Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Last Days of Pompeii

Nigeria is still a deeply rural country. I recently travelled South West Nigeria and came across kilometers upon kilometers of green land. For a supposedly developed South West, one can only imagine the scenery in the North. As I travelled, I saw unmaintained, dilapidated and decrepit government institutions-  post offices, hospitals,schools, narrow, very narrow but tarred roads. It was picture been caught in a period. Stagnancy with no plans for the future. 
For people who live in these areas, issues like development, the future, growth and "well-being, takes on a new meaning. That some 219 girls are missing does not ring a bell or connote any significance to them.  What is important  is getting by- putting food on the table, how the children will have some form of education and leave for the city, making sure  phone lines work and they are not shafted my phone networks and resolve mundane family issues and slights. It's a little wonder stomach infrastructure is thriving. People are consumed by the present that cannot envision beyond today.
This raises the question of how a government can efficiently work on  providing infrastructure, sound educational system and standard health care facilities whilst maintaining the pastoral and agrarian nature of the people, leaving them in their countrified agrarian bliss.  Will creating that balance in any way  reduce rural-urban migration and stem the the overcrowding of cities?  Nigeria's estimated population in 15 years is 250 million  and by 2050 she will be the 4th most populous country in the world with an estimated population of 440 million. With the current state of infrastructure and institutions especially in education and health, are we ready for the future?
16-20 years ago, as I prepared for high school, we used to sing "education for all by the year 2000"- that was the mantra.  Year 2000 was the magical year where everything would fall into place- education for all, health for all... 
15 years from year 2000, I did not imagine that rather than improve, the state of education, health and infrastructure would degenerate.How do we get those who should care about setting innovative and futuristic policies to do so? What are we going to do about the North that lagged behind in education before the security crisis - especially in the area of type of education and access to education? Is a situation where a graduate cannot add two and two or understand basic logic acceptable for Nigeria?
An estimated 10.5 million kids are out of primary  school (2010 figures) can that continue? Can we afford to let those who rule us (at legislative and executive levels) get away with the waste and current grab-all-you-can attitude with developing the country? Can we afford our rulers to continue to loot our commonwealth?
Food for thought.

Monday, January 26, 2015

On Buharis Certificate……..


I follow the campaigns of President Goodluck Jonathan and Gen Muhamadu Buhari and they have been interesting.  Parties and their spokesmen have thrown caution to the winds in their bid to promote their candidate as the best thing Nigeria deserves. They have done this without regards for the potential effects their hate speech and adverts may have. Rather than engage in issue- based campaigns, they have embarked on mudslinging and smear campaigns. This has shown that the major actors- PDP and APC are scared and desperate!
I do not support or believe in any of the candidates. It is highly disappointing that President Jonathan’s incompetence and non-performance has made Gen Buhari “the best”. I still wonder how APC delegates and the Party itself can claim they cannot provide a better candidate.

Sadly, the campaigns of both candidates have ignored salient issues that affect ordinary Nigerians. President Jonathan’s "best achievements" are agriculture and provision of trains! He has no manifesto for the next four years,  whilst APC is campaigning on the promise of cash transfers, providing security and revamping the economy without stating how it will be done. Issues that border on the falling economy, the dropping oil prices, declining reserves, reliance on petrodollars, infrastructure development and the first duty of government which is the protection of lives and property is not being addressed. Rather the campaigns especially that of PDP, has focused on mundane issues, bashing and tarnishing the image of the other party.
One of such is the allegation against Buhari on his eligibility to contest “as he seem not to have gone through primary and secondary school”. This allegation is interesting and amusing because whoever conceived this allegation as a smear campaign did not think of the ripple effect – if we were a country that asked questions and followed through- on Nigeria system as a whole. This begs questions like: what has this government been doing? The rot and impunity (the impunity that is so rife that the government tolerates any and everything).Nigeria is suffering its own version of the broken window theory. The rot that has eaten into the system is so deep that I don’t see a way any human being can clean this up in the nearest future.
I digress. Back to Buharis certificate my thoughts are as follows:
Buhari is contesting for the office of the president of Nigeria for the 4th time (2nd time against President Jonathan) how come the issue of eligibility is just coming up?
If the allegation is true, are the sponsors of this campaign telling us that INEC is not credible enough to do its job of verifying candidate eligibility and conducting elections? This calls into the question the eligibility of all those who are contesting and have contested and won elections from the Councilors and Local government chairmen to the National Assembly and Presidency as we are unsure INEC followed  due process.  Would we be able to trust the outcome of this election? Isn't this an indication of gross incompetency and failure in keeping proper records?
If the allegation is true, is the Nigerian government telling us that the Nigerian Army has also failed due process in Army recruitment and verification of records?

An army spokesman today in a press conference said:
“Records available indicate that Major General M Buhari applied to join the military as a Form Six student of the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina on 18 Oct 61. His application was duly endorsed by the Principal of the school, who also wrote a report on him and recommended him to be suitable for military commission. It is a practice in the NA that before candidates are shortlisted for commissioning into the officers’ cadre of the Service, the Selection Board verifies the original copies of credentials that are presented.
However, there is no available record to show that this process was followed in the 1960s.

Nevertheless, the entry made on the NA Form 199A at the point of documentation after commission as an officer indicated that the former Head of State obtained the West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1961 with credits in relevant subjects: English Language, Geography, History, Health Science, Hausa and a pass in English Literature. Neither the original copy, Certified True Copy (CTC) nor statement of result of Major General M Buhari's WASC result is in his personal file” (read here). 
How can one explain that a man can rise up to the prestigious level of a Major General and at no point was any verification done on his records and eligibility to hold the position he did?
In another vein, Chapter 6, Section 131 of the 1999 constitution states:
131. A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if -
(a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth;
(b) he has attained the age of forty years;
(c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and
(d) he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.
The Constitution in section 318 clarifies what school certificate means as:
"School Certificate or its equivalent" means
(a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or
(b) education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or
(c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and -
(i) service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for a minimum of ten years, and
(ii) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totaling up to a minimum of one year, and
(iii) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and
(d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission;

I conclude that public institutions are being politicized (que- Department of State Security and Nigerian Army) and this is a dangerous trend.  I suspect there is a certificate eating rat in the Army’s records office.Where do we go from here?  Who will tow the path of clean campaigns?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Their Strength is their gun

I had 3 experiences with the police officers. These experiences have made me ponder on the safety of citizens. The leadership of the police force is now involved in partisan politics rather than equip its officers to perform their duties of enforcing law and order. 

Scene 1
I was stopped by a police officer who requested I tip her to celebrate the holidays. She was not at the checkpoint to prevent crime or  ensure  law and order. She was there as  a beggar in uniform. I smiled and told her I did not have anything and she said :"You know I am in uniform", I can collect your bag. It would look good on me" (read as: "better comply or this conversation will take another turn"). I smiled again and told her not today, next time.

Scene 2
Police officers in an unmarked car accosted a friend and I. We parked and they came out with their guns ready for action. One of the officers requested for the papers of the car. Friend,who was compliant and polite, handed over the car documents and the officer checked it. They asked some questions and friend answered their questions convincingly and confidently. Friend's manner and way with words  left Police officers  stuttering and explaining  why we were stopped and how we should not be offended. I left the scene thinking if we had stolen the car, we would have gotten away. Police officers need to move from "happy weekend sir" and "anything for us" to being able to hold a conversation with citizens without being forceful, threatening and unreasonable or timid and docile. As we drove off, I also thought considering the way the officers that stopped us were dressed and their carriage, they could be police officers by day and robbers by night

Scene 3
I met a group of local policemen in a State and hope arose that community policing might work in Nigeria because  the officers will be familiar with the people and terrain, thus making prevention and solving crimes easier. However, my hope was short lived. On interaction with some of them, all they discussed was how get by. If  someone had come to report a crime, they would not know what to do. They probably address issues with their native reasoning. 

The police force is the first level of security people have. 312, 669, 237 ( recurrent expenditure covering personnel and overheads)- 229 billion for salaries and 489 million for training has been allocated to police formations in the 2015 budget and 17,000,000,000 for capital projects. Hopefully, these monies if appropriated will be used for the stated purposes especially in the area of training.


Friday, January 16, 2015


I have written on my experience trying to register during the Continuous Voters Registration for the February elections. The experience was horrendous and If I did not have an understanding  manager, I definitely would not have been able to register. I spent three days trying to register and was successful  because of my persistence and the officials who had been seeing me around. The process the electoral body used to register during the last exercise automatically disenfranchised citizens who want to vote and also have to go to work. 
Government processes and procedures do not have to be tedious and miserable. Man hours do not have to be wasted because citizens want to perform their civic duties. An easy and efficient process is possible 

I saw this first hand when I processed my Driver’s license. I decided not to pay anyone to process my driver’s license so in April/May 2014, I filled the online form on the government’s portal and paid the fees. The forms were submitted to the FRSC and I waited to be called for capture- the stage where my biometric data capture will be taken. I received a text about a month later to come for capture but I did not go on my appointment date. I went to the  centre on a random day  in July with my father hoping that his grey hair will work wonders and I am not turned back.
Fortunately, I did not have to. We explained to the official that I missed my appointment and all he asked for was the appointment date and he retrieved my records. He told me to join the queue. In 45 minutes, without tipping or knowing anyone, I was done and I was given my temporary driver’s license. I was so amazed at the efficiency and service of the officials. Another colleague had a similar experience processing her Driver's License. I am aware other people have different stories to tell but my experience shows that the grief and agony  that  citizens experience with public institutions is man-made and unnecessary.
Institutions through lack of  administrative organization create unpleasantness so that people are incentivized to pay for faster service which is not remitted to the government - though there are some people who are impatient and want to beat the system-

Back to registration nightmare, humans were treated like goats. We stood hours on end in the sun waiting to register, area boys came  with sticks and bottles to disrupt the queues  so that people who have paid them would register. Even for the staff, registration was tormenting. The idea of making them sit in the sun, giving them laptops with no means to charge them when the system powers down is undignifying. At the polling unit I registered, some residents provided the generator and fuel that was used to charge the systems. Some provided food. The officials will arrive at about 10am and prepare to leave by 4-4.30.
INEC was/is not well prepared for the elections. First, voters registration should be continuous and should have started since 2012 or 2013 especially since the cards are not produced locally. Giving a one-week timeline to register people is constraining. Registration of voters and preparing a Voters register should not be exclusive. 
Alternatively, INEC and FRSC should collaborate so that when people come to get their driver’s license they are automatically registered. Then, fresh voters can register and vote in any location. At the FRSC location, citizens can indicate their LG and INEC will derive their polling units for logistics purposes and also inform citizens their polling units.
However,if INEC wants to keep its own records because not everyone will get a license, citizens should be able to walk into the INEC office in the Local government and be able to register and be issued temporary voters cards ala my FRSC experience at any time. The merit of this method is that there would be no rush and pressure on citizens and the officials. 
 The electoral body has stated that  PVCs will be used to vote in the 2015 elections and this decision may disenfranchise three groups of people.
  • People who registered but their records were not captured when they checked their status with INEC whilst the organization has discontinued CVR
  • People like me who just registered and INEC is unlikely to produce our PVCs. In a speech on the 14th of January, the INEC Chairman reiterated the need to use PVCs because the card reader will prevent rigging though the House of Representatives has approved the use of Temporary Voters Cards
  • People who moved states and are unable to go to their previous states to pick up their PVCs and have to write to INEC and wait 30 days for a response.
The commendable and almost flawless conduct of elections and distribution of cards is Ekiti, Osun, Anambra and Edo where staggered elections held shows that the organization knows what to do. For an important election such as the one holding this February, the organization cannot afford any administrative lapses that will skew or mar the elections. They can start by simplifying processes.