Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A day in Maiduguri

Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won't eat you. African proverb.

I was part of a delegation of Northern Elders Forum that visited the Borno State capital, Maiduguri last week. The visit lasted all of one day, but it revealed an entire future that is both inspiring and frightening. The last time a delegation of the Forum visited Maiduguri was about three years ago, and it barely managed to leave the beleaguered city with some dignity because President Jonathan's State of Emergency order was made on its first day in Maiduguri. There was no such cause for panic this time. The short stay was informed by the challenges of age and conditions of people well past use-before dates, and a loaded program designed to engage major stakeholders, political and community leaders as well as victims. A day was long enough to see the outlines of a disaster in transition, and enough to judge the progress of communities and a nation through an uncertain future.

Surreal is one way of describing the overall feeling you get when you look deep into the faces and soul of Maiduguri. The city which witnessed the tipping point in the history of the insurgency and then went through six years of agony is bravely attempting to come back to life although the war is far from over, it is stretched beyond imaginable limits with more than one and a half  million internally displaced people in homes and camps, the odd suicide bomb goes off now and then, soldiers and other security personnel live on  constant alert, nieghbours closely scrutinize each other, and the global community attempts to find entry points into one of the biggest humanitarian disasters in recent human history. In this city where families were split into insurgents and victims, or scattered into varied circumstances, there are children who will never know the love of parents. Many did not know electricity until the last two years. Many have spent years out of school or lived under care, or no care at all. Many have seen deaths and other psychologically-traumatizing experiences that require intense counseling and other therapies they will never get. Children under ten in Maiduguri have grown up knowing what bullets and bombs sound like. In twenty years, they will be adults, the people who will determine the way all others live.

Engaging the Governor and senior public officials, you get the distinct impression of leaders who believe they have won decisive battles by not surrendering to the insurgency. You see confidence among public officials who could not visit home in towns and villages this time last year, and a few whose towns are still not easily accessible. You see evidence of a leadership made up of Muslims and Christians bonded by the realization that Boko Haram makes all faiths equal victims. The governor's confidence belies his recent altercation with NGOs and relief organizations, the challenges of meandering through the forest of federal and state agencies as well as frustrations over the daily struggle to balance current needs  of citizens against rebuilding a context for a secure and productive future. The relief over the recent successes of the military campaign in Sambisa forest is palpable, and you get the impression that Borno state people will vote for President Buhari as many times as he will ask for their support. You will not detect a feeling that they feel abandoned, but the leadership and citizens of Borno are quick to appreciate gratitude for even token gestures that assure them that they are not alone as they walk away from a murderous insurgency into a future full of challenges.

The spectacle of dignified splendour around the Shehu of Bornu barely conceals the reality that this ancient civilization has been traumatized and squeezed into Maiduguri by an insurgency whose origin and development it disowns at every opportunity. The Shehu's empire substantially hangs around his palace, with subordinates chased out of palaces, while government offices, schools, hospitals, basic social and economic infrastructure, homes, mosques and churches have all largely been largely destroyed. If you thought the Shehu's assertion that Borno will rise again was conjured bravado, you are forced into doubt as you see hundreds of young people outside his palace watching a football match, the number of young people who run towards any siren to raise clenched fists in greetings and adulation, or the number of school children (including, significantly, school-age girls) who squeeze through heavy traffic to go to school, or the relaxed faces on streets even when no one is certain that the next person may not be concealing a bomb.

The faces of resistance are represented in elders and elite who have stayed behind to resist this assault either because they have no choice or because they chose to risk staying put in Maiduguri. It is also represented by the mostly young Civilian JTF, that precocious group that forced its way into a war, making the difference by exposing relations, neighbours and suspects, providing an invaluable compass in the fight and paying a very high price for its effort. Borno Elders Forum serves as the voice and vanguard of the community, often irritating or serially annoying authority at all levels by its insistence that there are right ways of dealing with security challenges and the rights and dignity of citizens. These elders paid their dues to the Nigerian state at many levels, and they will not abandon the belief that it is possible to re-engineer a Nigeria with Borno as a pillar.

In the Northeast generally, and in Borno State in particular, everyone speaks in statistics. You will hear that there are over 2m IDPs in the region, only 10% of whom live in camps. The numbers increase literally by the day, as the military dislodge more insurgents and free captive populations. There are anywhere between fifty and one hundred thousand young orphans, a curious phenomenon in an African context until you are reminded that no one has the space or resources to give them a home. Many of the IDPs are children or relations of insurgents who are shunned with such vehemence, they require special protection. More than half of school-age children have not been to school in the last 5 years. 90% of the IDPs living with families receive no assistance, nor do their host families. Their future depends largely on when towns and villages can be secured, when basic infrastructure including houses are rebuilt and when the means of production are made available. The statistics relating to poverty levels, malnourishment, juvenile delinquency, crimes and vulnerability of women and children and even the possibility of the prolongation or mutation of the insurgency can safely be marked up in the next few months, even with increased support, coordination and resources. The .2m IDPs who will be released into the population if the Government of Borno State goes ahead with its plans to close down all IDP camps in May this year, will pose additional problems for security and victims' management.

Maiduguri is the epicenter of devastation, the magnitude of which the nation is yet to fully grasp. At this stage, only a few things are certain: the resolve of the government of Nigeria to degrade the insurgency to a point where it is no longer a credible threat; the determination of the leaders and the communities in the northeast region to claw their ways into a rebuilt future; the determination of international relief and humanitarian organizations and friendly nations and many Nigerian NGOs to sustain the difficult tasks of reaching the vulnerable and the needy; and finally, a hugely uncertain future for millions of people in Nigeria and neighbouring countries. The pace and tempo of the military campaign must be sustained and matched by parallel efforts at rehabilitation, reintegration and reconstruction. In the last few months, the federal government has made improvements in the manner it coordinates activities of governments and agencies involved in managing a major humanitarian disaster. Still, the domestication of the Kampala Declaration will vastly improve the legal and policy framework for protecting and assisting IDPs. The people of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States and many parts of the North have lived with a nightmare for many years. Even if the insurgency is comprehensively defeated soon, this will only mark the beginning of another long and tasking challenge to rebuild lives and livelihoods. In Maiduguri, we saw signs among the population that there is hope for a safe and secure future. It is not just their future, because every Nigerian lives in Maiduguri.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How to make 2017 count

Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. Ambrose Bierce.

  All that needed to be said about the disappointments and achievements of year of 2016 have been said. The government  of President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledged that it had substantially under-performed, blaming factors which  predated it, as well as  new, unforeseen developments that adversely affected the economy and national security. It celebrated substantial progress in the fight against Boko Haram, and even a trickling of success in the return of the Chibok girls as major successes. The campaign against corruption had been flagged, but was being challenged by cynicism over its popularity in circles around the president as well as frustrating limitations in the judiciary and the legislature. Governance below the federal level had avoided much national scrutiny, but citizens in states had  lived with daily excuses from governors echoing the national lamentations over collapsed revenues. Many citizens were bewildered by state governments that did not pay salaries and pensions but found the means to undertake eye-catching projects. Governors had taken refuge behind the massive profile and clout of the Buhari federal administration to avoid being accountable. Weak political opposition had created the context for disturbing complacency and massive intra-party disputes. The year 2017 will present an opportunity to leaders and the nation to demonstrate that there is political will and faith behind a nation facing one of its biggest challenges. If that opportunity will not be lost, some of these need to be accorded priority.

1)      Rediscover the mission of leadership.
Widespread disenchantment with poor governance and weak political will combined with the appearance of a credible alternative that could lead to national rebirth to produce the Buhari administration. Majority of Nigerians voted for a leadership that was going to fight and defeat insurgents, stop corruption, give jobs to young people and create an economy that did not count its successes in the number of billionaires it created. Most Nigerians believed Buhari will lead the nation to recover its strengths and punish those who bled its unity and resources. His administration was going to be different, the expression of a popular demand behind the need to do things differently. Its worst enemies feared that it will be a tough administration in the character of the leader, and certainly did not envisage that it will be just another administration waiting for elections to seek another mandate. President Buhari and the APC need to rediscover their mission, even if the real challenges of governance have made the re-invention of that messianic aura largely problematic. In plain terms, Buhari cannot be just another President.

2)      Create a sense of urgency.
If there has been a consistent negative trait associated with the Buhari administration, it must be that it routinely takes too long to do too little, or nothing at all. Incredible lethargy and pronounced tardiness in decision-making have long silenced excuses that the need to be meticulous and avoid past mistakes justify delays. In practical terms, the APC has only about a year left to make a telling difference in the quality of leadership which it offers Nigerians. Outside the military and one or two of its agencies, all the basic institutions of state operate without zeal or speed, marking time under an administration that cannot afford to lose a day seemingly sitting on its hands. The nation's challenges demand a pervasive sense of emergency in the manner they are handled. Leaders cannot afford convenience and luxury of delays, because citizens will believe that they either have no solutions, or do not care enough to find solutions.

3)      Change tactics.
At this stage in the life of the administration, it should be seriously considering options in its tactics in achieving key goals. Where the administration lacks financial resources to tackle problems, it should tap the tremendous intellectual and other human resources available to it to find solutions to many social problems. It should re-visit the value of involving greater say for high quality private sector input into the management of the economy. The nation's military cannot fight and win victories against all internal security challenges. Many of these problems require only minimal involvement of military and other security assets to contain, but their resolution require the deployment of strong political will and imaginative utilization of political options. Fighting corruption requires creating strong linkages with other arms of government, as legislators and the judiciary will support or resist the fight against corruption largely on the degree to which they feel they are not primarily set up as its targets. A long-term perspective needs to be employed in this fight against a deeply-entrenched scourge, and public support  has to be vigorously cultivated to survive the appearance that this is a partisan issue.

4)      Re-prioritize.
Massive revenue shortfalls and limited foreign investment should compel a review of priorities and some difficult choices. There are evident positive consequences of the recession which has forced restrictions on imports of particularly food items. These are in markedly improved outputs by mostly small scale farmers that can be sustained with some encouragement through enlightened policies and incentives to producers. The rising cost of living is felt more by the elite and urban populations, and there may be some advantages in focussing more on the rural poor who, in any case, is the backbone of the APC administration. Social intervention policies may deliver on election promises, but poor design and faulty implementation as well as their potential for deepening partisan divides and political alienation and high costs of administration could seriously detract from their impact. Between now and the middle of next year, the political benefits of N-Power and cash handouts  may be difficult to quantify and translate into political capital. The billions spent on them, on the other hand could be re-assigned towards areas with greater multiplier effects and social support. Funding of government activities is still enslaved to a process that demands that every agency must be funded, even if all it does is to pay salaries. Within this year, government can undertake a comprehensive review of its size, commitments and resources, not in the manner of the so-called Oronsaye report that suggests that size can be reduced without respect for laws or social consequences, but in a manner that outlines a short and long-term restructuring that will produce an affordable government at the center, and state governments that do not exist only to pay salaries. Rehabilitation and expansion of critical infrastructure and adoption of policies that allow private sector access to managing roads, airports and seaports should be given priorities.

 5)   Address quality of management.
The nation will forgive President Buhari for making  wrong choices in appointment of Ministers and key aides, but it will not tolerate a continuation of a team that has created  near-universal consensus as performing well below one that should actualize his vision. It cannot be the easiest of jobs working under the imposing shadow of President Buhari, with little resources and institutions and processes of governance and bureaucracies that appear never to have known what happened in 2015, but a few have stood out, while many have  only created an image of poor decision-making and a reluctance to revisit mistakes around the president. Nothing much will change in terms of rediscovery of  the administration's mission, creating a stronger momentum  for greater impact, taking initiatives, setting new goals and achieving them or inspiring a lethargic bureaucracy to respond to the demands of improved service delivery under the current management team of the president. The quality of people involved in running state administrations is quite possibly one of the worst in the nation's history. There are very few change agents and champions in administrations that came to power promising change.

6)            Be political.
          This time next year, the APC will have a stronger opposition, much of it made up of people who laboured with President Buhari to create the APC. His party will require very strong muscles to limit the damage that will become evident as powerful and ambitious party men do what was done to the PDP in 2013 and 2014.President Buhari will be put under tremendous pressure to make his plans for 2019 known, and this will cause further turbulence within his party, whatever he decides. This is the time to comprehensively survey the terrain and begin to build, or rebuild platforms, alliances and new territories in hitherto hostile areas. The intimate linkages between partisan politics and  national security will be made prominent as politicians calculate what their assets are in the fight for control of the nation in 2019.The  president could slow down or head-off a crises involving massive depletions of powerful allies by engineering fresh concessions that gives them attractive incentives to stay close. He could also commence a delicate process of grooming and empowering a potential successor for the 2019 elections, in the event that he decides not to run.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pretentious nebulous verbosity?

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

     Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, the Friday back page columnist of the Daily Trust wrote a preview contribution under the title,'2017 Trend Analysis and the Contours of Inertia'. In an internet group we belong to, the respected law professor, Awwal Yadudu took up Jibrin on his projection that the Shia issue could represent the major security problem in 2017 and on the value of projections generally, concluding with a reference to the book by A. Stanislav, Social Science as Sorcery (1972), described by Wikipedia as an indictment  of "pretentious nebulous verbosity which is endemic in modern social sciences".

         Except  for the rude reminder represented by Donald Trump's victory to the effect that all received wisdom should be interrogated,Stanislav's book here is really anachronistic.Projections and trend analyses are widely-used and perfectly legitimate tools employed by all policy and decision makers in governance and the economy. Looking ahead is risky but rewarding if you get at least some of the projections right. The material below was what I published around this time last year, representing my understanding of key issues that the nation will deal with in 2016.I will leave you to judge,with the benefits of hindsight,if it represents pretentious nebulous verbosity.Before you do that please join me to pray for the soul of 

       Malam Sanusi Abubakar, an economist who soiled his boots in the best traditions of an activist. May Allah grant him Aljanna.
      Happy New Year.

2016: A watch list

          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.