Understanding Nigeria’s Historic Elections and Why They’re So Contentious

Photo credit: Washington Post

It is common to hear policy makers, development experts and pundits talk about the need to “build strong institutions” in Africa as the solution to governance challenges without quite understanding what processes building or modifying these “institutions” entail. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their 2012 tour de force, Why Nations Fail, provide a compelling explanation of how extractive or inclusive institutions emerge and determine societies’ political stability and economic prosperity. Their retrospective analysis shows how we are often unaware of this institutional change as it occurs. In Nigeria, the cloud of uncertainty around its forthcoming elections on 28 March is indicative of a process whose outcome will fundamentally alter its political system with implications for the rest of the African continent.Read More »

The Good and the Ugly: 14 Years of Democracy in Nigeria

Photo Credit: Civicgraphics.blogspot.co.uk

Today marks exactly 14 years since the transition to democracy in Nigeria. Many Nigerians have mixed feelings about the progress and quality of our democratic process which seems to lumber ahead, mostly staggering, but sometimes with steady steps. Despite the few snags here and there, there is still cause to celebrate. To that effect, I am highlighting some good, some bad and a few ugly things about the process and the dividends. The list is by no means exhaustive.

 

GSM Mobile Telephony

Since the advent of GSM in 2001, the information and communications landscape has been radically revolutionised.

 

Nigerian Railways: Back to Life?

After more than 10years, the railway linking Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, to Kano, the country’s second largest city, reopened. Note that this was courtesy Chinese loans and investment. Here’s a video by a Financial Times reporter who took the train:

 

Score Card for the Present Administration

This is a yearly tradition. This year is particularly important as it is a mid-term score-card (the mid point in a term of four years of the elections cycle).

A self-assessment report by the Federal Government (FG) of its performance was launched earlier today. Some of the achievements claimed by the FG include: reducing Nigeria’s dependence on crude oil as its major export, to “only” 70% of it’s exports, stable exchange rates and improvement in transport infrastructure (roads and rail).

An interesting assessment  of the Federal Government’s performance was published by Vanguard Newspaper HERE. The key areas the government is rated on are infrastructure (mixed), power (weak), the economy (mixed), energy and gas (weak), security (weak), education (weak) and agriculture (favourable).

An assessment of performance at the sub-national level, by state governments was published by Thisday Newspaper HERE. Key performers according to the report include:

Lagos State: “The Babatunde Fashola administration in Lagos State, the path to a better Lagos is through PATH, an acronym for power, agriculture, transportation and housing… (has) largely focused on executing various projects in these sectors that would unleash the potential of … the state as a megacity in addition to speeding up socio-economic activities that would promote the well-being of its residents.”

Rivers State: “Mr. Chibuike Amaechi… has expended so much resources in areas of security, revamping the education sector through the building of schools and equipping same with modern facilities… In addition, Rivers has made the monorail project a top priority to ease transportation pangs in the oil-rich state.

Other governors such as Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State and Chief Theodore Orji of Abia State have through their programmes in the areas of economic empowerment of the people, provision of infrastructure, healthcare programmes and revamping the agriculture sector, tried to improve on the legacy inherited from their predecessors… (and) in enhancing the wellbeing of the people.”

The report also classifies some states as the “super rich states” such as Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa, and some as “scrounging ones” such as Zamfara, Osun, Ebonyi and Ekiti, where money is scarce.

 

Freedom of Expression

Democracy has brought with it, relative freedom of information and expression compared to the dark days of the military, which has revitalised Nigeria’s historically vibrant media sector. Newspapers, magazines, TV stations, radio stations of all shades and hues have proliferated and are still increasing. The passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act in 2011 after 12 years of foot-dragging is a democratic feat. With the ICT revolution and Web 2.0 tools,  online news and blogs are now a dime a dozen, conveying information ranging from the deathly accurate, to the wildly speculative to the downright absurd. Nevertheless, state intimidation of journalists is still rampant. The Press Freedom Index 2013 ranks Nigeria 115 out of 179 countries, an improvement from its position last year at 126, yet below countries like Ghana, Central African Republic, Qatar and DRC. An interesting development is the proliferation of tell-all books or autobiographies by former top public servants. Books such as Olusegun Adeniyi’s Power, Politics and Death, chronicling the watershed events during the Yar’adua administration; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria; Professor Dora Akunyili’s War Against Counterfeit Medicine, Malam Nasir El-Rufai’s The Accidental Public Servant have been informative, entertaining, revealing and controversial. Expect many more of such books soon…

 

Thriving Entertainment Sector

I am not sure if there’s a direct link between this and democracy. However, Nigeria’s movie industry which includes Nollywood and to a lesser extent, Kannywood, the Hausa movie industry up north, has grown exponentially in the last decade. Nollywood is now the 3rd largest movie industry in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood. Similarly, Nigerian artistes like D’Banj, P-Square, Wizkid, Banky W, Tiwa Savage have been making waves all across the  world, clinching international music awards, collaborating with US artistes such as Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, featuring in global charts and recording many other impressive feats.

 

Nigeria, an “N-11” and African “Lion”

Recording an average of 7.4% economic growth over the past decade, according to the IMF, Nigeria is one of the fastest growing economies in not just Sub-Saharan Africa but in the world. Reports state Nigeria is set to overtake South Africa as the largest economy by 2025. Some have their reservations about this projection though. The country is now one of the “frontier-markets”, one of the “Next 11” countries and one of the African “Lions”. It seems investment banks and consultancies are falling over themselves to coin these acronyms. Yet, unemployment persists, 61% of Nigerians live below the poverty line and infant mortality is still one of the highest in the world.

 

African Cup of Nations Victory

After 17 years of suffering humiliating defeats and since our last victory at a football tournament, Nigeria clinched the 2013 African Cup of Nations.

Photo courtesy: Al-Ahram

 

Security Challenges

Sadly, the incidence of violent crime has been on the increase in Nigeria since the transition to democracy. Ethno-communal and religious violence, kidnapping-for-ransom, highway robberies, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, rise of violent militias and the Boko Haram insurgency have dominated the headlines and claimed innocent lives. Our security agencies, especially the Nigerian Army, despite their numerous deficiencies have worked tirelessly in maintaining law and order. They deserve our support and encouragement for risking their lives in protecting us, even if they have also been sometimes guilty of human rights abuses in the course of duty. So, kudos to our armed forces!!

Photo courtesy: Voice of Nigeria

 

Elections

Sadly, not much has improved in the way of elections in  Nigeria. Since independence, elections are typically preceded, characterised and trailed by fiery political rhetoric,  violent competition and brazen fraud. Two videos below capture electoral fraud i.e. multiple vote casting, during the 2011 elections and confusion during the recent election of the Chairman for the Nigerian Governors Forum. In the case of the latter, the video shows a clear winner, different from what was reported in the media which begs the question: if elections involving 36 individuals only could not be conducted in a hitch-free manner, then…?

 

Sacrifices for Democracy

Importantly, we need to remember that democracy came at a costly price for some Nigerians — some paid dearly with their lives for some of the freedom we take for granted today. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar reminded us of this reality with a series of tweets last night, which have been compiled via Storify HERE. Here is a screen shot of some of the tweets.

Screen Shot of a Storify Page with some tweets from former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar
Screen Shot of a Storify Page with some tweets from former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar

 

Despite the hits and misses in Nigeria’s democratic record and its dividends, its important to remember democracy itself is a process, and a journey, towards a better society for all, and not an end in itself. Happy Democracy Day!

A Message for General Buhari

Photo credit: New Nigerian Newspapers

A concerned reader of this blog recently sent me an article which he requested that I reproduce with an urgent message for three-time Nigerian presidential aspirant and former head of state Major General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd). This message was meant to coincide with the General’s 70th birthday in December 2012. The person pleaded anonymity emphasising he only wants his important message to reach the General.

Although the importance of his message is immediately discernible, I was initially reluctant to reproduce it for two reasons. One, I am wary of Nigerian PARTY politics which many have good reason to regard as truly decadent and ruthless — get involved and drag your name into the depths of its treacherous murkiness. Second, being quite skeptical of the emphasis of many progressive Nigerians on the next round of elections cycle, the 2015 elections, as the magical elixir to present ills, I wasn’t sure if this write up fell into that category. This is because I always wonder what we are supposed to do according to this line of reasoning, in the interim: are we to hibernate until the 2015 elections two years from now and then proceed to “elect” new leaders who will automatically resolve all ills? Or should we be engaging with the present (s)elected leaders and the institutions they represent, scrutinsing their activities and demanding efficient service delivery, transparency and accountability in governance, as democracy entails?

Clearly the foundations of the political process through which leaders emerge in Nigeria is still weak and the process of democratic consolidation is still in a nascent and turbulent stage. A situation where votes of large swathes of the electorate can be bought for as little as N1000 ($6.3) per head, as was the case in many rural parts of Nigeria during the 2011 elections, is utterly absurd! There is a lot of work that needs to be done to (re)build that foundation and this is what in my understanding, this person’s message aims to capture: working to build the foundation of the political process not just with the aim of replacing the ruling party, the PDP, but at the very least, to make the ruling party “sit up”. Let me add a caveat though, the views here do not necessarily reflect my own views. Otherwise, here it is, enjoy:

Along with so many other Nigerians, I would like to wish General Buhari happy 70th birthday. No doubt the General has left a legacy as one of the few incorruptible individuals who have ever walked our corridors of power. Upon attaining the biblical age of three score and ten, my wish is for him to temporarily set aside his presidential ambition, and instead focus on leaving an enduring legacy for the Nigerian political system in the form of a credible political party.

Like a lot of other African countries, we are currently stuck with a one party system in an ostensibly multi-party system, and that is never good for democracy. Party platforms that the General had adopted in the past, struggled to transform into credible national political parties – both ANPP and CPC – grappled with an image of being either regional parties or parties marred by internal wrangling.

Nigerians yearn for a viable alternative in the form of a political party with clear principles, formed by credible people who are capable of winning elections and providing some semblance of good governance. At the very least, they would want an opposition party that is credible enough to make the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) sit up. One way to setup such a party is to focus on getting three things right: core leadership, solid manifesto/constitution, and committed membership.

For the core leadership, the General should try and convene a group of like-minded individuals from each geo-political zone to constitute the trustees of a new party. These individuals should be clean enough but most importantly influential enough to attract followership from their constituencies. The General should identify potential candidates across the country and personally woo them into joining his cause. To do this successfully, he must develop a more accommodating attitude and be ready to work with different types of people.

Once the core leadership of the party has been successfully formed, they should work with a group of advisers to develop an exciting manifesto and a robust constitution for the party. The manifesto should clearly explain to the public what the party stands for and what policies and programs they intend to bring once they’re in power and how they’ll go about executing them. The constitution should be robust enough to withstand potential challenges that the party will face in the future, e.g. resolution of conflicts in candidate selection, disciplinary measures for those who flout party principles, checks against saboteurs etc. The schisms that ripped the CPC should never be allowed to occur in this party.

After finalising the manifesto and constitution, the leadership should initiate a membership drive to build a solid national support base for the party. This should be done one state at a time to ensure that proper structures are in place at every state and committed membership is secured.

In all the steps above, the goal should be to build a party for the long term, not just for the 2015 elections. This should be a party capable of providing a credible opposition to the PDP and stemming the steady slide to the bottom. To achieve this, it might be necessary for the General to sacrifice his presidential ambition, and be resolute on building a party that will outlive him. I sincerely hope the General will take up this challenge to use his massive goodwill, towering incorrigible image and appeal with masses to leave an enduring legacy for the Nigerian political system.