Nigeria regained democracy exactly 13 years ago today, after the military had ruled for 15 consecutive years. It was not an easy decision to return power to the people as the media and the organised civil society fought hard and prevailed.
When former president Olusegun Obasanjo declared May 29 every year to be marked as Nigeria’s Democracy Day, not many people understood him. Now it has become obvious why a country like ours needs to remind itself of when the peoples power prevailed and to cherish and celebrate it.
Owing to the re-birth of democracy in Nigeria, quite a lot has happened to us. But most importantly, Nigerians have had the opportunity to determine their fate, while the free world has also accepted our country as a free and responsible country that can be associated with.
Since 1999 when the Democracy Day was declared, Nigeria and its constituent states have seen the good and bad of politicking, the Nigerian way. Interestingly, lessons are being learnt and the frontiers of democratic landscape are being expanded. Clearly, the hope for a mature democracy is already in sight. But we cannot fail to note that there are more challenges ahead.
Over the years, the political class has tried to blow out of proportion the gains made in the practice of democracy in Nigeria. They have glorified the provision of some projects as democracy dividends on the one hand and failed to meet the aspiration of the average person on the other. Yet democracy is about people.
It is common knowledge that the concept of democracy pre-supposes that the people have the opportunity to elect their leader and change those leaders as and when due through constitutional means. It also has to do with the access to livelihood, security, peace and justice among others. But the recourse to strikes and protests on so many issues should worry the country.
Perhaps, one of the issues that Nigeria may need to deal with, if it must attain genuine democracy without further losses, is the need to truly review the constitution of the country. Apart from the feeling that the constitution did not emanate from the people and could not represent their true interest, parts of the constitution are being observed in the breach.
Some of the contentions are that while the constitution refers to the country as a federation, the practice is something else. If Nigeria is a federation, there should be fiscal federalism; the ownership of land should not be vested in the Federal Government and the petroleum Act should have been repealed since.
Over the years, Nigerians have appeared to be the most disgruntled people. While individuals complain, the ethnic groups, all cry marginalisation. The ethnic groups fight over which should produce the president instead of looking for who could serve the country well. Of course, every group is more inclined to taking from Nigeria than contributing to its growth.
Nigerians cannot in any righteousness expect democracy to flourish in an atmosphere where politics bows to ethnic, religious and sectional interests. It is even more so where elections are still flawed. It is true that in some areas people cannot as little as dare to open their doors during elections, talk of vote. Even worse is the situation where the judiciary is used to decide who rules.
As we join millions of Nigerians to celebrate the Democracy Day and to congratulate everyone for the successes recorded so far, Nigerians cannot afford to keep quiet over the issues that endanger our hard earned democracy. But more importantly is the need for political and civic education for the people in order that politics becomes a common denominator for all.
This is, perhaps, where the need to employ the use of the Freedom of Information Act has become rather imperative. Like the electoral reform, the FOI law must become useable and people-friendly. Sadly, very few people in authority have seen it as their duty to make these laws workable.
Only recently, the discontent of Nigerians also played up as agitation for the creation of more states and local government councils. Coming at a time a number of existing states and councils are not viable, the true desire of the people can been seen – how to draw more federal allocation to themselves. There will be no end to the scramble for the cake at the federal level.
Incidentally, a statesman and former Secretary-General for the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku had suggested that the way to a stable and democratic Nigeria was in the adoption of the existing geo-political zones as states or regions for the due administration of the country. This has actually attracted support from many quarters.
Nigeria is growing, at least in population and the expectations of its people. But the near-total collapse of some infrastructure needed for a national development cannot support democracy. The perennial problem with electricity, roads and other social services will always exact a drawback on the due implementation of democracy.
Meanwhile the attitude of the ordinary Nigerian, especially with regard to contributing or sacrificing for national development remains a huge task. Only recently, there was a national call for people to let go of the petroleum subsidy, there was a national protest. Now the call for power tariff review is being mis-understood. Nigerians cannot continue to do things the same way and expect a different result.
Finally, Democracy was demanded and fought for by Nigerians and was not given. Nigerians, therefore must insist on retaining it, growing it and improving it at all levels for the good of everyone in and out of power.
Fix Eleme–Onne Road, Now
Youths from the four Ogoni-speaking local government areas of Rivers State have since last Monday
morning blocked the Eleme–Onne axis of the East–West Road to protest the poor condition of the federal highway. The youths have mobilised heavy trucks to block both ends leading to the high-priority infrastructure of the country, in particular the only bridge connecting the region to Port Harcourt.
The section, measuring 15 kilometres with a linking bridge, is one of the busiest segments of the highway following the regular hauling of goods from the Onne seaport, the Port Harcourt Refining Company, and the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone. The road equally serves over 200 multinational companies in the Eleme Industrial Zone including the two refineries, the Indorama Petrochemical and Fertiliser Company, Intels Nigeria Limited, and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
The protesting youths, who have literally turned the event into a carnival of a sort, are demanding that the dilapidated Ogoni section of the East–West Road be reconstructed, with at least three flyovers at strategic locations in Akpajo, Alesa and Onne, all in Eleme Local Government Area. They also want to see the reconstruction of the existing bridge at the Aleto junction.
Apart from the conveying of goods from Eleme, the East–West Road with only an access bridge which is near collapsing connects nine local government areas to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. The Federal Government had consistently promised to fix the section of the road, but contractors are yet to be mobilised to the site, even though skeletal works are ongoing on some sections.
As expected, the protest is affecting businesses and other activities in the area badly. For example, the physical verification of the Continuous Voter Registration exercise by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) scheduled to commence in parts of Rivers State since Monday is negatively impacted by the protest.
In a statement, the Head, Voter Education and Publicity of INEC in Rivers State, Mark Usolor, said, “due to the blockade on the stretch of the East–West Road, their personnel and materials were unable to arrive some of the local government offices of INEC to commence the exercise.” The commission listed the affected local government areas to include Andoni, Bonny, Eleme, Gokana, Khana, Ogu/Bolo, Okrika, Opobo/Nkoro and Tai.
During the inauguration of Community Secondary School, Eteo, Eleme, and Community Secondary School, Obeakpu-Ndoki, Oyigbo, respectively in June this year, Governor Nyesom Wike charged the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to visit the Eleme section of the East–West Road to appreciate the agony of the people of the area. The governor denounced the dilapidated condition of the road, particularly the Eleme axis and urged rapid completion on account of its economic importance.
He said; “I urge the Federal Government under the APC to please fulfill promises they made to Nigerians, fulfill promises they made to Rivers State. It is unfortunate, look at the East–West Road, this part of it has almost collapsed. The money comes from where? The money comes from us. Can you see this part of the road anywhere in this country? They are taking us for granted because we have nobody. God in his infinite mercy will give us somebody. The kind of treatment we are receiving from this Federal Government is unacceptable.”
In what initially appeared to be a reassuring move, the Federal Government had disclosed that it released N7 billion to contractors to facilitate the East–West Road project, and instructed them to comply with the directives to complete and hand over the project to people of the region before the end of First Quarter 2022. Unfortunately, there is nothing on the ground for the tremendous amount and no one has been questioned for it.
Indeed, this protest has come at an auspicious moment. We support the action and urge the youths to remain on the remonstrance howbeit peacefully until work begins or they can obtain a commitment from the Federal Government. We will resist a situation where commuters and other road users are exposed to countless difficulties on a daily basis. It is hard to understand why, despite the enormous economic value of the road, it has stayed abandoned to this day.
Developments in the Niger Delta have reached a point where strategic and decisive measures must be taken to guarantee the future of the region. The Federal Government must pay greater attention to the plight of those living in the Niger Delta. It is a shame that the East–West Road has been in limbo for years and that there is no serious work going on there. If politics plays into the construction of the road, nothing prevents the people from expressing themselves in assertion of their rights and defence of the residents.
Interestingly, the East–West Road was flagged off in 2006 by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. To facilitate its completion, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration moved the project to the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF), with approved funds surprisingly warehoused by the Uche Orji-led Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). However, it was later transferred to the impoverished Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs for doubtful reasons. Stakeholders in the region strongly believe that this is the reason why the work is slow at the moment.
While we suffer the anguish of the ugly progression of this all-important road, so far, we think that there is an urgent need for the protest to be guided by its organisers to forestall being hijacked by hoodlums for criminal or political purposes. There are already sad reports of people being assaulted and property being vandalised. That is by no means the way to go. The leaders of the region should call the youths to order and urge them to conduct themselves appropriately.
If the government is spending about N900 billion on the 127.621km Lagos–Ibadan Expressway, and the Abuja–Kaduna–Kano highway reviewed from N155 billion to N797.236 billion, why is the East–West Road continuously denied similar attention when it is located in the region that produces over 80 per cent of the nation’s revenue? The federal authorities must heed the demands of the protest marchers and fix this road immediately.
Party Defections Taken Too Far
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), last week, instituted a legal action at the Supreme Court against the Zamfara State Governor, Alhaji Bello Matawalle, and members of the State House of Assembly and federal lawmakers from the state who defected with the state chief executive from the PDP to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
In the suit which follow an earlier one initiated by the Zamfara State Chapter of the PDP at the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking similar reliefs, the main opposition party in the country is asking the Apex Court of the land to declare as vacant the seats of its erstwhile members in the National Assembly as well as the Zamfara State House of Assembly who dumped the party for the APC. The party also wants Governor Matawalle to lose his governorship position as a consequence of the defection.
On June 28, 2021, Matawalle had announced his defection from the PDP to the APC at an occasion attended by leaders of the ruling party including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and 11 APC governors in Gusau, the state capital. Also received into the APC from the PDP were all the 24 members of the State House of Assembly, all three senators and six out of the seven members of the House of Representatives from the state. Only the Deputy Governor, Aliya Gusan and the member Representing Anka/Talata-Marafa Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Kabiru Marafa, chose not to defect of all that benefitted from the Supreme Court judgement in 2019.
Governor Matawalle was declared governor and the lawmaker’s winners of their contested seats on May 24, 2019 after the Supreme Court disqualified all the APC candidates in the general elections of 2019 over the failure of the party (APC) to conduct valid primary elections to produce the candidates.
Before Matawalle and his group defected, the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi and his Cross River State counterpart, Ben Ayade had walked out of the PDP into the APC this year. On the other side, Governors like Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Godwin Obaseki of Edo State had moved without much ado from the APC to the PDP and scores of lawmakers criss-crossing the political divides at will at different times in the past under questionable and very disturbing circumstances.
Observers and stakeholders have continued to express worry at the unhealthy trend describing it not only as embarrassing to the nation, but also as a dangerous development that could spell doom for the country’s democracy which requires urgent and decisive action to contain.
While The Tide concedes to politicians their right to freely move and pitch tent with any political party of their choice and has nothing against political groups’ freedom to poach influential members of rival parties, we are concerned that the recklessness of the act, if not checked, could weaken the system and erode every advantage and benefit accruable to the people from the liberal democratic system the country is nurturing.
Critical watchers of the Nigerian political space have come to the inevitable conclusion that the constant defection of politicians from one party to another have less to do with principles and ideologies but more to do with self-serving motives. Whether by enticement, coercion, manipulation, blackmail or intimidation employed to compel this indiscriminate move of the political class, the fact remains that the indulgence systematically eliminates viable and vibrant alternative voice that is necessary for the socio-political and economic development of the country.
According to a certain commentator, the ongoing rash of defections being instigated and celebrated by the APC is particularly baffling because of the absence of concrete ideological validations or performance indices driving the defecting politicians.
“It is not as if states being run by PDP governors are faring worse in development than APC states. It is not like the current Federal Government is a PDP-run one under which insecurity, poverty and socio-economic conditions have become nightmarish. In a twist of paradox and curiosity, political actors are defecting to the ruling party today at a time when the government is widely rated to score lowest in nearly all performance indices,” he said, concluding that the defectors could only be doing so either for political survival, exemption from prosecution form corruption or promises of future juicy positions and privileges.
It is, therefore, to entrench a more accountable political class and to protect the people from dubious political actors that The Tide commends and supports the PDP for the bold and courageous step to seek legal redress which outcome could conclusively address and stem the ugly tide.
While defending his party’s decision to go to court, Kola Ologbodiyan, spokesman of the PDP, averred a “combined reading of Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution and the pronouncement of the Supreme Court in Faleke Vs INEC (2016) is clear in holding that it is the political party that stands for election, that votes scored in election belong to the political party and that the candidate nominated to contest at an election by his party acts only as the agent of the party”.
Suffice to say that the shameless political harlotry of the Nigerian politician and all the dangers it portends for our democracy has just got to stop, and we urge the Supreme Court to attend to this case in the light of all that it is meant to put right to save our democracy.
For Seamless Voter Registration
In the run-up to the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has
launched the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) across the country. This follows a three-year suspension of the exercise in 2018 to allow the commission to produce the Permanent Voter Cards used for the 2019 general election.
However, after the 2019 general election, INEC failed to proceed with the CVR as required by the Electoral Act. This disenfranchised many eligible voters of the off-season elections in Ondo, Bayelsa, Edo and Kogi States, as well as other by-elections. Those who would have participated in local government elections in some states were equally denied the opportunity to be part of the ballot since INEC voters register is a significant basis of the polls.
These deprivations had a major impact on the possibility of quality leaders emerging from the process. Furthermore, it is against global democratic standards. Though the electoral body had kept referring to the creation of 56,872 additional polling units in the country as reason for the long suspension of the registration exercise, we consider it untenable. While the creation of more units is desirable, both activities would have been executed simultaneously.
INEC’s failure to register new voters that turned 18 years for the long period of lull, has deprived them their right to vote as provided for in the extant laws, and has similarly increased the number of unregistered voters in the country. To facilitate its work, it is important that the electoral umpire adopts developments in other countries. For example, in Argentina and Australia, persons at the age of 16 and 17 are placed on provisional lists and are immediately transferred to the voters list as they turn 18. This makes voter registration an on-going event in these countries.
If what INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, let out that the commission was hoping to register 20 million persons in the current registration activity, bringing the total number of voters to about 100 million is anything to go by, then the body has a herculean task to accomplish. But the question is, does the electoral umpire have the ability to register the number of Nigerians in the short period allocated to this exercise?
Experience has shown that voter registration exercises are hardly successful without hitches. Normally, the one year specified for the activity should be sufficiently long to exclude barriers. But in many cases, the registrants complain that they are being asked to donate money or provide logistics, like fuel to power the generators so they can be registered. This is unacceptable and inhibits participation.
The commission should put an end to extortion and simplify the enrolment of eligible Nigerians. Some voters have relocated, but are having trouble exercising their right to vote because their PVCs have not been transferred to their new locations. INEC needs to effect such changes to stimulate voter participation and avoid double registration, which has often facilitated redundant voting practices.
We welcome the decision by the election agency to open a portal for voter pre-registration. This is a viable innovation that will ease the awful predicament of registrants and reduce the time it takes to register. There is no question that it will also decongest enrollment centres, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the website should be configured in a manner that effectively supports a lot of traffic without collapsing.
Following the recent attacks on its offices, notably in the South-East and South-South, INEC must be wary of security threats. Yakubu has recently indicated similar concerns. Therefore, security agents must ensure the safety of INEC personnel and registration centres, especially those located in incendiary areas. States and local governments must assist in ensuring safety in this regard. Nigerians need to be proactive and protect INEC installations as well. They can provide intelligence to security officials about suspicious movements.
As information and communications technology advances, voter registration should be a flawless performance. Fortunately, Nigeria has several means of identifying citizens, some of which include the National Identity Number, the Bank Verification Number and vehicle driving licence, all of which have the biometric data of Nigerians, including age and nationality, the two requirements for voting. Efforts must, therefore, be made to synchronize all data bases. After all, in many countries, citizens are obliged to provide only one piece of ID to vote.
There is also a need to facilitate the collection process of PVCs. Since many Nigerians apply for visas within the country by simply mailing their passports to the relevant foreign missions and their passports are returned to them through courier services, INEC can do likewise at a cost to the voter as this would reduce the number of uncollected PVCs, which stands at over one million in Lagos State alone based on the commission’s admission.
If executed with care, the process will also reduce the needless community of people during this Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, the voting of minors, which has become widespread in certain parts of the country, begins with questionable registration. It remains a crime and INEC would do well to penalise errant workers who engage in the registration of children.
Nigerians must resist the temptation to wait until the last minute to register, as this could prove deleterious, as previous experiences have shown. A credible register of voters is the first step in carrying out elections and INEC needs to play its role effectively. Civil Society Organisations and other stakeholders should play their role well by fostering registration through effective support.
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