We Must Resist Harsh and Inhumane Policies as a Patriotic Duty to Our Country
When Macbeth says, “Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill,” he simply means that earlier bad deeds beget much worse acts when motivated by evil.
The above quote is not meant to raise alarm. It’s just a call to action. A plea to all well-meaning Nigerians to be on high alert against unpatriotic individuals dressed as politicians who are plainly committed to harming the welfare and well-being of the Nigerian people. We have said so much about elections in the past that they were shams for instance. Efforts to reform the road that led us there have been and are still being contested by the so-called powers-that-be. Their mistrust in the sincere effort to strengthen and grow our nascent democracy betrays their insincerity.
A word of caution, however, is that Nigerians must be proactive on issues of common interest because the forces behind undemocratic and corrupt practices that continue to undermine the public good are relentless in recruiting lackeys who are most willing to counter our genuine efforts. Several National Assembly probes into fuel subsidies, as well as the responses of certain alleged thieves, exemplify this heinous phenomenon.
CHRICED has monitored the transition to democratic rule and its processes in Nigeria since 2007 to date. The present state of “democratic governance‟ in Nigeria gives us serious cause to worry.
Instead of making progress, democratic governance appears to be in crisis if not in danger as a result of many factors which include the following: the state of insecurity in the country; the reign of impunity; lack of institutional independence of INEC; high level of corruption in the country; interference with the judiciary; killing of the Electoral Reform process; undemocratic local government system; lawlessness and lack of internal democracy in Nigeria’s political parties; growing rate of poverty and massive unemployment in the country; marginalization of women, youths, and persons with disability in the political process.
Grave Insecurity of Lives and Property
Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) proclaims that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. Nigeria is a country founded on the rule of law, and the rule of law presupposes that there must be an effective executive government capable of maintaining law and order at all times. Unfortunately, under the present civilian-based governance regime, innocent citizens are being killed, maimed, robbed, raped, and kidnapped on a daily basis.
The security agencies are not able to curb the criminal activities of the terrorist group, armed robbers, kidnappers, militants, assassins, bandits, and most recently, unknown gunmen activities. Today, most Nigerians live in fear. Various governments in Nigeria are begging armed groups and persons who have violated the sanctity of life of many Nigerians to come and embrace amnesty. The right to life guaranteed in section 33 of the Nigerian constitution implies a duty on the government to save life. The successive Government in Nigeria has failed woefully in this regard.
Several reports have shown that some of the armed groups in Nigeria were created and nurtured by politicians for political intimidation of political opponents. Most of the state governments in Nigeria maintain and keep private armed men in their payroll who are used to rig elections. After the elections, the arms are turned against ordinary Nigerians. Again, the recent altercation between the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) shows that all is not well with our security system.
Uwais Panel Report and the Electoral Reform
The issue of electoral reform in Nigeria arose as a result of public indignation and protests against the April 2007 General Elections, which, according to local and international election observers, were profoundly defective, and fundamentally flawed. The salient recommendations of the Uwais Panel on Electoral Reform which enjoyed the overwhelming support of Nigerians have been jettisoned by successive governments and the National Assembly.
The key recommendations of the Uwais Panel, which are still highly germane to our democratic march, include: that the appointment of the Board of INEC shall be made by the Council of State on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) subject to confirmation by the Senate; that State Independent Electoral Commissions shall be re-organized and incorporated into the structure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); that state-level secretariat of INEC should therefore consist of 37 Directors of Elections, one for each State and the FCT, appointed by INEC, trained and post to States other than their States of origin; that the burden of proving that election held and was free and fair shall lie on the INEC; that no elected person should assume office until the case against him/her in the Tribunal or Court is disposed of.
So far, all the Governments in Nigeria have in their selfish wisdom brazenly refused to implement these far-reaching recommendations of the Uwais Panel which would have put paid to most of the electoral malpractices currently witnessed in the country. The President still retains the power to appoint the Chairman of INEC and Resident Electoral Commissioners. The Resident Electoral Commissioners are appointed on the recommendations of the ruling party governors and party leaders. So, how can we make progress on our democratic journey?
Lack of Internal Democracy in Nigeria Political Parties
Democratic elections without genuine political participation led to a government and legislatures which deny inclusiveness. Genuine participation implies a population educated on human rights, the political system (including political parties, electoral procedures, and representative institutions), and civic duties. The rule of law is a basic requirement of democracy. It is the glue of a democratic system that must be guaranteed by establishing, among other things, civilian control of the military and ensuring the independence of the judiciary. But we are increasingly witnessing the emergence of a blocked transition in Nigeria where popular participation of the citizenry does not exist.
There is increasing monopolization of political power by the executive branch to the detriment of the legislative and the judiciary. Currently, reports are awash on how the newly inaugurated Tinubu presidency is shopping for a Senate President and Federal House of Representative Speaker who will position the 10th National Assembly at the executive’s beck and call.
CHRICED believes that for democracy to succeed, political parties must be democratic, representational, inclusive, and accessible to civil society scrutiny. Unfortunately, most political parties in Nigeria today are either (a) representing oligarchies or former power holders, (b) composed of former radicals who have not adjusted to partisan norms and practices, or (c) individuals united by their personal interests in seeking power, with no coherence, credibility, or innovative political platforms.
Election Petitions – From Delayed Justice to No Justice
The adage goes that justice delayed is justice denied. However, in the context of election petition proceedings in Nigeria, the current attitude is that justice denied is better than justice delayed. Section 285 of the 1999 constitution was amended to provide the following time limits for considering and deciding election petitions:
“An election tribunal shall deliver its judgment in writing within 180 days from the date of the filing of the petition.
An appeal from a decision of an election tribunal or court shall be heard and disposed of within 60 days from the date of the delivery of judgment of the tribunal.
The Court in all appeals from election tribunal may adopt the practice of first giving its decision and reserving the reasons therefore to a later date”.
This amendment was intended to prevent a situation in which petitions remain pending until the office’s term expires. The amendment mandates that the state organize its justice system to ensure that election petition cases are resolved within the specified timeframes. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has interpreted the statute to imply that election petition cases that have not been decided within the allotted time have expired. In accordance with the ruling, numerous election petition cases were dismissed without being heard on their merits. The simplest way to defend an election petition in Nigeria is to delay the hearing of the petition until the time limit for hearing the petition has expired.
Economy and social decays
Decadence and degradation have persisted in every aspect and sphere of our national life, including the economic, social, and political spheres. Continually, a cloud of gloom and apprehension envelops the land. The incompetence, insensitivity, and despotic arrogance of the APC-led government over the past eight years and now have become legendary in the face of grievous national problems, as has its pitiful inability to offer viable solutions to the multiplicity of problems that plague our society at present.
An excerpt from Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s acceptance speech at the APC primary in 2014 in Lagos read as follows: “My dear fellow countrymen and women, it is with a deep sense of humility that I stand before you today to accept the nomination of my party, the All-Progressives Congress to be its candidate and flag-bearer in 2015 presidential elections.
My nomination is not because I am better than any of the other contestants. I see it as a tribute and mark of confidence to carry the torch as we all join hands to rescue our dear country Nigeria, from those who have led us into the current state of insecurity, poverty, sectarian divide, and hopelessness among our people.
I stand before you today to ask that you join me in a common cause. My call to you is not to realize the personal fulfillment of one man. This Common Cause is nothing less than the love for our nation and concern for its present condition. And a resolve to make things better for Nigeria. What I say today is for all Nigerians: Christian and Muslim, Southern and Northern, rich and poor, young and old, man and woman. We are all citizens of Nigeria. There is no dividing line among us that I care to honor. Either we advance as one or fail altogether.”
To us in CHRICED, the above was a statement by a patriot, a statesman, and a hero, who, finding himself struggling for power tends to be with the suffering people of our dear country. Buhari’s piece offered an evaluation of President Jonathan’s government, which in hindsight, would appear to have accurately mirrored the enduring grievances against the PDP.
However, the transfer of power from the Jonathan-led PDP Government to General Muhammadu Buhari on May 29, 2015, brought no dividends like safe and secured existence, improved infrastructure, improved economic conditions, and respect for fundamental rights and a freer democratic space where Nigerians can pursue their democratic aspirations. President Buhari, confronted with the reality of governance did not imbibe the democratic values as ways of conduct he preached. Like Gregory Peck, the Gunfighter, the old General refused to shed his military orientation.
Buhari, who vehemently criticized the bad economic policies of Obasanjo and Jonathan, surpassed records in the implementation of World Bank/IMF policies. The resulting large-scale misery inflicted by 8 years of his government and public outcry brought the government into direct confrontation with groups like the NLC, TUC, ASUU, ASUP, NANS, NMA, NUT, and the pro-democracy groups.
For the avoidance of doubt, for eight years, Nigerians had a raw deal in the hands of President Buhari, whose inhumane and harsh policies left an unsavory tale of sorrows, tears, and blood. Nigerians in the millions groaned as the government could hardly put up an effective response to the challenges, which undermined citizens’ welfare and human security.
From taking the unflattering recognition as the poverty capital of planet Earth, to the worst place a woman can give birth, to the rise of banditry and other shades of terrorism and lawlessness across the country, it was clear that the Buhari government lacked the imagination and critical thinking required to bring Nigeria out of the woods.
There can be no mistake in the fact that in virtually all critical sectors of Nigerian life, Buhari’s aloof and hands-off governance approach left citizens traumatized and unable to cope with the political, economic, and social hemorrhage, which became the lot of the country. The speed with which Nigerians on social media awarded themselves “certificates of survival” after the harrowing and disaster-riddled eight years of Buhari, speaks volumes of the level of pain and frustrations that the people endured under such a recalcitrant government.
CHRICED believes that there are key lessons for both the current government and the governed to learn from the colossal failures of the previous government. As it is said, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat the mistakes previously recorded.
Presently, there is a cloud of controversy and divisiveness, which beclouded and engulfed the electoral victory of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
However, notwithstanding the legal challenge to his electoral mandate, many citizens still viewed Bola Tinubu’s inauguration as a milestone, which should offer the nation the opportunity to break forth into a new dawn defined by inclusive and participatory governance. Unfortunately, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has started and continued with this tradition of unpopular policies. We are all witnesses to the Buhari Naira currency redesign which sent many innocent lives to premature deaths. While the dust of the Naira crisis is yet to settle, the newly inaugurated government of Tinubu again has the effrontery to announce the removal of subsidy.
Just a few minutes into his time as leader of the country, the Tinubu Presidency started its tenure with the similarly harsh gift of subsidy removal without due consultation, no legislative backing, no cabinet in place, and with no conscious attempt to address the fundamentals, which ought to be looked at before any such step is taken. As such, instead of starting the process of healing the pains and lacerations of the Buhari locust years, President Tinubu has further rubbed salt on Buhari’s inflicted injuries.
CHRICED recognizes the difficulties inherent in the subsidy program. Many have talked about the inefficiencies and corruption which plagued the administration of the scheme. Others who have pointed to the removal of subsidies have presented it as the silver bullet, which would address all of Nigeria’s financial woes. Yet, many of those experts found it convenient to avoid talking about the criminal actions of the government, which brought Nigeria to the sorry state, where its four refineries ground to a halt, and the whole nation of over 200 million people must depend on importation to meet its fuel needs.
For us at CHRICED, the same political elites who are responsible for the treasonous mishandling of the economy and national assets are selling us the antidote of subsidy withdrawal. CHRICED believes that the political elite, which mishandled and ruined the economy, is not in the greatest position to advise the people on how to go ahead.
For us, it is completely unacceptable for those who have turned the state into their personal fiefdom and who live lavishly at the expense of the public to be the ones to tell the rest of Nigerians how they must make sacrifices for the country’s economic fortunes and stability. As a result, we must first demand that political officeholders who are asking the rest of the public to sacrifice demonstrate what sacrifices they have made to contribute to the country’s economic stability.
If the Tinubu Presidency were acting in good faith, the hasty announcement of subsidy removal should have been accompanied by a comprehensive package of governance reforms, demonstrating to the public the readiness to drastically address the massive theft of our crude oil, tackling the country’s rampant corruption, cutting the high cost of governance, and eliminating the sheer waste that characterizes government expenses.
Tinubu Presidency and Absence of an Anti-Corruption Blueprint
Notwithstanding its infancy, we are firmly of the opinion that it is not too early to demand accountability from the Tinubu Presidency. Also, it is not too early for Nigerians to start asking difficult questions. Just as the President stated during his campaign, “political power is not served à la carte in restaurants,” Nigerians must realize that effective, participatory, and inclusive governance, along with all the associated benefits, will not be served à la carte. People must fight for it by demanding accountability; this lesson should have been thoroughly learned during the extremely difficult eight years of Buhari in office.
Therefore, Nigerians have the right to inquire about the government’s strategies for combating corruption and preventing its debilitating impacts on development outcomes. If public finances were effectively administered, there would be sufficient funds to meet the needs of every Nigerian. Therefore, Nigerians must assume their responsibilities as citizens and cease waiting for a political messiah. We must demand for subsidy scammers, oil thieves, and those responsible for the comatose of our four refineries be dealt with and brought to book.
Furthermore, Nigerians have the right to scrutinize anyone seen around the President; it is thus concerning that among the hordes of politicians who have visited the President in the Aso Villa in the last few days is a convicted former Governor who brought untold shame and disgrace to Nigeria as a result of the grand scale corruption and treasury looting for which he was prosecuted and jailed in London. Such persons mingling with the President are very concerning because it suggests that the Presidency lacks the commitment to speak out strongly against and combat corruption.
In the end, if the government takes a soft stance on corruption, little progress will be made in addressing Nigeria’s socioeconomic issues and other social concerns. As a result, CHRICED urges President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima to disclose their assets publicly as soon as possible for the purpose of openness, probity, and accountability. In addition, the government should develop a roadmap for corruption prevention to guarantee that good governance is not undermined.
Nigerians must not be deceived by the rhetoric of reforms under this administration. The citizens should realize by now that all the noises about reforms are just agenda to buy time, and before you know it, President Tinubu will be jostling for the 2027 elections. Barber Conable, a former Republican member of the US Congress for 20 years and President of the World Bank from 1986-1991 said, ‘When governments are not sure of what to do about a problem, they readily resort to talk about institutional and economic reforms’.2 This is aptly true in the Nigerian situation as the economic reform policies of privatization, commercialization, deregulations, monetization, etcetera introduced in the life of civil dispensation have demonstrated so far.
Indeed, the degree of rot in the polity is such that unless something decisive is done now to arrest the drift, the country would appear inexorably heading for anarchy and ruin. While the people buckle under the yoke of economic deprivation, joblessness, and all forms of social injustice and malaise; principal actors in all strata of government continue to display obscene opulence and grandeur, a feat made possible by blatant and unabashed looting of the public treasury.
CHRICED calls for support from all Nigerians in the struggle to fight off corrupt, rotten, and depraved practices that have reduced the majority of our population to mere serfs who only lived to minister to the satisfaction of the low desires of the upper stratum of our society.
We thank you for heeding our call and for your rapt attention.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. ZIkirullahi