly work with any political party I share interests with. We must not frown upon participation in the polity by any means; I am more interested in a Nigeria where we the citizens will reward politicians at the polls for their performance in office.

The opposition parties must not take for granted the desire of the people to vote the ruling party out of office. Should they tow the same line as the current ruling party by selecting candidates who are not able to take the interests of the citizens into account nor deliver, I will advocate for the youth to vote neither for the ruling party nor the opposition.

There are no men without a history but our ability to glean useful information from the decisions they have made provides some of the answers we seek.

This piece was first published in The Scoop

A Union Made in Bayelsa

“Creating and strengthening the institutions, procedures and norms of political accountability; ensuring equal, effective and accessible justice; fighting corruption and criminality; and developing the regulatory institutions of modern financial, taxation, credit and banking systems—all these lie at the heart of the emerging struggle to make democracy deliver and prevent a reverse wave of democratic disillusionment and breakdown.” - Amichai Magen

It is no longer news that the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan recently granted retired General Diya and his co-plotters of the 1997 coup, presidential pardon. The 8-man list includes brother of the late President Musa Yaradua, but not one name on the list has drawn up so much reaction like that of former ex-convict and ex-governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.

In principle, the President is constitutionally empowered to grant pardon to anyone based on his judgement  However, the implications of such must be put into context.

Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was sworn in as the governor of Bayelsa State alongside his deputy, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in May 1999. As the governor of Bayelsa, his official salary was approximately $1000 per month yet he lived a life far above his official income. In September 2005 while on a visit to London, he was arrested by the London Metropolitan Police who found about £1m cash in his home and subsequent investigation revealed he had a total of £1.8m in cash and bank accounts in the United Kingdom alone. It was later discovered that in July 2003, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha bought and paid cash for a property in London worth £1.75m. Other real estate linked to him was put at a total cost of £10m.

Alamieyeseigha was subsequently released on bail, but he absconded to reappear in Nigeria with unsubstantiated news that he disguised himself as a woman to escape from London. He won’t be the only Nigerian public official to have jumped bail in London – former governor of Plateau state and now a sitting senator in Nigeria, Joshua Dariye jumped bail in London in 2004.

On the Nigeria front, President Obasanjo set into motion a process which was characterized by no regard for the rule of law and due process and spearheaded by the then zealous head of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nuhu Ribadu. The Bayelsa State House of Assembly members were summarily hounded and driven to Abuja for unknown reasons. They returned back to Yenegoa under heavy security and soon afterwards, impeached Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.

Nigeria is in practice a federal state with separation of powers; the drive to build institutions must therefore be inculcated in all instances. While President Obasanjo on his own accord chose to induce the Bayelsa State House of Assembly with federal might into impeaching Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the whole process lost significance with the people of Bayelsa who felt humiliated. This does not necessarily mean that the people of Bayelsa support corruption, but justice without due process will always be misinterpreted as a miscarriage of justice with political motives.

The choice to impeach Diepreye Alamieyeseigha should have been left to the people of Bayelsa and their legislators not the presidency. A similar unconstitutional act was also repeated in Ekiti State. The motive was to remove the immunity clause which prevented Nigerian security officials from arresting the governor as stipulated by the constitution of the land. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was arrested in 2005, remained in detention until 2007 when he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison to run concurrently on a six count charge. He was released within 24 hours of his sentencing having served 2 years in detention while his trial was on. Perhaps the overzealousness of President Obasanjo and Nuhu Ribadu to make a statement to Nigerians and the world that it was no longer business as usual  distracted them from beaming more light on other Bayelsa State public office holders who must have been in the know of the fraudulent activities perpetuated by the governor.

In the background to the drama that unfolded between 2005 and 2007 was the then deputy governor of Bayelsa state – Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. He was projected as a man who had nothing to do with the actions of his governor, and he rarely made comments about Diepreye Alamieyeseigha’s predicament.

These string of events would eventually pave way for Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to ride the fast track up the political ladder – first as the governor of Bayelsa state and then on to become the vice president of Nigeria, acting president and eventually the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If anyone should have known Diepreye Alamieyeseigha more than the rest of the nation between 1999 and 2005, it should be his deputy.

Recently, President Jonathan publicly declared that Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was his political benefactor. While this is not in doubt, the implications of a sitting president openly associating with an ex-convict calls for concern. The president was clearly sympathetic to the predicament of his ex-boss who looted the state treasury and was disgraced out of office. It is not also news that Diepreye Alamieyeseigha is very popular in Bayelsa and the Niger Delta region in general – places where even the president may not necessarily have enough personal or political clout beyond the office which he holds and through which he can leverage several political demands.

President Jonathan’s decision to grant Diepreye Alamieyeseigha a presidential pardon is most likely borne out of their cordial personal relationship that dates back to 1999 while they both served in Bayelsa.

This triggers a series of questions:

  • Do the President’s recent actions continue to exonerate him from the fraudulent actions of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha while they both served in the state house from 1999 to 2005?
  • Could the President have waited till his last day in office to grant this pardon if there was no immediate benefit for Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in the upcoming months?
  • Is President Jonathan claiming to be oblivious of the fact that Diepreye Alamieyeseigha looted public funds?
  • Is President Jonathan aware that Mr. Alamieyeseigha is a fugitive of the law and still remains wanted in the U.K?

President Jonathan has not erred by law but his actions reveal the kind of sentiments he applies to ruling Nigeria; he has placed friendship and personal interest above that of the nation. What could be the reason for such a daring move beyond their both being from Bayelsa State and serving side by side?

If anyone understands the president’s obligation to his former boss and possible complicity in the misappropriation of Bayelsa state funds, the presidential pardon will be of no surprise; birds of the same feather flock together. For better for worse, this is a union made in Bayelsa.  So complicated is the web of fraud Diepreye Alamieyeseigha has spun, it has taken more than 6 years to track all of his loot. As recent as June 2012, the United State Department of Justice executed an asset forfeiture order on $401,931 including a $600,000 Maryland home linked to Mr. Alamieyeseigha.

That the President has the unquestionable right to pardon anyone and that he chose this one person to extend that hand of grace to, does not negate the fact that now former ex-convict Alamieyeseigha stole Bayelsa state public funds and in the eyes of the world and vigilant Nigerians, remains a fugitive.

There are norms associated with decision making which are applied in different contexts; in this case, the logical/expected norm would have been to suppress personal affiliation in the interest of the state. The larger picture here is not the pardon of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, neither is it simply about the incompetence of the president; rather it is a subtle reminder of who the president is as an individual.

Men will do what they are bent on doing, law and tradition to the contrary notwithstanding, says David Nelken. The pardon does not excuse the obvious -Diepreye Alamieyeseigha has been walking on the corridors of power since Jonathan became acting president and now sits in Aso rock. The president’s association with men of questionable character and ex-convicts is a sad one, unfortunately he is beyond name and shame and the ballot must therefore be the decider.

 

This piece was first published in The Scoop

A Mobile Youth Society

The debate regarding whether Nigeria’s younger generation can effectively shape the future of the country does not follow a single pattern or outline. Many schools of thought have refused to acknowledge that there can be anything positive from a generation shaped by the internet and which exhibits a high rate of mobility.

Will the known religious, ethnic and institutional variables have a direct effect on younger Nigerians, or will it be the other way around to achieve the much desired phenomenon called revolution? Several questionable causes have been proffered in a bid to explain why this younger generation may yet fail or be even worse than their fathers.

Solidarity and active citizenship have always been a part of the Nigerian society long before the introduction of mobile phones, the internet and now, social media. This was a period when having a NITEL landline at home was a sign of prestige and class, when individuals had wooden boxes with padlocks to house their telephones, and when I had to sit by the phone in my neighbour’s flat waiting for a call from abroad.

Anyone familiar with the history of Nigeria must have heard of the famous “Ali Must Go” protests of 1978 and the subsequent Student Union protests up till the June 12 era. One significant aspect of these periods was the aligned social solidarity amongst the students and youths in mobilising for a cause they believed in.

My foray into Student Union activism was at a time when we relied on individual communication within the society to get messages across; the bearer of these messages had to be physically transported. Meetings between ranks were held with high intensity and there was the need to have everyone physically present before decisions could be made. If a union official was away on official duty, we had to wait as long as it took for him to return before we could get a feedback.

There was limited social contact between individuals beyond their immediate circles; and everyone in that circle was associated via strong ties. The desire to bond with the immediate members of our circles was a natural relationship and hence the solidarity ties were more intense. There was a common understanding of mutual interests and demands which was aided largely by the frequent face to face contacts with many events and activities localized.

With the advent of the internet and social media came a mobile society where younger Nigerians have increased and easy access to each other and the rest of the world. In 12 years, Nigeria has leaped from an immobile society to a mobile one (in terms of communication) especially within its young population. With communication now made easier, it is expected that a more mobile society will be easier to mobilize.

However the case is the opposite. In a mobile society, the diffusion of individuals across several circles makes it difficult to build solidarity. Contact and engagement occurs across several circles with decreased concentration and intensity. The resulting effect is an individualized person with no definite circle of loyalty.

The whole idea of solidarity and antagonism has lost its intensity due to multiple and diffused engagements. A young person in a mobile society is not the same as the one described earlier- with several factors to cope with as a result of the exposure to multiple circles, he becomes inherently cold and moderate in a bid to be appealing to those in the several circles he comes in contact with.

Interactions within circles are shorter; face to face contact is substituted with e-contacts and the polygamist spectra of interaction without obligation sets in. No longer are interests defined and concentrated, rather they go through a passive stage.

Perhaps this is why it is more difficult to build the much desired youth movement needed for a change.  As mobility deepens, the circle lines become more blurred; integration and interactions gradually take away what is termed complete like-mindedness. In a traditional immobile society where social struggles have always existed, circles consisting of the same class of people work in solidarity to fight a common cause e.g. slave  masters, serfs against lords etc. but this process becomes rather difficult in the present mobile society.

The circles in the society no longer enjoy a clear cut-off from each other. Thanks to the internet and social media, the circles overlap, making solidarity unpredictable and assuming several characters.

This complex interaction provides the cover for some young people to play both sides of the divide, taking advantage of a mobile platform that cannot be monitored effectively.  This does not exempt variables like religion, ethnicity, economic status, political aspirations and occupations from pushing individuals in opposite factions. But nowadays it is so much easier to play between different factions without a defined interest because of the individualistic nature of a mobile society.

An individual who is very critical of the PDP on Monday can become a partisan by Friday because his social position has changed. The shift in social position is largely connected to a shift in interests, solidarity and alliance with his immediate circles. Yesterday’s foes become today’s friends comes – a general phenomenon across contemporary mobile societies.

The sociological perspective postulates that mobility facilitates an increase of individualism as it breaks down the attachment of an individual to one circle. When an individual passes from one circle to the other over a period of time with overlapping interests, his characteristics is hard to define. This is no excuse however for the inconsistent ideology of all players and stakeholders, collaboration should override competition.

This piece was first published in The Scoop

We’ve got to question this democracy

The drive for an egalitarian society will remain abstract if attention is not paid to details within the system.  Building a democracy in a complex heterogeneous state as Nigeria requires intense attention to details.

Our greatest undoing for years to come will be related to basic democratic values and how they are applied. It questions our ethics and values as individuals or as a people. The rule of law is conspicuously missing from our democratic system. Man is bound to err and the devil is bound to manifest, but onus lies on the state to respond adequately with the rule of law.

A society cannot discuss or determine cases of violations without being first governed by the rule of law. According to Lauren Oliver, human beings in their natural state are unpredictable, erratic, and unhappy. It is only once their animal instincts are controlled that they can be responsible, dependable, and content.

The debate within the Nigerian polity is subtly being eroded by the ‘don’t hate’ or opposition syndrome. The ruling party (PDP) and its goons are subtly using social media to pass a message that is quickly gaining momentum. Their argument is that one must not abuse the government because it is wrong, anyone who attacks the PDP must surely like the opposition party. By and large, the opposition parties are eventually as guilty as the PDP when it comes to abuse of power or office, so by default the ruling party should get more flak than the opposition political parties.

Since 1999, the PDP has had majority reign across the nation – from the Presidency to the Senate, House of Representatives and state governors. The party must understand that its firm grip and control of the Nigerian state will generate criticism in as much proportion. Should any political party act as stupidly as we have seen in the past, without the people retaining the right to let them know how stupid they have been?

Many recent events in the country are, to put bluntly, on the borderline between sheer stupidity and foolishness with no regard for the rule of law. For unfortunate but obvious reasons, majority of the citizenry will not bother to question the political parties. Has the PDP or any of the opposition parties proved itself to be different in a positive way?

There are several instances and different scenarios depicting abuse of power or office.

March 2012, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, two term governor of Lagos state and the national leader of the opposition party- ACN, turned 60. All roads led to Lagos state, where a carnival-like party was held. To ACN stalwarts, Asiwaju deserved to be honored; after all, he ensured the party regained its stronghold of the southwest and hence buttered their bread. Solely a private affair between a political party and its supporters, questions were raised on how the carnival-like party was funded.

PDP and other opposition parties making use of the press implied that the events must have cost over N1billion.  Being accountable to no one but themselves, the event was massively spectacular in the midst of abject poverty; the masses were placated with packed food handouts. One pertinent observation was the deployment of Lagos State resources during the celebration and the question arises regarding abuse of power by the incumbent governor in deploying state resources to celebrate with the leader of his political party.

The ACN was quick to defend itself by claiming that the PDP and its other perceived enemies were out to score cheap political points against them in Lagos. They were in a celebratory mood and were not breaking any law as such but did not try to disprove the fact that state resources were deployed. Did other states under ACN leadership also contribute to this party from their state coffers?

Did the ACN Senators and members of the House of Representatives (who still refuse to declare their earnings) contribute towards this grand celebration?

A lot of questions were left unanswered but it was very obvious that Lagos state resources amongst others were deployed to facilitate the party. Even if not via cash contributions as alluded by the press, but manpower and state facilities were used.

Did Lagos state generate any revenue from the use of the state stadium? Should state resources be deployed for the benefit of a private citizen and other personal events? No.  If Asiwaju paid for the cost of this party from his private coffers, one must ask how much he was worth before and after attaining public office.

Last week the ruling People’s Democratic Party decided to host its Board of Trustee (BOT) elections inside the presidential villa, Abuja. While the internal democracy of all political parties is pivotal to our budding democracy and party structure, it should also be of interest to all citizens. How these political parties conduct their internal affairs is not too far from the way they govern the nation when elected, a maize plant won’t yield cassava when it is harvest time.

On the roll call of the political big wigs who attended the elections, was Chief Olabode George, one time National Vice-Chairman PDP South West, former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority and an ex-convict. No surprise there; the PDP has proven time and again to be a shameless party with no morals and values. What kind of message is the ruling party passing to the nation when ex-convicts are part and parcel of its Board of Trustees? Someone in the PDP needs to check again what a board of trustee means.

It is expected that the president will only use the presidency for the sole purpose and duty which he signed up to; this does not need to be a written law as we do not expect to be governed by morons. The president may receive all citizens and political parties including the PDP, who so wish to be granted audience at the presidential villa in line with his primary assignment as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But, the election of the PDP BoT chairman is purely a party affair, which should be held at a private venue or at party quarters, and not at the expense of the state. Subjecting the state especially the presidency and its instruments to the use of one political party’s pleasure is a dangerous precedence which must not be condoned.

The presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not owned by the PDP even though the president is a member of the PDP; he has no right to subject the presidency to be used for PDP party affairs. From the local government to the federal government, it is not unusual to find political office holders spending state budget on sycophancy.

We should learn from other democracies and adopt what will work for us. President Obama of the USA gets a free ride on Air Force One only when he is on official trips, official trips being defined as any act involving the official duty of the president including explaining and garnering support for his policies. This also includes official state visits to other countries. It costs $179,750 per hour to maintain Air Force One; this includes fuelling, maintenance of pilot and crew as well as other operational costs.

When Obama embarks on private or political party trips, it is not as him being the president but the de facto leader of his political party and he must therefore foot part of the bills for the trip. On such trips, President Obama must refund the cost of food, accommodation and travel.  He also refunds the equivalent airfare him and his aides would have paid if they used a commercial airline. They will be some grey areas when he makes official and political trips across the country and this is promptly addressed; the underlining principle is that the president cannot deploy state resources to meet the needs/demands of his political party or associates.

In recent times, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, was seen making use of a budget airline on a getaway with his wife to celebrate her birthday. Nigeria is not as rich as the US or the UK using GDP indicators as a baseline. It is mind boggling why we have a political system fraught with greed and a lack of accountability and our political office holders live a life of opulence and impunity.

One wonders to what use the presidential jets in Nigeria have been subjected to. Pictures of ex-militants riding one have surfaced in the past. Relatives and acquaintances of the president must be having a jolly free ride on the state bill. When asked about the high budget of running the presidency, our president defended his position by asking us if we have been to Ethiopia to witness presidential banquets.

These are issues we tend to overlook which in turn build the confidence of our politicians to remain unaccountable to the citizens. We are the ones responsible for giving life and meaning to our democracy; we are the ones to enshrine our values and ethics in building Nigeria. Such values must include curtailing the excesses of elected political office holders.  It is not by divination that the nations which respect the will of their people are more prosperous, more stable and more successful; it is the basic requirement for a sustainable democracy.

This piece was first published in The Scoop

 

Of cleavages and party formation

Every society is built upon structures shaped by its history, and these structures influence the political evolution of each society. There is no society without a cleavage/divide along regional or religious belief, no matter how homogenous it may appear.  Careful analysis of the cleavage structure explains how movements, solidarities/alliances and collective interests are moulded into systems which in turn shape the formation of political parties. Multi-ethnicity and diverse religions in a heterogeneous society such as Nigeria have been instrumental in shaping its political cleavage.

Historically, Nigeria’s political mobilisation was triggered by groups and networks with strong ethnic and regional identity. The founding fathers played along this line to build their base and control the electorate without taking into cognizance, the long term implications in the event of conflicts.

Despite having English as the official language of Nigeria, ethno-linguistic groups stayed in the background directing the affairs of the state. The social relationship between citizens and these ethno-linguistic groups has been both positive and negative. Negative outcomes are easy to spot from the history of Nigeria; the intriguing mix of politicking and ethnic identity woven around religion coupled with the post-election violence from the first republic.

However, some schools of thought believe that political cleavage can create stability and competition in the polity in relation to electoral behaviour. The challenge in the case of Nigeria is deciding the dependent variables upon which political cleavages have been constructed. Is it solely via ethnicity and religion?

The territorial/cultural dimension of political cleavages are dominated by local opposition, regional groups, ethnic minorities opposed to the dominating national elites or groups which govern the state from the centre. When not properly channelled, they create barriers to the process of nation building and in the event of fallout with the centre over their rights; they turn around to wage internal wars against the state, calling for secession.

The pogrom of the Igbos in 1966 which led to a civil war was not without territorial cleavages, and the Nigerian government controlled by dominant ethnic elites remains complicit in the events leading up to the war. Across the country there are still several groups prone to promote territorial cleavages because they are opposed to the way the country is being run.

The debate at this level is centred on structuring the nation from the territorial perspective. The national dimension of the cleavage is dominated by typical conflict over allocation of resources, producing alliances that cut across territories within the nation. The focus is on national building and the emergence of a new state that will cater for the rights and collective aspiration of all people. The present Nigerian state controlled by elites with unquestioned access to the treasury, ensure that they continue to promote all forms of representation through national quota policies.

The effects are movements and protests against the direction of any regime in Nigeria. People are motivated by different interests along networks and groups which begin to build political alliances, oppositions and a paradigm shift.

“To gain any detailed understanding of the process of mobilization and alignment within any single nation, we clearly need information not just about turnout and the division of votes but about the timing of the formation of local party organizations” (Lipset S.M. & Rokan S. 1967).

The process of transformation contains information about how the process and terms related to expression of rights and representations and the tradition of decision making in the polity continue to influence emerging party systems. The emergence of political parties is pivotal to the type of cleavage within the system. These cleavages disappear to be replaced by political parties, but the interests or ideology of individuals’ remains with them. The developing electoral system sets a high threshold of entry barrier for upcoming parties; the established parties hold on to their advantage- the costs, payoffs, alliances and coalitions determine the threshold of representation across the nation. How this works out is connected to pre-existing conditions of hostility and trust in the cleavages that emerged as political parties.

The nation builders and existing political party with footholds over the control of the machinery of the state will be challenged by opposition parties; the option will be to seek an alliance on fronts related to the pre-existing cleavage, either religious/ideological or economic  interests. With this comes suffrage for individuals and an emerging pattern in votes. Some parties will remain territorial parties because of their strength in the region of dominance. Several countries have been able to provide alternative party systems for the electorate to make choices at the poll and as such the development and evolution of this alternative is very crucial to the assessment of disruptions created by cleavages.

Citizens of a country must therefore pay more attention to political party formation and how the parties work to gain power by creating political cleavages. What we want as a nation should determine the choice we make, should these cleavages be built solely on ethnicity and religion for the purpose of power or along constructive ideologies which are in the best interest of the country?  The call for restructuring the nation cannot be overlooked; Nigeria’s party system of 2012 reflects the cleavage structures of the 1960s till date.

This piece was  first published in The Scoop

#OccupyNigeria was here

It’s been one year since Nigerians in their rarest of moments braved the odds to protest everything they felt was wrong with the Nigerian state.

President Jonathan in his usual habit of annoying Nigerians decided that the only appropriate gift for the country to celebrate the New Year was a fuel pump price increase on January 1, 2012. The turnout of Nigerians in staging those protests did have its impact on the government of the day. #OccupyNigeria visited and it occupied.

A few commentators continue to argue that it was a futile exercise. The movement had neither leadership nor representative at the bargaining table and thus it failed.

Others argue that a single movement does not expressly liberate a country; it’s a means to an end and therefore the road to glory is rather long.

And others would easily compare it with the Arab spring. Were Nigerians really ready for the Arab Spring type of protests, the unending ritual of protesting ignited by Friday prayers? What is the similarity between the North African countries and Nigeria?

About 90% of Egyptians, for instance, are Muslims and they speak one official language – Arabic. In contrast, Nigeria is a heterogeneous country where no single ethnic group represents 50% of the population and is divided along religious lines. From history, the Nigerian state continues to struggle with its internal diversity when it comes to collective actions in an effort to determine what is in the best interest of the state.

The principal actors and organizations behind the #OcupyNigeria protests faced a dilemma from day one. Despite the leverage they had, which was that the pump price affected every Nigerian, there was still the challenge of hoping that Nigerians would not turn on each other and go from being allies to enemies.

How was the protest going to march against Jonathan for leading a corrupt government without inducing uncontrolled sentiments?

Tunde Bakare was a candidate in the 2011 presidential elections, and it was easy to see his involvement in the protests as a way to get into office or hit back at the Presidency. Was this an opposition by the major ethnic groups against the first President from a minority ethnic group? Was Lagos state- the commercial capital of the country being used to score political points in the hands of the opposition party?

Some supporters of the protest also saw calls for the government to step down as too extreme. It was quite obvious that the joint forces behind #OccupyNigeria had the challenge of playing down their differences for a collective goal yet the issue of defining this goal was never broached.

What was the priority of the protests? To reverse the status quo on the price of petrol or to get corrupt officials tried in the court of law and jailed? Will the resignation of key ministers in the present regime be a fruitful demand? The lists of demands were endless.

The EiE coalition was the first to table a set of demands that were never adopted by any consensus thereafter. It is easy to forget that the announcement of the President to increase the pump price on New Year’s day was unexpected and what happened thereafter including the #OccupyNigeria movement was spontaneous.

The three basic questions of social movement theory come to play in these scenarios:

First, why should Nigerians not act collectively in the face of many reasons to, and why should they not march? This is the dilemma that pulled the fatigue on the protesters by the Friday when a break in the protests was announced. In the face of many reasons including basic survival and the need to feed their families, the protesters questioned why they should remain active.

Secondly, what did Nigerians see when they joined the movement? Was this an anti-establishment quest or one to put a smile on President Jonathan’s political opponents? Was it a march to liberate this generation by Nigerians for Nigerians?

Thirdly, what were the expected concrete outcomes of this collective action in joining the protests? Did people join the #occupyNigeria protest with a clear understanding of what they were meant to achieve? Unlike the Arab Spring, the expected outcome was clear- Hosni Mubarak had to go, Gadhafi had to go, and for this same reason, Syria is still locked in internal crisis till date because Assad must go. I doubt if that was the aim of the #OccupyNigeria movement but the government claimed it was orchestrated to overthrow the present regime.

Without defined leadership, the collective interests and good of the movement was in jeopardy. Unlike in small groups where such interests can be closely monitored and shared, a growing number of people came with its own challenges.

The onus of convincing the followers that their participation is worthwhile lies on the shoulder of the leaders. In the Nigerian parlance, the discussion goes thus “Abeg I no wan die ooo”, “Shey na you be defender of the universe” “abeg wey dem pickin” etc.

Yet the proportion of citizens who went  on to participate in these protests is a critical measure of its relative success as movements usually have no defined membership but are formed on public grounds. Such is the rare bonding that happened in Ojota- the coming together of different classes of people in the same society.

One of the protesters at the #OccupyNigeria protest confessed that it was his first time of being surrounded by street boys smoking weed without the fear of being harmed or molested. This confirms Karl Marx’s position on collective action by people of different classes; it will only happen when their social class is in fully developed contradiction with its antagonists.

According to Sidney Tarrow, social movements are formed when ordinary citizens respond to opportunities that lower costs of calling for collective action over a long period of time. If nothing is gained, it reveals potential allies and shows where the elites and the government are vulnerable.

For those who judge #OccupyNigeria further with a significant regime change, do take note that regime change is never feasible unless the state agency with the monopoly of violence remains neutral, withdraws its support from the regime or there is a division within its ranks. From Tunisia to Egypt, Libya and now Syria, the position of the army has influenced the outcome of the protests.

In fact significant change and momentum in ousting the regime can be linked to the position of the army at every point in time. A regime change if necessitated by the #OccupyNigeria protests would never see the light of the day unless the Nigerian Army took sides with them or remained neutral until they gathered the momentum to overrun the state with the protests. It is for such reasons that the President in a shameless manner and with disregard for the right of the citizens to protest deployed the army onto the streets of Lagos against unarmed protesters in order to quell the momentum and maintain his status quo. Still, I am not implying that the ultimate interest of #OccupyNigeria was regime change.

The role of stakeholders during the era of #occupyNigeria protests can always be re-examined, from organized labour, who in their usual tradition succumbed to the whims and caprices of the government, the media which played the role of both friend and adversary and the many who sold their conscience for a pot of porridge. To the religious organizations who either stood by or opposed the movement, the private equity and interests who wanted to maintain the status quo, the lesson is all upon us.

One cannot take away the level of publicity and awareness achieved by the movement from civic consciousness, for once even though it did not last forever, a spectrum of Nigerians from all works of life forgot their defined differences to support a move that they believed in. How many hours of civic education would be required to achieve the desired results?

While the same cannot be said of the efforts of the government in reducing corruption, 2012 has been a revealing year about what transpired in Nigeria between 2007 and 2011, right under our noses. More citizens have become interested in the affairs of the state. It is indeed a period in our contemporary history that will remain with us forever, in the hope that if the spirit is ever awakened, Nigerians will once again fight for Nigeria. The die was cast this time last year, #OccupyNigeria was here and the verdict is out, you only have to follow your expectations beyond the movement.

As we remember the #OccupyNigeria events, let us not forget those who paid the ultimate price with their lives. May their souls rest in peace.

This piece was  first published in The Scoop Continue reading

Re: Press Release by Minister of Agriculture

More than often we are left at the mercy of someone who knows somebody that in turn knows somebody, to find out what our government agencies are up to. The Minister of Agriculture- Mr. Akinwumi Adesina has recently reacted to the public outcry on the issue of mobile phones and the 10 million farmers via an online link, confirming my fears that a ministry spearheading this e-revolution for farmers does not have its own website or public domain with contact details.  I hope the ministry will soon deem it fit to pinch out N100, 000 from its proposed N48billion capital expenditure in its 2013 budget.

Once the press release was out, a lot of people assumed the government was no longer buying mobile phones for the farmers; they probably read only the first paragraph and nodded along.

This should have been a private email to the Minister of Agriculture but one can’t afford courier serves in the absence of an email and direct online access to the ‘transformation’ ministry. I would also advice that next time; the ministry should ensure that the SA to the Presidency desist from representing its interests on social media specifically Twitter, as this will only yield catastrophic results.

This is a paragraph-by-paragraph reaction to the press statement which will possibly spurn an increased interest in what the Ministry is really up to.

 

 

Minister of Agriculture

My attention has been drawn to the issue of 60 Billion Naira to be spent on phones for farmers, reported in some media sites and papers. The information is absolutely incorrect. My Permanent Secretary was totally misquoted out of context. There is no 60 Billion Naira for phones anywhere. As a responsible Minister, who takes public accountabilty and probity very seriously, there is absolutely no way in the world that I will even contemplate or approve such expenditure. All our focus as Government is on creating jobs in Nigeria, not exporting jobs elsewhere.

The opening paragraph is very emphatic: N60billion Naira will not be spent on phones for farmers. Such expenditure can’t be approved by the minister because he finds it unrealistic in this world and because he is responsible and accountable. He states that the transformation agenda is to create jobs in Nigeria yet my understanding of this opening statement however contradicts the body of the press release.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Reaching farmers through phones:

The policy the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is promoting is to get mobile phones to farmers, as part of its agricultural transformation agenda, to connect farmers to information, expand their access to markets, improve their access to savings and loans, and help them adapt to climate change dynamics that affect them and their livelihoods. We are also rapidly modernizing agriculture, and have moved away from agriculture as a development program to agriculture as a business, so we must modernize and use new tools to reach our farmers

In the second paragraph the ministry explains what reaching farmers through mobile phones is all about and the advantages are clearly spelt out. Who would not want our farmers to join the 21st century agricultural best practices? The agricultural transformation agenda seeks to change the direction of farming in Nigeria. And the minister confirms that the ministry is promoting a policy to get mobile phones to farmers. Can there really be smoke without a fire in all this? The Permanent Secretary definitely did not just cook up a statement on 10 million phones for 10 million farmers and this paragraph confirms that the ministry has at least a proposal on its table as regards this. What needs to be clarified is the funding and direction.

 

Minister of Agriculture

The Power of information:

Agriculture today is more knowledge-intensive and we will modernize the sector, and get younger (graduate) entrepreneurs into the sector, and we will arm them with modern information systems. Whether small, medium or large farmers they all need information and communication systems. Connecting to supermarkets and international markets require that farmers know and meet stringent consumer-driven grades and standards. In today’s supply chains, the flow of information from buyers to farmers must be instant, to meet rapidly changing demands. Unless farmers have information at their fingertips, they will lose out on market opportunities.

Our goal is to empower every farmer. No farmer will be left behind. We will reach them in their local languages and use mobile phones to trigger an information revolution which will drive an agricultural revolution.

The ministry is bent on getting information across to farmers and younger graduates who are tech savvy by arming them with modern information systems. It is very clear that the ministry believes mobile phones will bring about significant change and that to empower every farmer; they need access to   information at their fingertips. Mobile phones are hoped to therefore replace agricultural extension services and trigger an information revolution.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Why cell phones?

Nigeria has 110 million cellphones, the largest in Africa. But there is a huge divide: the bulk of the phones are in urban areas. The rural areas are heavily excluded. For agriculture, which employs 70% of the population,  that means the farmers are excluded and marginalized. In today’s world, the most powerful tool is a mobile phone. As Minister of Agriculture, I want the entire rural space of Nigeria, and farmers, to be included, not excluded, from advantages of mobile phone revolution.

 

In order to drive home the agenda, the minister employs figures to back up his statements. He states that Nigeria has 110 million cellphones. According to the NCC, there are approximately 110 active mobile lines in Nigeria, what is the difference between 110 million cellphones, 110 million active lines and 110 million subscribers? Is it possible that half of the Nigerian population uses mobile phones? If the population of Nigeria is put moderately at 150million (which is debatable; I doubt our census statistics are without a high margin error) and 85 million Nigerians have active mobile lines, it is possible to have 110 million cellphones. Due to erratic power supply and poor service from service providers, Nigerians are known to have multiple phones and SIM cards. This ensures that they can switch between networks when services are down. The minister alludes that the bulk of these phones are in urban areas and the rural areas are heavily excluded. Take note that the bulk of 85 million subscribers would be about 50 million subscribers. His statement implies that about 50 million subscribers reside in urban areas. The minister goes on to state that agriculture employs 70% of the population i.e. about 105 million Nigerians. I wonder where these 105 million Nigerians employed by the agricultural sector reside: urban or rural areas. What percentage of those employed via agriculture are actually farmers? Of the 70% employed by agriculture, how many of them use mobile phones? If those excluded are farmers and Nigerians residing in rural areas, where does 70% of Nigeria’s population actually reside? The whole idea of what a rural area is may be subject to clarification, the minister’s statistics will never add up. A farm owner cannot be classified along with labourers who work on farms. If this high numbers of Nigerians are engaged in direct farming, what is the clamour on having more young people go into farming? The Ministry should be more concerned about the productivity of the existing farms; the US with 2.2million farms employed approximately 1.2 million workers in 2010. Improved and mechanized farming will not bring about more jobs if we get it right, only subsistence farming can employ millions with lesser productivity.

I spent a few days with a friend who resides in the United Kingdom last summer; he has farms in the Oke Ogun region of Oyo State with local staff strength of 30. He visits Nigerian once a year due to the hectic nature of his schedule in the UK but the few days I spent with him, revealed his management style. He makes an average of 3 calls per day to his farm manager and head of labourers. If individuals who run farms from the diaspora have access to their farms via mobile phones, one should wonder about which farmers the ministry must buy mobile phones for.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Access to input:

First, the mobile phones will be used to scale up the access of farmers to improved seeds and fertilizers to millions of farmers, directly. The federal government succeeded in 2012 in getting seeds and fertilizers to farmers, via the Growth Enhancement Support (GES), which used mobile phones to reach farmers with subsidized inputs. The system ended 40 years of corruption on fertilizers and cut off rent seekers and middlemen who – for decades – have entrenched massive corruption of the fertilizer sector. Government succeeded. The GES system reached over 1.2 million farmers in 120 days in 2012.
We succeeded because we used mobile phones to reach farmers directly and cut off the middle men and those who have cheated farmers for decades. We empowered the poor farmers, with many getting subsidized seeds and fertilizers from government for the first time ever. We brought transparency into what was perhaps the most corrupt system in Nigeria. We ended fertilizer corruption of four decades, in 90 days, because of mobile phone tools we deployed.

 

The minster moves on to outline his achievements noting that in 2012, the government through its GES programme ended 40 years of corruption on fertilizers. Kudos to the minister and his team, such a feat is very rare under the transformation agenda of President Jonathan and I hope other sitting duck ministers take a cue from him. In 120 days, the programme reached out to 1.2 million farmers- these figures would need to be further verified.  Did the Ministry promote or by any means facilitate the provision of free mobile phones to any of these 1.2 million farmers? If yes, where were the funds sourced from. If No, does that imply that the 1.2 million farmers could afford their own mobile phones? These questions are every germane as to understanding a scheme that put an end to 40years of fertilizer corruption. It is a transformation agenda that must be properly documented. Who is a farmer? Are we talking about subsistence farmers or has production capacity been used for categorization?

 

Minister of Agriculture

Revolutionary tool:

This is a revolution. Nigeria is the first country in Africa to develop such a system. The system has garnered international acclaim. Other African countries now want to learn from Nigeria. Major donors, including Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, DFID of the UK Government, USAID, World Bank, IFAD and the Africa Development Bank, want to scale up the GES system to other countries.

When the ministry says Nigeria is the first in Africa to develop such a system, what is the minister trying to say? Are we really the first to use mobile technology to connect farmers? Is the ministry familiar with the Grameen Foundation Village Phone project in conjunction with Google and MTN Uganda or similar projects in Kenya and Ethiopia? Of course these other programs come with modifications but the primary objective was to use mobile phones to connect with farmers. With the Google search page and information database being so easily accessible, the ministry should be careful with such misleading statements. It would be interesting to look at these case studies which extend even to India where we have to ask if their government gave out free phones.

 

Minister of Agriculture

How we will operate:

From 2013, government intends to distribute 10 million phones, so we can reach more millions of farmers with the GES scheme for subsidized inputs. We expect to reach at least 5 million farmers in 2013 with GES for access to subsidized inputs. So, farmers who get mobile phones will be registered and we will use their biometric information to reach them with electronic vouchers for seeds and fertilizers.

Alas the minister confirms that the government intends to distribute free phones, the only missing piece in this complex puzzle is the cost of acquiring the phones which he denounced in the first paragraph. There will be a distribution of phones and in 2013 alone, 5 million phones will be up for grabs by farmers and we can now confirm that they will surely get mobile phones.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Second, mobile phones will allow farmers to have financial inclusion, as financial institutions such as commercial banks and microfinance banks will be able to reach them with affordable savings and loans products. The phones will make the financial inclusion of the CBN in rural areas possible.

The mobile phones will allow financial inclusion, quite interesting. Are mobile phones the reason why less than 50% of Nigerians don’t have a bank account?

 

Minister of Agriculture

Third, the phones will make market price information available to farmers nationwide. Farmers lose a lot in marketing their produce. Middle men make all the profits. Farmers end up selling their products at very poor prices. This is because farmers do not have access to market price information. There is asymmetry of market price information. For many farmers their only sources of market price information are the middlemen. Mobile phones will allow us to get market price information to farmers, improve market access and empower farmers. This will allow farmers to have countervailing power in the market place.

Access to market price is very helpful to farmers but the cost of farming differs from region to region. Will farmers in the North increase the cost of Tomatoes just because they have an idea of how much   a basket of tomatoes goes for at Ketu market in Lagos? What is the cost of storage and haulage as regards price input? I am all in for farmers being empowered to make the best out of their sweat but I do not see how middle men will go away when it comes to sales of market produce. What about access to the farms as well as cost of production? The road networks amongst other things which do not fall under the control of the ministry of Agriculture are as important as these mobile phones, that is if they are not even the priority.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Fourth, we will use mobile phones to provide extension information to farmers, as part of our total overhaul of the extension system in the country. With a “Farmer Help Line” it will be possible to connect extension workers, colleges of agriculture, faculties of agriculture, and other experts to provide free extension services to farmers by interactive voice mail. This will include when to plant, what to plant, agronomic practices etc. At the dial of a number, the wealth of knowlege of experts will be connected to the farmers, anywhere they are in Nigeria – free of charge. Such a “Farmer Help Line” system is already in use in Kenya by poor farmers, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Fifth, the phones will allow the dissemination of real time weather information to farmers. It will be possible to alert farmers on drought or floods and reduce vulnerabilities to shocks. In case of the floods we witnessed last year, simple alerts over mobile phones would have saved many lives and helped farmers to know what to do

Great

 

Minister of Agriculture

Finally, the expanded number of phones in rural areas will support the expansion of rural telephony. Presently, the rural areas are not being served well by mobile operators, and are marginalized. With the expansion of mobile phones to millions of farmers, mobile phone operators will expand the number of base stations they have in rural areas. This will reduce the digital and communications exclusion of rural areas, where agriculture is the main source of income and jobs. The cost of calls in rural areas will also decline.

Will the Ministry also build a base station in the rural areas? What will attract what? Will farmers purchasing mobile phones make a telecommunication company build a base station, powered by generators and personal security or will this work the other way round? We must not forget that these 10 million farmers are not even in a specific cluster or zone so, what is the attraction to build base stations in the rural areas? Surely, not simply free phones being used by a number of farmers.  I recall the arrival of GSM service to Nigeria- customers procured mobile phones and SIM cards once the telcos announced they were connecting their cities or towns. In line with the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) approved strategic management plan (2013 – 2017), the agency intends to accelerate mobile phone expansion by subsidizing the costs of deploying base transceiver stations in underserved and unserved communities in Nigeria which the market will not ordinarily reach. It is suffice to say the USPF understands that the expansion of mobile coverage will naturally result in residents of these areas acquiring mobile phones for connectivity.

 

Minister of Agriculture

How will this be financed?

The distribution of the phones will be supported through an MoU signed between the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Communications Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, with the Ministry of Women Affairs. Out of the 10 million phones, 5 million will go to women. The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), which supports expansion of mobile operators into rural areas, through a tax, will support this initiative, in partnership with Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. We intend to work with existing mobile operators in Nigeria through a public-private partnership.

So we finally arrive at the crux of the whole debate- the source of funding for the mobile phones. With the words used so far, I know that when the Nigerian government uses the words promote and distribute they really mean freebies. There is no doubt that the Ministry is actively involved in a policy which seeks to give free phones to farmers though it is not a 2013 budget item for the ministry. Since we have not seen the final 2013 budget hurriedly passed by the National Assembly which I suspect is in agreement between the legislative and the executive, as long as the Senators and Honourables continue to enjoy the secrecy of how much they actually earn in allowances.  The ministry of agricultures’ total allocation in the proposed 2013 budget was N 81,683,474,280, recurrent expenditure stood at N 32,953,474,280 and total capital allocation was N 48,730,000,000. There is no way the ministry would be able to afford 5million phones in 2013.

The partners in this project are listed as the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Communications Technology, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Women Affairs.  Who exactly is funding the 5 million phones to be distributed in 2013? The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) does not have a provision for buying mobile phones in its listed projects from 2013 to 2017; it will be focused instead on investing in base stations. Should the USPF be coerced into funding these mobile phones? It must be noted that it is a government agency under the NCC and this in turn means the government is actually funding the free phones. If these funds are being made available under the guise of donor funds, aid money or concessional financing/assistance, Nigerians must know that it is another form of debt. “The Ministry intends to work with existing mobile operators” but intent is no confirmation that there is an agreement in this direction to fund the provision of these mobile phones in 2013.

 

Conclusion

  • The Minister denies the cost of the phones to the tune of N60b
  • The Ministry of Agriculture will distribute 5 million phones in 2013 and another 5 million phones subsequently
  • The source of funding for these phones and the actual reasons for it are not clear
  • The Minister and the Ministry are being economical with the truth as regards the funding of these free mobile phones.
  • The total cost of 10 million phones at the end of these project may be more than N60b

 

 

 

Links

Minister’s Press Release

https://www.dropbox.com/s/vosm4tz2lstximm/PRESS%20STATEMENT%20-%20Phones%20For%20Farmers.docx

Nigerian Communication Commission

http://ncc.gov.ng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=125:art-statistics-subscriber-data&catid=65:cat-web-statistics&Itemid=73

Universal Service Provision Funds

http://uspf.gov.ng/index.htm