The Impending Implosion Of APC, By Reuben Abati

Just take the phrase: “impending” in the title above with a pinch of salt.  I use the word because in

Just take the phrase: “impending” in the title above with a pinch of salt.  I use the word because in politics as in life, things happen – as seemingly absolute situations become redeemable and what originally appears impossible could be the catalyst for fresh opportunities.  Otherwise, the truth is that the ruling Nigerian political party, the All Progressives Congress is already imploding, it has in fact imploded; the party is in the throes of a debilitating illness. The implosion began almost as soon as the party assumed power in 2015.

The APC emerged as a special purpose vehicle – composed almost entirely from second hand, used groups from the CPC, the ACN, APGA, ANPP, and a break away faction of the PDP, known as new PDP (nPDP) – even if there was nothing new about it, with the sole objective of taking power from the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.

Pro-APC persons described the APC as a child of necessity. They were convinced that 16 years of being in power had made the PDP complacent, arrogant and that its members had lost focus.  They also argued that the Jonathan government needed to be changed by all means possible. Political coalitions often work when for one reason or the other, the ruling party loses either credibility or legitimacy, and the coalition gains the support of the people but the extent of the coalition’s success depends on its level of preparedness for office, and the quality of consensus among the partners.

The APC coalition is not the first in the history of Nigerian politics, but it is perhaps the most impactful- even if driven by hate speech, populist propaganda and mass hysteria and hypnotism. It was a question of politics meeting with the public mood, and an unstoppable moment anchored on the symbolism of a strong man coming to “rescue” Nigeria. The electorate that bought into this narrative and turned it into votes is today full of regrets.

The APC began to unravel from day one, particularly at the centre. It took the government that emerged about six months to put a cabinet together, and almost two years to make some other critical appointments.  Members of the coalition struggled for space, influence and power among themselves, and almost immediately, there were issues over the choice of the leaders of the National Assembly. The drama of the choice of the Senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives left many power brokers out in the cold.

If there was any power sharing formula among the partners, somehow this was ignored by the CPC arm of the coalition led by the President, all made worse by the domination of the levers of government by CPC and Buhari loyalists.  Non-Fulani members of the APC soon began to sound as if they had been attacked by a band of imported herdsmen. Party members including Governors and Senators, and party officials expressed frustration openly.

In less than three years, some of the bitterest criticisms of the party have come not from the opposition but from within the party itself: Timi Frank perpetually complaining about party processes, Shehu Sani and other Senators from Kaduna State at loggerheads with their State Governor, personality conflicts in virtually every state, most notably in Adamawa, Imo, Kano, Rivers and Lagos state, Governor Ortom of Benue openly accusing the Federal Government of negligence, Governor El-Rufai, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and  Senator Shehu Sani at various times sounding notes of warning, Senator Dino Melaye assuming the role of an in-house critic, and members of the ACN and the nPDP alleging that they have been used and dumped.

The APC wing of the National Assembly is divided among its ranks, and has posed more threat to the Executive arm of government than the opposition. The APC is also the biggest challenge to its own promise. In 2015, the party promised to tackle three main issues: security, the economy and corruption. It has since found itself in the uncomfortable situation of disowning some other promises it made. It even took more than two years to launch an economic blueprint.  The party over-promised and under-delivered.

It is possible to argue that differences and contestations are part of the democratic process and that this is the only way political parties can grow.  Except that in this case, the conflicts are not ideas-based, even members of the APC themselves have no idea what the party really stands for, but they all seem so sure of their personal ambitions, hence the obvious lack of order and coherence. Knowing this to be so, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also the leader of the party, had set in motion a reconciliation process, and appointed Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to lead it.  This has not worked as Tinubu soon found himself in the heat of acrimony with the party Chairman, Chief John Oyegun and some of his own former protégés.

The extent of this implosion became more evident during the party’s recent state congresses. Parallel congresses were held in more than 10 states, there were reports of boycotts, violence and general confusion. Given the tone and nature of the conflict, it seems obvious that the APC is a victim of its own lack of three things – internal democracy, originality and sincerity of purpose.

It is a familiar scenario. The APC leadership should learn from the example of the PDP and how that party lost the 2015 general election. The first major crisis faced by the PDP was the failure to manage the exit of the five Governors in 2013, and the subsequent mischief over the 2015 campaign process. Powerful forces within the party for their own selfish reasons caused disaffection among members particularly at the grassroots level. Internal democracy was frustrated at all levels by those who regarded themselves as powerful Abuja forces, the same drama that is now being played out in the APC.

The PDP went into the 2015 elections, as a divided party, with fifth columnists among its ranks. The APC now faces the same challenge. The nPDP wing of the APC has already served what looks like a quit notice. There are cases in court. The usual attitude is for those who emerged triumphant in the state congresses to insist that whoever wants to leave the party should do so. It was this same attitude that messed up the PDP.

Failure has taught the PDP a bitter lesson: the party is only now just in the process of reinventing itself. It is ironic for example that the same PDP in the face of likely crisis in Ekiti state recently ended up having a peaceful party primary, with the defeated congratulating the winner and promising to work for the good of the party.

In Kaduna state, the PDP also put up an impressive performance in the recent local government elections. It is important however that the PDP does not begin to see the crisis within the APC as its own gain. It still has a lot to do to convince the electorate that it can be taken serious again.  In 2014, PDP strategists worked on the permutation that the APC, being a community of strange bedfellows would soon fall apart to the advantage of the PDP.  It was a bad strategy which did not work then and which is also not likely to work in 2019.

As things stand, the APC appears as desperate for power today as it was in 2014, and those who have sworn that the Buhari government cannot be replaced would do as much as they did last Saturday, to impose their will on the Nigerian people.  Politics remains warfare in Nigeria because it is the surest ticket to power, cheap money and easy life. For the Nigerian politician, winning is therefore everything.

If anyone thought 2015 was a major turning point in Nigerian politics, the 2019 general elections may even prove to be more eventful, and while the PDP may not fully resurrect, the APC may suffer worse fate, paving the way for Nigeria’s new beginning…

Lessons From The Royal Wedding, By Reuben Abati

I could not resist the temptation to watch the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  The symbolism of

I could not resist the temptation to watch the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  The symbolism of the event was too compelling to be ignored – a Windsor marrying a bi-racial lady, a divorcee, an American and an actress, from an obviously dysfunctional background.

When King Edward VIII chose to marry an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson in 1936 – the British royalty kicked, the government and the Church demurred. the public was scandalized. Edward VIII followed his heart.  He abdicated.

The British monarchy has been much transformed since then. Queen Elizabeth II presides over a modern, if not post-modernist monarchy; by granting the enabling order for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel, the Queen dug a hole through the walls of race and prejudice and offered hope.  A future English prince or princess would end up having black cousins, aunties and uncles!

This symbolism was most felt at the wedding ceremony- with an all black cast of the Kingdom choir, wearing natural hair, buns and African hairstyles singing “Stand by Me”, Sheku Kanneh-Mason on the cello, and an impassioned sermon delivered by Bishop Michael Curry of the US Episcopal Church. Curry practically took Chicago to London, as he sermonized about the power of life, the fire of love, slavery…. Martin Luther King. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had asked the congregation to stand and sing a chorus or if he asked whoever wanted to give his or her life to Jesus Christ to step forward and be blessed…Bishop Curry’s performance will be long remembered.

The wedding was orderly, simple, classy and elegant. The bride carried herself with grace and dignity – not even a trace could be seen of the pressure that had been piled on her, a few days earlier, by her father who was not too sure if he would attend or not, and her uncouth half-brother and half-sister who chose her moment of glory to bring out dirty family linens.  She had to walk alone half the way, before Prince Charles took her arm and walked her down the aisle – without giving her away, though.

The guests arrived according to schedule, and every one knew where to sit. I did not see anyone running up and down trying to greet people, and generally seeking attention. The Queen and Prince Phillip did not come late, not even for a second.  The Queen carried her own bag and she didn’t have a retinue of noisy courtiers attending to her.

In Nigeria, “big men and women” routinely arrive late to their own events, usually so noisily. All the celebrities at the royal wedding did not have barrel-chested bodyguards. I was at a wedding event in Lagos recently, the comperes – Ali Baba and IK Osakioduwa – spent so much time begging uniformed bodyguards to allow their bosses to be human for once. Nobody listened. At another event, Bisi Olatilo kept assuring every one that no VIP at the event will come to any harm. He was ignored. Six gun-wielding policemen accompanied one state Governor into the hall and they stood behind him throughout!  When he was invited to the stage to make a speech – they followed him!

Social events are thus, indeed, iconic. They reflect a people’s level of socio-economic and cultural development. The church service in London was solemn. There was nobody shouting “Amen” and “Halleluyah somebody” on top of their voices.  The church did not solicit for offerings or donations. There were no politicians hugging the limelight.  Heads of State were not invited. Some of the richest persons in the world would have been glad to be in attendance, but only a few were called. Ha, I forgot: there were no photographers running up and down, sweating and disrupting proceedings, pushing their cameras in people’s faces, with flashy, blinding lights – photographers can be such a nuisance at Nigerian events!

When you attend most weddings in Nigeria, so much flesh is also often on display: from the bride to her bridesmaids, there is usually a nudity competition – bare legs, bare boobs, with some of the latter even threatening to break loose. This at a point became such a serious problem that some churches now inspect wedding gowns or offer specifications. No wedding is complete these days around here without heavy make-up either. You could run into a lady whose wedding you once attended and not recognize she was the one.  In an attempt to be beautiful by force, every Nigerian bride engages the services of a make-up artist, and when the make-up is done, you’d think the bride is taking a role in a movie.

Nigerian weddings provide an opportunity for the guests to show-off and steal the show. Some people even go to weddings, to as they say, network, or advertise their new wardrobe, or dance crazily, some even end up dressing better than the groom and the bride. The wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex provided good lessons in taste, etiquette, elegance and the triumph of love. I enjoyed the wedding very much – on television of course.

2019 And The Politics Of Campaign Finance, By Reuben Abati

Each Governor was reportedly asked by the ruling APC party to bring N250 million ahead of the party’s National Convention.

Each Governor was reportedly asked by the ruling APC party to bring N250 million ahead of the party’s National Convention. When the public protested, recently, the party disclaimed the news even if it added that it was the responsibility of members to pay outstanding dues.

The APC needs N6 billion for its pre-election Convention. In the just concluded Ekiti Governorship primaries, an APC Gubernatorial aspirant who claimed he spent N100 million, got just 11 votes! I wonder how much the eventual winner spent. This story and similar ones, underscore the politics of campaign finance, the threat it poses to electoral integrity and outcomes, the enforceability of electoral laws, and the freedom of the people to choose.

Elections cost money, however.  The political party has to set up a party secretariat in virtually every ward, state, and at the national level, pay staff, promote its brand and its agenda, organize meetings, pay sitting allowances, support candidates, run media advertisements, arrange receptions and entertainment, pay for logistics, buy vehicles, pay for air travels and road transportation, the organization of rallies and campaigns, reserve some tidy sum for lobbying at all levels including the lobbying of the media and other groups in civil society.  Win or lose eventually, every political party be it in Africa, Europe, America, or Asia knows that money drives the game of politics. This is no rocket science, no matter how unfortunate the implications may be. It is nonetheless for this reason that political parties write into their constitutions, means of raising funds. These include membership subscriptions, payment for expression of interest in elective positions, donations, fund raising activities, and support from friends and the corporate sector.

As it is with the political parties, so it is with the candidates who seek elective offices on the platform of political parties. Their chances are also determined by the amount of money that they are able to raise and spend. In Nigeria, our experience has been that political office holders take loans, borrow money from Godfathers which has to be repaid with interest and at a cost, sell their property if they have any, solicit for money from friends and corporate organisations who are also at best, investors looking for latter-day return on investment.

In Oyo state, Lamidi Adedibu fell out with Governor Rasheed Ladoja because he insisted on a share of the Governor’s security vote. In Anambra state, Governor Chris Ngige ran into troubled waters because he refused to share privileges with the man that allegedly put him in power.

This commercialization of the political process is a universal dilemma and part of the crisis of what seems to be the perceived end of liberal democracy. If money makes all the difference, and politicians have to acquire and repay monetary IOUs, then where does that leave the big, liberal, ideas about choice, sovereignty and the power of the majority?

Where really, are the people in the entire democratic equation?  Before the election, on election-day and even after, the electorate at least in Africa, expect to be paid in cash and kind. The people are encouraged to embrace democracy with cash, they are induced to vote in the same manner and their loyalty is maintained only when it is procured. Countries where democracy still seems to be putative or uncertain are the worst hit and many of them are in Africa. But it must be carefully noted that politicians also spend money elsewhere: in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the United States, Spain, Germany, Italy and so on…. campaign finance has been a problem, to be specific, corrupt campaign financing, poses a threat to the globalization of the democratic enterprise.

The liberal democratic project is based on the assumption that the electorate are granted the freedom to choose, determine the future of their country and their individual/collective future as well. When they make mistakes, they bear the consequences, but a few years later, four, or five, under the constitution, they may also be allowed the opportunity to correct their mistakes and hope for the best within the framework of representational democracy. But a drawback to all that, I argue, has been money, described elsewhere as the root of evil. The connection between evil and money has been a principal bane of democracy, turning democracy, that same vehicle that is supposed to bring good tidings into a vehicle of mixed blessings – the good and the ugly.

In cognizance of this, many countries have written into their electoral frameworks, rules and procedures on campaign finance: to rescue democracy from money bags, the influence of money, also, to prevent the undue use of money, and to preserve the people’s sovereignty. In real terms, these rules which exist in virtually every jurisdiction, include laws and regulations which forbid the unauthorized use of state resources for political purposes, contributions from dubious sources, violation of campaign funding limits as prescribed by enabling laws, the use of money to influence voters and election outcomes, non-disclosure of campaign spending, abuse of media, broadcasting and political advertising rules, and rules on declaration of assets, academic qualifications, health and other disclosures and internal party guidelines and rules.

Accordingly, Sections 222 – 229 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) provides rules and regulations on the operations of political parties, with Sections 225 and 226 thereof affirming the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the country’s electoral body to monitor, inquire into and assess campaign finances, and a party’s source of and management of funds. Section 228 expressly provides sanctions with regard to party finance and campaign finance, and provides the National Assembly statutory powers in this regard.  The best that the National Assembly of Nigeria has done in this regard, however, has been the enactment and review of Electoral Acts to guide the conduct of elections in Nigeria (notably the Acts of 2002, 2006 and 2010).

The extant 2010 Electoral Act, as amended, caps spending limits as follows: Presidential election – N1 billion, Governorship- N200 million, Senatorial – N40 million, House of Representatives candidate – N20 million, and House of Assembly – N10 million.  Section 92 (3) of this enabling law also requires every political party to submit, six months after every election, an audited revenue and expenditure report of the party, failing which penalties are stipulated. But this has never happened.  The first key argument of this commentary, therefore, after the legal, cultural and socio-political, context described above, is that corrupt campaign finance is a big problem in Nigerian politics, and that money poses the biggest threat to our democracy.

Upon his assumption of office in Nigeria in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari recognizing this fact decided that he would focus on the abuse of campaign financing and tackle electoral corruption.  The way he has gone about it and the conduct of his own political party, the All Progressives Congress should be a useful global study in how not to tackle the challenge of campaign finance.  And it is like this: campaign finance scrutiny and the audit of the electoral process requires a non-partisan, and objective process, but in Buhari’s case, the process began with a determination to discredit and malign the preceding administration based on the assumption that this would automatically make the successor look good. It is a strategy that has failed.

The biggest focus of the Buhari administration has been simply this: to prove to Nigerians that the preceding Jonathan administration used public funds to finance the 2015 general elections, and that the public funds involved were meant for the prosecution of the war against the Boko Haram: Nigeria’s biggest security challenge.  We have been fed with details of thieving officials, money given to prayer-warriors of different denominations, the media, the civil society, traditional rulers, politicians and other stakeholders, but here is the take-away: the Buhari war against corruption has been utterly selective and selfish. His government is just as terribly guilty.

The 2015 general election is in retrospect, a test case for Nigerian democracy. The truth is that the dominant political parties – the PDP and the APC – both violated the laws on campaign finance, before and after the fact.  I am not aware for example that either of the political parties complied with the aforementioned Section 92(3), or Section 92(6) of the Electoral Act 2010, (as amended), or that even INEC itself bothered to take up the matter.  In every election since 1999, contribution and spending limits have been exceeded and the relevant laws have been observed in the breach by political parties and politicians at all levels.

In 2015, the Jonathan campaign at a fund raising dinner breached the fund raising limit, for example by collecting more than N20 billion! The APC would later claim it spent just a little above N1 billion in the 2015 Presidential election, but this has not yet been investigated, and I don’t think anybody believes it. Some of the state Governors who later became big men in the Buhari Government have been accused of making untidy donations to the Presidential campaign without any investigation. Businessmen, who associate with any government in power, hedging their bets, protecting dubious advantages, have also been known to donate money to politicians as protection fees.

This lack of equity and transparency, is principally the reason the Buhari government’s effort to address the challenge of corrupt campaign financing is considered hypocritical, one-sided, fake and dishonest. Most of the Jonathan men and women who are today in the dock are there for campaign finance reasons – Sambo Dasuki and his team – they are accused of using state security funds to organize political campaigns,  Olisah Metuh – he is accused of taking state money to help Jonathan’s re-election, part of which he allegedly diverted,  Femi Fani-Kayode and Nenadi Usman are accused of using state funds to run political campaigns, but not even one person from the APC wing has been similarly charged, or accused,  and yet the same APC also gave money to politicians, journalists, persons in civil society, including spiritualists and thugs, and there are self-styled Godfathers in that party who have been quarreling over the redemption of the IOUs they incurred.

This essay is not about the APC, however. It is about corrupt campaign financing and the bona fides of the current Nigerian government in that respect and it is something the incumbent President should begin to worry about.  Whoever comes to equity so the law says, must do so with clean hands. In Nigeria, the ruling APC party and its principal, Muhammadu Buhari may have been trying to claim a moral high ground in the last three years particularly in relation to matters of integrity and governance but they seem to belong more to the valley.

Nothing makes this more obvious than the APC ward congresses and Local government elections held last week in which there were accusations of vote buying, harassment, violence, parallel congresses, anti-party activities, and corrupt practices. Defeated opponents have complained about “too much money” deployed by persons with government connections, and the abuse of state resources to impose outcomes. There is also widespread anxiety about the emerging crisis within the APC  – the implosion within, the crisis of leadership and the apparent advertisement of sheer incompetence.

The APC is the coalition, the special purpose vehicle that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power.  It is turning out to be his nemesis. In the recent APC congresses and elections, the APC discredited its own President and repudiated everything that he claims to stand for, including the integrity of campaign finance.  This is my point and I consider that to be very sad. President Buhari discredited President Jonathan on the grounds that his aides, either authorized or unauthorized, deployed state funds hoping to bring him back to power.  I hope President Buhari is aware that his own aides were all over the country in the last week trying to grab positions using both state resources and power.

In Rivers Sate, to cite just one notorious example, feuding APC chieftains sacked the High Court in Port Harcourt and destroyed public property. Judges and lawyers had to flee. The Federal Government has not yet issued any statement condemning this assault on the judiciary.  That is unacceptable.

I write this piece in the expectation that President Buhari will be made to be aware (since he is said not to be aware of many things) that his own men are destroying the very foundation of his government.  He needs to wake up and act. A few months to the 2003 elections, President Olusegun Obasanjo asked all members of his cabinet who were interested in political positions to step aside. Six months to the 2015 elections, President Goodluck Jonathan did the same to ensure a level playing field.

President Buhari owes us a duty to do the very best to prevent the abuse of positions for political gain: a limited proposition perhaps, but he needs to be seen to be honest about his own campaign finance proposition. He should deal with the situation by repositioning enforcement mechanisms. The nation will gain a lot from a further reform of the campaign financing process, to give room for the election of more competent and qualified persons for the betterment of the nation.

President Muhammadu Buhari also needs to make a choice between being a joke or a hero. It is up to him. He may in fact choose to concede heroism to either Goodluck Jonathan or Olusegun Obasanjo who right now looks like Nigeria’s qualified version of Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed. Whatever happens, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can make all the difference by choosing to be independent and effective in the discharge of its monitoring and sanction powers as contained in the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

Reuben Abati: Why Buhari’s Impeachment Is Mission Impossible [MUST READ]

The Chairmen of the Committees on Public Accounts in the National Assembly – Kingsley Chinda (House of Representatives, PDP Rivers,

The Chairmen of the Committees on Public Accounts in the National Assembly – Kingsley Chinda (House of Representatives, PDP Rivers, Obio/Akpor Constituency) and Mathew Urhoghide (Senate, PDP Edo South) – have both had cause to ask the respective Chambers of the National Assembly to commence impeachment proceedings against President Muhammadu Buhari for allowing the withdrawal of $496 million from the Excess Crude Account, without prior approval of the National Assembly and/or appropriation. This has caused much partisan rowdiness in the National Assembly and an aborted clash between PDP supporters of Mathew Urhoghide and pro-Buhari APC stalwarts at the Benin Airport in Edo State. Impeachment is a serious and sensitive political process that could lead to the removal of the affected political leader from office. The primary issue is whether or not President Buhari has indeed committed any offence, any violation of the Constitution that should warrant his impeachment?

What constitutes the ground for impeachment is defined in Section 143 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution as “gross misconduct” and further in Section 143 (11) as (a) “a grave violation or breach of this Constitution”, or “a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion of the National Assembly to gross misconduct.” The first ground for impeachment is literal and unambiguous and it would only need to be proven. The main allegation for now is that the President caused to be spent a sum of $496 million without the National Assembly or appropriation. Section 80 of the Constitution dealing with “power and control” over public funds refers. Section 80(1) establishes a Consolidated Revenue Fund into which “all revenues or other moneys raised or received by the Federation (not being revenues or other moneys payable under this Constitution or any Act of the National Assembly into any other public fund of the Federation established for a specific purpose) shall be paid into, but the more relevant reference is Section 80(2) which states that:

“No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the fund by the Constitution or where the issue of those moneys has been authorized by an Appropriation Act, Supplementary Appropriation Act or an Act passed in pursuance of Section 81 of this Constitution.”

In other words, the government is not allowed by the Constitution to spend any money that has not been duly appropriated for, or without due authorization. The inherent and oversight role of the National Assembly is clarified in Sections 80(3), 80(4) and Section 83 (1 -2). Section 80(3) is clear enough: “No moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation, other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation unless the issue of those moneys has been authorised by an Act of the National Assembly.“ Section 80(4), for sheer emphasis it seems, reiterates the same point.

The operational word in all these Sections of the Constitution is “shall” – legally, this means “a mandatory order”. In a letter written to the National Assembly informing it of the expenditure of $496 million, without Appropriation, without a Supplementary Budget and without authorization, or even consultation, the President states that he granted “anticipatory approval.” He has no such powers under this Constitution. Nor can he seek protection under Section 82, which talks about authorization of expenditure in the absence of an Appropriation Act as is currently the case to wit:

“If the Appropriation Bill in respect of any financial year has not been passed into law by the beginning of the financial year, the President may authorize the withdrawal of moneys from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on the services of the Government of the Federation for a period not exceeding six months or until the coming into operation of the Appropriation Act, whichever is the earlier…”

Note this: “to carry on the services of the Government of the Federation…” Is the purchase of 12 aircraft part of the “services of government?”. We can argue over this but given a literal interpretation, the President is clearly in violation of the Constitution. Such authorization should be in respect of services already before the National Assembly. In the absence of this, the President should have consulted the National assembly and sought their understanding, and buy-in, before spending the money. Writing a letter after ignoring them and the Constitution is an afterthought that beggars the question. The President is also in violation of the proviso to Section 82 in the sense that the purchase of the aircraft is not contained in the 2018 Appropriation Bill. Since it is not there and the Appropriation Bill has not been passed, the President has no basis to say that he has spent money. Can the President spend money in the event of an emergency? Section 83 of the 1999 Constitution addresses this – he can but only with the authorization of the National Assembly as in s. (83(1) and through the vehicle of a “Supplementary Estimate and a Supplementary Appropriation Bill as in s. (83(2).”

I have argued previously that the 1999 Constitution grants the President of Nigeria, enormous, if not excessive powers, but the framers of our Constitution did not extend such powers to cover indiscriminate spending of public funds, hence the combined effect of Sections 80 – 85 and S. 162 is to provide checks and balances against the possibility of anyone no matter how highly placed spending public funds, in a manner other than has been provided by the Constitution, no matter how well-intentioned he or she may be. So, President Buhari is prima facie indictable in the light of the first ground for impeachment as in Section 143(11).

The second ground is a bit nebulous, for it speaks of whatever amounts to “gross misconduct” – “in the opinion of the National Assembly.” Virtually every Nigerian has an opinion, and where the opposition dominates the National Assembly, such an Assembly can form any opinion and remove a sitting President. My own opinion in this instance however, is that there are strong grounds even on this second score for commencing impeachment proceedings against President Buhari. These include and are not limited to: his government’s routine violation and complete disregard for court order and the rule of law, human rights abuses, and his regular de-marketing of the country and Nigerians in the international community, and his apparent lack of ability to provide strategic leadership. But the reality is that the National Assembly as presently constituted is dominated by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Nigeria’s democracy has not yet reached a level where the legislature will choose to act on a non-partisan basis. The APC may be four, five parties in one, and may be imploding but I do not see the possibility of a ruling party in Nigeria impeaching its own President.

To return to the first ground of impeachment, which stands more on terra firma, and not “opinion”, I also do not see the possibility of impeachment of either the incumbent President or any other President under the 1999 Constitution. The National Assembly has set up a Committee to consider the possibility of the commencement of impeachment proceedings – it submits its report tomorrow, Wednesday, May 2 – and there may well be some persons losing sleep over that in Buhari’s quarters, but there is actually no cause for alarm. The framers of Section 143 (1-11) of the 1999 Constitution did not really hope that any sitting Nigerian President will ever be impeached. The rules and procedure set out under that relevant Section are so cumbersome and tedious as to make impeachment impossible. The last time anyone tried to invoke Section 143 was under President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2002 – notice of allegations were served on the then President by the House of Representatives to which he responded – but in the end nothing happened. Nothing will again happen to Buhari this time around. He will not be impeached because the relevant Constitutional provisions in Section 143 are too windy.

One, an impeachment process is initiated when “a notice of allegation” is presented to the President of the Senate by “not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly” accusing the office of the President or Vice President of “gross misconduct (s. 80 (2).” As at the time of this writing, no such notice has been presented. One-third of the entire Assembly (!) – that’s like wishful thinking. Section 143 (4) again presents this dilemma of numbers when it says, if the National Assembly decides to investigate the allegations, it can only do so if it is supported by “not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of each House of the National Assembly.” By the time we get to this stage, 21 days would have passed, and that is part of the problem with the rules of procedure on impeachment in Section 143. It would take at least six months or more for any Nigerian President to be impeached. The giver of the law created a problem here with numbers and also with time, and a bigger problem with the introduction of the judiciary into what should be purely a political process. In Section 140 (5), the judiciary is brought into the conflict, ensuring a possible clash among all three arms of government in the impeachment process.

The Chief of Justice of Nigeria (CJN) is given additional seven days (28 days now in total) to “at the request of the President of the Senate appoint a Panel of seven persons who in his opinion are of unquestionable integrity, not being members of any public service, legislative house or political party, to investigate the allegation as provided in this section.” Section 143 is thus loaded, from 1-11, with so many make or kill, elimination tests, and this is perhaps the most critical. Can we really rely on the opinion of the CJN to select seven apolitical, non-partisan persons of “unquestionable integrity?” Where are those seven persons coming from? Heaven?, because no such persons exist in Nigeria. And should such seven persons be identified, there is nothing in this section barring interested parties or the Executive, and its agents from discrediting such persons. How many “unquestionable” Nigerians would even agree to serve on such a panel, if at all they exist?

Assuming a panel of seven emerges, the person to be impeached still has the right to be defended by legal practitioners of his choice. Thus Section 143 (6) is in pari materia with Section 36 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to fair hearing, but it is another bottle-neck which can go on for three months – (section 143(7) – or much longer by the time the lawyers exploit technicalities to prolong the proceedings. Section 143(7) (b) further presents a serious bottle-neck: the constituted panel must report its findings to each House of the National Assembly within three months of its appointment. Section 143(8) says if the allegations are not proven, then the process stands aborted, but in the event of either this or the opposite addressed in Section 143(9), the Constitution only asks for two-thirds majority to determine the fate of the affected political office holder, it says nothing about the procedure for removal, now mentioned for the first time as a consequential effect. To the best of our knowledge, the National Assembly does not even have such a procedure in place, except it will create an emergency one, because the full import of Section 143 has not yet been tested. Being a political process, stricto senso, the Courts are further estopped under Section 143(11) from inquiring into an impeachment process.

Section 143 of the 1999 is in our view, therefore, a jurisprudential nightmare. If we really want to prevent our Presidents from hiding under the Constitution to become tyrants, this particular section of the Constitution needs to be reviewed. The National Assembly should put in place standard rules and procedures to give live to the process in the need of activation of Section 143. The judiciary should also be removed from the process, as is the case in the United States. A compromised CJN would readily frustrate the process since his “opinion” is so important! Section 143 makes it difficult as it is, to remove a President, especially given our situation where there is so much emphasis on money-politics, political affiliation, ethnicity, religion and loyalty to the President and primordial sentiments. Some characters called elder statesmen and traditional rulers may even intervene to derail the impeachment process. The quality of legislators is also important: to protect and uphold the Constitution, we need people who understand that loyalty to the nation is more important than loyalty to the President or religious and ethnic sentiments. The present set of dancing, sleeping, singing, fibbing, cradle-snatching, compromised persons who end up in the National Assembly cannot do it.

The worst that they can do is to further damage President Muhammadu Buhari’s reputation. Mere talk about or the commencement of impeachment proceedings on its own, has negative political consequences, especially in an election season – even US President Bill Clinton did not fully recover from it although he was impeached but was not removed from office. The view has been expressed that the National Assembly should not bother to test Section 143 because this may have implications for the stability of the country in an election season, or that, well, President Buhari is almost completing his first term. I disagree. The responsibility to protect and uphold the Constitution must not be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, even if all things considered, President Buhari needs not lose any sleep.

Reuben Abati was spokesperson and special adviser, media and publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015). A former chairman of the editorial board of The Guardian, Dr. Abati is one of the most respected columnists in Nigeria. He writes his syndicated column twice a week. He tweets from @abati1990.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer.

The post Reuben Abati: Why Buhari’s Impeachment Is Mission Impossible [MUST READ] appeared first on The Trent.

2019: Nigeria’s Emerging Political Leaders, By Reuben Abati

A strong indication of both the quality and failure of politics in Nigeria, as the people look forward to the

A strong indication of both the quality and failure of politics in Nigeria, as the people look forward to the next general elections in 2019, is the manner in which virtually “every” Nigerian believes that he or she is good enough to be President of Nigeria. This may speak to a deepening of political consciousness, but it is also a reflection of the people’s anxiety and frustration about how the office and position of the President of Nigeria seems to have been mishandled and demystified.

The process of that demystification has taken different shapes and tones since the return to civilian rule in 1999, but now everything seems to have gone so bad, far beyond expectation.  My mechanic couldn’t have phrased this national dilemma better. He came to see me the other day, full of excitement.

“Oga, it’s you I have come to see oh.”  Typical Nigerian manner of speaking: you are right in front of me, and yet you still consider it necessary to announce your presence. Anyhow, I nodded affirmatively, already working out a response to a likely solicitation for money. It is school resumption time, and it is usual for people to go soliciting for help to pay children’s school fees in a country where basic education is so unaffordable.

“Oga, I have come to inform you that I am thinking of running for President.”  I thought the guy was talking about the Presidency of the Mechanics Village Association. So, I brightened up. No, he meant President of Nigeria. I removed my eyeglasses and dropped my pen.

“President of Nigeria? How? Look, have you been drinking?”

 “Oga, you know I am a Christian.  I don’t drink. I am serious oh. I have been thinking about it for a while. I can do a better job. The way these people are running Nigeria, some of us have good ideas about what can be done. If we leave this Nigeria to these politicians, they will finish all of us. Anybody that likes this country should get involved.”

I paid attention to him.

“Oga, look at me, I can do it.  We can do it. I have worked it out. By the grace of God, I will be the next President of Nigeria.”

I had known this mechanic for a while, but I never suspected he had very tall ambitions. I had not yet given him my honest opinion; he had already conscripted me. “We can do it”. We?  Every Nigerian politician is an optimist, and the most optimistic are often the ones who don’t even stand a chance at the polls.

I pretended to be interested all the same; so he continued with his campaign.

“Oga, you know me. Am I a lazy man? No. I am not.”  When people insist on answering their own questions the best you can do in the circumstance is to listen.

“What this country needs now is a mechanic, somebody who can take a look at a vehicle that is having problems, and fix it.  We mechanics do that every day. When they bring a car to you, first you diagnose. What is wrong with the car? Why is it not functioning well, and then you go straight to the problem and fix it.  Why can’t people fix Nigeria? If we mechanics were to behave like politicians, this whole country will be littered with broken down vehicles. In the hands of these politicians, Nigeria is broken. E be like say Nigeria don knock engine sef. I am the man who will fix that engine.”

“But nobody will give you any chance. Everybody will laugh and think you are joking.”

“I am not joking, Oga. What does it take to be President? I have done my homework. The only thing they are asking for is a WAEC certificate.  I have my certificate ready and I can produce it to prove that I completed secondary school.”

“How many credits?”, I asked, trying to humour him.

“INEC does not ask for five credits. Even F9 parallel sef can be President of Nigeria. No be Nigeria?”

“But you don’t have the resources. You’d need a lot of money.”

“Oga, it is not about money. And if it is money, God will provide. Our Pastor in our church has been praying for me and God is speaking to us. When I become President, I will declare free education, free health and there will no lazy youth in Nigeria again!”

“Why don’t you start at a lower level. may be local government chairman, gain some experience.”

“Ha. Oga, Experience has shown that in Nigerian politics you don’t need experience. Who has experience helped? All those former Governors in the National Assembly, what kind of experience do they have? In fact, let me just say a lot of them go there to sleep and collect free money, travel free. I have seen their pictures. They go there to sleep. When some thugs stormed the place to steal the Mace, not one of them could stand up and protect the Mace. Lazy Senators. Only a woman, a sergeant at arms was courageous enough to challenge the Mace thieves. When I am President, nobody will dare steal the Mace. It won’t happen.”

I felt like telling him that there has been too much drama over the significance of the Mace in our legislatures.  It is at best a ceremonial symbol.  For a session of the legislature to be valid under the 1999 Constitution what is required is a quorum as defined under Section 54, but of course the kind of criminal conduct that was put up at the Senate, last week, is condemnable and should be investigated and all authors of that act of impunity must be sanctioned accordingly. I didn’t say anything to him along these lines, rather I was more impressed by his passion, his determination to save Nigeria and arrest the drift.  I was also struck by the fact that he is not the only Nigerian with such passion. There have been many of his kind, now active on social media, promoting a vision of Nigeria and insisting that they would be better materials for 2019.

The number of these aspiring Presidents keeps increasing everyday and while I consider some of their posters a bit curious and the candidates a bit unusual, taken together, the shared anxiety about the Presidency and who is best fit to lead Nigeria beyond 2019 says a lot about public expectations.  There are online, video-tapes of a certain Aunty Monica, for example. She is based in Europe and she wants to come home to be President, to bring investment and tourism to the country, and she says she has “ideas in her head.” I have also seen such banners as “Vote Iya Bayo for president, Aunti Ramota for Vice President”, and “PFANN: A new refreshing wind blowing over the nation. Get ready. Elishama 2019.”

The names of a popular Fuji musician, Wasiu Alabi Pasuma, and that of the legendary footballer, Kanu Nwankwo have also been mentioned as potential Presidents of Nigeria. Neither Pasuma nor Kanu has confirmed their interest in the job.

But the social media is the forum where many ideas are hatched, and many of such ideas also die on social media, but what is said about public reality should not be ignored. Nigerians want what is now referred to as the #realchange. They are disappointed. They are angry.  There is also a growing resentment to the repeated claim by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Buhari’s handlers that there is no alternative to Buhari.  In a most recent article, Garba Shehu, a Presidential spokesperson asks what he considers “an important question”  – “who do you have that is better?.  Then he answers it himself; “…certainly there is no face (other than Buhari) that can be called the President of Nigeria.”  Garba Shehu even scoffs at the Coalition Movement that started a protest against the two leading political parties in Nigeria – APC and PDP, and asked for a one-term Buhari Presidency.  He says “a so-called Third Force has failed to gain political traction since its birth.”

My mechanic, Aunty Monica, Iya Bayo, Aunti Ramota, and Elishama – these are ordinary Nigerians- certainly disagree that only one man’s face is good for the Nigerian Presidency. They in fact believe that they will do a much better job. But perhaps the more significant development is the emergence of new faces on the political scene who are also keenly interested in rescuing Nigeria and whose declared starting point is the Presidency. I once described them as products of the Trudeau-Macron effect. Justin Trudeau, 46, became Prime Minister of Canada in 2015.  Emmanuel Macron, 39 assumed office as President of France in 2017.  There is also the current Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz – he is the youngest President in the world. He is 31.

An emerging group of Nigerian political leaders falls into this category: they are challenging current political orthodoxies; they are educated, they are internationally exposed, they can think out of the box and above all, they are united in their resolve that President Muhammadu Buhari is replaceable in 2019.  They equally pose a challenge to the traditional political elite, which so far is yet to make up its mind about presidential candidates or alternative platforms for the 2019 Presidential and general elections.  The usual tendency is to dismiss them as “noise makers and attention seekers”, but they probably constitute the real “Third Force” that will produce the traction that the Presidency is yet to see.

One newspaper has identified up to about 24 of these emerging “game changers”. There is Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi, 27 who has registered a political party – the Modern Democratic Party (MDP).  He is not running for President but the MDP could become a useful platform for youth mobilization and conscientization.

There is also Omoyele Sowore, 47, former students’ union leader, civil rights activist and founder of Sahara Reporters, an online newspaper.  For the past month or so, Sowore has been on the campaign trail, addressing students and civil society groups. He has also appeared on radio and television.  His main message is that Nigerian youth should “take back Nigeria” from those who have destroyed it.  He has in particular been very critical of the Buhari government. “I can run Nigeria better than Buhari in my sleep”, he says.

When a serving Minister, Adebayo Shittu told Sowore to go and start as a councilor, during a radio programme, Sowore held his ground. Kingsley Moghalu, 55, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), an author and a scholar, has also declared his interest in the Nigerian Presidency.  He is offering Nigeria, “bold and decisive leadership …something different … by a capable, experienced technocrat.” Like Sowore, Moghalu means business.

You also have Fela Durotoye, 47, a Presidential aspirant on the platform of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN).  Durotoye wants to rebuild Nigeria through visionary and inspirational leadership.  Alistair Soyode is the founder of BEN TV in the United Kingdom.  For years, he has been reporting Nigerian stories to the world and to Africans in diaspora. Like Sowore, he has also decided to become directly involved in Nigerian politics.

Other emerging aspirants include Professor Funmilayo Adesanya-Davies, 55 who says “power must go to women and the youth”; Sam Nwanti, an international detective, and a member of the Labour party, who wants to “fight crime and corruption”. Others include US-based Omololu Omotosho, Lewis Omike, a filmmaker and photographer, Dr. Thomas-Wilson Ikubese, 47, of the National Conscience Party, and 35-year old Adamu Garba II.

The temptation is to dismiss this category of aspirants as Minister Shittu has done, in part because they do not preach the message of religion, ethnicity and money, and they do not seem to have any Godfathers who can offer them existing structures in exchange for conditions of service.

Many of them may even throw in the towel before the actual race begins. The old brigade of  Nigerian politics is not in a hurry to retire, change tactics or yield space. People don’t become Presidents in Nigeria by merely pasting posters and social media messages or through sheer idealism. IN 2011, Dele Momodu, 51 at the time, tried to run for President. He has many stories to tell.

The Trudeau-Macron effect in our politics may still take a few more years. But it would be wrong to ignore what the new faces represent: a more deep-seated yearning for change among the youth and the middle class, and at least two of them: Sowore and Durotoye are already exercising much influence among the Nigerian youth, not just on social media but also across the educational institutions and the streets.

Reuben Abati: The Kigali AU Summit & Nigeria’s Diplomatic Blunder

President Muhammadu Buhari’s 12th hour decision to snub the African Union Extra-ordinary summit on the endorsement of the African Continental

President Muhammadu Buhari’s 12th hour decision to snub the African Union Extra-ordinary summit on the endorsement of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), in Kigali, March 20 – 22 is a diplomatic blunder. The excuse that has been offered is not convincing;  thethe management of the entire episode is untidy.

Simple courtesies matter in diplomacy, unpredictability, surprise and ambush may be good tactics on the battlefield, but they could be costly in the much finer arena of diplomacy.

I want to assume that President Buhari was misadvised. Standards have fallen generally in our foreign policy management process, and they have done so much more rapidly in the last three years, for both seen and unseen reasons, but I did not imagine that we could descend this low as to begin to play pranks with some of the major planks of Nigeria’s foreign policy framework.

President Buhari should have been in Kigali on March 21 to sign the AfCFTA document and participate in the deliberations.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement is probably the most historic, epoch-making development since the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which later became the African Union (AU) in 2002. It is also probably the biggest trade agreement since the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and a concrete, provable culmination of the goals of African Renaissance and Afro-optimism. It should be noted that Nigeria was part of this process from the very beginning.

In 1981, Nigeria was the host of an economic summit organized by the OAU, the very first of such summits. It took place in Lagos under the Shagari government. The outcome was the Lagos Plan of Action on African economic development. In the 90s, at least three African leaders were in the forefront of what became known as the African Renaissance – South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo and Libya’s Muammar Ghadaffi – using the platform of the OAU/AU, and the co-operation and support of both the African and Western intelligentsia.

African Renaissance is about rebirth and the transformation of Africa. It is also about integration at various levels: security, peace, stability, development and co-operation as captured in the Kampala Document of 1991. There was indeed so much talk at the time about Africa, being the “last frontier” that needed to be developed.

This vision of a transformed Africa resulted in the introduction of policy actions and structures including the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), the New Africa Initiative (NAI), the Abuja Treaty (1991) and the idea of an African Economic Community (AEC). Much of this may have been inspired by developments in this direction in the West – the European Union for example, and the Washington Consensus, but it was all within the context of developing Africa’s capacity to compete, integrate, co-operate and advance into the future. The AfCFTA is a product of that process and probably the most important harvest.

African Heads of Government agreed to it in 2012 and started negotiations in 2015. It is a trade liberalization policy to remove barriers that have hitherto hindered intra-African trade. Those barriers made Africa majorly a collection of closed communities, trading with Europe, Asia and the United States, and doing little trading among themselves. Under the AfCFTA, African leaders seek to increase intra-African trade from 14% to 52% by 2022. Its main features include the removal of tariffs on goods (up to 90%), reduction of delays at borders, liberalization of services, job creation and the expansion of opportunities available to the people.

Atfirst flush, there is no doubt that the AfCFTA could lead to the eventual realization of the AU Agenda 2063 – “the African we want”- a 12-flagship-projects programme, which includes a Single African Air Transport Market, free movement of people and a common currency.

Nigeria was actively involved in all these negotiations leading to the preparation of an enabling legal framework for continental free trade; such was the level of our commitment that the country in fact lobbied to have the AfCFTA secretariat situated in Abuja. So, at what point did Nigeria transform from being conveners to boycotters of this strategic initiative? It will be recalled that on March 14, the AfCFTA framework was reportedly presented for consideration at the Federal Executive Council and it was endorsed. The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment later addressed the State House Press Corps to announce Nigeria’s enthusiasm and commitment to the AfCFTA. By Friday, the country’s delegation to the AU Extra-ordinary Summit on the AfCFTA was already on its way to Kigali, and this included the President’s advance team. The State House even issued a statement announcing the President’s trip to Kigali. Then all of a sudden, on Sunday, March 18, the country was informed that the President’s trip to Kigali had been cancelled “to allow time for broader consultations” – with stakeholders who had objected to Nigeria signing the AfCFTA document.

There is something untidy here. The Federal Executive Council, or the Executive Council of the Federation as it is known to the Constitution, is the highest decision-making body of the Federal Government. At what point did it meet to reverse the decision it had taken on the AfCFTA on Wednesday, March 14? When did the stakeholders make their positions known to government and what was the manner of communication, to command an express, weekend cancellation of a planned Presidential trip that had already been announced and initiated? And at what point were the objections considered? Was there even any input from the relevant Ministries: Foreign Affairs, Budget and National Planning, and Industry, Trade and Investment?

The identity of the complainants was soon revealed; members of the Organised Private Sector (OPS), particularly the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) who claimed that Nigeria would be overwhelmed by business from outside under AfCFTA; Nigerian airline operators, the same owners of those flying coffins whose doors disengage on impact, whose tyres are so worn-out they sometimes can’t land on the tarmac, yes, they too claim Nigeria should not sign up to any open skies agreement, and then of course the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) whose leaders reportedly dismissed the AfCFTA as “a renewed extremely dangerous and radioactive neoliberal policy initiative.” It is common practice for certain stakeholders to object to ideas and policies. The controversy over WTO agreements and the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a famous example. In Africa, also, there were objections to NEPAD and the African Peer Review Mechanism by some African leaders. But one point is that the AU is not only for governments, it is also a platform for African business stakeholders, NGOs, and the civil society in general. Nigeria’s OPS, MAN and NLC did not have to wait till the last minute. They have had more than 3 years to engage the Nigerian government. And could it in fact be that the Nigerian Government never bothered to consult these stakeholders?

Nonetheless, their objections do not provide enough reason for a Nigerian boycott of the AU extra-ordinary summit in Kigali. Instead, they provide a justification for Nigeria’s presence.

Nigeria’s absence is an assault on the integrity of its fundamental foreign policy objectives. Africa is the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy process, beginning with our immediate neighbours in the West African sub-region. For this reason, Nigeria has always been in the forefront of major events, conversations and developments in the continent. Our absence at such a landmark event as the Kigali summit is an abdication of leadership and responsibility.

Other African countries may for a season, no longer trust Nigeria: to commit to a process so robustly, only to chicken out at the last minute on account of blackmail by recovering socialists, protectionists and anti-trade lobbyists – that is not the way of Nigerian diplomacy or international best practice.

I assume that the boycott is based on the wrong presumption that the AfCFTA takes immediate effect and it is binding immediately it is launched and signed by Heads of Government. Where are the Africa experts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA)? Is anyone still consulting them or they just now go to the office to drink tea?

What is signed at the Kigali Summit is the Legal Framework for the Trade agreement. The number of countries that would ratify the agreement to kick it into effect as at the time of this writing has not even been determined: 15, 22, 37 or a figure in-between or more. After signing up to it, each country will further ratify the agreement by way of domestication, and there is room for further negotiations, which could still go on for years, over matters that may be considered “sensitive.” Some of these “sensitive” issues have already been identified, including the establishment of dispute resolution mechanisms, the prevention of dumping, intellectual property and copyright issues, rules-based considerations with regard to removal of tariffs, anti-trust considerations and the protection of countries with little or no production capabilities, to mitigate the effect of uneven benefits, and to ensure fairness, justice and protection of human rights.

South Africa, for example, has raised concerns about the proposed free movement of persons, but the South African President has not boycotted the Summit, instead he says he has “his pen on the ready.” He has signed the Kigali declaration. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is not attending the Summit but he has sent his Minister of Foreign Affairs to represent him and he issued a statement expressing commitment to the Trade agreement. Uganda has since signed. Tanzania says the Tanzania parliament will debate the agreement, but meanwhile, Tanzania has signed. So far, here is the final tally as at close of business on March 21: AfCFTA – 44 countries, Kigali Declaration – 43 countries; Protocol on Free Movement of People – 27 countries. Nigeria’s absence is definitely an embarrassing boycott. Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs may be in Kigali but he and his team have no mandate to engage in any negotiations, our President, the country’s chief diplomat, having said he needs more time for “broader consultations.” This so-called consultation is precisely what the Kigali summit is all about. Nigeria or any of the other 54 countries does not have any veto power over AU decisions. The rest of Africa can choose to go ahead on this matter without Nigeria and if that happens, we would still not be in a position to stop the globalization and liberalization process or sabotage “Africa’s Common Position”.

The irony that is lost on Abuja is that in fact Nigeria needs the AfCFTA more than any other African country. Nigeria has the largest market and population. The country and its people stand to benefit more especially at the level of services and SMEs. There are more Nigerians than any other group of Africans trading across the continent- in Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Angola, South Africa, Gabon, Cameroon, Sao Tome, Equitorial Guinea – our people are everywhere. Out of about the 300 shops or so in Sao Tome’s main market, about 200 of those shops are owned by Nigerians. The spare parts business in Angola is in the hands of Nigerians. Nigerian technocrats and businessmen dominate the services sector in The Gambia. There are over one million Nigerians doing business in Cote d’Ivoire. There are Nigerian banks and insurance companies across Africa, even as far as Kigali. The Dangote group has factories in 14 African countries.

In all of these places, the Nigerian trader or businessman is not particularly well-liked. He is subjected to high tariffs, his shops are raided, and as is the case in South Africa, Nigerians are attacked for making more money and for attracting local girls. A Continental Free Trade Agreement could put an end to this. It will also make it possible for airlines like Ethiopian airline or Rwandair or Kenyan Airways to operate domestic flights inside Nigeria, and perhaps make it possible for Africans to travel directly within the continent instead of a Nigerian having to travel first to Europe before accessing countries like Sao Tome and Equitorial Guinea which are less than 30 minutes away from the Nigerian coastline.

Many Nigerians would rather choose efficiency over the opposite. The gain would be the creation of more jobs and opportunities. The competition that will result will compel Nigerian businesses to raise the level of their game. The AfCFTA will not kill Nigerian businesses as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria ignorantly claims. A more inclusive Africa is the pathway to a transformed Africa. Nigeria gives aid to many African countries, for which it gets little in return; under an AfCFTA dispensation, Nigeria can give those aid-dependent countries, trade not aid.

Nigeria must be greatly missed at the Kigali AU Summit. From the pictures that I have seen, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is the most prominent Nigerian on ground at that historic event but even he is not in a position to do any damage control; he is there in his own right as a global statesman and as one of the founding fathers of the AfCFTA initiative.

Beyond all the country and issues-related arguments above, let me add this: President Muhammadu Buhari has a personal reason to be in Kigali. At the AU summit in Addis Ababa in January, he was honoured by the AU Commission as a champion of the anti-corruption campaign in Africa. It is worth stating that the AU battle cry for 2018 is actually this: “Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation”. Africa is discussing an integrity framework for the continent’s transformation in Kigali, and the AU’s honoured and recognized integrity champion is back home in Abuja, having “broader consultations”! Enough said.

Opinion: Lagos state and the politics of taxation

The government of Lagos state seems to be currently in the eye of the storm over its introduction of a

Reuben Abati, Tax

The government of Lagos state seems to be currently in the eye of the storm over its introduction of a law, a property tax as it were, known as the Land Use Charge Act of 2018, which repeals a similar law of 2001, and consolidates ground rent, tenement rate, and neigbourhood development levy.  The Land Use Charge is payable in respect of all real estate in the state. But it is probably the most controversial move that has been made by the Akinwunmi Ambode administration in Lagos state, an administration that has so far enjoyed tremendous goodwill on account of its huge investment in infrastructure and human capital development in the last three years

Stakeholders have complained about the rate of increase (up to about 400%), lack of adequate consultation and communication, and the impropriety of increasing taxation at a time of unmitigated economic hardship, even in the presence of multiple taxes, including the taxation of boreholes and alcoholic drinks. Real estate valuers and surveyors as well as other stakeholders including landlords and tenants are asking the government to take another look at the law. Sooner or later, every government faces a baptism of fire. But where taxation is involved, the key issues are governance, trust, transparency and accountability, communication and more importantly, strategy. These are the key areas for consideration with respect to the current controversy over the review of Land Use Charge in Lagos.


Ordinarily, however, nobody likes to pay taxes, and there is a historical and cultural context to this. The taxman is not often a popular member of the community. Wars and revolutions have been fought on account of resistance to taxation. Many of the wars in the Southern part of Nigeria, particularly Yorubaland in the 18th and 19th centuries were fought as a result of objections to what was known as “isakole” (ground rent to the sovereign), or owo asingba (service to chiefs and kings as a form of tribute), which were symbols of dominance over political authority and/or economic activities, creating a slave/master relationship among dominant/dominated groups.

The famous Aba women’s riot of 1929, was a protest against the draconian warrant chiefs introduced by the colonial administration but it was even more significantly, a rebellion against the direct taxation of market women. In the late 1940s, the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) led by Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti also objected to the taxation of women in the Egba Division. For six months, over 10, 000 Egba women challenged both the colonial authorities and the Alake of Egbaland, and insisted that they would not pay tax. In the end, the tax policy was suspended, the Alake had to abdicate the throne and the women got up to four positions in the decision-making Native Authority.

Nor is Lagos new to anti-tax agitations. When the colonial authorities introduced electricity in Lagos in 1897, there was an attempt to ensure that this was paid for through indirect taxation, which was stoutly opposed by the people. Later, in 1907, the colonialists also proposed to provide a pipe borne water system for Lagos; the plan was to place a tax on houses to cover the cost. The African members of the Legislative council of the Lagos colony and Southern Protectorate, the traditional rulers and chiefs of Lagos and the people in general kicked against this proposed tax. They insisted they would rather drink water from rainfall or wells, rather than pay any tax.

When in 1908, the colonial authorities introduced a House Assessment Ordinance, the people of Lagos shut down all markets and marched on Government House. Women in Central Lagos also organized protests against the water rate. The battle was soon taken over by the educated elite  who formed a group called the Lagos People’s Union (1908), led by John K. Randle, an Edinburgh-trained medical doctor.

Taxation tends to bring out the best and the worst in both people and governments. Of J.K. Randle as he was known, the deputy Governor of the colony at the time wrote that he was an “agitator pure and simple…political disturbance was his main hobby in life.” The struggle over water rate in Lagos went on for more than 17 years and was responsible for the eventual collapse of the Lagos People’s Union and the deposition of Eleko Eshugbayi in 1925. Herbert Macaulay came on to the scene, and he championed the reinstatement of the king in 1931. The white cap chiefs of Lagos still insisted, all the same, that paying for water was against “the tradition of the people of Lagos.” The colonial authorities were unyielding. They cracked down on the people and soon introduced direct taxation, resulting in riots across the country.

In post-colonial Nigeria, the pattern of revulsion to taxation has not been different. Between 1968 and 1969, there was in the defunct Western region, a peasant farmers’ revolt, popularly known as the Agbekoya. This particular revolt, like all revolts may have been politically motivated, and it may have been a class revolt, but the trigger was the peasant farmers’ rejection of higher taxation. However, since independence in 1960, there have been attempts to review the taxation system in Nigeria beginning with the Raisman Commission, and the enactment of the Tax Management Act, 1961, and the Companies Income Tax Act No 22 of 1961.

During the Second Republic (1979 -1983), the Shagari administration established a Task Force on tax administration. In 1991, there was the Emmanuel Edozien study group on tax, in 1992, Sylvester Ugoh led another study group on indirect taxation, in 2002, yet another group was led by Professor Dotun Phillips, and in 2004 yet another one was led by Seyi Bickersteth of KPMG and in 2012, the Federal Government had another study group led by Mckinsey, an international consulting firm. In 2017, the Buhari administration introduced VAIDS, a Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration taxation programme, and a new National Tax Policy (NTP). Many Nigerians consider the VAIDS, a joke.

Indeed, the objection to the new Land Use Charge in Lagos thus fits into a natural response pattern. But it is important to go beyond sentiments and understand the issues. To enjoy development, the people must be prepared to pay tax, the leaders must also be transparent and accountable, provide value and inspire trust. To ensure voluntary compliance, the people must not be made to see taxation as a form of punishment.  At face value, the justifications provided by the Lagos State Government, on paper and at a recent Town Hall Meeting with the Governor seem convincing enough. To keep up with the current pace of economic development, population growth and volatile oil revenue, state governments in Nigeria are under pressure to look for additional sources of revenue beyond Federal Government’s monthly allocation.  This in itself is a good development.

Lagos, the 5th largest economy in Africa, with a population that would be far in excess of 35 million by 2030, faces special challenges. Infrastructure deficit in the state is currently estimated to be about $50 billion (N14.47 trillion). The state’s current revenue profile is therefore unsustainable. Oil revenue in general has proved unsustainable in Nigeria in real terms. The country’s tax ratio to GDP is also relatively one of the lowest in Africa. Tax compliance is similarly low, and the extant tax codes are at best outdated. The alternative in Lagos would be for the state to borrow, but with current interest rates, that would amount to mortgaging the financial future of the state. What the Ambode administration is proposing in essence is a far more efficient taxation system which brings more people into the tax net and which requires the people to make sacrifice in the overall interest of public good.  I don’t have a problem with that.

But where the problem lies is in the twin areas of strategy and communication. Whereas many Lagos residents have not actually seen a copy of the proposed law, their objection is based largely on the report that the law expressly imposes a 400% increase on land use charge, and the worst hit may probably be the organized private sector and owners of commercial buildings. In 1999, the Bola Tinubu administration in Lagos state had sought to reform the tax process in the state through the introduction of electronic payments. Internally Generated Revenue in Lagos state subsequently increased from 600 million in 1999, to 22 billion in 2015, and N341 billion in 2017.

Communication is important in tax administration. While it is natural for people to oppose any form of taxation, a tax system must be seen to be fair, just and equitable.  The current resistance to taxation in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria – FCT, Anambra, Benue, Edo, Cross River- in part raises governance issues. Widespread reports about corruption, the lavish lifestyle of public officials, the high-handedness of tax officials and the reality of multiple taxation make Nigerians even in the face of rational arguments about the need to generate non-oil revenue, suspicious of any form of tax. In Lagos, the State House of Assembly held public hearings, but the story out there is that government has sneaked the law, with increased charges on the public, without adequate notice or communication. But how much interest did Lagosians themselves show? Do they even know who their representatives are? Do the representatives brief the people on developments of this nature? Landlords are saying when the effect of this indirect taxation is considered in absolute terms, they would be turned into tenants living in their own homes.

Tenants are protesting that the new charge will be passed on to them by landlords, and with inflation already at 15%, and the country’s macroeconomics in a fix, greater pressure and hardship will be invariably imposed on people and businesses. As presented however, the Lagos state government seems to have anticipated these concerns and created opportunities for negotiation and voluntary compliance, but how many people are aware of this?  In addition, the Land Use Charge is a progressive tax, not a flat tax, with in-built disaggregation to provide reliefs for aged owner-occupiers, pensioners, old buildings of 25 years and above, owners with proof of long occupation, non-profit organisations, places of religious worship/education, the physically challenged and registered educational institutions.  Besides, more than 70% of the properties are valued under N10 million, equivalent to a land use charge of N5, 000 annually.

Nonetheless, there are persons and landlords associations in Lagos already threatening to either go to court or organize street protests. The more incensed stakeholders are threatening to use their voters’ cards to remind Governor Ambode that he would need the people in the coming 2019 elections. In other words, the Land Use Charge could become the main decider of whether he gets a second term or not. When it comes to taxation, the electorate can indeed be vicious. Margaret Thatcher lost her position as Prime Minister, within her own party in the UK, 1989-1990, partly due to the crisis over a Community Charge, better known as poll tax, which made the Conservatives unpopular.

Governor Ambode is on that score, quite a courageous man. He must be looking at the future of Lagos, and not the next election. But he needs not sacrifice his own political future. Whatever may have been done in Lagos since 1999, there is a lot more that can be done to improve the standard of living in the state. Nigerians like to protest but it is also important to realise that the days of dependence on oil revenue may soon be completely over. When the people pay tax, and they understand the justification for it, they are probably in a much better position to hold their leaders accountable.

I believe there are steps to be taken to improve the communication process on this issue and that may mean putting the implementation of the charge on hold for a while until various stakeholders have been conscientized to take ownership of the core messages about standardization, efficiency and the need to prevent the culture of whimsical assessments by state tax officials. Landlords have to be assured that the proposed percentages are not absolute.

Government should also consider the possibility of a downward review of the percentages, allow instalmental or graduated payment, and reconsider the threatened penalty of up to 200% for defaulters. Tenants of commercial buildings also need to be protected from Shylock landlords who may hide under the law, to increase rent.  The objection to multiple taxation should also be addressed; if the Land Use Charge is a consolidation of three other taxes, perhaps there are other taxes in the state that should be similarly reviewed to reduce the burden on the citizenry. The relevant revenue institutions in Lagos must also be strengthened and opportunities provided for seeking redress against rogue tax administration officials. There must also be guarantees for transparency in the preparation of a necessary data-base for the ownership of properties in the state.

With all the best intentions, any form of politicisation of the tax administration process is bound to be counter-productive. This must be avoided by all means.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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Reuben Abati: Africa – a Continent without Democrats

The second wave of democratization in Africa, beginning in the 80s, and the gradual establishment of democracy as the new

The second wave of democratization in Africa, beginning in the 80s, and the gradual establishment of democracy as the new normal in the continent brought much hope and excitement. As we have seen in the recent intervention by the military in Zimbabwe, coup d’etats have become unpopular and unacceptable in the entire continent in deference perhaps to dominant global politics. In the past two decades, there have been many electoral transitions across the continent indicative of a pattern of democratic consolidation. In reality, however, mercenaries of democracy, dictators and a military culture dominate African politics. The form of governance may have changed, but the form of politics has remained seemingly unchangeable.

We are forcefully reminded of this by certain recent developments across the continent. In Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza has just ensured that the officials of a football team, which rough-tackled him during a football match last year, have been sent to prison.  Nkurunziza, a graduate of Sports Education (1990), loves to play football, even as President. He owns a football team, Haleluia FC, and a choir, “Kameza gusenga” which means “pray non-stop”. President Nkurunziza is a member of his football team and he actually joins them to take part in tournaments, friendlies and other matches, fully attired in the club’s colours.

A day may well come when the President may decide to play for the national team, prompting concerns across Burundi that the President plays too much football, instead of attending to state matters. Nkurunziza had his day on the field when Haleluia FC met Kiremba FC. If in previous matches the President was treated with respect, and even allowed to score, the Kiremba soccer team was not ready for that. They played man to man, and treated the match with professional seriousness. They tackled the President each time he had the ball. He fell on the pitch several times.

It is for this reason the administrator of Kiremba FC, Cyriaque Nkezabahizi and his assistant, Michel Mutama are now in prison, having been charged and tried for a curious felony called “conspiracy against the President”! Nkurunziza may be a sports graduate, and even taught the subject for a while at the university level, but he is not in any way a sportsman. Like his other colleagues across Africa, he is a dictator who likes to have his way. Football is a body-contact sport, like rugby, boxing and wrestling. Not even the almighty Lionel Messi or Neymar or the skillful Cristiano Ronaldo, with all their accomplishments in the sport expect to be treated like royalty in a football match. Like Nkurunziza, most African leaders do not like to play by the rules. They like to cheat and force their options down the people’s throats.

This same Nkurunziza who came to power in 2005, refused to go after the expiration of his constitutional tenure of two terms in 2015.  He insisted on having a third term.  Protests by the people were suppressed, media houses were shut down, journalists were detained, members of the opposition were harassed, after two months more than 200 persons had been killed and hundreds of thousands had fled into exile.  Nkurunziza had his way. He likes jogging, but when members of the opposition also began organizing Saturday morning joggings, he placed a ban on jogging across the country.  He is the only one who is allowed to enjoy the pleasure of jogging as he wishes, in a country of 12 million people.

He is not the only African leader however who has been able to get away with a third term in office through a violation and manipulation of the Constitution. To many African leaders, the Constitution does not matter at all. In Rwanda, Paul Kagame, President since 2003, completed his constitutionally stipulated second term in 2017, but the constitution was altered to allow him serve for a third term, and now the constitution has been further altered to keep Kagame in power till 2034. The excuse is that he is doing a good job and that there is no alternative to him. The only person who summoned the courage to challenge Kagame in 2017, a lady, Diane Rwigara was harassed and detained. Her nude pictures were posted on the internet. This no-alternative thing is a dubious misinterpretation of democracy in Africa. And it is one of the stupid points being canvassed in Nigeria, currently, by those who want President Muhammadu Buhari to remain in office beyond 2019, despite growing protests that he should be a one-term President. Nigeria is a country of about 200 million people. Is it not the height of idiocy to say that there is no alternative to Buhari?

Africa is not in short supply of mercenaries who mouth such idiocy and actively give effect to it. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 46-year old Joseph Kabila whose two terms in office expired close to two years ago has refused to organize elections. He negotiated a one-year extension till 2017, but despite protests, and international objections, he has extended the election time-table till December 2018 on the ground that there are “logistical problems”. Now, the country’s electoral commission has further announced that no Presidential election can possibly take place in the DRC before April 2019.  Various militias, rebel groups, and civil society organisations, backed by the Catholic Church are insisting that Joseph Kabila will not be allowed to rule the DRC forever. Widespread violence has made the DRC politically unstable and fragile, but Joseph Kabila cannot be bothered.

The standard African response is to descend on the opposition, including political parties, journalists, writers, human rights activists and thinkers as harshly as possible.  The African man of power does not understand that the right to protest, to differ and to express an opinion is part of democracy.  In Togo, there is an ongoing popular protest titled “Faure Must Go”.  President Faure Gnassingbe has been in power since 2005. He succeeded his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for 38 years.  With the Constitution of Togo not indicating any Presidential term limits, the Togolese opposition has been leading a series of protests to demand for such term limits – a restriction to a maximum of two, five-year terms and a two-round voting system.  Faure wants to rule forever like his father, and so, even in spite of mediation by Ghana and Guinea, he has been sending soldiers after the protesters.  The opposition in Africa is probably the most abused in the world.

Go to Egypt. Egypt goes to the polls on March 26 but incumbent President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi does not want any opposition. He has taken every measure to scare away every person who has shown interest in competing with him for the office. One Presidential aspirant, Colonel Ahmed Konsowa was accused and convicted for “expressing political opinions as a serving military officer”.  Another, Lt. Gen. Sami Anan, after being detained by the Egyptian military, had to call off his presidential bid. He was accused of “blatant legal violations (and) a serious breach of the laws of military service.” Other aspirants – Mortada Mansour, Khaled Ali and Mohammed Anwar al-Sadat have all dropped their presidential ambitions because they could not stand the climate of fear imposed by President Sisi.

Only one aspirant is still standing, Mousa Moustafa Mousa and he is, because the court saved him.  The ruling party had asked for his disqualification on the grounds that he does not have a certified university or higher education degree. This is a minimum requirement for the Presidential office in Egypt.  I hope some Nigerians would take special note of this! The Supreme Administrative Court has now ruled that Mousa Mousa indeed holds an MA in Architecture from a French University, and the National Electoral Authority has certified this, thus putting paid to the orchestrated possibility of President Sisi getting a second term unopposed. Still Sisi is not prepared to lose. He has declared that anybody or “forces of evil” who defame the country’s security forces through “the broadcast and publication of lies and false news” would be charged for “high treason.”  He is of course referring to himself and not necessarily the military operation in the Northern Sinai Peninsula.

Absolute power corrupts and so it is also with Cameroon’s Paul Biya and Equitorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. Cameroon has been battling secessionist rebellion in North West and South West parts of the country. The Biya government has done everything possibly negative to suppress the people of the proposed Ambazonia Republic including detention, police brutality, internet black-out, curfews, arrests and intimidation. When about 50 of the rebels, including their leader, Sisiku Ayuk Tabe fled across the border, they were chased all the way to Nigeria, where they were arrested by the Nigerian authorities on Cameroon’s request and repatriated. This couldn’t have been a difficult request for the Buhari government to accede to, given the fact that it had also launched a military operation against would-be secessionists in the Eastern part of Nigeria. Paul Biya also probably learnt a lesson from Nigeria or perhaps it was the old fox just being himself. He has just appointed two persons from the aggrieved North West/South-West of Cameroon into his newly reconstituted cabinet to assuage fears of marginalization by the Ambazonians. One of the portfolios is that of the Minister of Interior.  The average African leader is manipulative and trickish. In Biya’s case, it is worse. He is 85, he has been in power for more than three decades, and he still plans to run for election this year. His opponent from the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF) is likely to be a 49-year old, Joshua Osih. Biya is Cameroon’s Mugabe.

His sit-tight colleague in Equitorial Guinea is no better. Last week, Mbasogo proscribed the main opposition party in the country, the Citizens for Innovation (CI) for allegedly undermining state security.  In November 2017, there were clashes between CI supporters and armed policemen. Party leaders have argued that their supporters did not carry any arms, and that they were only campaigning.  21 of them have been sentenced to 26 years imprisonment for sedition, and 10 years for breach of authority, and fined 210,000 Euros along with their party! I suspect that CI’s main offence would be that of having the audacity to win one seat in parliament in that country’s last elections, while the ruling party won 99 seats out of 100 seats.  That makes Teodoro Mbasogo uncomfortable: he cannot afford the growth of opposition in his country, or anything that would threaten his plan to hand over power eventually to his first son, 48-year old Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue who is currently the First Vice President in charge of defence and security and the oil and gas sector.

First sons and first daughters are often part of the political equation. Togo’s Faure, DRC’s Kabila, Equitorial Guinea’s Teodorin, and Angola’s former first daughter, Isabel dos Santos. They share power with their father and possibly succeed him, and if not, they could become as wealthy as Isabel. This is why it baffles me that Nigerians are always hypertensive anytime they see first or second sons and daughters in the corridors of power enjoying privileges extended to them by their fathers. The Minister of State for Health received Yusuf Buhari at the airport and they won’t allow us rest. What if the President had sent Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to the airport? He would refuse to go?

The sad part of the African story is that even when you discover a President who seems to be doing well, he does well only for a while, before he begins to misbehave like the rest. Take John Pombe Magufuli, the developmental President of Tanzania, the “Bulldozer.” In nearly three years in office, he has brought fresh energy and creativity to governance in Tanzania. He has waged war against indolence, incompetence, corruption, ghost workers, bad infrastructure, but he is also now waging war against democracy. His government has banned public rallies by the opposition. It has introduced a law, which criminalises free speech on social and electronic media, and jailed at least two politicians for “hate speech”.  Magufuli has also banned the smoking of Shisha, and famously declared, that “no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school…” In Tanzania, it is an offence to “annoy” the government, but okay to rape young girls!

When an African leader finally decides to leave, he insists on choosing his own successor. Sierra Leone goes to the polls tomorrow, for example, with 16 parties and six leading candidates on the ballot, but the fight is between the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).  Outgoing President Ernest Bai Koroma has, in the meantime, handpicked his former Foreign Minister, Dr. Samura Kamara (APC), as his successor, because according to him, “he knows exactly what he needs to do…” Our democracy suffers in this manner in part because the people themselves play what the Sierra Leonean musician, Daddy SAJ calls “watermelon politics” (2007) – the people not knowing what they want or what is good for them. Nigerians have made that mistake too often. But then, is there something in the African DNA that is anti-democracy? Is this about African culture or the truth about universal democracy? Whatever it is, as they go to the polls tomorrow, Sierra Leoneans should eschew “watermelon politics” and vote wisely.

YNaija Editorial: Lauretta Onochie is the worst kind of sycophant, the one that roils in her ignorance

One of the reasons President Buhari was voted into power, was that he promised to thin out the herd in

Lauretta Onochie

One of the reasons President Buhari was voted into power, was that he promised to thin out the herd in the Nigerian executive, cutting off all the needless positions and provide us a unified front and voice for the Presidency on all topics. We were all awed by the precision with which Lai Mohammed, then integral to the Buhari campaign, was able to highlight the flaws of the previous administration and how Buhari’s personal commitment to austerity would keep him from making the same mistakes. We can admit that many Nigerians had already made their own decisions as regards the 2015 elections at this point and we were simply looking for reasons that buttressed our decision and Buhari’s campaign plan seemed to tick all the right boxes. It has been three years since we elected President Buhari into power, and all we have experienced is regret. Especially because Buhari has made the exact mistakes we voted Jonathan out of power.

Jonathan’s tenure as president was largely shaped by his media team. Three men in particular stand out, Reno Omokri, Labaran Maku and Reuben Abati. All accomplished in their own right with careers in journalism, all three men began their tenure as presidential spokesmen began with a fair level of objectivity, but as President Jonathan began to face increasing scrutiny from citizens and the independent press, they began to become increasingly defensive, forgoing their objectivity to allow them unanimously defend their employer. The chasm between the realities on ground and the government propaganda spewed by these men was much too big to bridge when the elections finally came around and the voting public was finally offered an alternative to Jonathan. However, those men haven’t even begun to plumb the depths that President Buhari’s government spokesmen have descended in their defense of this government’s often callous actions.

Lauretta Onochie, or Laurestar as she is known on the internet is easily one the biggest trolls on the internet right now. If I was asked to compare her to a popular internet figure, I would place her somewhere between Kola Boof and  Kemi Olunloyo. This specific subgroup of women are known for their volatile opinions, their unapologetic stances, even when they are visibly, clearly wrong, and their self righteousness, the fuel that keeps them churning out the obscenities each one of them have become infamous for. There is however, one cardinal difference between Onochie and the other women. She is a presidential spokeswoman.

Onochie has routinely gone on air to defend President Buhari even  on situations that are clearly out of her purview and scope of understanding. She ignored our right to ask about the health and whereabouts of our president when Buhari relocated to the UK to treat an illness the presidency is yet to disclose until this day, proudly proclaiming that Buhari, the number one public servant was a ‘private citizen’ who could go where he pleased while he somehow demanded fealty from us.

Who can forget her spectacular misstep when President Buhari’s piss poor economic policies plunged the country into a recession, going on air to categorically shame Nigerians for daring to demand more of their president. Her only premise for this kind of grandstanding was that Nigeria wasn’t the only country working its way through a recession at the time and we as a people were, perhaps, overreacting.

But all of this pales in comparison to Onochie’s recent statements given on the occasion of President Buhari’s impromptu decision to attend the wedding of the daughter of the Kano state governor, Abdullahi Ganduje. There couldn’t have been a worse time for the president to have embarked on this courtesy visit. Just days before 4 Nigerian health Aid workers were killed in a fresh Boko Haram attack at Rann, the same place bombed a year before by the Nigerian Airforce, killing 300 plus people. It was considered such a tragedy that the United Nations immediately withdrew their personnel from the region and put out warnings. The Nation waited patiently to see how the president would respond to this and all we received in return was a press release, delivered by a series of tweets suggesting the president’s remorse at the needless death of poor Internally displaced persons.


In response to much deserved outrage directed at the president, Mrs Onochie took to her twitter page to tweet this, peppered as it were, with a photo of the president in Kano. In your face as it were.

What manner of sycophancy moves a woman to prioritize the president’s reelection campaign over the lives of aid workers who risked their lives to go into Boko Haram ravaged Rann and treat the women and children there. How can she dismiss the concerns of Nigerians so willingly, with such conviction that the president simply cannot and does not take missteps or do something so grossly wrong it calls into question his humanity?

We have always speculated what ended Goodluck Jonathan’s career, and it is hard to shake the feeling that the people he surrounded himself with ultimately led to his ousting from the seat of office. If Lauretta Onochie’s approach to public relationship as a National figure is anything to go by, we are about to see Obasanjo’s woes, come to life in the next few months of Buhari’s relection campaign. And for once it will be all his fault.

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To NatGeo: A Story Idea On Nigerian Animals, By Reuben Abati

Dear Editor, NatGeo, I am a great fan of your magazine, National Geographic, and your sister platform, National Geo Wild,

Dear Editor, NatGeo,

I am a great fan of your magazine, National Geographic, and your sister platform, National Geo Wild, and your coverage of natural history, particularly the behaviour of animals in the wild.  I must commend you and your organization for the high level of commitment, attentiveness to details and professionalism consistently and habitually displayed in your various reports both in print and the broadcast form.  As a journalist of many years standing myself, I will like to suggest to you and your various channels, a story idea that you may probably find interesting, for professional reasons and for reasons of corporate social responsibility. Kindly pardon my presumptuousness in this regard, but I crave your understanding. Knowing how busy your schedule is likely to be, I will try to be quick and as specific as possible.

This is about my country, Nigeria, a land of over 900, 000 sq. kms., with rich biodiversity and ecosystem, and definitely the largest market for both human and natural resources in Africa.  Since May 2015, when a new government took over power at the centre in our country, I have observed a curious and intriguing change in the behaviour of animals in Nigeria, suggestive of a certain transmutation, or perhaps transformation within the animal ecosystem, resulting in patterns of behaviour and interaction that may be of interest to your readers and viewers.

The most recent incident in this regard and the trigger for this letter is the current news in Nigeria about how a snake, described as a mysterious snake, has reportedly swallowed a sum of N36 million ($100k) belonging to the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). JAMB is the national regulatory body in charge of admissions into tertiary institutions, very much like UCAS in the United Kingdom. This incident occurred we are told, in the process of the attempt by JAMB to audit the accounts of its zonal headquarters. In Makurdi, one Ms. Philomena Chieshe who has now been suspended, allegedly could not account for the said N36 million, being part-proceeds from the sale of forms for students seeking university admissions. When interrogated, she reportedly said her maid had confessed to the missing money having been taken by a mystery snake.

As a media channel that reports animal behaviour, this must be of great interest to you.  I don’t know whether this happens in other parts of the world, but here in Nigeria, we now seem to have a variety of snakes that are attracted by the smell of raw cash, and which feed on vaults and bags of money.  A documentary on this new variety of snakes, and a proper documentation of the genus and peculiarities would be good for filming. What exactly does the smell of national currency do to snakes? How nutritious is paper currency to snakes? The JAMB Registrar,  Professor Isi-aq Oloyede who has turned JAMB, for the first time in its existence, into a revenue generating body by plugging all loopholes within the system, and without increasing any fees, is insisting that this is a case of corruption and that he will get to the root of it. The Professor probably may not understand the way of snakes and the new variety in Nigeria.  He is a good man and I like him. I wouldn’t want him to be bitten by snakes.

Your investigative intervention should assist him. Your experts and investigators can deploy the tools of science and investigative journalism to seek out these snakes and catch them in action, and document for your numerous patrons, this new scientific development. Right now in Nigeria, we are preparing for the general elections scheduled for 2019. We need information and knowledge because if the Makurdi snake gets away with the N36 million, the same snake and its family could return in 2019 to swallow ballot boxes and papers and thus compromise Nigerian democracy.

I am, however, tempted to believe that the snakes in Makurdi may have become quite audacious, in reaction to a recent declaration, under this same political administration, by a high-ranking state official, that he bought two houses in Dubai from the sale of snakes!  Are snakes vengeful? Is this nemesis? Do they resent being sold for profit? Do snakes have the capacity to feel and settle scores? Could the sale of snakes, with the profit of houses in the UAE by a senior official, have motivated some snakes in Benue state to swallow money meant for the national treasury? What does the process of swallowing, and the digesting of money by snakes entail? Many young Nigerians and I believe other persons across the world will learn a lot from this.

I therefore hope you will consider this a very urgent subject for your consideration and editorial intervention.  Sir, the truth is that animals all over Nigeria are growing and becoming wild. They have no respect anymore for Nigeria’s constituted authority. We could wake up one of these days to hear that elephants have invaded the Central Bank of Nigeria, and swallowed all the bank’s vaults, leaving the entire country impoverished. The way things are, nobody will be surprised. I am sure you would not want that to happen, considering Nigeria’s strategic importance and population. If that were to happen, neither Africa nor the West would be able to handle the natural and humanitarian crisis that would ensue.  And if that were to happen, I am sure you will not want to miss the story.

I made the point that Nigeria has become such a wild zoo where the animals no longer respect constituted authority, and where there seems to be a conflict of roles between animals and human beings.  Let me elaborate a little.  Every year, Nigeria holds what is called Armed Forces Remembrance Day on January 15. One of the highlights of the event is the release of pigeons by the President at the end of the ceremony to symbolise the release of peace upon the land. I became really worried about the Nigerian animal kingdom when in the last three years, the pigeons released by the President simply refused to fly. Government officials shouted at the pigeons to fly. Some waved their hands and even tried sign language. Some professional sycophants flapped their arms like birds to guide the pigeons. But no way! The pigeons just jumped onto the floor and behaved as if they were having an evening-time promenade.

When you focus on birds on NatGeo Wild, the birds are shown flying. What’s going on here then? Why are some birds in Nigeria refusing to fly? The President of Nigeria is the most powerful man in the land. When he asks human beings to jump, they actually do more than jump; they make an effort to somersault. But birds, common birds, are defying Presidential orders. What kind of birds are these? A deaf and dumb specie? Or are they resisting being used as symbols of peace? Is it possible that birds have witchcraft? – because since those birds refused to fly, Nigeria has not known peace.

I began to suspect that something was indeed terribly wrong with the animal kingdom in Nigeria when sometime in 2017 rats invaded the President of Nigeria’s office! These criminal rats chased the President out of his office for more than a month. They tore the furniture in his office apart, littered the place with their droppings and disrupted Presidential work.  I am not making this up. The Nigerian Presidency issued an official statement to this effect.  Your publication and the Nat Geo Wild Channel missed the story, quite unfortunately.  But you have a second chance. You can do a good story, investigating the furniture-eating rats in Nigeria’s Presidential Villa. The President has since returned to his office, but what if the fangled-teeth rats are still around the place? What else will they eat? Having eaten up the President’s furniture without consequences, or implications, they may most certainly, just decide to munch the country’s security vote and foreign reserves! This then, is a matter of national security. If your cameras can just unmask these disrespectful rats, that will be the story of the decade.

I believe you will also get good stories and footages from covering the story of cows in Nigeria. I must tell you, cows have become far more important in my country today than human beings. Whereas many Nigerians have become homeless and defenceless, cows have bodyguards wielding AK-47 guns, bodyguards who insist that the life of cattle is more important than that of human beings.  In your experience, you may have heard about cattle ranches and modern ways of processing cattle, but in Nigeria’s animal kingdom, there has been much talk about creating colonies for cattle in Nigeria: as in plans to take land from human beings and give to cattle!  Many Governors in the country have resisted this, even the President has said that he has no constitutional powers to seize anybody’s land, but one young Governor, the one in Kogi state, has donated 15, 000 hectares of his people’s land, as cattle colony.  This must make a good story for your National Geo Wild Channel. Why would any state Governor prefer cattle to human beings? What kind of behaviour is that? What is it really that attracts human beings to animals?

My knowledge of the Bible tells me that the battle between herdsmen and farmers is an old, original battle. Of the two sons of our father Adam, and our mother, Eve, one was a farmer – Cain, the other was a herdsman – Abel.  Cain killed Abel. Since then, the world has not known peace. Their descendants have been at each other’s throats for as long as antiquity. I sincerely hope that it is not this original battle of vengeance that is now being re-enacted in Nigeria today over the battle of the cows and the farmlands. Herdsmen are killing farmers and vice versa and many of us are scared. Some people are even now saying they will create a Third Force to put an end to the drift. But nobody is sure of what tomorrow will bring. You have expert photographers and cameramen; they should be able to tease out the finest strands of this story.

Should you decide to take on this story, and do a documentary on how Nigeria has been turned into a wild zoo, within three years, I must advise that your reporters and experts should also be prepared for the shock of hearing some prominent Nigerians making references to animals all the time. One of our more outspoken Senators who should be a good interview subject about ten months ago actually told Nigerians that the seat of power, that is the Presidency of Nigeria, had been taken over by hyenas, wolves, and jackals in the absence of the lion-king. He also drew attention to a mortal combat between crocodiles and fishes. This remains a great puzzle.

The wife of the President would later reply that the hyenas and jackals would soon be expelled from the Kingdom. I am not sure this has happened, and I do not intend to go near the place to find out the truth. I can tell you why in a private conversation. But the other day, a prominent government official, a Professor of Law, who should know what he is talking about, but who has been sounding like one of the hyenas the Senator complained about, gave a lecture in which he himself complained about how Nigeria has become an animal kingdom! This same Professor not too long ago, also announced that the ruling party of which he is a member, is led by “rogue-elephants.”

I have a confession to make. I worked in government until recently but I am frightened by the manner in which wild animals are now all over the place. When public officials talk, they see animals. When events occur, they blame animals. When things get missing, animals creep into the picture. Fela, the musician once warned us about animals but I didn’t take him serious. As a responsible media house, interested in the life and times of animals in the wild, please hurry up and investigate how Nigeria has become a country of snakes, fishes, hyenas, crocodiles, cows, lions, wolves and jackals in just three years! Your audience will be supremely enriched by the effort.

I also assure you that there are many knowledgeable persons on ground who can assist you to do a good story or a series of excellent reports. Incidentally, we have a former President who once wrote a book titled: This Animal called Man, and who is a famous chicken farmer to boot. We have another former President who has a Ph.D in Zoology and was once described as a fisherman. We also have a sitting President who before becoming President, a second time, owned 150 cattle (I don’t know how many he has now) and who is a life patron of the herdsmen association of Nigeria. We even have a Nobel Prize winner, who enjoys hunting in the forest of a thousand animals. And you have me here, waiting, expectantly, who can serve as your consultant (my charges are modest) – as you write the story of how Nigeria, suddenly, before our very eyes, became a country of wild animals.

Thank you very much for your time and attention. Please don’t delay until rogue elephants swallow the Central Bank or wolves eat up the NNPC – our treasure trove. Best regards.

Reuben Abati was spokesperson and special adviser, media and publicity to President Goodluck Jonathan (2011 – 2015). A former chairman of the editorial board of The Guardian, Dr. Abati is one of the most respected columnists in Nigeria. He writes his syndicated column twice a week. He tweets from @abati1990.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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