by Olusegun Adeniyi
While campaigning for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket sometime late last year, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar came up with what I considered the most fundamental statement I have heard from any Nigerian politician on how to redirect our economy and put public finance on a path of sustainability. He pledged that if elected president, his medium-term (a four-year period) strategy would be to ensure that recurrent expenditure is financed fully with non-oil revenue while every kobo earned as oil revenue is devoted to investment in infrastructure, security, education and health.
Highlighting his plan, Atiku said: “Oil revenue is highly volatile and exhaustible. We must have a plan to wisely use it to build capacity for the future – invest in infrastructure and in the people — and not consume it today. We would also encourage all state governments to set an agenda and timeline within which they would no longer depend on oil revenue for recurrent expenditure. Our regional governments did not get oil revenue but massively developed the country. We must return to the responsible path. The FGN would develop an incentive system (grants-in-aid) to encourage states which are succeeding in making the transition. This agenda is fundamental to motivating all tiers of government to develop the non-oil sectors of the economy and hence diversify the economy.’’
Although I was not in the country at the time, when I read Atiku’s proposition I thought it would set the agenda for the electioneering process. I imagined that the media and other political contenders would take him on so he could elaborate on how he would do it and in the process create the basis for fighting the election on a contestation of ideas. But nobody challenged Atiku and I am beginning to doubt whether he himself reflected much on the idea. Now that the elections are over, I believe we should reopen the debate which is central to the future of our country…
I wrote the foregoing on 29th September, 2011, about three months after returning to the country in a piece titled, “The Atiku Abubakar Formula…1”, as the commencement of what I imagined would be a long series. My thinking was that since the general election was over and a new government had just been inaugurated, it was the best time to start such a debate on the assumption that nobody would read any political meaning into it. I was wrong. After the second part of the series, published a week later on 6th October 2011, I started getting feedbacks from people in government that I had already launched the 2015 presidential campaign for Atiku!
Since my intention was apolitical and had nothing to do with the person of Atiku, I decided to suspend the series after just two instalments The Atiku Abubakar Formula -1 and The Atiku Abubakar Formula – 2. However, given the state of affairs in our country today, with falling oil prices, depreciating value of the Naira and the general economic meltdown, any interested reader would see how the idea to retain or gain power to be at the helm of distribution of oil largesse is at the heart of the Nigerian political-economy. That is also what is driving the current desperation as we inch ever closer to the 2015 general election.
For sure, come February 14, Nigerians would have to choose between the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), the candidate of the main opposition, All Progressives Congress (APC). The problem, as I pointed out last week, is that neither the incumbent nor the challenger has shown appreciation of any understanding of the times we live in and the bleak prospects that our nation faces unless we make some hard choices.
Bill Schneider, former CNN senior political analyst who is currently aProfessor at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy, once argued that United States citizens usually choose their presidents like spoiled kids do Christmas presents. “Americans usually get what they want in a president, but then after a while they discover they want something else,” Schneider said at the time. Most Nigerians would count the Americans lucky. In our clime, as Christmas presents go, parents who do the pickings are not as benevolent as to consider the preferences of their kids. That is also the way it goes for the choice of presidents in Nigeria.
Here, the election of our number one citizen has become the prerogative of a few power brokers (sometimes even one single individual) who would have done all the permutations after which the electorate would be left to give the seal of approval to their (his) choice(s). And since those choices are made more to conform to the predilections of such power conclaves, they are also the first to discover they “made a mistake” while the people are left to pick the pieces of the inevitable power struggle that usually follow. That has been our story in Nigeria ever since I can remember and it is not likely to be different this time around.
The 2015 Jonathan versus Buhari electoral “return match” has become a cliff-hanger because most of the variables that determine such outcomes in Nigeria which favoured the former in 2011 may now be to the advantage of the latter. From the endorsement of the “Nigerian Military Political Complex” (the Obasanjos, the Babangidas et al) through the predominant nuances of the print/electronic media, the sentiments on the street, the mood of the international community to the slant of the social media, it is obvious things are not looking too good for the incumbent. Yet the point for me really is that when you have such possibilities that a new president could emerge, not only must we begin to ask questions of that potential figure, his claims against past stewardship also deserve serious interrogation.
As the incumbent, Jonathan will run on his record which unfortunately would include not only his performance in office (which is not as bad as being projected) but also mismanaged relationships that may have been more costly in terms of the eroded support base. We may never know how much political damage the president inflicted on himself by his failed bid to install a Speaker for the House of Representatives in June 2011 and the refusal to accept defeat gracefully thereafter; the futile attempt to oust Governor Rotimi Amaechi as the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) Chairman and how that eventually led to the split within the ruling party; the ill-feelings from aggrieved party members who lost out at the primaries–at least we now know of a certain Labaran Maku who once claimed sensationally that Jonathan “brought Facebook to Nigeria” but who has been rechristened “an ungrateful animal”; the unfortunate Chibok “Waka-Come” theatrics at the Villa by the president’s wife that went viral internationally; the saga of the “unaccounted for billions of Dollars” in oil receipts that is yet to be conclusively resolved and the accompanying drama with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that played out from the CBN Governorship office to the Kano Emir’s palace; the presidential redefinition of corruption as being different from–and perhaps more tolerable than—stealing; the evident contradictions inherent in the fact that those who once ran a vicious media campaign against Jonathan, baptizing him with the moniker, “clueless president” are now the ones speaking for him etc.
The thing about elections is that choices are usually made by most voters on the basis of sentiments (and emotions) such as the foregoing and that is why the incumbent is most often disadvantaged, especially when the public mood is as fouled as it is in Nigeria today. What that also means is that we should begin to look at the alternative platform to see what it actually offers so we can compare and contrast before people make what may turn out to be a costly mistake. What will Buhari do better with regards to the economy, security and even fighting corruption given that this is a democracy and not a military regime? How even-handed will he be as a leader in a diverse country as Nigeria? Nobody has a clue and Buhari’s records on some of these issues are actually mixed.
For me, what has become rather clear is that this election will be decided not by the support for either of the two candidates but by the quantum of negative votes (the ballot cast against the opponent) that each could garner and on that score, given the mood of the nation, the incumbent definitely has a problem. Therefore, it is important for Nigerians to know what Buhari truly represents and how he would govern should he win, though that may really not matter much to most voters who seem to have already made up their minds.
To be honest, from 2003 through 2007 to 2011, I never paid much attention to Buhari because I did not believe he could win the presidential election on any of those occasions when he practically restricted his campaigns to the North and was speaking only to BBC Hausa Service! As an aside, at his recent interview session with THISDAY Board of Editors, when Buhari started talking about being rigged out in the past, I interjected by telling him that Obasanjo defeated him in 2003 just as my late boss (President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua) and Jonathan did in 2007 and 2011 respectively. Buhari responded by saying, “you are entitled to your opinion.”
However, when the private sector friends and Ijaw kinsmen of the president, who have in the last five years been walking the corridors of Aso Rock with bouncing footsteps, begin to hedge their bets by saying publicly that the February 14 election is “too close to call”, then Nigerians must know that we are already in interesting times. I hope that my egbon, Bashorun Akin Osuntokun, one of the few genuine supporters of the president that I know (right from the beginning of the administration) will now accept my point that there is a “Buhari fever” sweeping not only through the South-West but also across Nigeria.
I have in recent weeks been speaking to people in government and within the ruling party and what many tell me in private is different from what they say in public about what they think the outcome of the presidential election will be. For that reason, I have been doing my due diligence on Buhari and the more I do that, the more questions I come up with that he must answer. It is not too difficult a demand to make of someone who could very well become my next president but his fanatical supporters (and they include many of my own personal friends who incidentally happen to be Yoruba), just want me to endorse Buhari even when I (like them) do not know what exactly the man stands for beyond the call for “change”!
Nevertheless, the issue for today is neither Buhari nor Jonathan but rather the preparedness (or lack thereof) of the Independent Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC) for the election against the background of the doubts already raised by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki. In the course of his engagement at the London think-tank, Chatham House last week, Dasuki called for the February 2015 election to be postponed to allow more time for the distribution of the Personal Voter’s Card (PVC). “It costs you nothing, it’s still within the law,” Dasuki reportedly said to the consternation of majority of Nigerians who believe the NSA might be flying some kite.
It is, however, noteworthy that the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega has dismissed Dasuki’s fear as unfounded, saying, “we have assured that the issue of concern, namely distribution of PVCs, will be addressed before elections; and the cards will be made for all registered voters. As evidenced in our preparations, we are ready to hold elections in February.”
On Tuesday in Abuja, Jega reaffirmed that undertaking during his quarterly meeting with political parties. “I want to use this opportunity to assure all of you that as we promised Nigerians, we are working assiduously to ensure that we prepare adequately and that we conduct elections that are free, fair, credible and peaceful in 2015. I want to also assure you that we are committed to ensuring that the elections we will conduct will be remarkably very- very much better that those we conducted in 2011. We believe that even though there may be challenges, Such as the distribution of the PVCs, We feel confidently that with the measures and mechanisms that we have put in place, that these challenges are challenges that we can overcome,” he said.
While that may be reassuring, it is indeed my hope that Jega will live up to his word, especially given what it is now at stake. Any critical observer of events cannot but be worried about the issues relating to the PVCs despite the fact that INEC has had four years to prepare for this election. There are all manner of stories everyday, the latest being that the nationals of some West African countries have PVCs yet when you have an election as close as that of February 14 could be, the margin for error is minimal. Incidentally, in his foreword to the chest-beating “REPORT ON THE 2011 GENERAL ELECTIONS”, Jega had written that the “over 50 percent reduction in cases that went to court (after the 2011 general election) testifies not only to improvements in the conduct of the elections, but also to rising confidence of voters, candidates and political parties in the work of the Commission…”
In the said report, Jega added that the need to approach general elections as a cycle means that preparations for the next election must start immediately after the preceding one. “Our painstaking approach to the 2015 general elections is informed by our perception that the 2011 polls, though qualitatively better than many previous elections, was by no means perfect. We have repeatedly promised Nigerians that we shall continue to strengthen our systems and processes to ensure continuously improving management of elections in Nigeria. Our commitment to that promise remains unshaken and so is our commitment to ensure that the 2015 elections are free, fair and credible based on the best global standards,” the report said.
Now that time has come for Jega to deliver on that promise, it is important that he addresses the management of logistics that has dogged his administration and may mar the 2015 elections if care is not taken. In case Jega cares to know, the reason why most people do not support the postponement of the election (apart from suspicion about the motive) is not that they believe INEC is ready but rather that the commission will probably never be completely ready even if given additional two years to prepare for the election. That is not good for Jega and he needs to brace up.
I recall that in one of our discussions of INEC at THISDAY editorial board sessions, Dr Eddie Iroh said something over which we all laughed but which probably sounded truer than he intended. He said the Logistics Manager at “Ekene Dili Chukwu Transport Line” would conduct a better election in Nigeria than Jega and his INEC because the core recurring problem in election management in our country is the handling of logistics. With the shoddy manner in which INEC has handled the distribution of PVC nationwide, it is evident that Jega needs to sit up if he is to give Nigerians credible elections next month.
Yet, of all that I have read about INEC and the voters register, only two people have done serious analytical works. They are Prof. Bolaji Aluko, the Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Otuoke and Ms Ayisha Osori, the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund. According to Aluko, comparing the 2007 and 2015 figures, the total number of eligible voters has decreased, not increased. However, within that period also, “all (the) Southern geo-zones totals increased, while (that for) all Northern geo-zones decreased. Comparing just 2011 and 2015, again, the total number of eligible voters decreased, not increased, except for the South-East and South-South zones, which both increased.
“In the South-West, all states decreased, except for Osun which increased; in the South-East, two of the five states (Anambra and Abia) decreased; Imo, Ebonyi and Enugu increased; in the South-South, none of the six states decreased; all increased. In the North-West, all seven states decreased; in the North-East, all six states decreased, except Taraba, which increased; in the North-Central, all six states decreased, except Kogi, which increased; in FCT Abuja, the number of eligible voters decreased.”
Osori, in her own separate disquisition, takes the arguments further. “…for those who thrive on mystery, conspiracy theories and the improbability of coincidence, when we compare the 2015 register with the 2011 one, we find that the North East, North West and North Central, lost three million voters while the South-South, South-West and South-East gained 1.6 million voters.”
I believe that both Aluko and Osori have raised issues that demand clarifications from INEC in the spirit of transparency. The challenge of the moment, however, goes beyond the PVC or for that matter the figures in the voters register, given the issues raised in the 2011 election report by Jega’s INEC which I am not sure have all been addressed. Therefore, this is the time for Jega and his team to put on their thinking caps to ensure some of the problems do not recur while finding lasting solutions to others. As highlighted by INEC in the report, some of the issues are:
· During the data aggregation phase, while sorting out local government data, some data was lost due to incomplete data transfers until a patch was developed that enabled maximum data retrieval that was written into PDF and printed for elections nationwide.
· During the printing of the voters’ registers, delays were caused by unserviceable printers. The Commission was able to make alternative plans to get at least the colour printed sets ready for the 2011 General Elections.
· The confirmation of delimitation structure for both the DDCMS and other field operations was tasking, requiring a lot of reconciliation of databases from the 2003 record through the 2006 GIS Report to 2010 submission from the States.
· Posting of all trained electoral staff, including issuance of appointment letters created its challenges particular with issues of proper identification in order to remove duplications, fake and proxies. Provision of adequate security for the RACs, voters, officials and materials was a major challenge to the Commission.
· Database management posed its own challenges as data needed for electoral operational planning was often not forthcoming or not in the form and format in which they will be easily processed. For instance, the creation of voting points would have been easier if the necessary tools were in place before the elections.
· Payment of honoraria to all electoral staff was a major challenge taking into account the amount of funds, and the number and dispersal of personnel involved. In some cases, offices were vandalized; officers manhandled on account of delays in payment of honoraria and related issues.
· The Results Collation Processes which effectively relied on the use of ad-hoc Collation Officers created huge operational issues due to some computational errors in some of the declared results. As a result of the above, some of the results lacked some vital information such as the rejected votes, total votes cast which would enable full statistical analyses to be done. When some of the results were entered into excel workbooks different addition errors were discovered and little could be done as the results had been declared and copies issued and in some cases judicially determined.
· The issue of late release of funds to contractors contributed immensely to the late procurement of materials. The administrative bottle-necks encountered by the Commission’s vendors in accessing the much needed funds affected the delivery of election materials. The late delivery of materials ultimately affected the distribution schedule of the Department.
· Some Polling Units in areas with difficult terrains were not easily accessible and this affected the smooth conduct of election in those areas. The Commission has been battling with the challenge of moving its personnel and materials to the coastal areas, mountainous regions and arid/desert zones of the country. These challenges have consistently become impediments to the conduct of smooth elections in the Country.
In 2011, Jega was lucky to be given a second chance to make a first impression. There will be no such luxury this time around. That is why INEC must begin to puts its house in order. The times that we are in demand that. I wish Jega all the best as he prepares for what promises to be the most competitive presidential election in Nigeria’s history.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Olusegun Adeniyi/Thisday