Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sticks and stones

“It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid.” George Bernard Shaw.

In the space of two days, President Goodluck Jonathan and Sultan of Sokoto, Saad Abubakar III raised alarm over the damage which elders cause by the manner they comment on political issues. The President spoke during the Armed Forces Remembrance Day Church Service in Abuja. He regretted that people who are 70 or 80 years, who have seen it all and who ordinarily should know the unity of this country is more important than the interest of any individual “sometime preach hate and even encourage young people to carry arms and kill themselves.” As far as he is concerned, he says, “any ambition I have at any time is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. I will never ever expect any Nigerian to spill his blood because Goodluck Jonathan must fulfill his ambition.” The Sultan also cautioned politicians to watch their utterances as the 2015 elections approach during the 9th Zakat Distribution Ceremony organized by the Zakat and Sadaqat Foundation (ZSF) in Lagos.

How reassuring it will be if these words of caution will have real effect on developments in the nation. Hope is all simple folks will do because clearly, matters are not within their control. Two major centers of activity determine how the vast majority of the population is affected by political developments. One is what political leaders say and do. The other is the manner those who feel an obligation to enforce their designs and plans react. The leaders have huge stakes in a system which is precariously balanced between violence and persuasion. Our democratic system has created a tiny class of powerful and wealthy Nigerians who can determine whether poor Nigerians live, lose limbs or die in defence of their interests. Huge sections of the nation have been captured by fragments of these elites, each establishing a hegemony which equate personal or narrow ethno-religious issues with matters over which blood can be split, or lives lost. Every election
since 1999 has shown the potency of violence in determining the quality of our electoral process, and the nation, even as we speak, is bursting at the seams with para-military outfits and protected, organized thugs whose primary goals are to enforce the designs of elected people.

The tragedy is that the two leaders who have drawn attention to the danger of inciting violence, could, but have no capacities to limit the damage. The Sultan is revered in the nation, particularly by Muslims, but there will not be more than a handful of politicians, in or out of office, who will listen to him. As befits his status, he could advise President Jonathan to weight the implications of his candidature in 2015, but he is likely to get a polite reposte that it is not about Jonathan, but about the PDP and millions of Nigerians who may demand that he runs again in 2015. He could have a quiet word with Professor Ango Abdullahi of the Northern Elders Forum over his ear-splitting demands that a Northerner must be President in 2015. But he will be advised to prevail on Jonathan not to even think about running. He could caution the President and PDP chairman over the manner the party is disintegrating and its implications for the nation’s security
and unity. He is likely to be told that it will make more sense to warn the defecting governors to tone down their rhetorics against him, his administration and the PDP they have defected from.

The Sultan could have a word with his co-chair of the Nigerian Inter-Religions Council (NIREC), Pastor Ayo Oritsejiafor on the need for greater circumspection in his utterances, or more specifically, in the manner he uses his office in the Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) as the spiritual campaign arm of president Jonathan. The Pastor is likely to insist that he has the right and the duty to protect President Jonathan against perceived Northern or Muslim hostility. He will insist that Christians as a whole have retreated against Muslim onslaught beyond what is tolerable, and his office demands that he draws the line at each and every occasion. The Sultan could deepen his productive relationship with clergy such as Cardinal Onaiyekan, but that will only distance them from other clergy who will be responding to traditional demands that faith and political partisanship cannot be separated, and politics.

If the Sultan is hardly likely to make an impact in the fight against a political system that prepares the population as if it is going to face a real war, can President Jonathan do better? Well, he could start by appealing to Chief Clark to play the role of elder and caution rather than threaten. He is likely to be reminded that the Ijaw project cannot be compromised in the face of fear of Northerners who are used to having things their way. He will be reminded that his Presidency beyond 2015 is not an issue personal to him. In the face of the opposition being lined up unfairly against him, all is fair in the manner he and his presidency is defended. Or President Jonathan can appeal to Asari Dokubo and fellow-travellers whose idea of protecting their territory is to light a match anywhere they smell kerosene. He will be told that the enemy cannot be appeased or reasoned with; and if the nation has to go to war or break up because he has to be President
beyond 2015, so be it.

There are a few elders President Jonathan may wish he can influence, but they are beyond his reach. President Obasanjo now writes letters which have to be replied. His letters, including the latest one in which he says he will not leave the PDP but will hold his nose against the stench it celebrates in the South West, tend to place him beyond reasoning with. Then you have people like Senator Okurounmu who recently released a salvo of condemnations that include wards like ‘chicanery’, ‘mandatious’, ‘obsfucations’ at Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN) when the latter led the Igbo Leaders of Thought to condemn their own version of the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on National Conference. The Igbo Leaders of Thought themselves will join the league of temperature raisers in the manner they wholeheartedly condemned what they think is the possible outcome of the National Conference.

There is, of course, a way in which all this heat can be avoided. Leaders who have responsibility to avoid playing into hands of elders who want to put the nation on fire should be more responsible in the manner they conduct themselves. In a year when we should be celebrating a century, we ought to have marginalized the doomsday prophets and nay-sayers to the fringes. Alas, people who set standards now turn around to blame those who respond appropriately. There are young Nigerians who have never known a period when leaders and other groups are not routinely abused, insulted, stereotyped or demonized. These Nigerians have been badly let down by a nation which by any standard, could be better. More than anyone else, President Jonathan can do better than lamenting. He could lead with a firmer grip on his government and his circle.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Let us quarrel

 “The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people.” African Proverb.

You would have thought that the large volumes of reports, recommendations and annexes presented to President Jonathan by the Advisory Committee on the National Conference late last year will be the headache of the Presidency. Making sense of the babble which trailed the committee across the land could not have been easy to handle by a group of people ranging from the long-converted to the most cynical. The committee had already registered a number of casualties, from a member who attempted to thug-out a governor who said the wrong things, to the torpedo released by Prof Ben Nwabueze (SAN) when he demanded the right to write a draft constitution that should represent the focus of the Conference from his living room, even while the Advisory Committee he would have chaired was still working. The committee managed to put together a report from thousands of discordant views and submitted it to a president who has already set aside billions for the event. Most  members of the committee must have felt some relief that they had concluded a tough assignment which had sapped all their energies.
But the chairman of the Advisory Committee Senator Femi Okurounmu apparently has a lot of energy left. Certainly enough energy to take on Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN) and the entire Igbo Leaders of Thought over their comments on the report of the committee he had chaired. Not one to let a fight pass by, the Senator was offended by statements made by Nwabueze & co. “Hear-say”!, he thundered at some of the claims of the Igbo Leaders of Thought, asserting that the comments from Nwabueze’s compatriots were mischievous fabrications by people who want to raise the level of resistance against the conference. His language leaves no one in doubt over his anger. He almost sounds like one of President Jonathan’s spokesman defending the report against Nwabueze’s assaults; “... the chicanery of the critics must be exposed...”  Then again, “the Nwabueze-led group has clearly gone beyond the bounds of decency and decorum by fabricating a report purely from their own imagination and levelling such scathing criticisms against it with a view to discrediting the real report, which it was obvious they have not yet seen.” Then he rounded up with a few choice words for the criticisms. He said they are “wild, mendacious, obfuscatory and ill- intentioned.”
If they did not know already, foes will be reluctant to provoke this Senator with his arsenal of language henceforth. But what was the provocation responsible for such anger, even from a man not particularly known for his mild temperament? Let us see. First, he was the chairman of the Committee whose report he says Nwabueze and his fellow concerned elders are fictionalizing. Before you feel some sympathy for the chair, please recall that he was chair only because the Nwabueze whose chicanery he says should be exposed said he was too ill to take up the life-time opportunity. Indeed, some circles suggest that he recommended the name of Okurounmu as chair in his place. No matter. Nwabueze had tried to rain on Okurounmu’s parade earlier when he asked to be allowed to craft the end-product of a conference Okurounmu and colleagues were advising on. Then words began to filter out that his replacement on the committee, Barrister Asemota was becoming quite a handful, with a suspected stimulus from the aging Nwabueze. Some said he even wrote a minority report. President Jonathan recently said he had not. If Mr Asemota did write and submit a minority report, the President’s denial of its existence could be a major irritant that may explain this spat.
All these sins pale into insignificance, however, compared to the reported demand by the Igbo Leaders of Thought that the recommendations of the Conference should not be submitted to the National Assembly as they claimed they know Okunroumu’s committee had advised. They said they are aware that the Advisory Committee had recommended a constitutional Amendment rather than a wholesale replacement, and this unmentionable heresy is rejected in totality. 
Senator Okuruoumu said, who told you? Did you see the report? He knows they did not read the report because that was certainly not what his committee recommended. Since he will not say what his committee recommended either, we can safely assume that it did not recommend that the National Assembly should have the final say on the recommendations of the conference. It is also safe to assume that the committee has not recommended a constitutional amendment, whatever else it suggested should be done to, or about our 1999 constitution as amended. 
All this is terribly perplexing, and leaves simple folks with a load of questions, only one or two dealing with meaning of words like mendacious and obfuscatory. Why is Okurounmu so desperate to defend the conference? We know that he had served extended time in the national conference trenches, but are there traces of an ethnic falling-out over the new direction of the national conference adventure in this high brow quarrel? Has Nwabueze’s group virtually placed a stamp of Igbo rejection on the national conference on the basis of how they think or know it is being conceived? Will they go out on a limb with such specific denunciation of key areas if they have had no inkling of contents of the report? In these days when virtually every important document is guaranteed to be massively leaked, how can Okurounmu be sure there are no leaked copies? Or pirated copies?  Or versions of the report leaked to Nwabueze by a member or two who have grievances to settle? 
More to the point, where does all this leave the national conference initiative? Igbo Leaders of Thought think it will be a wasteful jamboree if it is not organized exactly the way Nwabueze has always thought it should. They will not stop President Jonathan from organizing it, but they can make sure that one or two distinguished grey hairs from Igboland are missing in the line up whenever it is convened. Seventeen opposition governors are also likely to spoil the game, and between them and the Igbo Leaders, they will deprive the conference of much legitimacy. Strong opinions against the conference have been registered in many parts of the North as well. Professional groups are unsure of the value of a government-organized parley that could  heat up the nation or produce waste  at great cost. You will have to search hard and long before you find much enthusiasm for the national conference in some remote geriatric circles, mostly in the South-West.
Still, President Jonathan will have his National Conference, even if only for the fact that Senator Okurounmu has submitted a report, and there is N7b set aside to be spent on it. To be fair, there are also one or two additional reasons. Ethnic and interest groups will send in representatives only because others will also do so; and no one wants their entire future negotiated away behind their backs. There will also be politicians who will use the National Conference to catch the attention of voters towards the 2015 elections. Finally, there wil be another opportunity to quarrel over the form, structure, utility and future of a nation which has clocked 100 years; only this time, it will all be paid for by a public which just wants things to work.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Northern front.

         “Do not try to fight a lion if you are not one yourself.” African proverb.

If any evidence is needed to prove that the fate of the PDP  and the outcome of the 2015 elections will be decided in the North, it will be found in the frenzy of activities in involving the Presidency and Northerners in the last two weeks. First, the leading Northerner in the administration, Vice President Namadi Sambo spent the Christmas break in intense consultations with the rump of PDP North, where massive bleeding is occurring. During a carefully – choreographed three days, delegates particularly from States where Governors have defected to the opposition APC were ushered-in to pay allegiance and reaffirm loyalties to the PDP. They read prepared communiqu├ęs affirming support for President Jonathan and his administration, and stated their intentions to stay with the party. While the Vice President was engaged with damage control in many parts of the North, the State Governor was involved in an intensive tour of the southern part Kaduna State, the area which, more than any in the entire nation, had given the PDP its most solid and loyal support since 1999. It also happens to be the most neglected by federal and the state governments, which explains why there is so much restiveness and discontent in the area.
Disgruntled PDP members chose that same moment when the Vice President was in town attempting to stem the tide, to defect in their hundreds. Most came from his own Local Government Area, and their leaders hinted that many more are on their way out. If the state governor had made any impact in his blistering tour of palaces, it will take time to show. The word around is that even before the demise of late Governor Yakowa, southern Kaduna communities had drawn the line with a PDP that routinely secured maximum support and failed to deliver even the most minimal reward for the community's loyalty. It will take a lot more than a few visits and token appointments to convince southern Kaduna people that their fate is irrevocably tied to the fate of the PDP.
The challenges the PDP faces in Kaduna is replicated in most parts of the North. Defecting PDP governors have proved that they control their state legislators and party machinery. They defected with the lock and stock of the PDP, leaving behind a bit of the barrel which is now being scrambled for by former lackeys or errand boys of defected governors or chieftains who had to keep their heads down in a system that gave governors everything. The PDP is feeling the heat in all parts of the North. In former ANPP states, its formerly emasculated condition is being made more uncomfortable by further defections triggered by a resurgent opposition, and the brighter prospects of electoral success. In states where its governors are still in place, PDP members have found a new way of reminding them that they have been neglected or ignored. Defections or threats of defections are now popular ways of annoying governors and Abuja. The PDP leadership tries to put a brave
face on all this, in most instances dismissing defections as fiction or, where it admits they occur, celebrating exists of defectors as a relief to the party.
Late last week, President Jonathan lent a hefty hand in stemming the damage when he hosted a large delegation from the North West PDP led by a Minister he had sacked, Dr Halliru Mohammed. Three governors (and a deputy who refused to defect with his governor in Sokoto) were in the delegation. With an eye to the North, President Jonathan used the occasion to launder the image of an administration which he admits is being seen as largely anti-North. Seemingly hurt by accusations that he does not want to develop the North, he made the case that he had established three new universities in the North and had initiated the almajirci education system. He is working on desert encroachment, developing agriculture and fighting insecurity in the North-East. So how can anyone accuse him of being anti-North?
Governor of Katsina State, Ibrahim Shema said the President should be believed. He told reporters after the meeting. “The President has told you he is not anti-North. From what he said, I believe him. You take a man by his words and he said he is not anti-North. So who are you to say he is anti-North?” If there had been a stage during the meeting when the media was not privy to the mutual back–patting, it is conceivable that one or two members of the delegation would have drawn attention to the massive challenges which the PDP faces in the North. They may also have drawn attention to the need to deploy fresh resources to stem the tide of losses. These resources will target reinforcing established sources of goodwill and influence in the region, increased spending profile to improve public perception and targeted resistance to the spreading influence of the APC. Northern PDP governers must be feeling like an endangered specie, and it is still not certain that one or two more will not defect, or have their entire army defect without them.
While the PDP battles to prevent a near total rout in the North, the party most likely to benefit from its travails, the APC, is also having to fight its own battles. What appears a God-sent opportunity in the self-inflicted fragmentation and meltdown of the PDP is giving the new, improve opposition a major headache. It is having to deal with potentially damaging quarrels in states where defected PDP governors have now become landlords in APC, and former legacy party chieftains, many with scars to show from bruising and lost battles with the PDP governors are being asked to yield grounds to them. The party’s mediation mechanism is slow and weak, and the problems get worse by the day. In states which do not suffer from the wholesale re-invention of the APC after the image of defected governors, jockeying for party places and clashing ambitions are challenging the party’s leadership to resolve  difficult local or deeply-rooted disputes.
The party is having to answer uncomfortable questions over its identity and vision with a huge influx of PDP defectors. It still has to conduct registration, establish structures and harmonise members from many party backgrounds into one. It will be challenged in the manner it handles ambitions of members, including many  who are newly-relocated just for the purpose. The party will worry over damage that may occur if former legacy chieftains are not appropriately accommodated in a new arrangement which subordinates them to former political foes. These chieftains in turn will have to make difficult choices between adapting to narrower space, or gambling with defections. If they do defect to the PDP, they are likely to be asked to join a long queue from the rear, along with their baggage of grievances. If they stay, they will first have to be stripped of all influences, so that former PDP governors will feel comfortable with them.
Much of the damage which the PDP suffers is coming from the North, and will be largely confined to the region. It ought to have written off the South-West as a no-go area. The East will pose a challenge, and the PDP will fight a three-way battle involving APGA and APC in the region. The South-South may ultimately be its only stronghold, but even here, it may suffer serious setbacks if the APC is able to puncture the shield erected around communities built with ethno-religious blocks. Without Lagos and most of the South West, the PDP will have to hunt for difficult game in a largely hostile North. This is the region with two-thirds of the voting population, and it is elementary knowledge that a Presidential candidate who loses Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Borno, Sokoto, Oyo and Anambra cannot win. Right now, none of these are in PDP’s hands.
Victory is by no means certain for the APC either, even with its wider spread and large voter population bases. Its chances will be radically improved if it devises strong mechanisms for resolving existing disputes, and establishing firm foundations for intra-party democracy. The North will be turned inside-out as many of its prominent leaders and politicians attempt to rally it around a solid anti-Jonathan position. This will be very difficult task, as the traditional faultlines in the plural nature of the North will be manipulated by pro-Jonathan forces as well. The entire North may be re-made by the manoeuvres towards 2015. Either the region will emerge more united because all its citizens have suffered equally under the PDP, and have voted substantially for one party, or it will be split by the most damaging strategies that will succeed in polarizing its communities along partisan, ethnic and religious lines. The North could gain a lot, or lose it all, depending on how it uses its strength as the decider in Nigerian elections.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

No, thank you, Mr President.

         “Do not put your hand into the lion's mouth just because he says he does not eat meat anymore.” Nigerian proverb.

There are still a few people in the nation who do not believe that it is true. They want to see further proof that President Jonathan plans to spend N2b (yes, two billion Naira only) in the north-eastern region  as the federal government’s contribution to rebuilding socio-economic infrastructure  devastated by the insurgency of Jamaatu Ahlil Sunnah Lid Daawati Wal Jihad (JASLIWAJ). Others who believe it because it is in the proposed 2014 spending plans are outraged. A few who did not expect even the N2b are not disappointed. They have long resigned themselves to the possibility that only State Governments and the international community will bother to put in place a major initiative needed to begin the reconstruction of a region on its knees. Whether the approved 2014 appropriation eventually sets aside N2b or N200b will depend largely on public pressure, the manner the National Assembly perceives its responsibility, and the degree to which President Jonathan feels the need to show requisite levels of political sensitivity. At any rate, this is not an issue that should be left to the discretion of the President, or be treated as a matter between the north east communities and the President. It is a matter of national importance, and it is central to success or otherwise of the fight against the insurgency.
It will serve no purpose to compare a planned spending of N2b in the north-east with budgetted  spending in other areas generally considered wasteful. Some commentators have drawn attention to plans to spend more than N4b to host the World Economic Forum, a gimmick that will add nothing to our national economy reflecting two distinct characters. One showcases an enclave economy where returns on investment  are very high, while the other is hostile to any investment of real value owing to unstable and insecure environment. The proposed 2014 spending plans include over N100b to be spent in the Niger Delta in spite  of the recent lamentation of the President that the Niger Delta Development Corporation  (NDDC) has not impacted on the lives of Niger Delta citizens in a manner that justifies the huge spending through it. It is possible that somewhere in a government office, there are records of the full amount spent on the amnesty programme started by late President Yar’Adua to date; the total funding of the Ministry for Niger Delta; the 13% derivation and the statutory allocations made to States in the Niger Delta in the last ten years. If those records exist, it is doubtful if anyone will be brave enough to publish them today.
The plan to spend N2b in the North East as counterpart fund by the federal government makes people ask awkward questions that are only remotely relevant. How many people have been educated and given skills and jobs for being self-confessed militants from the Niger Delta? How many phases of the Amnesty Programme have been implemented, and how many ex-militants are still knocking on doors for new phases? Where are the ex-militants who have been trained in Europe, Ghana, South Africa and other parts of the world? How many ex-militants are tying down multi-billion Naira contracts around oil and gas facilities? What would the Niger Delta look like today if the federal government had not invested so heavily in building basic infrastructure and the education and training of people who came forward to claim that they had taken up arms against the nation?
Parallels do not need to be drawn between the Niger Delta problem and the insurgency in the North to make the case that you have to invest in the community and the local economy to address the structural roots of both threats. In the case of the northern part of Nigeria, the case for massive investment in basic infrastructure and the economy is much more compelling. Niger Delta militants substantially targeted oil and gas assets and made huge money kidnapping expatriates. The nation invested heavily in giving them alternatives to a life of crime, and in giving communities greater access to resources from natural assets around and under them. The insurgency in the North locked out any fresh investment, local or foreign. It destroyed a lot of social infrastructure like schools, hospitals and markets. Transport and communication facilities have been badly damaged, abandoned or shut down. Basic economic activities like farming and fishing have suffered major setbacks. Government spending has been largely restricted to providing security. Traders have migrated to safer areas. Thousands of lives, including breadwinners, have been lost. Families have been dispersed. Children have not received education as they should. Rich and influential people who can move out of the zone did so in droves. Many young people moved out in search of menial jobs, and out of fear of becoming victims, conscripted by the insurgency or being picked up by the security forces on suspicion. The entire economy and social structure has to be rebuilt over the next few years, even as the battle to defeat the insurgency is sustained. If this is left to the States, it wont be done at all. 
State governments had, in the last few years, routinely dipped into shallow coffers to provide relief to bereaved families of citizens and security personnel. They repaired damaged homes, schools, hospitals, police stations, military facilities and prisons. They substantially funded security agencies, and paid for ancillary outfits which supported them. Governors rushed to divert funds that could have built schools and trained teachers towards providing relief and assistance to victims because they felt an obligation not to wait for federal government assistance. Perhaps they had hoped that one day, the federal government will tally all these expenditure and make efforts to share their burden. Or they may have acted instinctively, conscious of the fact that the insurgency is a home -grown disaster which needs local efforts and resources to deal with, at least before external help came. The federal government was never an external factor in the manner the JASLIWAS insurgency started, developed and is currently manifested. It has been involved in every stage, and the fight against this insurgency has been its own, with little input from the community. At a stage, in fact, much of the community felt that it was a double victim: not safe from federal security agencies, and helpless against the insurgency. It is inevitable that the years of fighting an enemy which uses the community as shield will leave many scars on that community. This enemy will either submit eventually, suffer final defeat or dig in for the long haul without making any restitution for damage. But the federal government cannot do that.
The nation will be reminded of the President’s pledge to provide support to victims when he received the Report of the Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North. Although some mischief was attempted around his refusal to use the word compensation to suggest that victims will be abandoned to their fates, most Nigerians understood that the President meant that communities, families and individuals who suffered one type of deprivation or the other as victims will receive some relief. Two weeks ago, the United States government urged the federal government to expedite action towards providing substantial economic relief to the region. The last North East Investment Forum drew attention to the need for States in the region to improve spending in agriculture, education and infrastructure, while urging the federal government to honour its pledge to contribute to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of economy and society in the region.
People who thought the federal government was taking its time since it received the Dialogue Committee Report to roll out a major economic initiative will be among those who will be disappointed by plans to spend N2b in the region. Many thought the federal government will create a Ministry for the region, akin to the Niger Delta Ministry. Others thought the federal and relevant state government will collaborate in an elaborate plan that should last the decade, to invest in social and economic infrastructure. Virtually everyone familiar with the genesis and development of the JASLIWAJ insurgency knows that its ultimate defeat will not be accomplished by a military option. The poverty which feeds dislocating social values and structures has to be comprehensively tackled by all governments, but particularly by the federal government. The longer non-military options such as the fight against poverty are delayed, the longer it will take to defeat this insurgency. It is difficult to imagine what N2b will accomplish under current circumstances.
The plan by President Jonathan to spend N2b in the North East, under whatever guise, should be rejected. Nigerians should raise their voices against this outrage, and if he insists on this level of funding, the nation should tell the President to keep his N2b.  Beyond this, since this issue is way beyond the personal whims of President Jonathan, Nigerians will expect the National Assembly and all other Nigerians with influence to work towards substantially increasing the planned spending by the federal and state governments from the region for the next 10 years. It is not unreasonable to ask that N200b is spent in the region most affected by the insurgency every year for the next five years; and this should be reviewed after an impact assessment for continuation. If President Jonathan will not accept to substantially review his planned spending in the North east, he should be told by all major stakeholders to keep his N2b, and leave the community at the mercy of poverty and the insurgency.