Friday, August 19, 2016


"If your cornfield is far from your house, birds will eat your corns." Congolese proverb.

Staying abreast of developments in the two major political parties can leave you breathless. There is not a day that passes without a new drama or a major twist to an on-going drama. It will be comforting to believe that both are adjusting to thoroughly unfamiliar, reversed roles, but this will be grossly deceptive. The APC is a new phenomenon in Nigerian politics, even though it captures fragments of historical dynamics to challenge PDP's hegemony. PDP's spectacular spiral into oblivion began as far back as its decision to betray itself over its zoning arrangement in 2010/2011.It lost substantial political clout and territory, and its resort to pillaging the commonwealth to buy another mandate from Nigerians is coming back to haunt its attempts to survive as a party. APC is attempting to govern a nation under the most challenging economic environment with a political platform that shows a tendency to be weakened further. In political terms,2019 is about one year away. It is not a total waste of energy to speculate over the possible impact of current state of the two parties on the elections of 2019.
The latest twist to the PDP's laboured struggle to move on appears to have deepened its woes. Complete with direct threats if its orders are disobeyed, a High Court has halted plans to hold a National Convention being planned by the faction under former governor Ahmed Makarfi. The level above this faction that has sympathies for it says it has extended  its life for another year. No one should expect this to be a solution. Whatever gains this setback to the party appears to bestow on Makarfi's faction, it will be challenged and trashed by governor Ali Modu Shariff's posse. Shariff is the PDP's worst nightmare, a creation of the highest traditions of a party that grew by subverting its own and all other rules and standards. Virtually every member with influence has been dragged into a fight that neither office nor huge amounts can resolve. If the PDP cannot use the weight of public office or massive financial inducements to settle fights or buy off internal opposition, it is virtually finished. This is the only way it knows how to play politics.
It will be difficult, but not impossible that some accommodation can be found that will slow down the PDP's degrading process. A truce of sorts could be engineered if the party can rediscover its time-tested ability to buy -off real solutions with short-term, opportunistic concessions. In the end, what will determine the fate of the party will be perceptions of interests regarding the 2019 elections. Between its thirteen governors and a considerable number of federal legislators, it could create a bloc that could provide a major facilitating role in regenerating the party, but most of these are haunted and distracted by past sins and an atmosphere that dictates survival to the next pay as premium political wisdom. There is too much distrust among major players who know only too well that words mean little, and an  agreement lasts only until it is replaced by another that is more convenient to any of the parties. The ground is also continuously shifting, such that it is increasingly difficult to build a longer term, sustainable strategy for cumulative recovery. For now, major initiatives by interests around chairmanship of the party from the south west, or presidential ambitions from the north could put together some sort of ceasefire that will last only until another group feels left out. The biggest stimulus to a rediscovery of party unity and the spirit of compromise within the PDP will be concrete evidence that APC will literally commit suicide before 2019.Even then, it is unlikely to be the PDP as it is presently known that will move in to capitalize. The scramble for spoils will fragment the PDP along many lines, because many PDP chieftains and younger members with tall ambitions will prefer to wear a different toga to the party.
It says a lot about the depth of the crises within the PDP that its loudest voices are raised in complaints over interference from an administration which itself is attempting to find a firm ground to stand on under the debilitating legacies of the PDP, massively-raised expectations and an economy which does not encourage pronounced sustenance of loyalty from the poor and an increasingly alienated middle class. Its loony fringes are monopolized by people like Fayose and Fani-Kayode who make many PDP people cringe when they make occasional forays on behalf of the party. In other parts of the country where the party has substantial muscle, electoral violence has been used substantially to limit the presence of the APC.
The PDP mainstream limits itself to murmurs over partisan disposition of law and order agencies and unfair execution of the anti-corruption war, while it prays that the economic hardship of the people will get worse. Like the PDP,APC is also enjoying a virtual free hand in determining its current state and its future. Its coalition of myth, hard-headed political calculations and popular faith that democracy under the right leadership can make a difference in lives of the poor  has been under intense pressure to reveal its identity  from the moment President Buhari  became its candidate way back in late 2014.
Monumental changes have occurred in the nature of the APC, most of them covered by controversies and disputes over what it represents. Some of its building blocks have grown and hardened, while others have shrank or melted. The fights over its soul has been waged with almost the same passion as the fight against the PDP, only it has involved mostly its own members. The administration and the party are also involved in fights to limit the disastrous economic recession which is visiting widespread hardship of citizens in a nation that is poorly-prepared to deal with adversity of this nature and scale. It is fighting on many fronts to roll back the threats to lives, the economy and integrity and survival of the Nigerian nation. It does not appear to have raised its eyes from these titanic fights to see the challenges it will face, come 2019.
By the end of the year 2018,the  APC administration would not have fixed the economy to a point where most Nigerians will feel less of the pains of their present circumstances because the future will be better. It would have recorded notable successes against insecurity, but it will need a lot more than two years to improve the state's capacities to deal with threats and reinforce faith of citizens in the utility of the Nigerian nation. It would have made major incursions into corruption, but rebuilding values and institutions that will sustain the fight against corruption will take years and sustained political will to accomplish. It will need to demonstrate real achievements in the face of unprecedented economic meltdown. The party at all levels will have to be re-invented and reintegrated into the governance process. The towering image and presence of President Buhari will need to be captured and reflected in routine governance within his vision and values. Its limited capacities for strategic communication will need radical improvements to engage Nigerians to share in its mission, vision, setbacks and achievements. It will have to find a way to limit its tendency to allow messy fights within its ranks to fester and threaten party unity and its character as a coalition of the eager, the faithful and the desperate.
Neither the PDP nor the APC will participate in the 2019 elections in their current forms. PDP could make amends for its legacies and capitalize on the record of an APC administration that was popularly cheered into the ring with its hands tied behind its back. This is unlikely, however, because many ambitions will ditch it and align with other elements from APC and other parties to give Nigerians another option, long before 2019.APC will get to 2019 with some achievements, elaborate blueprints and containers of excuses for the promises it could not deliver on. It will do this without many of its members who bear scars of the fights to determine which interests it served. APC's biggest challenge will be to avoid the "one chance" trap and seek another mandate to consolidate on changing the basic nature of the Nigerian political economy. PDP's challenge will be to survive its current travails as a party and avoid a damaging scramble for the door which will rob it of any chance to recapture power. The challenge for the democratic process will be to survive a desperate political competition involving parties that will face virtual extinction if they do not win the 2019 elections.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A hostage economy

"You become wise when you begin to run out of money".Ghanian Proverb

A few weeks ago, President Buhari appeared in full military uniform when he visited a major military exercise in Zamfara state. The symbolism was important. The exercise was to signal the start of a major offensive against large bandit communities that had taken permanent residence in the vast stretches of forests that run through a number of states in the north, with pronounced presence in Zamfara and Kaduna States. The exercise looked impressive, and reports  later said  soldiers wrought a lot of damage on bandits who had had the run of forests, highways and farming communities for decades. A few weeks later, the bandits resurfaced, attacking villages, extorting, raping women and killing informants, vigilantes and local authorities with greater venom as they re-established their authority. Villagers abandoned homesteads, farms and animals, or adjusted to a life they had been familiar with, buying some security from bandits and submitting to horrific periodic violence as normal existence.

Our forests, ordinarily valuable assets, have been turned into major sources of threats to communities and the economy. At the height of the cattle rustling frenzy which has now decimated much of the large-scale ranching industry in the north, forests provided the cover and security needed by rustlers against a state that was too thin on the ground to take them on. A brave effort involving some state governments in the north freed rustled cattle and pushed the bandits further away, restoring some territory to the communities. Without adequate and sustained police presence and a motivated vigilante that can be freed from farming on a permanent basis, the gains made by interventions such as this were soon lost. Farming suffers as villagers are made to choose between paid protection to bandits for the  privilege to farm, or virtual starvation. Movement is severely restricted, so the low level of economic activity shrivels further. Herders stay away from these traditional sources of subsistence, and then add pressure on non-traditional sources, thus compounding existing frictions. Many villagers relocate entirely to places where they enjoy temporary physical security without means of livelihood. Where they stay put, many families move out into the bushes at night and leave homesteads for bandits when they visit.

Now there are rumours that factions and bands of Boko Haram being flushed out of forests in  Borno state  are moving into forests in other parts of the northeast which stretch all the way to Kaduna State. The damage done to the economy and millions of lives in the northeast will take a  decade to repair, even if the insurgency is effectively eliminated in the next one year. Elsewhere, from Abuja to Kaduna and Zaria and parts of Niger state, the forests  habour dens of kidnappers who have apparently graduated from rustling to kidnapping. The scales of the kidnapping industry fast catching on in the north, Its organization and sophistication are frightening. The fear of being kidnapped is taking a terrible toll on large scale farming by wealthy farmers who cannot venture a few hundred meters off highways. What was, until recently, a Fulani-on-Fulani crime involving kidnappings for guaranteed ransom to be paid from sold cattle has assumed a much bigger dimension on highways and even within towns and cities, with routine mentions of millions paid as ransom. In many other parts of the nation, movement anywhere is a risky business, and many families have paid up and retrieved kidnapped relations, ignoring police advise not to pay, or simply ignoring police entirely. Kidnapping strikes at the soft underbelly of the nation: any one who can move about is a potential victim. It makes instant millionaires out of a few criminals, and generally takes out the cumbersome nature of rustling or the dangers of armed robbery.

Our economy is becoming a hostage to violence. Much of the southeast has lived under the gun for much of the last three decades. In the south-south, violence is threatening to shut off a vital national resource in oil and gas. Crime has acquired sophisticated weaponry, boats and knowledge to destroy assets, attack military and law-enforcement agents and bring entire communities under its control. In any one week a dozen cases of killings and attacks take place in many parts of the nation's central belt. Fights involving complex motives and combatants with multiple identities rage in villages and communities. Farming is threatened as farms become dangerous to access. Cattle herders represent a threat at sight, and are threatened if they move, and threatened if they don't. Women and children become refugees while the men prepare for revenge missions, or to protect slippery victories. Military and police break up fights, and then become part of the problem as many of the combatants accuse them of taking sides. Everyone is armed, and there does not appear to be any signs that supplies of firearms will dry up. Local industries which illegally fabricate crude but effective weapons are booming. Manufacturers now fight the state for the privilege to continue supplies unhindered.

It is now clear that our economy has also  been largely hostage  to complacency, greed and corruption. Freeing it from deep seated corruption, rent-seeking and dangerously-narrow foundations and placing it on a stronger footing will involve massive dislocations and difficult choices in an environment that is politically unforgiving.  Managing the economic crises arising from the crash in revenues and the attempts to destroy the infrastructure in the oil and gas industry is challenging enough for any administration. Fighting a war against Boko Haram and a full-scale onslaught on destructive bands in the Niger Delta will severely stretch the capabilities of the government. Ideally, the  on-going discussions with armed militants should be pursued until they reach a productive outcome. The state should have other options, nonetheless, and they should include containment strategies that limit the damage to national assets in the event that the nation cannot afford the price of peace with militants. It is reasonable to expect that very close attention is being paid to the current state of the crisis at leadership levels of Boko Haram and the current thinking within the Shiite movement in Nigeria. The Nigerian state needs to be steps ahead of these threats, and improve its response capabilities in relating with them. The three million IDPs who are hostages to activities of  the insurgency, poverty and corruption should be the focus of serious concern. Major initiatives need to be taken by governments to empower states ,communities and their traditional structures to improve security management at local levels. Substantial investments in thinking and resources need to be made to address major sources of frictions among and between communities. Basic policing needs to be literally re-invented in Nigeria.

Violence is becoming a major factor in the manner Nigerians relate with each other and the state. Of all the key requirements necessary for economic reconstruction, growth and development today, none is more important than radical improvements in the security of producers, investors and economic assets. Nigerians can  live with poverty, but a poor and insecure life will call to question the basic value of the Nigerian state in the minds of many citizens. That is a threshold we must take very seriously at a time when many talk glibly about the utility and relevance of our union.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Beginner's Guide to Restructuring

                       "You cannot conquer what you do not confront". Anon
What is Restructuring?
Restructuring is the generic term applied to complex and varying demands by Nigerian elites for changes in the manner the Nigerian state is designed, governed and shares its resources among groups, communities and individuals. It is a term which represents the expression of grievances by elites largely outside the mainstream political process, and is invariably presented as a fundamental panacea to most of the failings and weaknesses of the Nigerian state.
Is this a new issue in Nigerian politics?
The complaints that the Nigerian federal state is imperfect, or is structured around basic injustices, inequalities and unfair distribution of power and resources is as old as the Nigerian nation itself. From colonial times, the manner a large and complex country like Nigeria should be structured and governed has been a major source of political quarrel. Demands for restructuring have notably been more pronounced at moments of acute political crises and tensions. Causes and sources of localized generation of large economic resources and poverty have also provided major reasons behind periodic resurgence of debates and demands for restructuring of the Nigerian state.
Why has this remained an unresolved problem?
Many political problems are never entirely resolved to the satisfaction of most interests. Dominant perspectives on the manner restructuring should proceed all had in-built potentials to create new grounds for emergence of demands for further restructuring. The most pronounced alterations in the  federal structure of the Nigerian state were made by the military, and were informed primarily by the imperatives of national security and management of plural interests that had access to the narrow political base of military governments. Democratically-elected governments have been prime beneficiaries of the post-military restructuring processes, and their attempts to engineer elite consensus around the essentials of restructuring the federation were half-hearted and duplicitous. Elite that champion restructuring as key national challenges have remained outside the political mainstream, unable to influence formal political structures to genuinely respond to demands for restructuring.
Is there national consensus around structuring?
The most common roots for the  clamour for restructuring are  grievances expressed as marginalization or unfair distribution of resources. Virtually every group or community in Nigeria can find good reasons why the nature of the Nigerian state violates its rights to justice and fairness. In this respect, there is consensus. Beyond this point, however, there is little agreement over process and outcome of restructuring. Federal and state governments disagree over sharing of responsibilities and resources. Elites that speak for ethnic groups disagree on all key elements put forward by each other. Demands for restructuring tend to be put across in combative and largely alienating manners, which tend to push others championing different perspectives to harden their positions.
What are the basic outlines of these demands?
One is the demand for a federal structure with fewer but stronger federating units that will generate and retain larger portions of economic resources, and a center with less powers and less resources. This is often expressed in the case for six or eight federating units, involving the collapse of states into the larger units. The case against this position comes from minority ethnic groups, many of which will lose defining political characters and economic clouts. There is also suspicion that this option will bestow parity to the "south" against a "north "which had enjoyed historical superiority in population and numbers of federating units. Another is the demand for a federal structure that allows federating units to retain, almost exclusively, the benefits of all resources located within them. This is a variant of the "fiscal federalism" case, often expressed as resource control. The case against this position is that it ignores the historical roots of the modern Nigerian economy which pooled resources from all Nigerians and sections to build today's sources of wealth. More significantly, it jeopardizes the future of a nation which fails to establish a minimum, flexible threshold on sharing national resources, and allowing unequal distribution of resources and wealth in a stable federal system with varied and bountiful resources. A third is predicated on addressing grievances of specific groups, such as additional state in the South East, additional states to relieve tensions between ethnic groups currently lumped together in "artificial" units, additional states to reflect population and geographical sizes, and states to be created to accord recognition to ethnic groups as federating units. A forth makes the case for a fully-operational third tier of government, or a system that allows federating units to choose how or if they want to create sub-unit structures. Then there are others which make the case for a return to pre-1966 federal structure, a  confederation that will leave a very weak center and largely autonomous units, and a federal system that contains provisions for any part or parts to leave the nation entirely. Some demands combine elements of many of these outlines.
Which one of these is true federalism?
Every federal system is true or false depending on the perspectives and interests of those who support it, or oppose it. Federal systems are imperfect, man-made compromises that should contain dynamic elements for adjustment, and operate on the basic assumption that relationships between and among federating units must be constantly policed to address rigidity and loss of the underlying philosophy that the best federal system is one where the whole is only as important as the parts decide, and that decisions on its nature and operation are products of consensus and compromise.
Is any section of the country benefitting from the status quo?
 Some fractions of the Nigerian elite appear to champion the cause for restructuring more than others, and cultivate impressions that other elite are specifically against restructuring. The clamour for restructuring has been a major victim of the substance and character of the Nigerian political system. Elite competition for power and economic resources have had little to do with interests of the poor or the weak in all parts of the nation. Poverty can be addressed under any arrangement, but elites do gain or lose on the basis of their relationships with sources of power and wealth, which is substantially the state. All elite will oppose or support versions of restructuring that best suits their interests, in the same manner most non-elite will kick against virtually all restructuring proposals if the details are made known to them.
Can we ever agree on the best federal system for Nigeria?
 A federal system that is the product of continuous discussions and negotiations involving elites, communities and governments as interested parties can improve the operations of our federal system. Violence and threats over restructuring have tendencies to emasculate dispositions to discuss grievances. Government platforms tend to reinforce elitist competition over power and economic resources rather than address popular grievances, and have been historically vehicles for the actualization of incumbent political goals. The best prospects for reviews in the manner the Nigerian state is structured lie in elites and community leaders directly engaging each other in discussions and negotiations.
What can be done to improve the way we live without restructuring?
Sustained improvements in the quality of governance at all levels as well as rapid and even development are essential. Elite cohesion and respect for the complex nature of the nation will build bridges that can create positive dispositions to look for solutions that give everyone something. Constitutional amendments can be made to make changes in the federal structure less cumbersome, and ensure that irrespective of geographical locations, ethnic origin or other defining characteristics, no Nigerian suffers disadvantages arising from the operations of our federal structure. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Doing Justice

O you who believe, be persistently firm for Allah, witnesses in justice and do not let hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.
Holy Qur'an,   Surat Maida,5:8

This week I have decided to venture into one of those zones you just know will cause you some discomfort, but not going there will be worse than the consequences of going. Three related developments are responsible for my taking on issues today over which I expect a lot of flack. The first was the strong critique of the Nigerian judiciary which President Buhari laid publicly right before its top echelons at a conference, reeling out its ills, weaknesses and liabilities in the fight against corruption. The second was a  document dripping with passion and indignation written to the  public by the only surviving son of Sheikh Ibrahim El- Zakzaki, leader of the Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria(IMN),pleading for his father to be allowed access to better medical facilities, his family and lawyers because, he is going blind and his incarceration is illegal. The third is the latest attempt by Colonel Sambo Dasuki(rtd),the former National Security Adviser to gain legal reprieve from detention. You could add the case of Nnamdi Kanu and Boko Haram suspects who are not being processed for prosecution to this list. At the risk of receiving painful reactions and sundry insinuations, we must not walk away from these issues. The day we all walk away, we not only abandon those for whom we should speak up, but we abandon our rights to live under the humanizing qualities of justice and the right to correct what is wrong.
Thirty two years ago, a tough, Nigerian reform-minded military head of state was overthrown by fellow military officers. The nation moved on under its new rulers and their guns and fresh narratives that cast him as a national villain. He was incarcerated without a single day in court. If tears were shed for him by Nigerians, they certainly failed to change his circumstances. Released to pick the pieces of his life in his hometown, he nursed his feelings largely privately. A few years later, the urge to return to the service of the fatherland brought him back seeking for a position of authority to affect lives of fellow citizens. Three times he contested for the presidency of his nation. Each time, using the entire gamut of the judicial  process, he challenged the bitter sense of injustice which he felt his defeat represented. Every time he walked out to offer to serve, the number of Nigerians who walked out with him increased. They shared the sense of injustice done to him and to their aspirations to have an honest leadership which cared about the poor and the weak. Eventually, the sheer weight of his persistence and the mass of support behind him tilted the balance in favour of a just and fair electoral system which made him president.
Even at his most generous disposition, President Buhari will say he has been at the receiving end of great injustice at many stages of his life. His virtual political life dealing with the Nigerian judiciary and his current position as the leader sworn to uphold the rule of law must have contributed to the courage it took to look the top leadership of the nation's judiciary in the eyes and say, you are not good enough for what Nigerians need today. It is his fate today that President Buhari will be the custodian of our rights to have a justice system that limits the shortcomings of the judiciary, and be leader of a nation in which all citizens receive at least the most minimal of justice to which they are entitled.
A man whose life shows many scars of injustice and the pains of impunity should be unquestionably the champion of justice and compassion. When, like President  Buhari, he is also placed at a leadership position by the God he will be accountable to, and the votes of citizens who believe he can do justice, the imperatives to diligently police the difficult boundaries between political expediency, national security and the exacting demands of the rule of law will be even more challenging. The plea made by the son of Sheikh El- Zakzaki for his father to  be allowed greater access to good medical facilities, his lawyers and family should be seriously considered by President Buhari. The accusation that he is being detained against his will by a Nigerian state that claims it is doing so in his own interest should be a matter that a president who recently upbraided the judiciary takes a very close look at. It may challenge the best resources of the Nigerian state, but if El- Zakzaki and Col Sambo Dasuki and Nwanku Kanu are entitled to bail, or have medical reasons which demand that they be allowed access to them wherever they can find them, it is the duty of the federal government to avail them such rights and opportunities for medical attention. It demeans our claims to live as a civilized nation under a leadership sworn to uphold the rule of law,to have a citizen detained because the state cannot or will not prosecute him.
The temptation to be indifferent to the fates of El- Zakzaki, Dasuki and Kanu, and even suspected Boko Haram detainees are strong. There are many, in fact who will rejoice and encourage the continuation of their current experiences and status. They will be wrong. What they should rejoice at is the end of a judicial process which finds them guilty, and punishes them appropriately. El- Zakzaki's  IMN has acquired a status in the public domain that justifiably frightens many Nigerians. The IMN declined to participate in the proceedings of the Commission, but El-Zegzagi is pursuing the cause for his freedom through the Nigerian judicial system. If the claims that he will go blind without better medical attention is valid; if there are unwarranted restrictions to visits by his family and lawyers; if there are no legal grounds to keep him under protective custody, President Buhari should act and affect his conditions and circumstances in the interest of justice. Neither national security nor justice are served by denial of rights of citizens who can and must be made to account for their alleged crimes. There must be hundreds of Boko Haram suspects in various detention centers. If there is evidence against them, Nigerians should see them being prosecuted.
Since the explosion of the allegations on diversion of funds meant for purchase of weapons to political purposes, the name of Sambo Dasuki has become synonymous with the worst excesses of President Jonathan's administration. He should be processed, along with all others who are suspected of participating in these diversions, through the legal system. If he is found guilty, he should be made to pay for his crimes. Until then he is entitled to justice as a citizen. If there are no legal grounds to keep him in detention, his right to bail and access to medical attention must be respected. Kanu's adventure to break up Nigeria is well known to most citizens. Is it the case that the entire Nigerian security assets cannot monitor and limit the damage of a man (or three men) on bail and receiving medical attention? Is keeping these three men in detention serving major national security interests or those of justice? If they are, surely the government can find a balance between the need to know and the right to know, so that Nigerians are assured that justice is being done to citizens as well as detainees?