Thursday, February 4, 2016

Internally Displaceable Politicians (IDPs)

Divide the fire and you will soon put it out.
Greek proverb.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP’s) ongoing meltdown is a rich source of lessons in the management and abuse of political power. A few weeks ago, Alhaji Sanusi Daggash jokingly told me that his status is best described as an internally displaced politician. He described this as a politician who is on his way out of the PDP, but is not sure of his destination. Between the PDP and a number of possible destinations, you will find a lot of politicians. Many would have been permanently retired  by the 2015 elections, or the stench of the reputation they have garnered in the last sixteen years. Many others will eventually find destinations, but it will take quite some time and a lot of upheavals and maneuvers to sort out who will be where. In the meantime, it will be important for the ruling APC to pay close attention to the genesis of the collapse of the PDP, its dimensions, repercussions and ultimate fate.

The near-comical disarray which has produced three PDP national chairmen and many clusters from a party that once stood like a colossus on the Nigerian political landscape is a tragedy with a trajectory that was predictable. The type of mentality that gave one of its many former national chairmen the confidence to boast that the party will govern Nigeria for sixty years was informed by more than a posture designed to intimidate the opposition. The PDP actually thought it could not be defeated. It had a firm control over state resources, an elaborate patronage system that anchored a rent-seeking economy and a huge, parasitic layer of politicians. It had a solid track record in subverting political and electoral systems and processes. Since 1999, it got fatter with every election. Its leaders thought that entitled them to get away with everything. Today it is largely a regional party whose leaders are telling on each other to EFCC.

Few milestones tell the story of the PDP better than the 2007 elections. Described as the worst election in world history by some observers, even the most charitable among those knowledgeable enough to judge would have noted that the future of Nigerian democracy was unsafe in the hands of the PDP. Tragically for the party, it read a different meaning in the farce that was the 2007 elections: it thought that no boundaries were sacrosanct in its path. In the four years between that historic low and the next elections in 2011, two major developments occurred. First, many Nigerians apparently decided that waiting for another four years to be duped again was not an option. They will create their own outcomes of the elections with fire, stones, blood and lives if need be. They waited to see if 2011 will, in their judgment, repeat past elections. The second, (related) development was the decision of General Muhammadu Buhari to run for the third time. When his fanatical followers were told he had lost again, their indignation was expressed through the most damaging electoral violence in the history of Nigeria.

The 2011 elections were another major watershed. They handed the nation’s affairs to the most incompetent and corrupt leadership in the nation's history. PDP's opposition came to the conclusion that the party will run the nation aground unless they pooled their strengths and ambitions against it. The PDP missed all the lessons in the tragic 2011 post-election developments, and dug even deeper in its traditional contempt for propriety and due process. Massive defections and damaging rancour depleted it of major assets. The opposition gained most from the PDP, as it became a victim of its own contempt and arrogance. It approached the 2015 election limping from massive internal losses, bereft of respect and support of most Nigerians and the global community and threatened by a radically-improved INEC, while facing a confident and massively-supported opposition. It raided the nation’s resources as never before, diverting money meant for arms to fight Boko Haram among others, in the campaign against an opposition that looked certain to defeat it and record a historic first.  

The nation is coming to terms with a potentially life-changing experience in its political history. As an APC administration grapples with the magnitude of mismanagement and abuse to which the PDP subjected Nigerians under its watch, the PDP’s formidable army of big men and fixers is in disarray. It is not unreasonable to assume that PDP as a party is dead, but not buried. It will haunt Nigerians for a long time to come, and its place is likely to be taken up by a number of imitations.

Any number of permutations are possible. One will involve fractions of the old PDP forming nuclei of two or three parties, all of them broadly reflecting existing clusters of grievances in the party. Another will be one major re-invention of the old PDP from what will be left of its leaders that will survive the gale of anti-corruption winds. Yet another could involve elements of the PDP and APC creating a party that answers to the limitations of the two parties. Finally, the remnants of the PDP could borrow a leaf from the APC and build alliances and coalitions into a party that could challenge APC in 2019 and 2024.

There is a powerful presence of PDP alumni in APC as well as other interests that have not entirely melted because powerful party leaders who facilitated the merger and the electoral victory are still taking up too much space. President Buhari does not appear to be intensely interested in engineering the emergence of an organic party, even one that bears his basic personal and political imprints. Ranged against politicians rich in experience and knowledge that in politics you never put away all your weapons, there are many in his party that will keep an eye on all options. Those who dismiss any talk of 2019 within APC are poorly-taught in Nigerian politics. Others who see the emergence of a genuine and strong opposition involving elements of the old PDP and some elements of the APC will be people who will make the case that much of the change in APC and the nation is limited only to President Buhari. Powerful and wealthy people held the PDP together until it could not contain their greed and contempt for their own rules anymore. Buhari is the glue holding APC together. It will be a fatal mistake for the APC to build a future on this factor alone.

PDP bigwigs will be doing two things now. One will be fighting to survive the stains and consequences of Buhari’s anti-corruption war. Many of them will not be making long term plans as free and innocent people, such being the depth and spread of the corruption and abuse which characterized PDP’s governance. The other will be searching for a lifeline to a political future. They know there is considerable asset of structures, relationships and grievances to mobilize towards building new political platforms. The period between now and 2019 is likely to witness the most far-reaching political changes the nation has had to go through.

Friday, January 29, 2016

A blanket over Maryam

A crime eats its own child.
(African Proverb).

        Last week, Maryam acquired a new warm blanket. Actually, her whole camp received new blankets, so the harmattan winds have been a lot more tolerable. Now the search for firewood by virtually everyone in the camp is not as desperate, and this is a relief because venturing further away from the camp where firewood is more easily available has become harzadous. A few more of the elderly in the camp have also been moved into new tents, so Maryam and a few of the females have taken up their former locations near the center of the camp. The camp on the whole is more comfortable, but no one is sure if it will get better or worse.
Maryam is about 14 years old. Too old to be a child and too young to be a woman, she has gone through experiences that have made it impossible to cry anymore. Virtually everyone who has heard her story from when her life as a member of a family in a small village in Adamawa State was ended, has been amazed by the calmness with which she reeled out the chronicle of the tragedy which her life has become.
This is her third camp, where she is some sort of a leader although some of the younger females are older than she is. When Boko Haram first attacked her village, they killed her father and elder brother and abducted her brother’s new wife and her elder sister who was nursing a baby. The baby was left behind. Her mother ran away with some women. She has not seen any of them since. The insurgents stayed in the village for two months, and then relocated with Maryam and about fifty young females and men to another of their strongholds. This was where Maryam was given out by the Amir as ‘bride’ to an insurgent. Three days after her ‘marriage’, her husband was killed in an encounter with Nigerian soldiers who subsequently occupied the village. The soldiers rounded up scores of young men and women suspected to have had links with Boko Haram. Maryam’s ‘marriage’ to a dead insurgent counted heavily against her. She was detained, tortured and abused by soldiers for months as a suspected informant and member of Boko Haram. In her fourth week of detention, Boko Haram captured the village, and its population once again came under a lowly but brutal Amir. He immediately put scores of young men to the sword, with the whole village watching, and then shared out young women, including Maryam, to fighters. Maryam’s second ‘husband’ helped her escape from the village when news filtered in that Nigerian soldiers were approaching. She was pregnant.
For six days, Maryam walked through the bush, feeding from the little supply her 'husband' gave her. Three days after her escape, she lost the pregnancy. She was rescued by some soldiers who took her to a village clearing that will be her first camp or, more accurately, gathering. It was an open space near a burnt-out village, with no water, food or shelter. Almost the entire population was made up of old men, women and children. Even husbands vouched for by wives and children were isolated or detained by soldiers. In the night, soldiers disappeared from the camp. No one was allowed to light fires in the night because it will attract Boko Haram.  The camp became Maryam’s prison. To leave was too dangerous, and staying exposed her to the elements, Boko Haram fighters or soldiers who worked them to the bones cooking or clearing. Young girls spoke in hushed tones about rape and other abuses in the night.
The rains made it impossible to continue to live in the gathering. Soldiers made contact with relief officials, and the entire gathering was moved in batches to an enclosure nearer a town. This was the first administered camp, with protection provided by a makeshift fence, vigilante and a military encampment nearby. Feeding was poor, with one meal a day for most people, and when it rained for long periods, there was no cooked food. For the first time since she left her own village, she was seen by a doctor who was only interested in examining her for wounds. He was a man. She kept her stories to herself.
Maryam matured in this camp. She assumed additional responsibilities looking after younger children, cooking and sharing food, and working with the elderly men to keep an eye on young men with predatory sexual tendencies. She stopped asking new arrivals of her mother and relations. She became stronger with the thought that she was entirely on her own.
In the last four months, traffic of help has improved in the camp. Feeding is better, but still poor. Medical facilities are bare, and almost on a daily basis, women deliver babies without medical help. The camp is becoming more crowded, in spite of the fact that people move out to stay in homes of relations or relocate to rebuild lives in liberated areas. There is a lot of suspicion that new arrivals are Boko Haram spies or defectors. There are still cases of sexual violence, and many females have learnt how to get more or better rations for themselves and their children from officials and guards.
Maryam’s new blanket came in a consignment donated by some foreigners. The camp also received tents, medical facilities and quantities of food. Before the donors arrived, the camp was kept busy clearing itself, digging new latrines and water storage facilities. There have been arguments and fights among the men and younger women over exposing cheating Nigerian officials, in the event that opportunities presented themselves. Fear of being ejected or labelled Boko Haram informants has kept most inmates quiet.

There is much talk of people moving out to their liberated villages to start a rebuilding process in the midsts of fear and uncertainties. Maryam, however, is not part of these discussions. She has nowhere to go. She is suspended in time and space, a suspect in some circles, and a victim in many others.
Maryam is real. She is the nation’s open wound which festers from erratic attention and serial abuse. It feeds off the on-going battle between the Nigerian state and an insurgency that has many faces. It does not heal with the success of the military against Boko Haram, because it has taken on a life of its own. It is a gaping hole that attracts attention from caring governments with limited resources, and a global community with heavy hearts, deep pockets and enlarged concerns over corruption and abuse in the management of Internally Displaced Persons. Two million people is a large number to cater for. Yet, they have to be catered for, if the war against Boko Haram is to be won. Unless towns and villages are rebuilt, basic infrastructure rehabilitated, schools reopened, policing restored, families reunited and protected, farms ploughed, children play freely in the open and Maryam's hope for a better life is restored, Boko Haram will claim victory against the Nigerian state. It is a victory it does not deserve.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

2016: A watch list

        Like a chameleon, one eye on the future, one eye on the past.
Malagasy proverb.

          This year will define the basic character of the administration of President Buhari and highlight opportunities and limitations that will challenge the administration and the nation. In this first, full working year of President Buhari, a number of major issues should be kept under watch.

1.      The economy
The Nigerian economy will be severely challenged in 2016. The dramatic fall in crude prices and uncertainties around attracting increased foreign investment will slow down growth. Plugging major leakages in revenue collection could improve available funds, but institutions involved in raising revenues need to be strengthened and their capacities improved. The pro-poor provisions in the 2016 budget are ambitious and bold, but their successful implementation will be predicated on quality conceptualization, planning and sustainability. Major fiscal and monetary policy decisions will represent areas of intense interest, as all social segments will feel the effects of an economy that will go through a difficult period. APC and PDP legislators will test their strengths on budget debates, and the legislature as a whole may fight against some of its provisions which affect them

2.      Security
The Boko Haram insurgency is damaged, but not crippled to a point where it will not continue to threaten populations. There are questions about the credibility of the military’s successes, principally because of conflicting narratives over the presence of insurgents in Sambisa forest, in towns and villages as well as cells in many areas that can strike with guns or suicide bombs. The captive Chibok girls will continue to haunt the fight against Boko Haram, and managing two million IDPs will be a major challenge for the administration.
The investigation of former militant leaders will trigger a resurgence of violent activity in the Niger Delta. Increased military presence in the area will pitch the militants and the military in direct confrontations under an administration determined to stamp its authority against violence. The Biafra agitation will be tested in terms of its support and capacity to take on the Nigerian state, with the on-going trials of its leaders. The Shiite movement in the North will continue to be a source of stress and tension, and the manner the state handles the detention and trial of its leader will be a major factor in determining future Shiite – government relations. Managing national security in the context of increasingly limited resources will be a major problem for the administration.

 3.     Fighting corruption
The administration enjoys popular support in its fight against corruption. Spectacular revelations about massive theft of public funds in many sectors of the economy suggest that many high profile individuals, including some who are pillars of the ruling party investigated and prosecuted. There are concerns over the degree to which the legislature will support the President in this ever-expanding campaign, with many legislators likely to be fingered, or have their cases re-opened. There are also legitimate concerns regarding the integrity and capacity of the judiciary to process possibly hundreds of cases. The possibility of the state being stonewalled by a weak and compromised judiciary and powerful interests with considerable mileage in avoiding penalties is real. Nigerians  will be frustrated at the pace of investigations and trials, and there is a genuine possibility that too much of the administration’s time and energy will be devoted to pursuing corruption cases at the expense of imaginative and productive policies that should  rebuild the economy and strengthen institutions of governance.

4.      Public institutions                 
The Buhari administration inherited weak and compromised public institutions that are vital to re-engineering the economy, plugging leakages and reducing corruption. It will need to radically improve basic policing institutions to turn the tide against crime and internal security challenges. The public service has been very badly damaged by the previous administration, and it will need an extensive review of its basic philosophy, operations and leadership to bring it up to the required level as the key institution in protecting public interest and serving as  the foundation of good governance.

5.     Governance and politics
The real character of the All progressives Congress will begin to show as the spoils of victory are distributed and the real business of running the country becomes the major focus. Key elements in the APC, such as the character and persona of President Buhari, the often-conflicting interests of very powerful office-holders who hold varied opinions over the real meaning of the ‘change’ mantra, the chieftains from parties who led and submitted to the merger, and Nigerians who expect dramatic and quality changes in the conditions of their lives will clash or reinforce each other this year. The manner President Buhari relates with the legislature, particularly the Senate, will be an important factor in the degree to which he succeeds in pushing through critical legislation, or is frustrated in the fight against corruption.
Disgruntled party chieftains can be ignored only up to a point. The lessons from the damage done to the defeated PDP by its members who defected with much of its assets will need to be carefully read and understood. Intra-party disputes will become more pronounced, and will be made worse unless the party is made strong and relevant by all political office holders at all levels. The administration will need to pay close attention to managing regional and religious threats, and its disposition to elites with capacities for mischief or improving popular support will be tested. Ambitious politicians with an eye on 2019 could divert attention and energy from creating synergy in policies and programmes at all levels of government.  
6.      People Democratic Party (PDP)
The PDP is unlikely to recover from its many and varied challenges any time soon. Its internal schisms and the large numbers of its present and former leaders who are being mentioned in scams of all types will deplete its capacity to re-invent itself. It is unlikely to benefit from disputes within APC, or provide an effective opposition outside the legislature. Nonetheless, its members in the National Assembly are a vital asset, and they could exploit intra-APC disputes to damage the administration’s plans and programmes.

7.      President Jonathan
The noose is increasingly tightening around President Jonathan's neck, with more and more revelations about scams and outright thefts that took place under his watch. It is a matter of time before his personal role and others, such as Dr Okonjo-Iweala, Allison-Maduekwe and other key ministers and officials are more closely scrutinized. President Buhari seems bent on extending the frontiers of enquiry into the management and abuse of public funds and other assets. It is unlikely that President Jonathan and former senior ministers will evade complicity in some of them. President Buhari may have to raise the profile of the fight against corruption and the inmates in E.F.C.C holding cells by nodding towards the investigation and possible trial of the former President and key ministers.
8.      The Buhari factor
Nigerians will become better acquainted with the persona and character of President Buhari. So far he has come across as determined and focused. He has been the face and voice of his administration, and has shown a personal trait of intolerance against corruption and threats to national security. In 2016, Nigerians will see whether he plans to yield some space to his Vice President and some of his ministers with solid accomplishments, to complement his image of strong personal integrity and unbending will. His temperament and disposition will be tested by the capacity of corrupt people to fight back, to be frustrated by compromised or weak institutions, or by the imperative of making compromises where they become necessary. President Buhari will retain wide popular support as he fights corruption, but in 2016, he also has to lay the foundations of solid socio-economic achievements. These will be his asset as an elite steeped in a tradition of pillage and plunder fight him back.