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Vigilance in Democratic Transition

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on April 4, 2015 at 9:10 PM Comments comments (0)


The 2015 Presidential Election has been concluded. Nigeria has a President-elect and Nigeria’s political history is richer on many counts. We have witnessed, for the first time, the electoral loss of a ruling party at presidential level. We also bear witness, for the second time, to the metamorphosis of once a military dictator into a democratically elected leader. The difference this time is that this President-elect was not recruited by his fellow dictators. Necessity prodded him to consistently recruit himself on the courage of his own conviction which fertilized severally through divergence of popular and civil political forces over three attempts until this latest one, the fourth, and the successful.

 

Barring any dangerous turns (I still have a June 12 hangover), Nigeria appears set for a seamless transfer of power after 16 years of political domination by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The media – print, electronic, social and, indeed, the entire blogosphere is awash with open letters and various forms of unsolicited counsel for the President-elect and the in-coming order. Here, I offer some discretionary and admittedly selective and random reflections as we anticipate an uncommon democratic transition.

 

There are as many opinions as there are opinion holders on why an incumbent government would lose an election in Nigeria. The simple reason however is that the people are boss over their political leaders. Ideally, the leaders serve at the pleasure of the people, the electorate. But it is hardly that simple. Even in advanced democracies that proposition stands at the cost of eternal vigilance. Where an electoral outcome truly reflects the will of the people, it does not lie on anybody or institutions to question the decision of the people let alone make a value judgement regarding such a decision. Because democracy is based on the supremacy of the people’s will, it is left for the people to reverse themselves as they please within the democratic framework. Nigerians have simply done that this past week.

 

But beyond theorization, in reality one can place fingers on a number of issues that appear to have pushed the ruling PDP out of power. Boko Haram, a pathological culture of impunity, intraparty fighting, alleged abuse or partisan co-potation of the armed forces into the electoral process among others collectively contributed to the rupturing of PDP. Add to those, civic vigilance and distaste; heightened popular frustration and loss of confidence in the government. A people’s bond with the government is akin to the dynamics of inter-personal relationship. Most normal relationships start on a clean note with either party determined to give the other the benefit of the doubt. Nigerians did so for President Jonathan in the 2011 elections. Over times, patterns emerged that would erode rather than consolidate confidence in Nigerians’ relationship with the President and his party. The people’s pact with the President did not endure because confidence eroded. Buhari and APC should take this lesson to heart.

 

Not many disagree that, at a personal level, the President comes across as a level-headed gentleman. But much more is required of leadership. Paucity of decisiveness, failure to step on toes and lack of resolve to rise above the mediocre culture of Nigeria’s political leadership were the President’s albatross. Boko Haram’s consistent taunting of the government’s resolve or lack of it, which climaxed in the group’s symbolically provocative mockery of the nation in the kidnapping of the Chibok girls added a terminal dimension to the Jonathan Presidency as it exposed its weak underbelly to the rest of the world.

 

Perhaps the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the pattern of electioneering that the ruling party ran at the federal level. From fund-raising, recruitment of arrow-heads of the campaigns to the dangerous deployment of sacred and not-so-sacred institutions such as the military, traditional rulers, militants, the religious establishment, it was very clear that the ruling party was not interested in issue-based electioneering but was determined to engrave the perception of its complicity in sleaze and graft further into the minds of the electorate. And it did not take long before it injected toxic fumes across the country, demonizing opponents with all manners of documentaries of red herring. Rather than issues, ad homimen and myopia reigned supreme. In the rank of the campaign were those who vowed publicly that Buhari will not rule Nigeria again; those who called him brain dead; religious bigot; who alleged that he had no requisite academic qualification; that he signed to do only one term; that he had questions to answer over his role in the civil war; that he would die in office; and all manners of inflammatory incitements. Add to those, orchestrated objections to electoral integrity and media blackmail of INEC and its Chairperson, which climaxed in the dramatic and shameful tantrum of a PDP leader in Abuja during the presidential election collation exercise. These forms of desperations conceivably backfired as they nauseated and alienated many.

 

From among the rank of those who hijacked President Jonathan’s campaign; who turned it toxic and inflammatory quickly came first rapprochements to the President-elect! Now, those mindless arrow-heads want the world to believe that they meant well and no harm. Yes, indeed. The lesson here for all Nigerians is that like all Presidents (out-going and in-coming) politicians are fleeting actors on the political stage. The polity and the commonwealth will endure beyond them. Like mayflowers, they bloom at the height of their fair-weather; and the electorate should not fall for their magical appearance and dramatic grandstanding. Only the country and no politician is worth dying for. This moral is as important to “bloody civilians” as it is to the members of the military who have committed to lay their lives down for our liberty. Theirs is the noblest of all callings and they should not lend themselves to the services of fleeting political travelers who do not even believe the sound of their own voices. It is instructive that Olusegun Obasanjo’s congratulatory letter to the President-elect identifies the military as one of the many national institutions that have been harmed politically. Recent triumph against Boko Haram reflects that Nigeria’s military can rise up to its constitutional calling if it is not distracted or if it refuses to lend itself to distraction. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Nigeria and its sacred institutions; civil society organizations and all stakeholders must continue this ongoing partnership in constitutional democratic transition. To the President and the President-elect, a toast to Nigeria’s resilience! But it is not over until it is over. Let there be no re-invention of June 12 in any guise!

 


This op-ed appeared in Sahara Reporters newspaper of Friday April 3, 2015 under the title: Vigilance in Democratic Transition. 


Withdraw this ministerial nomination, Mr. President

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on March 12, 2015 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Recently, Canada recorded a conviction under its extant Elections Act. In that case, which is now under appeal, Michael Sona, a Conservative Party campaign employee got a nine-month jail sentence and a year on probation as a result of his role in the so-called “robocalls” incidents. The “robocalls” refer to automated calls that targeted opposition party supporters and falsely advised them, on Election Day, of a change in their designated polling centres. The objective was to frustrate and, conceivably, disenfranchise citizens who would have voted for rival parties. The judgment text and newspaper reports of this landmark decision demonstrate the judge’s stern view of Sona’s conduct. He called the “robocalls” scheme an “ill-conceived and disturbing plan” and a “callous and blatant disregard for the right of people to vote”. No member of the Parliament or any other serving politician has been cited, directed or indirectly, in the “robocall” affair. In fact, before any politician could be linked to such an affair, it is the custom in the Canadian clime that they will be the first to resign, and submit themselves to the legal consequences of their misconduct.

 

But consider the “Ekitigate” whereof an alleged audio record of political conspiracy that plausibly influenced the outcome of the governorship election in Ekiti State has surfaced. The “Ekitigate” is associated with leading members of the ruling party, including cabinet ministers of the Federal Government. So far, responses from a majority of the individuals cited have been quite jerky. Initial denials of the audio recording and lame attempts at disputation of the authenticity of the voices of dramatis personae have given way to incoherent narratives over the context and motive of the meeting at the Spotless Hotel, Ado-Ekiti venue of the alleged recorded exchanges.

 

The President’s response has been typical. The suggestion was that the audio record was fabricated for political motives. Not surprisingly, there is no appetite to conduct an investigation on the part of the Presidency, not even to clear the President whose errand, one of the actors claimed to be running in the alleged election rigging controversy. It is convenient for the government to claim that the whistle-blower is required to substantiate his allegations; notwithstanding that he is now on a self-imposed exile. But the authorities expediently forget that they can also provide the whistle-blower assurance of security and personal safety. In his interview with “Sahara TV”, the whistle-blower claimed that he fled the country out of fear for his life. In the same interview, he claimed that his younger brother has been victimised by the military whose personnel were also alleged to be part of the “Ekitigate.”

 

Time and again, when the President has the opportunity to address the issue of corruption in Nigeria even as a mere discussion point, he is wont to trivialise it. From the President’s worldview, it is either that small theft is not corruption or that the issue of corruption is blown out of proportion by the media. I am still imagining what quantum of corruption would be satisfactory for the President to appreciate that corruption is an albatross in the country he is presiding over. And it is hardly surprising that the impunity label has stuck with this Presidency like a stamp. While the President is inclined to make a political capital of his modest and humble background in one step, in another, he progressively remains disconnected with the reality and feelings of the Nigerian people.

 

The President has recently nominated Musiliu Obanikoro, an erstwhile minister and a pivotal party cited in the “Ekititgate” shenanigan. Obanikoro vacated his ministerial position for a shot at his party’s nomination for the governorship ticket for Lagos State, which he lost. Calling him back to the cabinet was at attempt to soothe the political bruises of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in Lagos State arising from Obanikoro’s defeat in the party primaries. He has since withdrawn his threat of court action against his party over the primaries. Elsewhere, this form of kiss-and-make-up attracts serious sanction. In Ontario, the Premier’s (Nigerian equivalent of a state governor) deputy chief of staff is currently accused of inducing a former nominee of the ruling provincial liberal party in a recent by-election to get him to step aside from running for the election. The Premier’s senior staff was allegedly caught on tape suggesting that the Premier was disposed to assist the non-preferred candidate to find a job. The allegation is already a subject of investigation by both the Provincial Police and Elections Canada. In Nigeria, the Ontario’s situation would be preposterous. Mindful of context and political culture, I am not suggesting a political transposition. But in relation to Nigeria, the Ontario scenario paints a portrait of sharp contrast.

 

Admittedly, the President nominated Obanikoro before the “Ekitigate” came into the open. For all intents and purposes, the “Ekitigate” is now a distraction requiring the ruling party, the Presidency and all parties cited to clear the air on the matter that refuses to go away. The most sensitive thing for the President to do is to withdraw the nomination since Obanikoro has not honourably declined the nomination himself. Without staking hope on the senators’ ability to follow through, so far, the Senate has twice failed to allow the ministerial nominee – himself a former senator – the privilege of the usual “bow-and-go”confirmation ritual. Opposition party senators have frowned over Obanikoro’s nomination in view of the “Ekitigate”. Yet, it does not seem the Presidency is getting the message.

 

By the way, how many months would Obanikoro serve as a minister before the elections and inauguration of a new government on May 29, 2015? Why would this President continue to take Nigerians for granted? Why would he continue to even alienate a segment of Nigerian constituency, especially those outside the partisan political fray, who might yet be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt? When will this Presidency perceive a political opportunity and seize it, even one that could not cost it anything? Why choose impunity over integrity? President Goodluck Jonathan should withdraw the Obanikoro nomination and, for once, show respect for the Nigerian people. It is too late already, but better late than never.

This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Monday March 9, 2015 under the title: Withdraw this ministerial nomination, Mr. President.

Poll postponement: Nigeria in the eye of storm

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on February 13, 2015 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (0)


It is really true. A day in politics can make a thousand years’ difference. The idea of postponing Nigeria’s 2015 general election originally scheduled for February 14 and 28 was easily dismissible as a dangerous rumour from a fifth columnist. But everything changed following the meeting of the National Council of State on Friday, February 6. Politicians’ inability to give uniform account of what transpired at the meeting was a first sign that all was not well. Various media reports provided some nuanced partisan spins. But the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega’s late broadcast of Saturday, February 7 helped to lay any lingering confusion to rest. That broadcast was quite commendable as it doused any haunting doubts as to the intrigues that undergirded the election postponement.

 

While there may be cogent and credible reasons to ground a case for election postponement, the context and consequence of such a decision give strong causes for apprehension.

 

First, INEC should not be fully exculpated for playing into the hands of forces that wanted election postponement for ulterior motives. For one simple reason: INEC’s poor handling of the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards. A week before the elections under the original timetable, the commission was only able to deliver 68 per cent of the PVCs to eligible voters. But it was instructive that Jega insisted that INEC was far more prepared going into the elections under the annulled (that dirty word again!) timetable than it was when it conducted the elections of 2011. In short, for INEC, the hiccups regarding the PVCs were not enough reason to warrant the postponement of the elections. As far as the commission was concerned, to the extent of its capability, it was determined to proceed with the elections under the original schedule. However, security issues are outside its control. By the way, no one has mentioned the costs of election postponement at a time of dire national economic pressure.

 

Second, Nigeria is in an unconventional war situation or, if you like, a serious security crisis. And beyond security crisis, we have yet to attain a position where our elections can be truly a civil process in operation, character and content. Sadly, the nation’s armed and security forces are integral part of our electoral apparatus. That is why they are highly courted by politicians during the elections. The nation’s topmost security agencies, which are part of the apparatchik of the government in power, have advised that they cannot guarantee the security of the elections; including those of citizens and personnel of the electoral body were the elections to go ahead under the original schedule.

 

The security priority of the nation, according to them, is focused on the crisis in the North-East. Decode: We did not defeat Boko Haram these five or so years; we think that we can defeat them in the next six weeks! But how does that sit with the rest of Nigerians, most of whom had construed the next elections as partly a referendum on the ruling government’s handling of the so-called insurgency in the North-East? Many would wonder whose interests are best served by the postponed elections.

 

Third, apart from the Boko Haram-anchored shenanigans or fallacy, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of toying with the electoral timetable at the most critical hour is its constitutional ramifications. As it stands, INEC has been able to succumb to the pressure to defer the elections within a very tight window of constitutional accommodation and pursuant to its enabling law. But then, there is quite a tiny vent for further elasticity without real danger of constitutional crisis. The tenure of the President and other actors in the extant electoral process would expire on May 29, 2015. In the event that the presidential election turns out to be inconclusive for some constitutional or other unpredictable reasons, then one wonders whether we have not by this new revised electoral calendar laid the foundations for a constitutional crisis that could undermine our fledgling democracy. It is shocking, to say the least, that after Nigeria’s nasty experience 22 years ago when Ibrahim Babangida annulled the fairest elections in Nigeria’s history that we would be in a position that smells close to history repeating itself. This time round, we cannot pretend that history does not teach us anything!

 

There would have been little reason to worry if the elections were postponed pursuant to consensus amongst all stakeholders. Such would have been more so the case if there was unequivocal confidence regarding the non-partisanship in truth and in appearance of key agencies in favour of the postponement of the elections. But there is crisis of confidence in the ruling party and agencies of government that have pressed for the postponement of the elections. The onus is therefore on them to restore the confidence of the citizenry. Anything short of that would expose the country to avoidable stress. The opposition and all stakeholders should ensure that there is calm among their supporters. It is an opportunity for all, including of course, INEC, to go back to the drawing board and collectively work towards the best possible elections that Nigeria could deliver. They should mobilise Nigerians to civic vigilantism. We need a huge voter turnout to elect new governments at national and sub-national levels. The legitimacy of the ruling party or the opposition, whichever wins and, of course, the credibility of the electoral process are enhanced by a resounding mandate. One month begets another; as does February, March. We should not be like the tortoise whose patience ran out only a few minutes to its rescue after it had been holed in for decades. That would not be a path of wisdom and patriotism.

 

As for the security agencies, we hope that they would appreciate the enormity of the responsibility they have taken on. The high expectation of Nigerians and, indeed the world, are on them. In all of this, theirs is a far higher burden. They can only discharge that burden by remaining non-partisan and resisting all attempts by politicians to drag them into the fray. That is the only way they can restore the confidence of Nigerians. If there is any excitement in these uncertain times, it is the security agencies’ indirect promise to restore order in Nigeria’s troubled North-East. In that case, six weeks of postponed elections would be a worthwhile price. Perhaps by then, the Chibok girls can get home, get their PVCs and go to the polls! A win-win. Fingers crossed.

 

This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Monday February 9, 2015 under the title: Poll postponement: Nigeria in the eye of storm


2015: Failure foretold or success unforeseen?

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on January 18, 2015 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (0)

As was the case in 1993, “Nigeria is on the march again” for a-make-or-break general election. And the Independent National Electoral Commission, the institution constitutionally saddled with conducting Nigeria’s elections is at the centre of that march. Would the elections be another charade or would this time be different? Would there be stalemated or conclusive, fair and free elections? Would actual winners be the official winners? The answers are blowing in the wind, and would soon birth on the ground of reality; very soon that is.

 

This time round, as in the fairly recent past, funding has not been a problem with INEC. As far as I know, INEC has not complained of funding. Virtually all its budgetary demands have been met. It has limited wiggle room of excuse for failure. But I also know that it does not have a monopoly of control over all that are required for it to succeed in its constitutional assignment. After all, INEC does not have control over the behaviours of the political class, the electorate and the armed forces, especially the military and the police, the judiciary and other stakeholders that have been habitually complicit in our dismal electoral process. Neither does it have control over the country’s festering insecurity crisis that is clearly an existential danger to the forthcoming elections and to Nigeria’s corporate being. Therefore, I am self-advised in regard to the issues beyond INEC’s control.

 

But I must add that as an institution, INEC’s judgment and pragmatism would be tasked in all those matters whereof any of the cited stakeholders attempt to derail the discharge of its constitutional mandate. INEC needs a rapid response strategy, a highly lawyerly crisis management, observation and emergency centre as it goes through the elections in a month’s time. But is INEC ready? How prepared for the challenges is INEC, and what is the evidence on the ground? I am afraid and sceptical given that INEC has been hardly proactive or pre-emptive. It has already lost the chance to lobby the National Assembly for some contingency laws on the peculiar and potential realities of the 2015 elections, especially from security perspectives. It could be argued that any such move would be politicised and delicate; for no less a reason than its constitutional ramifications. And so what; after all, politicians constitute the National Assembly and their decisions are inherently political.

 

Now, INEC has the misfortune of not trying and it is left to manage the consequences of its lack of foresight.

 

But on matters familiar, has INEC acquitted itself well? The process of production and distribution of the so-called Permanent Voter Cards has left much to be desired. Apart from the high percentage of those who have yet to get their cards –which is a sad commentary on voter education and mobilisation – reports indicate that there are now “temporary permanent” voter cards. Hmmm. Elsewhere, people are advised that “the Youth Corps member” who registered them is no longer available and, as such, the affected electorate are not able to collect their PVCs. Some have been told that they needed to “buy fuel” for the generator required “to power the system” in order to get their cards. Others have been advised to bring their laptops as part of the process. A prominent political party has been cited with complicity related to the cloning of the so-called PVCs. Hoodlums– those mutating and familiar creatures ever present in Nigeria’s electoral lexicon–are reported to have snatched the PVCs in some parts of the country. By February 14, would INEC be able to tell Nigerians that all willing and eligible electorate would have secured their authentic PVCs and are guaranteed to put the cards to legitimate use?

 

Or, would it be a re-enactment of the all-too-familiar frustrations for the electorate all over again? If the past is the teacher of the future, what has INEC done to ensure some electorate would not be told that their PVCs are faked; or that “the system” could not read or identify their PVCs? Have there been test-runs to demonstrate the operations of “the system”or modalities for the 2015 elections? Did INEC solicit feedback from stakeholders from such trials? What about the refrain of electoral officials and materials not arriving on time? Are we likely to be saddled with such frustrations again? Ours is one of the few places in the world where everything stands still, including freedom of movement, on the day of election, yet every election is an exercise in the making of logistics nightmare. How about “snatching of electoral materials by hoodlums”? This time round, such materials include computers, electrical charging complements and other ballot paraphernalia. Does INEC have the right tech support for tracing such equipment or sabotaging their illegitimate use? Is INEC ready for hackers who could potentially try to sabotage the elections?

 

Is INEC able to support citizen vigilantism through the use of information technology, especially smartphones, iPads, cameras and other devices to capture criminal behaviours or would it align with the police, politicians and hoodlums to assault or even torture potential partners in credible elections? What plan does INEC have for those untouchable politicians who will certainly exercise lien over multiple PVCs demanding to dictate how their hungry “owners” would vote? What has INEC done for the 2015 elections that it did not do in the past to address these recurring challenges? How tech-savvy are INEC officials and foot soldiers, what quality of training have they received? Are Nigerians to be held up at voting centres by those who punch one key per minute on the board? That is even when the county has a teeming technologically competent youth population that could be used to showcase efficient and effective electoral services delivery on the day of the election as well as for sustainable electoral institutional capacity building. Would INEC be willing to encourage citizen partnership in accountability and defence of their votes during the post-election collations of votes or would such citizens be “whisked away” by overzealous rented security agents doing the bidding of politicians?

 

In between elections, INEC has the opportunity for institutional development and capacity building. Election days present direct test of how best the electoral body has evolved, and how efficiently it has been able to channel its resources. For the 2015 elections, the challenges are multi-faceted. Many of the challenges are beyond the legitimate domain of INEC. Yet, it would certainly be faced with unprecedented contexts for pragmatic interventions and contingent decision-making. It must be ahead of politicians; especially those who obtain dubious injunctions at night to truncate the will of the people. That may perhaps be the hardest part. But no less important, is INEC’s ability to rein in its workers, foot soldiers and top officials in order to avoid the familiar trajectories of Nigeria’s shameful electoral experience. Signals so far show INEC walking a faint borderline of failure foretold and success unforeseen. Goodluck Nigeria! No pun intended.

 

This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Thursday January 15, 2015 under the title: 2015: Failure foretold or success unforeseen?

My Watch and Obasanjo Exceptionalism

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on January 4, 2015 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (0)


Olusegun Obasanjo is one of the most influential Nigerians alive or dead. As a soldier, a dictator, a national leader and a permanent actor in our political process, Obasanjo is an important part of Nigeria’s post-independence historical trajectory. His role through it all has been quite dramatic, often akin to a fiction more than reality. Within his constituency of sycophants, he was once touted as the “founder” of modern Nigeria, especially during the orchestrated campaign for his self-succession in 2007. But let the truth be said, irrespective where we locate the generis of “modern Nigeria”, Obasanjo has been a crucial actor in shaping Nigeria’s fortune or misfortune. If modern Nigeria as it stands today is an enviable polity, Obasanjo has a legitimate entitlement to the credit. If it is not; he sure has a good measure of ownership for the rot. And it is not.


The recent release of Obasanjo’s political memoirs and the ongoing controversy it has generated provokes some reflection on Obasanjo, the man. The more one tries to grapple with him, the less one comprehends. His account of his exploits during the Nigerian civil war in My Command (1981) generated a lot of controversies that have since given rise to counter narratives. Similar responses may come in the wake of My Watch. His early contemporaries and later day associates have dissimilar accounts of his enigmatic status. Most agree on his shrewdness and craftiness through which he managed dramatic political circumstances of his career. Some call him brave, other call him cunning and cowardly, leaving critical observers to make up their mind.


Whatever he is called, no one can deny that Obasanjo does not shy away from controversy. He actually hugs it whenever it can be found. He is also not afraid of his critics, unless those he deliberately chose to ignore for strategic reasons. Fela was one of them. The same appears to be the case with the respected cleric, Tunde Bakare. Obasanjo, it was who recommended a juju approach to ending the apartheid system in South Africa. And it was not a joke; he gave the theory some opening for intellectual traction. That is Obasanjo, the African traditionalist, with the courage of his own conviction.


After successfully handing over power to President Shehu Shagari in 1979, Obasanjo, the dictator became Obasanjo the international statesman. His voluntary relinquishing of power as a military dictator to a democratic order seduced the world. As a good opportunist, Obasanjo capitalized on that goodwill, and worked hard to embellish and polish his image. He became a sought-after international statesman and troubleshooter across Africa and the globe. He still is. The highpoint of his profile as an international statesman was his desire to become the Secretary General of the United Nations. The prospect of Obasanjo being world’s number one diplomat had many holding their breath. For a guy with undisguised hatred for the media and a known short fuse, the stakes could not be higher. Fate, however, could not send Obasanjo to New York. It is hard to conjecture what could have been.


But Obasanjo remained engaged in Nigeria’s political life, from Shagari’s presidency to Buhari-Idiagbon and Babangida dictatorships. He was one to scold Babangida with the famous remark that SAP must have a human face. He always had direct access and influence within the corridors of power. His running with Abacha made him the guest of the hangman. In part, that experience transformed Obasanjo into a philosopher and theologian of sorts, as glimpsed from his treatise, This Animal Called Man (1998). But like the biblical Joseph, Obasanjo left the prison for the palace in 1999 this time as Nigeria’s democratically elected president. Some argue that the electorate did not have much to do with that transition. They merely stamped a fait accompli plotted by Obasanjo’s retired military comrades: Abdulsalam Abubakar, Ibrahim Babangida, Theophilus Danjuma and others.


Obasanjo’s second coming was an unprecedented development. When the agitation for revalidation of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election won by MKO Abiola needed a boost, Obasanjo added a chill. He told us that Abiola was not the messiah we needed. Yet Obasanjo became the greatest beneficiary of Nigeria’s democratic struggle as symbolized in Abiola’s selfless sacrifice. Instead of making June 12 our democracy day, he chose May 29, the day he ascended into power and preferred to not recognize Abiola’s legacy. The exceptionally lucky Obasanjo spent the maximum of his democratic mandate: two terms of eight years allowed under the constitution. Within that period, he restructured Nigeria’s politically addicted military. He presided over the selling off or transfers of Nigeria’s huge pubic assets under the corruption-ridden privatization process. Despite huge funds dedicated to the power sector, the country remained in the dark. Impunity reigned supreme, as an elected governor of Anambra state was kidnaped by Obasanjo acolytes, those Achebe called renegades. Obasanjo signed off on the military decimation of Oddi community in Bayelsa State. Sharia law was introduced in different parts of the country but Obasanjo ignored the option of a constitutional challenge, a development that has since partly emboldened Islamic fundamentalism in the country. Nigeria lost a chunk of its territory to Cameroon when it could have eschewed subjecting itself to the international court of justice. Election and electioneering were declared do-or-die affairs. Executive legislative relationship was toxic. The presidency was a theatre of in-fighting between Obasanjo and Abubakar his Vice President. Then, the campaign for Obasanjo’s third term preoccupied the business of governance. After its abortion, the whole drama culminated in a hurried recruitment of Umaru Ya’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, an unlikely pair onto the presidency.


Obasanjo would have us all believe that he could be exonerated from the current state of affairs in Nigeria. That is exceptionalism! Like two different individuals with radically different backgrounds, clearly Obasanjo and Jonathan have run two different presidencies. But given Obasanjo’s role in the making of the Jonathan presidency, his membership of the ruling party, he could have vicarious exposure for the failure or success of the Jonathan administration. Deflating some of the low ends of his presidency, even known disagreements within his immediate family into his relationship with the current presidency is suspect, if not disingenuous. Certain things are left for self-vindication or inevitable vilification as the case may be. The truth cannot be caged as it needs no management.


Obasanjo is in deed and in truth the personification of Nigeria in its inherent contradictions. His patriotism and sacrifice for this country is hardly in doubt. Those who have worked under him know how passionate he is about Nigeria. He is a very hardworking man, one open-minded to recruit talented Nigerians to national service. Not many can keep pace with his work ethic. But yet he launched his presidential library while he was a sitting president and ignored the ethical imperative. He gave the anti-corruption drive a boost. Neither Yar’Adua nor Jonathan presidencies since came close to Obasanjo’s record on that front; notwithstanding that he was accused of using his government’s anti-corruption agency to harass his political opponents.


Like most mortals, Obasanjo is self-evidently a deeply flawed man in many vulnerable departments as can be glimpsed from Oluremi Obasanjo’s Bitter-sweet (2008). He was a polygamist before he was monogamist. He is a high chief, the Balogun of Owu, and he is a born-again Christian, a Methodist, wedded to a Catholic. He is a loving father, with both devout and errant offspring -- biologically and politically; a military man who rose through the ranks but developed and pursued unquenchable intellectual thirst. But he has little, if any commitment to democracy. He does not have strong political followership or constituency, yet he had always secured the ultimate political prize.


Obasanjo’s inclination to pass judgment on his friends and foes in My Watch is an attempt at self-absolution, an extension of the Obasanjo exceptionalism. But he does not have the final say. History does. Like all leaders, Obasanjo will not escape the verdict of history. Through his writings, he has ensured that his voice would not be missing when history scrutinizes him, despite his inclination toward exceptionalism. I salute Obasanjo’s courage for enriching Nigeria’s political history with My Watch.


This article appeared in the Sahara Reporters publication of December 23, 2014.  It is also carried by the Punch newspaper of Wednesday December 30, 2014.

Intellectual Property: Leveraging on Diaspora Exchange (I)

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on December 28, 2014 at 1:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Depending on where one locates its advent, contemporary globalization is now, certainly, more than half a century. It requires asking whether globalization has been beneficial to Africa. One quick and easy way of addressing this often asked question is to cursorily look at the regional dynamics of over half century of globalization. Not many disagree that East Asia, South East Asia and South American regions have taken a quantum leap. China, India and Brazil have indisputably emerged regional economic and global powers. Despite prevalent poverty and inequity in these continental and sub continental countries, there is demonstrable evidence that they have been and are on the match. And the world has taken notice. Today, these countries are accorded the recognition and respect they deserve as they continue to wield influence and to shape the global economic and power dynamics.

 

But the African picture has not been as exciting. Through globalization's trajectories Africa is still the continent with the highest concentration of least developed countries. It is still home to the most vulnerable in direst need of the basic means of human survival. It is perhaps the most vulnerable region to global climate crisis as it is the least prepared for the challenge. On a global scale, human development indicators in Africa still remain the worst. If any claim can be fairly made of globalization in regard to Africa, it is this: Globalization has not changed the status quo about Africa. Nonetheless, there are visible signs of change in contemporary Africa.

 

In the last couple of decades, there is a "big buzz" about Africa. This is as the US, Europe and most of the developed world's economies fumble and contract. The downward economic trends in Europe and the US are results both of systemic failures as well a consequence of involuntary, even if inevitable, structural calibrations to accommodate the continuing shift in the global economic status quo instigated by the emerging powers. At the same time, the red-hot growths of the new emerging economies have begun to show signs of cooling down or stabilizing; Africa's regional economies are surging. Compared to other regions, Africa successfully weathered the global financial crisis of 2008-2010, for reasons outside the present discussion. Today, African countries constitute 50-70% of the fastest growing economies in the world. The specific national have grown at a rate of double or close to double digits. As far-fetched as it sounds, it is projected that at the current growth rate, by 2050 Africa's economy will surpass that of the United States and Europe combined. But like all projection, a little unforeseen game changer can result in a dangerous turn. For example, not many policy makers and economic pundits saw the current global oil glut.

 

Meanwhile, Africa has become the destination of choice for foreign direct investments (FDIs). Africa's traditional partners in the West (Europe and the United States) are fast being displaced by China, India and Brazil. The three are pushing and digging into Africa not only to satisfy their appetite for energy and natural resources, but also to leverage their political influence in a fast changing world order.

 

These contemporary transformation in the global economy in which Africa is strategically implicated unravels the catalytic role of two major technological revolutions. They are the digital and bio- technology innovations. From rural and mobile telephony to diverse computing applications and the wonders of the Internet, digital technologies have changed the global landscape and have left nothing untouched. From resource extraction, harnessing of genetic resources for food, agriculture and medicine, to various creative repertoire in music, movie, choreography, and resourceful deployment of the cyberspace to energize the social media, personal cum communal exchanges and democratic participation, nothing has escaped the innovative potential of the digital overhang. From research in medicine, to agriculture, food production and processing, and various aspects of life sciences, the marriage of digital technologies and biotechnologies continues to transform our society.

 

The two technologies of transformation and global transition to the knowledge economy are essentially proprietary. Consequently, current African economic activism and attractiveness is consolidated through the pivotal role of intellectual properties rights. It is hardly surprising that intellectual property rights have expanded exponentially since the mid-1990s in order to optimize benefits and control for innovators. Africa is both a consumer and is fast transitioning into a producer of new technologies and innovation. Africa hosts the Silicon Savannah. Africa is the birthplace of Nollywood.

 

Like most African countries, Nigeria had embarked on critical transformations in virtually all sectors of its economy since the return of democracy in 1999. The corruption-ridden privatization regime of the early 2000s has swept through the telecommunications, power, ports, banking, petroleum, agriculture and the broadcast industries to name the few. All of these involve the opening up of the market for FDIs and competition. Because technology is the driver of the new ways of doing things, the ability of countries to optimize their interests in the new environment depends, in part, on how they leverage on intellectual property rights and technology transfer in the pursuit of their peculiar development objectives. If a country is not well equipped in the intellectual property and knowledge governance front, it is less likely to optimize opportunities on the critical issue of technology transfer and capacity building. Without strong capacity in intellectual property and overall knowledge governance, the present buzz about Africa may be one in which Africa yet again receives a short end of the stick even in the new framework of South-South partnerships.

 

… (to be continued)

This article appeared in Nigeria World newspaper of Sunday December 21, 2014. 

Aminu Tambuwal: Whose Presidential Race?

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on November 20, 2014 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)

If the faint signals of the present forebode anything about the 2015 presidential election, it is that we should be worried about INEC’s preparedness to deliver credible polls nationwide. The crisis over permanent voters card is my first exhibit for this contention.

 

 

In addition, the security situation in parts of the country continues to deteriorate and presents increased cause for worry as well. Under these not-so-cheerful scenarios, the prospects of an electoral crisis in Nigeria may further push our politicians to unprecedented levels of desperation, including undue exposure of the judiciary.

 

Already, Fayose’s stomach infrastructure model is fast assuming the status of received wisdom in leading political parties. Bayelsa’s expired rice comes to mind. But perhaps more troubling is the tendency for politicians to drag their electoral woes to the courts in a process that has been characterized as the politicization of the judiciary.

 

Fighting the political battles on the judicial turf has serious consequences for the health of any democracy and the integrity of the judiciary. This would be a matter for another day. But if the gathering clouds in Nigeria’s horizon were to birth any precipitation, the judiciary would yet again be on trial. Judges may be pushed to do with the pen what citizens ought to do with the ballot box: elect their leaders.

 

Meanwhile, as we worry about our prospective electoral fortune come 2015, surprises tend to find assured domicile in several political tents. Before we reach or cross the electrical bridge of 2015, rapid evolution in the current political chess game, especially from the rank of the opposition look pretty interesting.

 

That is where we locate the recent entry of the Speaker of the House of Representatives into the presidential race. The Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, has been in the news lately for various reasons: The actualization of his much-expected defection to the opposition and his self-serving prorogation of the House and, lately, his declaration of interest in the presidential race.

 

All of these have happened within a short space of time. As they say, a day in politics is worth thousand milestones. It bears asking why Tambuwal’s orchestrated presidential interest seems to raise a buzz in both the opposition and the ruling party.

 

Since the 1999 return to civil rule, the lower chamber of Nigeria’s National Assembly has had its own turns in the dance of leadership musical chairs. The Obasanjo administration outlived three Speakers: Salisu Buhari (1999-2000) of the University of Toronto fake degree infamy. He was replaced by independent leaning Ghali Umar Na’Abba (2000-2003), who did not enjoy much favor with the Executive.

 

When Na’Abba did not return, Aminu Masari (2003-2007) was the new face of the House under Obasanjo’s second term. He kept the House under status quo without much drama. Then, upon Umaru Yar’Adua’s presidency, the powers that be, especially Obasanjo, wanted Patricia Etteh (2007) as their anointed candidate for House Speaker. That was an idea conceived with the seed of its own fatality. It did not take long before corruption and allegations of corruption prevailed to end Etteh’s tenure. Similar monsters trailed Etteh’s successor, Dimeji Bankole (2007-2011).

 

The emergence of Tambuwal was a result of a revolt of sorts within the ruling party. Progressive leaning members of PDP in the House aligned with their opposition friends to defy Obasanjo and his ilk. The latter had insisted on a South West Speaker under the PDP zoning arrangement.

 

But with the favor of South West members of then opposition AD, Tambuwal and his renegade friends in PDP got their wish. The rest is now history. Given the circumstance of his emergence, Tambuwal has been able to acquit himself by steering the House on the path of inter-party concord. When Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP realized that Tambuwal had strong support from his colleagues, they knew it was no longer wise to antagonize him.

 

In terms of his carriage and temperament, Tambuwal has managed to maintain some good image for himself, at least in comparison to his predecessors. He has steered the House amidst a lot of scandals, but has managed to keep the mud out his trademark white outfits so far. Through his tenure, he has received high profile endorsements. Once in a while, those that thirst for a real generational change in national leadership, especially from the North, have looked in his direction.

 

It is noteworthy that despite the noticeable cold shoulders that the presidential aspiration of Atiku Abubakar as a late defector has attracted within the APC inner circle, Tambuwal’s recent interest in the presidency appears immune from similar reception. But the presidency is a serious business. So should be any aspiration to it. If Tambuwal’s ambition is merely as a result of the alleged pressure from his colleagues in the House, who were reported to have bought the declaration of intent form for him, then he should drop the idea because he has not given it a serious thought. The impression is that he is ambushed.

 

We have in the recent and present dispensations been saddled with presidents who were drafted into office through a political script they did not author. They had no time to engage, envision or mull seriously the enormity and consequences of the calling to lead so complex a polity as Nigeria.

 

The price has been costly. Assuming that Tambuwal represents an exception, it is doubtful if between now and February next year, he could assume or attain a profile in national acceptability across the land. He must aspire to be Nigeria’s president not a president of his buddies in the House. The stakes are far higher.

 

In the minds of pundits, suspicions are rife that Tambuwal’s entry into the presidential race or his pretension thereto may be designed to jolt or jeopardize the prospects of more serious contender(s) in the opposition party. By extension, such a strategy would also have vicarious consequences on the ultimate fortunes or misfortunes of the ruling party and the entire political landscape in Nigeria come 2015.

 

It is also possible that Tambuwal is really taking himself seriously. While he may have self-elected to be a target of speculative political feasting by analysts, without question Tambuwal’s recent political maneuvers have put a serious spotlight on him.

 

For now, or in the future, how he manages the plot he has started would go a long way in unmasking his standing as a political leader. It remains to be seen where the drumbeat for his present dramatic political dance is coming from.

 

In a country where the more one looks the less one sees, Tambuwal may or may not be in the presidential race. And if he is not, time will tell

 

whose presidential race he is presently running. [Stop press: Tambuwal just withdrew his ‘presidential bid’] Go figure!


This op-ed appeared in Sahara Reporters newspaper of Tuesday November 18 under the title: Aminu Tambuwal: Whose Presidential Race?

Africa's renewal: Burkina Faso and youth power

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on November 10, 2014 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (1)

A recently published foresight study on Africa focuses on the potential role of knowledge and innovation as key to Africa’s future.The study conducted by a global network of predominantly African researchers under the aegis of the Open African Innovation Research (Open A.I.R.) makes a link between the continent’s economic prosperity and its political stability. The research points emphatically at one of the defining features of Africa -its burst of untapped youthful energy as the world’s youngest continent. The authors highlight the double-edged nature of Africa’s youthful credential and note that the youths, as active actors in the digital technology sphere, are potentially instrumental to the continent’s economic renaissance as well as its political explosion and extreme radicalisations. Only those countries on the continent that can harness their youthful energy would meet their developmental challenges and attain political stability. The authors warn that, “youthful energy with no constructive outlet can turn sour and most countries are witnessing the most destabilising and negative manifestations” of untapped youth energy, as “‘grievances among the young are likely to be expressed violently’”.

 

The Open A.I.R. observations attained credible fulfilment in the recent political unravelling in Burkina Faso. With a national median age of 17 and nearly 70 per cent of its 18 million people under 25 years, that country has one of the most youthful populations in a continent that is the world’s youngest. The Burkinabe crisis has been long in brewing, and has been suppressed on its tracks on several occasions. During the 2008-2011 global economic crises that dovetailed into high cost of staple food, extreme hunger and poverty pushed the tiny landlocked least developed West African country to the edge. It required the army’s alliance with the transmuted and long running civilian dictatorship of Blaise Compaore to keep the peace of the graveyard in Burkina Faso. With high cost of living, chronic unemployment, endemic corruption, cronyism and youth restiveness, it was a matter of time before civic anger boiled over.

 

Campaore has been in power for as long as Nelson Mandela was in prison – the latter in a sacrificial act of national renewal for South Africa, and the former in an orgy of progressive rape and plunder of his country. He came to power in circumstances, which, for many, marked the scuttling of Burkina Faso’s renaissance in the 1980s. He authored and executed a military coup d’etat in 1987. With that, he interred the vision of that country’s revolutionary and youthful leader, Thomas Sankara, who renamed the tiny Fracophone West African Upper Volta into Burkina Faso (land of people of integrity). Campaore’s 27 years in power was sustained by manipulation, intrigues and highhandedness. After he consolidated his hold on power, he transmuted into civilian dictatorship in 1991. He was “elected” four times since then (two seven-year and two five-year terms). On very occasions, his elections were a charade. In his latest gambit, he sought to further manipulate the constitution to secure an additional five years that would retain him in power up to 2020. His parliamentary political acolytes in the ruling party were determined to grant him his wish. But the youths said no. Enough was enough!

 

Campaore was able to remain in power for too long not for his political ingenuity. But if ever he had such ingenuity, it was hardly evident he deployed it in the service of his country and compatriots. In reality, the strategist in him was most evident in his sustained and calculated engagement with his friends in the West: The United States and France and their allies. Not too long ago, Burkina Faso was touted as one of the “most stable” African countries in a similar and familiar manner as Ivory Coast, Egypt, Kenya (under Arap Moi) and Cameroon had been touted before recent political unravelling in some of these countries. The West’s tendency to equate African dictatorship with political stability belies the quality of their interest in good governance on the continent. The courtship between Campaore and his Western allies have remained self-serving for both parties. He allowed them unhindered military and strategic access to his country under the plot of stemming Islamist insurgency in the Sahel region. None of Campaore’s Western allies pushed him hard enough towards genuine democracy and good governance. Until his hurried and dramatic exit late October, there was little whimper from the West over Campaore’s indiscretions. He was a good business for his Western allies while Burkina Faso and its people’s interests suffered.

 

But history teaches us that it does not teach us anything. The same was the case with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak until the game was up, and his allies began to sing a different tune. But Burkina Faso and Egypt have further similarities. Egyptian revolution, if ever there was one, became a stillborn shortly after. The Muhammed Morsi-led Muslim Brotherhood left Egyptians with little option than a dramatic return to military-era style politics. Pundits continue to ponder when and whether Egypt could ever witness a full democratic rebirth. A similar dilemma stalks Burkina Faso. The military that has been hands-in-glove with Campaore has managed to find itself in power again, with a familiar promise to return Burkina Faso to a democratic order. There is much scepticism in the air. As was the case in Egypt, Burkina Faso had little time to mull over its options: to trail the path of constitutionality or its abridgment. Campaore had sought to serve out his term in 2015. However, he could not be trusted by the restive youths either to keep his words or to supervise a credible electoral transition. In the alternative, the head of parliament is next in order of constitutional succession if the president resigned. But he could not be trusted either. He is a member of the Campaore’s inner circle in the ruling party. This situation made it easy for an opportunist military to step in to preside over the mess they helped create.

 

The political class should not claim credit for the turn of events in Burkina Faso these past two weeks. It was for the most part a youth-led movement. From Ouagadougou to Bobo-Dioulasso, the reality evinces popular discontent by Burkina youths against the political class. The youths have violently vented their frustrations against political leaders of all shades and against symbols of state power. The army and, certainly, the rest of the political class, will be foolhardy to take the credit or assume the ownership of the change in Burkina Faso. The West, especially the US and France, has a fresh opportunity to re-engage with Burkina Faso in a manner that genuinely recognises the collective interest of the youths and the weary people of the country. There is the need for marked departure from the West’s hypocritical shenanigans that sustained Campaore’s dictatorship. In this new turn of events lies an opportunity to make the youths the bedrock of a new Burkina Faso to take their country’s destiny in their own hands.


This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Monday November 10 under the title: Africa’s renewal: Burkina Faso and youth power

Mayor Ford: Good Bye from Toronto Mayoralty

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on October 30, 2014 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (1)

On October 21, I was a guest of a Parliamentary Committee within the precincts of the Canadian Federal Parliament in Ottawa. I testified on Bill C-18 (Agriculture Growth Act). The next day, hell was let loose on Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa, no thanks to a gun man that kept University of Ottawa, the entire federal bureaucracy and historic symbols of Canadian democracy on the edge for well over 10 hours after killing a young soldier on duty. The 24-year unarmed soldier was at the National War Memorial keeping a ceremonial guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The events of October 22 placed Canada on a spotlight in the new wave of terrorism across the globe. For Ottawans and Ottawa, those events depict a people and a town not accustomed to fear embracing the reality of it while the city’s putative innocence was violated.

 

As Canada grapples with the reality of its vulnerability, I switch over to today’s municipal elections in Toronto (Canada’s largest city), and elsewhere in Canada, including Ottawa (the federal capital). Toronto is a global city, one of the world’s most culturally diverse. Many mistake Toronto as the capital of Canada because of its status as that country’s foremost melting pot. But Toronto has been in the news recently, not because of its status as a foremost North American commercial hub, but because of its infamous mayor, Rob Ford. Ford has been on the limelight for many wrong reasons, serving as a butt of joke for global fraternity of comedians on how not to be a mayor. A friend once joked about how he introduced himself at a conference to a couple of peers. The latter accused him of feigning to be from Ottawa instead of Toronto because of Mayor Ford’s ignominy. Over 2013, many mentioned how discussions involving Canadians within and without Canada are easily short-changed by a more exciting topic: Mayor Rob Ford and his indiscretions.

 

Rob Ford was elected Toronto mayor in 2010, with 47 per cent of total mayoral votes. His closest rival polled 36 per cent. The son of a populist conservative Ontario provincial parliamentarian, the late Doug Ford Sr., Rob served for 10 years as the councillor for Etobicoke North (Ward 2) in Toronto before he was elected Mayor in Toronto Municipal Council where his elder brother Doug Ford Jr. also serves. The Fords are members of a political family with strong passionate supporters unofficially known as the Ford Nation. The imposing mayor embraced the turbulent world of political infamy and international notoriety through his scandal-plagued tenure. From admitting to smoking crack cocaine (after lying about it) and involvement with suspect illicit drugs and dealers, Ford was alleged to have driven under the influence (DUI), of speaking race and gender sensitive profanities among others. Save for a civil action over conflict of interest involving money collected for his private football foundation (for which he was absolved on appeal) and a 1999 no contest DUI charge in Florida, Ford was neither charged nor convicted on the basis of several allegations that dogged his mayoral stewardship.

 

Mayor Ford’s crises climaxed a year ago when council voted to strip him of his powers and to prune his staff. The major has through the entire saga buckled under pressure, breaking out in tears, offering public apologies now and again. Yet, he had remained defiant. Despite checking himself to rehab for his alcohol addiction problem, the mayor refused to resign his position. Instead, he determined to serve out his term and seek a new mandate. Ford was on the ballot for a second mandate until fate played him a rude card – he was diagnosed with cancer! The warrior was forced to reluctantly choose one battle as he dropped another. The mayor fully took on the cancer in ongoing battle for his physical and biological life. Now undergoing chemotherapy, a physically weakened Rob Ford did not fully drop politics. He abridged his political battle. While passing onto his elder brother the torch for the mayoral contest, he shunted his nephew off his former seat in council. Mayor Ford is still on the ballot as a councillor while his elder brother takes a shot at Toronto mayoralty contest.

 

The Rob Ford saga reflects hypocrisy in society’s preference for secularity of politics while fiercely intolerant of the moral fallibility of political actors. We insist upon the sanctity of political secularity, and still look up to politicians from a judgmental moral lens. But politicians are secular and not moral leaders. Even then, only a few statesmen are able to match strong moral profile with leadership integrity. The truth is that there are few statesmen among politicians. As a secular enterprise, politics is for secular actors. Politicians are like most of us – ordinary folk, and vulnerable to fair bits of indiscretion. For some, like Rob Ford, those indiscretions come in undue excesses. Only the electorate determines the price of such indiscretions, not the press.

 

Despite Ford’s notoriety, his Ford Nation following remains unwavering. His consistent commitment to lower taxes, fight against office perks, reduction of fiscal waste and outsourcing of city services for efficient results are his trademark of popular endearment. Perhaps, more importantly, Mayor Ford’s strongest appeal is his personal, repeat personal, attention and willingness to attend to his constituents’ needs as a hallmark of his commitment to public service. As the Toronto mayoral race draws close to the finishing line, polls show Doug Ford Jr. in the second position, trailing veteran contestant, John Tory, while Olivier Chow remains third. This is despite the dramatic turn in the Ford Nation camp and sudden but late drafting of Doug Ford Jr. into the mayoral race.

 

As Torontonians finally bid Rob Ford an official farewell from the City Hall as their mayor, there are some lessons to learn from the Ford foibles. First, the Fords reflect commitment to family unity through hell and high water. Second, there is something to be said about constituency’s hunger for politicians with commitment to service despite their foibles. Third, Rob Ford’s fall from grace is a factor perhaps of his excesses taken too far than of his failings on the political front. Third, for a guy who has publicly wept times over for his failings, we know that politicians are humans not aliens. Fourth, Mayor Ford’s battle with cancer invokes our deepest sympathies. Torontonians, Canadians and the rest of the world in whose theatre Ford performed lately certainly wish him a victory on that battle front even as he loses out as the mayor.

 

In carriage, polish and sagacity, Rob Ford hardly matches the profile of a politician in the age of political correctness. His legacy includes public rage, stupor, drunkenness, and public outbursts against marginalized segments of Toronto community. The end of Fords’ drama provides the city an opportunity for democratic renewal and some break from the Ford Nation, even if only from the mayoralty.

 

This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Monday October 27 under the title: Mayor Ford: Good Bye from Toronto Mayoralty. 



Can Jonathan reverse legacy of impunity?

Posted by Chidi Oguamanam on September 24, 2014 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

In the past few weeks, Nigeria’s litany of scandals require a loud and unceasing responsorial ora pro nobis. First, many people of good conscience are still wondering who among President Goodluck Jonathan’s courtiers decided that #BringBackJonathan2015 should be the reward for the failure of his government to #BringBackOurGirls. Second, the controversial Australian “negotiator”, Mr. Stephen Davies, dropped a bombshell in his Boko Haram “revelations”. While many were still wondering what to make of his exposés and how seriously they should be taken, respected lawyer, Femi Falana, and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, in separate and insightful interventions cast the Australian in a serious light.

 

Soyinka queried the President’s brazen high profile appearance with one of the alleged Boko Haram associates on the President’s recent trip to Chad. The Presidency acknowledged that the individual in question was under investigation. But in an embarrassing affirmation of the impunity that is fast becoming the legacy of the administration, no one in the Presidency saw nothing unethical with the President’s public appearance with a political associate under investigation.

 

Third is the $9.3m botched illegal arms deal in South Africa in which the President’s associates have been indirectly connected and regarding which the Federal Government has since owned up. But the government’s response and management of the enfolding scandal appear to be more embarrassing than the incident itself. In one breath, the Federal Government argues that there is nothing illegal with the incident. In another, it blames the United States for tipping off South Africa and for frustrating its desire to buy arms through legitimate channels. Yet, in some quarters, South Africa is also blamed for stoking the media backlash the arms incident has caused. Fourth is the recent embarrassing collapse of the guest house complex of the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos with significant South African fatalities. That situation now pressures already frayed diplomatic nerves.

 

In saner places, all of these would propel the government in a crisis management mode. But here, what we have witnessed is an all-time high in the political tempo of the ruling party. Despite the Ebola crisis for which experts counselled against large-scale public gatherings, the President’s Peoples Democratic Party has continued to stage mega rallies in various disguises across the country. The highpoint of it is the recent adoption of the President by organs of his party as its sole candidate for the forthcoming presidential election. By so doing, the powerful governors’ caucus of the PDP conclusively foreclosed the need for presidential primaries in the ruling party. All the hitherto pretend presidential candidates in the PDP have now capitulated. But the President after being “humbled” by the adoption, has “yet to declare interest” in a second term mandate. Oh yes.

 

The significance of the decision by the PDP is important for the evolution of our political culture. Before now, many in the PDP, especially the erstwhile “rebel governors”, had continued to pretend that they could stop a sitting President from seeking a constitutionally sanctioned mandate renewal. Theoretically, it is necessary for a President not to take his privilege to carry his party’s electoral banner for granted. Practically, however, it is mostly in the interest of the ruling party to support the incumbent for a general election unless there is a compelling reason not to. More often than not, where a presidential incumbent is exposed to intra-party challenge, it leads to acrimony, bad blood and factionalism.

 

Rarely does a party fully recover from such self-induced stress that ultimately weakens its ability to face the opposition in a general election. In America, where we pretend to model our presidential system, it is almost a convention that the ruling party would allow its presidential candidate a pass for a second term. That convention is even more important in a fledgling democracy and in a political culture such as ours where politics is a do-or-die affair.

 

The PDP certainly is not in a hurry to forget that the root of the in-fighting between former President Obasanjo and his then Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, is the latter’s aborted bid to humiliate his boss in the primaries. Under the illusion or delusion of his superior political clout and sagacity, Abubakar had intended to truncate Obasanjo’s second term interest. Some even claim that he came very close to accomplishing that before Obasanjo’s tortoise strategy paid off. An unforgiving Obasanjo was to get his pound of flesh by ensuring that Abubakar’s presidential ambition never came through under the PDP. The party has yet to recover from the crisis.

 

Despite the pressure by some Northern elements in the PDP to stampede Goodluck Jonathan out of the Presidency, it is quite clear that in a culture of patronage politics, the incumbent wields enormous power. At some point, it looked like there was an internal revolution in the PDP, and some Northern governors and members of the National Assembly in the party were determined to wrest power from the President. But now even those associated with some presidential ambition and those on the forefront of opposing the President yesterday have come back to the “PDP family” for various reasons. Those who dared to defect are now standing on shaky political islands. One of them has since been impeached and removed from office.

 

It is not to say that there is no need for internal democracy within the political parties. However, for a ruling party, the expediency at the presidential level is not the same at the state levels in a federal order. That is why the backhand strategy and alleged nauseating deals under which the President secured his so-called sole candidacy are worrisome. Speculations are rife that the President and his party had made concessions that compromise internal democracy in the ruling party as well as feed his administration’s continuing culture of impunity as the price at which he bought his sole candidacy. The details can only unfold in the coming months across the country. It may not yet be Uhuru for the PDP.

 

But as Jonathan gets ready to run for the next presidential election, he should look at the ominous shadows his government continues to cast upon the country. He should sincerely consider the level of his resolve to shift the tide for the better. Where elections are fought and won on issues, as opposed to sentiments, where the opposition presents a better alternative than the incumbent, our President could not have been more vulnerable in his bid to renew his mandate. But it does seem, all things considered, that Jonathan still has a chance. It is my intrepid optimism that he could grab such a chance with an audacious resolve to turn the tide against his trademark legacy of impunity if there be a next time around.

This op-ed appeared in The Punch newspaper of Wednesday September 24 under the title: Can Jonathan reverse legacy of impunity?


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