Friday Discourse (119)
After Mugabe, Obasanjo
Two issues have dominated political discourse in Nigerian politics today: the woeful failure of the Obasanjo administration and our apprehensions about 2003 elections. In our discussion today, we are presenting to our readers, as much as the space here would allow, a summary of a paper that elaborated on the two issues and presented last week at Center for Democratic Research and Training, Mambayya House, Kano on Saturday 23 March 2002. It was titled “The viability of democracy in Nigeria: Issues of the moment.” The full paper, containing details on references, is pasted on the website of the column.
The 1999 constitution has spelt out clearly in Chapter II what it calls the fundamental objectives and directive principles of government by which the administration is supposed to abide. Briefly, they include, inter alia, adhering to the provisions of the constitution1 and running the government according to the principles of democracy and social justice2 with sovereignty belonging to the people3 whose security and welfare shall be the primary purpose of government.4 The composition of government should “reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also command national loyalty…”5 The constitution also charges the government with abolishing “all corrupt practices and abuse of power.”6
On economic objectives of government the constitution states that the government shall, among other things, “harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy; control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and opportunity.”7 The economy shall be run for the common good of Nigerians and not “operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group”8 while “exploitation of human or natural resources in any form whatsoever for reasons, other than the good of the community shall be prevented.”9
If the above provisions are used as a yardstick to measure the performance of this administration, then failure is the fairest conclusion that any dispassionate mind would reach at. The flagrant abuse of the provisions of the constitution has earned the President the name of a dictator; he has flouted the principle of democracy in various ways; the composition of his government is skewed in favor of his tribesmen; and he has failed to check corruption. Worse still, he is auctioning the country to individuals, foreign and local, in the name of privatization which is going on amidst all protest from the public and the legislature. In the following paragraphs we have summarized these failures as they concern some sectors of our politics and economy.
Beginning with security of lives and properties which according to the constitution is the primary responsibility of government, the performance has been exceptionally dismal. At no time, since the civil war, were so many lives and property lost than during the tenure of this administration. Ethnic and religious unrests have caused the death of thousands of Nigerians. The fact that in some cases they occurred many times in one city, like Lagos, Kaduna, Kano and Enugu, shows the reluctance of the government or its incompetence to actively stop the menace. Worst still, as we once mentioned10, the perpetrators are left to go free.
Neither is the polity more stable now than before. There is a renewal of secessionist agitations either in the form of old Biafra11 or the clever calls for restructuring that is championed by intellectuals of the southwest12 and which has given rise to terrorist organizations like the OPC and MASSOP.
The prevalence of poverty is something that the administration inherited from previous regimes. As far back as 1992, the percentage of Nigerians living under the poverty line has reached 34.7% and three states – Sokoto, Kano and Bauchi – already had it over 50%.13 The situation has continued to deteriorate in spite of democracy and the pledges of the President. In a recent interview over the BBC, the President admitted that poverty has sharply increased during his tenure but explained that, were it not for his effort, it would have been worse.14
The fact is that there is little on the ground to show that the federal government is serious about poverty alleviation. Budgetary allocations indicate a progressive decline in interest. The Presidency voted N10billion for poverty alleviation in 2000 budget. This figure, insufficient as it was, was reduced to N6billion in 2001 and further down to N1billion in 2002.15 The poverty alleviation program of the government at the grassroots level is nothing more than distribution of monthly allowances (called ‘pobati’ in the North) to party loyalists and thugs and attendance of seminars.16 The World Bank has also joined us in faulting the government‘s policy in this respect.17
It might be that the government does not like alleviating poverty by direct intervention. Then indirectly, agriculture would have been the sector to improve for maximum effect since it employs over 70% of the population. However, agriculture is among the sectors that suffers the worst setbacks since the debut of this administration. It stopped virtually all interventions, including the food supply program under the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF)18 and scrapped of bodies like National Agricultural Land Development Agency.19 It withdrew subsidy on fertilizer and consistently allocated ridiculous amounts (N3bn only this year),20 amidst public protests.21
The government also failed to make any impact in areas that are technically easy. Rehabilitation of roads is a good example. It revoked contracts awarded to the most reputable firms in the country in the second phase the PTF’s roads rehabilitation program. One and half years later, it awarded some of them to contractors who lack the technical ability to execute them. In spite of the contracts awarded at rates that are on the average six times higher than that of the PTF22, after one and half years some of the jobs are going at snail speed causing the deaths of many Nigerians;23,24 some were started and immediately abandoned;25 many have not commenced at all, a year after their award; and very few have been completed.26 There is even a case of double awards where the federal Ministry of Works claimed to have awarded the construction of a road that was earlier completed by a state government at half the price awarded by the Federal government.27
Let us come down to simple civil service matters, like the payment of salaries to workers and pensioners. So ineffective are the disbursements that even the Police went on strike;28 the army too threatened to embark on one, an action interpreted by government as mutiny.29 Three pensioners recently died while waiting for their pensions among over 1,000 ex-service men that barricaded the entrance of the defense headquarters in Abuja.30 Never in the history of the country was government so incompetent and insensitive.
The administration is not without its innovations and promises though. The most pronounced promise was that on electricity. The then Minister promised six months to register a substantial improvement in electricity generation and distribution in the country. Nothing was achieved, and the task had to be assigned to a presidential committee. In the aftermath of that failure, which saw the sacking of the management of National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), it was realized that the N2.3billion allocated to the organization for the improvement did not reach NEPA at all. A committee of the senate that investigated the matter found that the money was deposited in a private account for months.31 Then the President last year promised Nigerians uninterrupted power supply by the end of 2001. Three months into 2002 the promise has not been fulfilled.32 He has conceded failure and has set another date, June 2005(!), for generating 10,000 MW.33
The President also launched the Universal Basic Education program amidst accusations of marginalization by the North. A year lapsed after the launching without any blueprint at hand; two years later, today, no teacher or education administrator can convincingly explain what the program means or what it has achieved so far.
While it was ready to abolish all welfare programs it inherited from previous administrations without even following the due process of law34, the Obasanjo administration was very willing to retain privatization and pursue it with all vigor and haste35. The exercise is carried out without regard to national interest36, public protest, objection by the National Assembly37 or the advice of consultants.38 The reasons given for the privatization are invalid in most cases and the goal of attracting foreign capital has not been realized in many. Finally, there are strong allegations that the exercise is perturbed with corruption,39 which the Director General heading the exercise was unable to satisfactorily rebut.40 Revelations by PriceWaterHouse Coper, consultants to Bureau of Public Enterprises, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the confessions of error by the Director General at the public sitting of House of Representative Ad-hoc Committee on Privatization of NITEL have clearly shown gross flaws in the privatization of NITEL in favor of IIIL, the company which won the bidding.41 After all this, BPE has, as early as February is planning to list NITEL shares on Nigerian Stock Exchange, aware of the inability of IILL to pay for the shares.42 The question here is why the haste in the first place in defiance of the advice from consultants?
The President has promised to fight against corruption. After a long delay, a tribunal was promulgated and constituted43. However, no government official has been brought before it in spite of the abundance of such cases.44
Finally, the government is poor in its resource allocation. In a country perverted by poverty the President could buy a jet of N5.4 (the exact figure is not known to the public) and build a stadium of over $300million dollars in a capital whose sewage is flowing freely on its roads. It is also allocating N1billion this year to agriculture against N10bn for the national identity card scheme.
We cannot exhaust the failures of this government. Its performance is nowhere close to that of the Second Republic or even the Abacha administration. We share the same view with members of the House of Reps who resolved that “the President should apologize to Nigerians for the inability of his administration to tackle the socio-economic problems plaguing the nation.”45
But its greatest failure is in the field of democracy, which to most Nigeria means elections. This is what we shall discuss in the section that follows.
Strategies towards 2003
The failure of a government to live up to the expectations of its people is not new in the history of democracy. In such cases, the constitution has made provisions for the changing it. Such provisions include the formation of new parties,46 recalling of members of the legislature47, impeachment of the President48, and elections.49 The problem with the Obasanjo administration is how it immobilized these provisions in quest of political dominance and re-election in 2003.
The first was the anesthesia administered to opposition parties through federal appointments and contract awards. This started even before the presidential elections of 1999 when the leadership of All Peoples Party (APP) was lured into giving up the idea of fielding any presidential candidate. There was little wonder when immediately after assuming office the President appointed its leader as his adviser on inter-party affairs. He immediately abandoned the party, never to be heard again. It is likely that the same game will be played in 2003, where efforts will be made to ensure that the APP presidential candidate cannot match Obasanjo in personality and resources. The other party, Alliance for Democracy (AD), given its ethnic background, will support the second term of Obasanjo. So the PDP may likely go into alliance with it to ensure that it has defeated the APP during the next election.
Secondly, the present administration successfully moved to dominate the ruling party by planting loyalists of the President in key positions. The nation will hardly forget the corruption that pervaded the 1999 national convention of the party in Abuja. It was so brazen that senior party officials like Mal. Adamu Ciroma and Alh. Bello Kirfi – both members of the Federal Cabinet – had to draw the attention of the President. He ignored them. Later on, Okadigbo, who was opposed to Obasanjo, was impeached from the leadership of the senate. Ghali NaAbba – the Speaker of the House of Representatives – narrowly escaped after conceding a compromise with the Presidency.
Thirdly, the party was also glad that opposition groups within it became impatient about the non-performance of the President. They were expelled, immediately it became clear that they were contemplating forming new parties. Then the party held another convention in which no election took place. Party posts were shared between nominees loyal to the President and presented only for ratification by delegates.50
Fourthly, new parties have not been registered and the 2001 Electoral Act was itself tampered with by the President. Stringent conditions were imposed on the new parties and the sequence of election reversed. The tenure of local government chairmen was also extended in violation of the constitutional provisions.51
Fifthly, the PDP is deliberately delaying the promulgation of a new electoral act after repealing that of 2001. The delay, as rightly observed by the National Chairman of the APP52, will make matters worse for any new party, while the ruling PDP has long ago given Obasanjo a mandate for a second term. The doors have been slammed on other party members, like Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, to contest the primaries with him. When finally the new Act is passed by the Assembly and signed to law by the President later this year, time will be too late for the new parties to make any impact during the election.
Sixthly, how are we sure that there will even be elections in 2003? That is a question that many people would not rush to answer in affirmative. That is because, given how the Presidency and the PDP emasculated other parties and gradually built a culture of ‘consensus’ candidature, it could use all resources at its disposal to make other parties give up any contest. Already, last year, a leading campaigner for Obasanjo and an influential figure in the Arewa Consultative Forum, Malam Liman Ciroma, has voiced his approval of zero election in 2003. All elected office holders should be allowed a second term unconditionally. There are also strong indications that in some states the three registered parties are negotiating how the present governors will return unopposed.53
Finally, more apprehensions grew with the sacking of resident electoral commissioners by the President without even the knowledge of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC)54 and their replacement with members and loyalists of the ruling PDP in all states of the federation. According to one of the governors, nominations were done secretly by PDP governors.55 Earlier, the governors, like the President, also did not show fairness as required by the constitution in the appointments of their state INEC commissioners. Most of them constituted the body to their advantage with little or no regard to membership from other parties.
If failure in governance and subversion of democracy are the prerequisites of sanctions by the international community, it should hasten to leave Mugabe. A bigger fish is here to catch: Obasanjo.