Saturday, 22 January 2011

The sabotage of Attahiru Jega

Joachim Ezeji

Many Nigerians had applauded the courage of President Goodluck Jonathan in replacing then omnibus INEC chairman Professor Maurice Iwu with Professor Attahiru Jega. The appointment of Jega as the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was well received by many as many Nigerians saw it as one way out of sanitizing the nation’s electoral process. Applause came from all quarters including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the Nigerian ruling political party that incidentally have been the greatest beneficiaries of electoral heists happening in the country since 1999.

I would not have known the behind the scene events or efforts that followed prior to and post Jega’s confirmation by the National Assembly as the new helms man at Nigeria’s electoral commission. But one thing that followed synonymously upon Jega’s appointment was his declaration of interest to deploy and use the Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines in the 2011 national elections. Each DDCM consists of a laptop, a web-camera, a scanner and a printer. As the name implies, the machine captures the photo image of the prospective voter’s face and an imprint of the ten fingers. These data are stored against the names and other particulars of the individual. Each of the machines costs an average of three hundred thousand naira.

The exigency of the DDC machines was based on the need to inspire and build credibility as the old INEC voters’ register, developed under then, INEC chairman Professor Maurice Iwu; as used in the 2007 elections was completely without credibility. Professor Attahiru Jega had insisted that INEC would be needing about 120,000 DDC machines though the commission finally ordered for a total of 132,000 DDC machines. The machines would be deployed one per polling unit doubling as registration centres in order to be able to register afresh an estimated total of 70 million voters in preparation for the 2011 elections.

But getting a total of 70 million prospective voters registered implies roughly on average of 6,000 per registration centre. Writing in the sahara Reporters, Professor Mobolaji Aluko had argued that for a ten-day two-week period, that requires on average 600 voters registered per day per polling station. For an eight-hour-per-day period with one machine per registration centre, that means that each registration would require less than one minute – to ask, verify and enter (by hand or by typing into a computer) name and other personal information, finger print, take a web-cam picture, print a card and hand same to the registrant, in addition to bantering a little.

Professor Mobolaji Aluko further argued that it would be a tall order, not only because of the time constraints noted above, but the very difficult task of motivating 70 million people anywhere in the world to voluntarily go out and do anything within a two-week period, even in a developed country, not to talk of a developing country like Nigeria where there is existing apathy or scepticism, if not cynicism, about the electoral process itself. Maybe throwing in some holidays and other carrots, and applying some stick to increase registration might help - but one wonders by how much.

Now that the DDC machines has been ordered and paid for, as well as deployed to use in the polling booths across the nation; emerging realities across the country portrays a picture of an exercise in crises, and this certainly does not inspire anybody. A daily average 50 -100 persons registration as reported across the country smacks of a project doomed to fail within the allotted 15 days period. At the beginning, many pooling booths were out of operation for the first 3 days while those that were operational registered just a hand full of about 10 persons per day.

Despite their high rate of cynicism, Nigerians still trooped out in large numbers to perform the civic task of registering as potential voters in the April 2011 elections. But instead of being inspired, they are being frustrated. Long queues remained the order in most of the registration points. People spent an average of 5 to 7 hours daily waiting for their turns and often ending up not being attended to.

In the midst of all these frustrations are stories that INEC is already sabotaging itself by unholy alliances with the ruling party. Stories have it that the PDP is not actually happy with the intended use of the DDC machines and are out to frustrate it. The reason was that PDP cannot afford to lose its leadership and authority in the country by simply supporting a project that would ease it out of power. The smooth use of the DDC machines is feared to achieve a credible voters register which would definitely nip in the bud most election rigging exploits.

The only option therefore was to frustrate the exercise mid-stream. The game was to make the take off exercise very dull, lukewarm, clumsy and frustrating. This will then generate uproar and abuse of INEC, to such an extent that the INEC authorities would be compelled to resort to the old way of doing it, i.e. the manual entry of data and submission of passports. The frustration was designed in such a way to make the DDC machine software too slow and sluggish. However, one puzzle in this scenario is the source of contact with the DDC machine software. Fears however cascade that there exist fifth elements in INEC. It is these fifth elements that are dinning on the same table with Jega, imploring Nigerians to troop out and register, yet, causing logjam in the registration booths even from day one of the exercise.

The general scenario as reported by national newspapers was that anger, complaints and recriminations trailed the wobbly take-off of the national voter registration exercise, which held at different centres nationwide. Poor publicity for the exercise also left a lot of prospective voters in the dark about where they should register.

It is on this premise that I question the role of a person like Professor Celina Oko, the resident electoral commissioner for Imo State. The body language of this woman belies her claims of being fair to all political interests concerned. For example, what was her interest in substituting members of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) already trained for the exercise with alien persons from elsewhere? There are also allegations that INEC under her supervision in Imo have allowed some topshots of the ruling party to capture and keep some of these DDC machines in their homes. What they intend to achieve with it is still open to conjectures, yet Celina Oko has not be able restore public confidence on the actual state of affairs. I am interested to know what this forebodes for the next elections here. Is Prof. Celina Oko one of the fifth elements planted in INEC by the ruling party to frustrate Jega?

But Jega seems determined to succeed , though I wonder how far he can go. If not that Nigerians are determined like Jega to ensure success in the coming polls, the whole thing would have collapsed already. In this hoopla, Professor Jega had revealed that only 98000 out of the 120,000 DDC machines ordered for the two-week long exercise have so far arrived. The remaining, he assured, would be available in a couple of days. He also assured that all qualified voters would be registered within the duration of the exercise and ruled out any extension of time as a result of the hiccups.

Already, top PDP notable are already clamouring for the abrogation of the use of the DDC machines. A member of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, has suggested the adoption of the INEC list used in the last general elections. He made the suggestion, on Friday, at Atta, Ikeduru, Local Government Area of Imo State, where he participated in the ongoing voter registration at his ward.

The politician said that his suggestion came in view of problems noticed with the use of the DDC machines for the exercise. According to him, what the commission should have done was to update the old register and make corrections where necessary. Chief Iwuanyanwu, who registered at about 1.30 p.m. alongside his wife, Eudora, pointed out that with the elections around the corner, no amount of time extension would enable INEC to register every eligible voter in the country. He said that the commission was not to blame because the time it was given was too short to succeed. “Very soon, these machines will start breaking down and there will be problem of replacing them because INEC doesn’t have enough for replacement,” he said.

As the coming weeks unfolds, fears are rife that pressures from various political quarters would be optimally exerted, all aimed at frustrating this lofty effort of departing from the past. As usual, the amount of funds already expended would become irrelevant. Nigeria as a result will remain in the status quo. And that would be the first triumph for all those who really do not want the DDC machines to change anything or add value to our electoral system and democracy.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

PDP Primaries: Pulling down our ‘giants’

by Joachim Ezeji

Does it not amount to short changing ourselves when we turn down experienced senators and allow green horns to represent us at the National Assembly? Does it also not amount to making ourselves small and low in the hallowed chambers of the national assembly to have new comers speak for us while other states such as Sokoto, Adamawa, Kebbi, Benue, Nassarawa etc are returning their serving and experienced senators?

It needs to be stressed that these days new comers or green horn senators are hardly allowed to chairman or lead very sensitive positions or committees in the senate or any house of law making. In the legislature, experience matters, and based on a senator’s length of tenure, ranking and seniority takes precedence. New senators generally spend a lot of their early days doing orientation and training activities on basic things such as observance of protocols, moving of motions, acts of networking and the techniques of drafting and presenting member bills. Also their views and contributions in senate debates are often basic as they are often bereft of parliamentary substance.

In this regards, the recent Peoples Democratic Party primaries in Imo comes into context. Though the PDP primaries have come and gone; it has nonetheless or perhaps eclipsed the political profile and adventure of notable senators; our representatives at the upper chambers of the National Assembly. This was very evident with the non-return of any of the serving senators. All three senators who were earlier elected in 2009 on the PDP platform currently have lost their foothold on that same platform.

Except Sylvester Anyanwu who had earlier defected to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) ; shunning the PDP primaries, the other two senators would likely not be returning to the senate. They may not even have the opportunity of contesting in the main election scheduled for April 2nd 2011. What this means is that both Senators Chris Anyanwu, and Osita Izunaso, all first time senators, would be bidding the senate chambers farewell in a matter of weeks. They can only return if either the result of their party primaries are upturned in their favour based on their petitions or they out rightly change political platform or switch to another party as Senator Sylvester Anyanwu has done.

One question that agitates my mind is; to what extent was the performance of these casualty senators a yard stick in the decision of the party to deny them tickets? Another question is; what are the implications for Imo State in bringing new comer senators to the National Assembly at every elections?

In Imo State this trend has remained the order since the return of democratic governance in1999. At that time and at the first instance, three senators stood in for Imo; they included Evan Enwerem, Ifeanyi Arararume and Arthur Nzeribe. In 2003, Evan Enwerem lost out in the primaries to Amah Iwuagwu. Unfortunately, Amah Iwuagwu died midway into his tenure and was replaced by Eze Ajoku who only spent less that 20 months in the senate.

However, in 2009 neither Eze Ajoku nor any of his other two colleagues from the state successfully made it back to the senate despite their indication of interest to return. Apart from Ifeanyi Ararume who had vied off to contest for Imo gubernatorial seat and was replaced by Sylvester Anyanwu; the other senators failed at the primaries. While Arthur Nzeribe lost out to Osita Izunaso; the then new entrant Eze Ajoku lost out to Chris Anyanwu.

It is also necessary to point out that since 1999 that all the senators that have represented Imo State at the senate had all come from the PDP. Pointedly too, none of these senators had lost at the main elections, rather they had always lost at the primaries stage of their party. It happened in 2003 with the upstaging of Evan Enwerem with Amah Iwuagwu; in 2009 with the upstaging of Arthur Nzeribe and Eze Ajoku with Osita Izunaso and Chris Anyanwu respectively. Recently, it has happened again with the upstaging of Chris Anyanwu with Kema Chikwe and Osita Izunaso with Hope Uzodimma. Sylvester Anyanwu had already read the hand writing on the wall and beat a retreat for another party; the ACN ticket.

Also, for the first time, Imo State was in 2009 represented wholesale by first time comers or legislative green horns at the senate. This had absolutely no connection with either professional training, or exposure. All three senators, Osinata Izunaso, Chris Anyanwu and Sylvester Anyanwu were new comers and as such had low ranking at the senate. The same scenario will likely be playing out as the new senate reconvenes in May 2011.

But was the defeat of these senators at the primaries a product of their seemingly poor performance at the senate? My answer is; may be and may be not. To me most of our elected office holders are poor performers.

In Orlu zone, some people have argued that Osita Izunaso deserves his fate. They accuses him of arrogance and hubris. There is the argument that the relatively unknown Izunaso who dethroned the ‘goliath’ Nzeribe in 2009 failed to remember how he was catapulted to that position in the first place. Based on this, they conclude that he therefore deserved to be made to eat the humble pie.

On the other hand, Senator Chris Anyanwu who currently is brooding over her loss has accused the state government of upstaging her. But close political watchers argue that she was a beneficiary of the same government in 2009 when Eze Ajoku was upstaged. She has been accused of poor representation and elitist aloofness to her constituency. People have queried why her open romance with the main opposition; the Alliance Group and yet expecting grace from the state government. These same accusations have also been extended the way of Sylester Anyanwu.

The number of motions moved, bills presented or constituency projected attracted to their zones seems not to be a central consideration here at all. What has been central in most cases has been rivalry between these senators and the state government for reasons quite unknown, outright envy, jealousy, witchhunt and perhaps antagonism by fellow politicians. In this web of intrigues, the poor masses have remained mere spectators.

For the Federal House of Representative the picture is also, almost similar. The PDP primaries have just foreclosed the chances of more than three-quarters of its representatives from returning to the federal house. They all lost at the PDP primaries.

And for the Imo State House of Assembly, similar scenario is almost playing out as over three-quarters of the 27 member house would not be returning to the house. Most of those that wont be returning based on their loses at the primaries are PDP members. Ironically, all 27 members had vied for a return ticket to the house. Most of them are also first time law makers. On track to take over their places are potential new comers or legislative green horns who would be coming to the house for the first time.

However, now that our senators have seemingly become outgoing, what becomes of them and politics? Wither the experiences, exposure and trainings as senators? Is the current trend capable of sustaining democracy in the long term?

Though most of these casualties have switched parties in order to still have the opportunity to partake in the forthcoming elections, the salient lessons remains apposite. It exposes the nature and trend of politics and democracy in Nigeria.

Whatever the case, we deserve to send out there, our best men and women. They need not all come from the same party. Plurality in party representation is not a bad idea. What should rather be central is our state. We need able representatives who are capable of looking their colleagues in the eyes and argue our positions at that top level.

Now that the parties have done their bit, I kindly appeal to Imo people to come forward and do the main voting where the final output will be made. We just need able and competent senators; chikena!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Working with the Ohakim’s 2011 budget

Joachim Ezeji
The primary objective of the Imo State 2011 budget proposal as recently enunciated by the state governor includes job creation, education and eradication of extreme poverty. Captioned ‘’Budget of consolidation and continuity’’, the budget had an 8 point policy direction, which consists of embargo on new projects; scaling down , continuation and/or completion of on-going projects; massive road rehabilitation in the 27 local government areas of the state; good governance, transparency, accountability, efficiency and training in the teaching and civil service and total automation of processes; total confrontation of the security problem in the state; job creation/ mass recruitment into government service; and finally, enhanced internally generated revenue.
Ambitious as the 2011 budget is, it offers negligible enthusiasm amongst the people for who it was drafted. This stems from past experiences, particularly, previous budgets which has failed repeatedly with little effort to learn from such failures. For example, the 2011 Imo budget in most aspects is similar to that of 2010. In 2010 the Imo State Government had a total budget estimate of N127, 260, 577, 253. The revenue component of that budget was estimated at 55.5% of the total budget while the capital receipt on the other hand was 44.4% of the total budget. Conversely, the recurrent expenditure constituted 41.6% while Capital expenditure was 58.3% of the total budget.
However, as at end of September 2010 the scorecard of the budget showed that only 50.04% of the estimated recurrent revenue of N70,705,678,311 was achieved while the capital receipts, a mere N18,581,787,844 of the projected sum of N56,554,898,942 i.e. less than 35% of the projected was generated. At 50.04% and 35% ratings, these components of the budget i.e. the revenue cannot be said to have done well in view of the huge expectations and development needs of the state.
On the other hand, the recurrent expenditure as at end of September 2010 stood at 56.8% of the total recurrent expenditure of N52,962,600,572 while the capital expenditure as at end of September 2010 was N36,324,865,583 representing 48.8% of total capital expenditure projection of N74, 297,976, 681. Again, at both 56.8% and 48.8% ratings these components of the budget does not inspire anybody.
In 2011, the governor has proposed a whopping budget of N124,475,132,834. The total recurrent revenue stands at N72,148,781,892 while the total recurrent expenditure stands at N60,675,238,007. The capital receipts this time is estimated at N52,326,350,942 or about 43% of the total budget while the recurrent revenue stands at N72,148,782,892 or 57%.
It is clear that the amount proposed for 2011 is a little less than that of 2010. It remains to be understood why this is so, could it be an adjustment to guide against failure as seen in the preceding year’s budget or a signal that little development would be pursued in the current year? Whatever it is, a coterie of questions still emerge, and some of these are: Why is the state government so much dependent on capital receipts knowing fully how precarious and unreliable it could be? Meeting the capital receipts components of any government budget would certainly require a lot of work which includes immense networking, diplomacy, good governance and transparency amongst others. Unlike recurrent revenue, they are not statutory.
The recurrent expenditure projections and profile of the government is neither plausible nor salutary. It smacks of anything but prudence in resource management for a government to expend 56.8% of its total projected recurrent expenditure at a time when it was merely generating 50.04% of the projected revenue. The amount expended on capital expenditure as at the end of September 2010 was not stated in the 2011 budget review of expenditure events of 2010. It remains to be understood if this omission was deliberate or intentional. Relevant questions should be asked at the follow up sessions on the budget at the House of Assembly.
It remains to be seen how the governor intends to achieve the lofty objectives of the 2011 budget with a fragile revenue base. Top on this objective is poverty alleviation and job creation. According to the governor, the poverty index in Imo State in 1996 was 56% but today it has dropped drastically to 48%. The governor had quoted the United Nations Human Development Index Report without dating the reference document to buttress this assertion. He argued that at 48%, that the poverty index in Imo is clearly above the Federal Government index of 72%, and that the reduction stems from the opportunities created by the massive investments in infrastructure, micro-credit as well as Human Development. He also argued that the establishment of a poverty alleviation bureau has tackled poverty in a multi-faceted manner, from skills acquisition to transportation as well as micro-credit schemes. The governor also revealed that his government had recently set up a committee to fish out the poorest of the poor in Imo State for proper documentation and adequate empowerment in 2011.
Poverty alleviation in Imo state should actually begin with the prompt payment of salaries and pensions. This is not intended to portray a superiority of these statutory payments over other state needs; but they can easily be monitored and measured unlike the so called claims of skills acquisition to transportation as well as micro-credit schemes by the government. Delays and protracted payments of statutory bills does not inspire confidence on the government, no matter what it claims to the contrary. Also, budgets that allocates over 40% of recurrent expenditure on overhead and personnel cost will certainly struggle to do well. This was the case in 2009, 2010 and sadly again in 2011.
What is the security vote of the governor? This important component of the budget is neither obvious nor clear from the wordings of the budget. I need to be shown where it is located and its subhead. However, is it the truth that the speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly has a security vote of N500 million, the secretary to the state government N250million, and the deputy speaker N200million? However, the budget 2011 had shown that the capital projects of the Imo State House of Assembly including its constituency projects is the sum of N470million, without any breakdown of what these are.
Government should be reminded that insensitive allocation of public funds to public office holders stirs envy and bad blood in the polity. It sounds so unreasonable to allocate as much as 40% of recurrent expenditure on top office holders be they members or part of the executive, legislature or judiciary. High level criminality such as kidnapping, armed robbery, contract inflation, graft and greed will remain eternal consequence of such allocations. Prudency should start from the top of the pyramid where the bulk of the resources are manipulated.
On education, the governor claims that as part of his effort to ensure the realisation of functional and qualitative education in the state, it released the sum of N18million for the procurement of science equipment, chemicals and reagents for the 2010 May/June NECO and SSCE practical examinations for the 31No public secondary schools in the state. He further claimed that his government has released the sum of N150million out of the N250million approved for the accreditation of all courses in the college of engineering of the Imo State University. He also asserted that has successfully returned forty-five secondary schools to the Missions, while discussions are on-going with voluntary agencies/private proprietors that have indicated interest to take back their schools. He further revealed that his government has instituted a special overseas postgraduate scholarship scheme for Imo indigenes. And that candidates with first class or second class upper degrees would be encouraged to enrol in the Ivy League Universities in the world. The purpose of this, according to the governor is to produce well trained first class graduates who would be future leaders of the state and are well equipped to play leadership roles.
The happenings in the educational sector of the state is nothing to cheer about. It defies common sense to return forty-five secondary schools to private organisations and missions, and then have government withdraw apposite responsibility just after 2 years of offsetting staff salaries. What does government intend to achieve? What is the primary objective of that action? Is it merely to offload government financial responsibility thereto and have the now accruing government revenue saved? What happens to it, will it be looted, frittered or prudently reinvested into governance? I think that the wholesale returning of schools to missions or private organisations is utterly a bad idea. The simple reason is that these missions lack the capacity to make these schools competitive. Missions may struggle to meet the requisite funding required to run them. Running of schools is another important public service that needs to be preserved and nourished. Investment in school infrastructure is as important as teacher motivation. Trying to save funds in the face of competing educational needs amounts to self destruction.
The revelation on the institution of a special overseas postgraduate scholarship scheme for Imo indigenes is a welcome development, though overdue. We need to have the modalities for this published with the relevant bureau set up. However, the issue of Ivy league universities as the centre point of the policy is outlandish and neither here nor there. People need to be supported to train abroad in various spheres where Imo lack skills. It must not necessarily be an Ivy league university. Moreover, there are just about 10 Ivy league universities and all of them are located in the USA hence limiting this policy on Ivy league universities smacks of utopian targets. As an international environmental scholar at Brown University, one of the Ivy league universities, I can humbly assert that there are many other great universities in the USA as well as other parts of the world in the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, Loughborough and even KTH in Sweden. Great leaders of the state in the future who are well equipped to play leadership roles can emerge from even modest schools. Tell me, what school did the greatest leader Imo State has ever i.e. Late Sam Mbakwe attend?
Relocating Imo State University and designating and developing a location for the new School of Engineering campus of the university needs to be reprioritized. I shudder to query the worthwhileness of these two major capital projects in the same budget timeline. Since the university currently have a campus in Owerri, efforts should rather be exerted to first develop a new School of Engineering campus of the university instead. Anything other than this will further weaken the budget.
The government’s proposals on the economic sector of the state ; consisting of agriculture, commerce, industry, works, transport, housing, petroleum , environment, public utilities and rural development are very salutary and needs commendation. Government capacity to generate jobs for the teeming unemployed is very possible provided utmost good fate is deployed. However, I am pained that the government is mute about the implication of climate change on the economic sector if ignored. This therefore calls to mind the imperativeness of adopting a policy stand on how to go about economic development in the state. In view of the uncertainties involved with climate change, it is important to identify low-cost, no-regret responses that enhance the choices available in the future. For example, economic cost-benefit analysis – which could include environmental values – would suffice if decisions are made primarily based on economic efficiency. If, however, sustainable development is a leading policy objective, developments of today would also have to be evaluated based on their effects on intergenerational and intragenerational equity, and should include consideration of environmental impacts.
Tourism in the state could also be made to transit to eco-tourism in order to safeguard the environment. In this regards the government should once again reappraise its position on the ‘disvirgining’ of the Oguta lake. There is a lot the government could learn from the civil society , particularly NGOs working on sustainable development in the state. Isolating NGOs or treating them with suspicion undermines sustainability.
Till the house reconvenes to deliberate on the budget, I join the governor to chorus that Imo is in the hands of God.