Reinventing The Commonwealth
Monday, March 13, 2023, was Commonwealth Day!
Held every year on the second Monday of March, the day was an opportunity to celebrate the Commonwealth and its shared values of democracy, equality, and peace for all of its people. The Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of 56 countries, extends over six continents and includes the world’s biggest, smallest, richest, and poorest countries. With a total population of 2.4 billion, it gives a unified voice to about a third of the world’s population.
This year’s theme is “Forging a sustainable and peaceful common future”. The theme combines the active commitment of member states to support the promotion of peace, prosperity and sustainability, especially through climate action, to secure a better future for young people and improve the lives of all Commonwealth citizens. Although many Commonwealth nations were formerly in the British Empire, their association in the organisation is free and voluntary with each country recognised as an equal member.
To commemorate the day, Nigeria’s Federal Government had called on the Education Ministry at the subnational level to encourage their pupils and students to mark the Day for the promotion of tolerance, respect, understanding, and moderation which are necessary values for peace, prosperity, and democracy. The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, briefed newsmen in Abuja on activities lined up for the commemoration of the 2023 Commonwealth Day.
He said Nigeria would always continue to maximise the dividends of being part of the supportive community of 56 member nations across Africa, Asia, America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Pacific. However, we are hoping that the commemoration was not only a Federal Government affair. And that his ministry requested the management of the respective state Education Ministry nationwide to equally put in place programmes in all their educational institutions to observe the Day.
Regrettably, the Commonwealth as currently constituted is not a particularly effective organisation. Membership carries few economic benefits. The lack of consistent comparative data on trade costs, and the wide variations in the extent to which Commonwealth countries trade with fellow members, make it very difficult to prove the existence of this ‘advantage’. Furthermore, its record in enforcing adherence to human rights and democracy is far from impressive.
In 2013, the organisation adopted a charter full of laudable aspirations about justice, democracy and human rights. As such, membership signals to the broader international community that countries share those aspirations. Yet, the Commonwealth took no action when in January 2021, long-serving Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, clung to power after a deeply flawed electoral process. Similarly, Paul Kagame of Rwanda hosted the heads of government meeting despite repeated signs that he is intolerant of opposition.
Other repressive regimes have found the Commonwealth a useful mechanism for ‘reputation laundering’. In 2013, President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka hosted the Commonwealth summit. At the time, his government stood accused of presiding over war crimes in the country’s bloody civil war. In hosting the heads of government meeting, he hoped that the Commonwealth’s benign image would distract attention from the accusations.
It had been suggested that Brexit would deepen economic ties with Commonwealth members in Africa. But a recent trade summit between the United Kingdom and African countries produced very little. This, plus the pandemic, has taken the shine off some earlier predictions of a boom in UK-African trade. Meanwhile, the secretariat itself and its development arm have seen their budgets slashed in recent years. Donors have withdrawn or withheld funding in some very public displays of no-confidence in the leadership of the current secretary-general, Patricia Scotland.
However, something is endearing about the Commonwealth, whose biennial Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) took place in Kigali, Rwanda. Despite its history as the baby of a long-dead empire, and the very many challenges that it has faced over the years, it continues to thrive. In achieving this feat, a key feature has been its constant reinvention. The latest of this is the admission of Gabon and Togo, two Francophone countries with no historical ties to Britain, into the organisation in 2022.
The Commonwealth has scored tremendous successes traversing the realms of education, capacity building, development, economics, bilateral and multilateral trade, legal education, cultural and sporting links plus human rights and the rule of law. Noteworthy is how the body promptly suspended Nigeria following the summary execution of the human rights activist, the Ogoni-born, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues, under the military junta of late General Sani Abacha in 1995.
Notwithstanding, the Commonwealth still has so much more to do, and its future relevance will depend on how it manages to navigate the key issues of this century. One of these is the leadership of the organisation. Since its inception in 1949, the position has been held by the head of the British Monarchy. In 2018, Prince Charles was designated as the successor to Queen Elizabeth II, who had held the position since 1952. But as it expands membership beyond the original “British Empire”, the body must decide if its historical origin and tradition outweigh the precepts of democracy, equity, and equality in choosing its leadership.
Beyond the challenges, there are opportunities. Following Brexit, Britain has been reactivating alliances and partnerships across the world under its “Global Britain” strategy. It seeks to fill the gigantic gap that Brexit has opened up, and Commonwealth members come into play here. Hence, the organisation must re-ignite its presence in global and diplomatic affairs. One way to play this role effectively is by mediating Britain’s renewed interest and engagements with the less endowed member states so that the benefits are mutual. It must not allow the Commonwealth to be used as cannon fodder to benefit only its major economies.
That March Stillborn Census
After a long period of indecision, Nigeria will now hold its first census in 17 years in May this year instead of April as earlier scheduled. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, made this known to newsmen last Wednesday at the end of the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council.
The Minister explained that the decision to move the date was necessitated by the rescheduling of the gubernatorial election to March 18. He also disclosed that the Council approved a whopping N2.8 billion for the National Population Commission (NPC) to procure some software to be used for the conduct of the census.
Recall that in the July 20, 2022 editorial of this paper, we observed that the planned census initially scheduled for April 2023 was ill-timed and therefore should not have been mulled over in the first place, given that the general election had been slated for an adjoining period; moreover at a time of very significant security problems bedeviling virtually the whole country.
These situations would impact the census result adversely. Even by its acknowledgement, the NPC’s pre-census tests which were performed in some areas of the country were stymied by overwhelming safety issues in some states.
We also argued that if the present administration did not conduct the census, at least, a year before the end of its tenure, it had no reason to rush to conduct the exercise two months before exit. Expectedly, with the postponement, and the reasons adduced thereto, we have been vindicated.
It would have been inconceivable for the NPC to proceed with the process when it was apparent that the agency was yet unprepared to conduct a credible and acceptable census. To justify their lack of readiness, the NPC has just submitted and secured approval of N2.8 billion to award a contract to procure software it will use for the exercise.
We insist that even the new May date for the exercise is still unrealistic. First, the contract has to be awarded for the procurement of the software. Second, the contractor has to order and take delivery of the software. The NPC will then take delivery and begin training staff and ad-hoc personnel to be able to effectively deploy and efficiently use the software. We can conjecture that this will take not less than, at least, six months from now.
This is why we demand that the Federal Government, and indeed the NPC, should stop deceiving Nigerians on the conduct of a hitch-free census at this time. The NPC should conduct the exercise later this year or even in 2024. It was for this reason the House of Representatives advised the commission to put off the exercise to a more convenient period because of the unstable state of affairs in the country. Sadly, the commission disdained the well-intentioned advice of the House.
The horrendous security conditions are elevating concerns about the accurate count. The Federal Government should not venture on a wild goose chase. Census generally is a massive endeavour that requires a long time of organisation and planning. The truth, however, is that insecurity in the country is far more horrible than the image projected by the NPC. And given the deplorable economic condition of the nation, it is time the commission explored other means outside headcount to execute its obligation of extrapolating Nigeria’s population to intensify planning and growth.
The manual procedure being adopted by the NPC is becoming anachronistic, error-ridden, and vulnerable to manipulation. It should give way to new technologies for enumeration and data collection. According to a recent survey by the United Nations, more than 30 countries or areas are providing an option for Internet-based self-enumeration given that “new technologies contribute to improving the completeness, timeliness, and quality of census results.” That is the way forward.
Ordinarily, the plan to hold a national census would have been a welcome development. This is especially so because the planned census is coming some 17 years after the last headcount. But executing the project in May will be grossly unfitting because it will come too close to the end of the general election. The timing is wrong completely.
The government should not set innocent citizens in harm’s way for conducting a headcount. Consequently, President Muhammadu Buhari should not submit to scare tactics from the commission to authorise or discharge funds for the census. Already, the NPC management is ruing the endorsement and even anticipating that if the money required for the activity from the government is inadequate, it would get reasonable appropriation from global backers.
Clearly, the quandary at hand is a very auspicious prescription for a failure of any headcount presently, which is better circumvented than added to the many miseries that had depicted census in this country. All the earlier censuses were contentious, and it does not make any sense to carry out one just for it when all the indicators demonstrate apparent unfavourable aftermath.
The question is: Why is the NPC bent on having a census despite the odds? Is the commission out to do a good job, or just to spend the gigantic money being budgeted for the project? No doubt, a valid census is crucial for planning and development objectives for the country. But it should be executed properly and timely. The count had been put off twice in 2016 and 2018 following several controversial factors that have still not abated but intensified instead and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We think that the Federal Government should shun the idea of a census for the next government, which should tackle insecurity first before the census. A country that is facing existential challenges cannot have as one of its priorities the conduct of a national census. The current administration should discontinue what will aggregate to misadventure and waste of scarce national resources.
What should disconcert the Buhari regime is reviving the credence of a large section of citizens in the Nigerian project, resuscitating peace in areas held by criminal elements, and dousing tension in the country to foster favourable buy-in and participation. A national census now is necessarily not a preference; its conduct is entirely not feasible.
Black Sea Saga: Let Peace Reign
Tensions between Moscow and Washington reached an all-time high, as a Russian fighter jet forced down a United States Air Force drone over the Black Sea last Tuesday after damaging the propeller of the American MQ-9 Reaper drone. The U.S. military confirmed.
The Reaper drone and two Russian Su-27 aircraft were flying over international waters over the Black Sea when one of the Russian jets intentionally flew in front of and dumped fuel on the unmanned drone several times. The aircraft then hit the propeller of the drone, prompting U.S. forces to bring the MQ-9 drone down. A statement from U.S. European Command said.
“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” Air Force General James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said in the statement.
Recall that in June 2021, the Russia – U.S. summit witnessed the first in-person meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin to ease the mounting tensions between Washington and Moscow. Even though both presidents expressed cautious optimism about the future trajectory of U.S. – Russia affairs, what followed was anything but positive.
In 2021, tensions between Moscow and Washington reached an all-time high, when Russia repeatedly accused the United States and NATO of providing military assistance to Ukraine and nudging the country closer to NATO and the European Union. As the conflict escalated, Washington and its allies expressed concerns regarding Russia’s nuclear arsenal and political ambitions. This pushed Western officials to impose sanctions on Russia and provide support to the Ukrainian military.
In light of this continuing support, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused NATO of waging a “proxy” war against Russia by supporting Ukraine. In its turn, Moscow continued to solidify its partnerships with key powers in the Middle East and to deepen its political and economic ties with China. This has created tensions that may lead to serious geopolitical rivalry between the great powers.
Last month, the U.S. military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. But China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft and threatened repercussions. It responded that it reserved the right to “take further actions” and criticised the U.S. for “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.”
These developments are obvious threats to world peace. Gradually, the superpowers are getting involved in the Ukraine war with these attacks. We advise all parties to thread with caution to avert the escalation of the various provocative acts. Already, the Russian war with Ukraine is threatening the stability of the world economy and peace. With these attacks, there is a need for an urgent reassessment of global surveillance and security.
Violations of airspace by foreign unmanned reconnaissance balloons, drones, and other means are utterly unacceptable. Unfortunately, since the Chinese balloon incident, there have been numerous other occurrences involving flying objects, raising even more concern. The world powers must establish communication channels or maintain existing ones to properly handle these incidents in the interest of global peace.
In a world that is rapidly becoming a “global village”, security issues respect no national borders. The vulnerability of any one country may create a security “swamp” attracting multiple risks from outside. The insecurity of one country may build up and spill over to the region and beyond. Currently, no one can stay unscathed from external risks or achieve so-called “absolute security” on their own. Hence, nations must stick together.
Since the Russia – Ukraine war is at the heart of the conflicts, pressure should be brought to bear on both sides to end the hostilities, whose negative impact has been felt across the world. China, a major power and UN Security Council member allied with Russia need to persuade Putin to de-escalate. President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party have to look beyond their ongoing rivalry with the U.S. and NATO and their preoccupation with China’s geostrategic calculations, especially unification with Taiwan and control of the South China Sea.
The war in Ukraine has to stop. This must not escalate into World War III. No one will be free from nuclear war. If hostilities intensify beyond Ukraine, its course and outcome will be unforeseeable. It is therefore essential that Putin be deprived of power. Mischief-making by Iran and North Korea is another matter; the two pariah states have been supplying Russia with weapons in furtherance of their permanent bellicosity against the U.S. and its allies. Deterring them will require stiffer sanctions against both.
Developing countries such as Nigeria’s and indeed the whole of Africa should avoid taking sides in the war. As the continent is heavily dependent on food and energy imports from Russia and Ukraine, the Norwegian-based Peace Research Institute in Oslo said war “has resulted in extreme price shocks and a disruption of the supply chains of various commodities across Africa, ranging from wheat and sunflower oil to crude oil.” The earlier this war ends, the better for the world.
The belligerents suffer the most: apart from the humanitarian displacement. The World Bank estimates that Ukraine will require $349 billion for reconstruction; the Foreign Policy Research Institute also forecasts Russia’s economy to contract by 15 per cent this year. Given the estimate and forecast, it is expedient that the senseless war ends.
As Nigerians Vote Again, ’Morrow…
Tomorrow, March 18, Nigerians of voting age would again file out to cast their votes for governors and
House of Assembly members of the various states in the country. Those who deeply understand the dynamics of political power have since projected that the gubernatorial election may be much more tougher than the presidential poll of February 25 because, as they say, every politics is local.
Expectedly, new governors will be elected for 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states and lawmakers will also be elected for 993 Houses of Assembly seats in the 36 states of the federation. Governorship elections will not hold this time in Anambra, Bayelsa, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Kogi, Osun, and Ondo, as polls to the offices of governors of the states are held off-cycle and not part of the general election.
Since the February 25 election was conducted, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has come under fire from election observers – both national and international, Chatham House, the United States, political parties, as well as political commentators who observed that the conduct of the ballot fell short, especially with the inability of INEC to transmit results from polling units to the results viewing (IReV) portal.
It is alleged that there was a deliberate attempt or outright refusal to upload and transmit the election results to the INEC server after declarations at the polling units as stipulated by the 2022 Electoral Act, among numerous other electoral malfeasances. But this is even as some people, particularly those whose candidates won, believe the results were a true reflection of the people’s wish, considering the victory of some new political parties in the strongholds of the ruling party across the country.
Customarily, the country will be shut down tomorrow as politicians of various parties take on one another in what promises to be “tough battles” in the respective states. Many believe that Saturday’s poll would be different because unlike in the past when the contest was usually a two-horse race, the battle would be among three or more dominant parties depending on the state.
While the stakes are high, we urge INEC to use the opportunity of the March 18 governorship elections to redeem its image, by correcting all observed loopholes in the February 25 election. This time around, we call for the sustenance and advancement of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) because its use has been seen to reduce the level of rigging by curtailing overvoting. Results should be uploaded directly from the polling units to the IRev portal for real time viewing.
Besides the glitches in the BVAS, the late arrival of voting materials to polling units was a major hiccup that characterised the last presidential election. Hence, INEC must ensure that voting materials arrive at the polling units on time and clear “all obstacles” that might hinder the free and fair conduct of the governorship election. This is one of the ways the electoral umpire can prove to the world that it has learned from its mistakes.
Of immediate concern to the commission should be how the identified challenges could be addressed ahead of the concluding phase of the general election involving the largest number of constituencies. Issues of logistics, election technology, the behaviour of some election personnel at different levels, and the attitude of some party agents and supporters must not be ignored.
Some Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in the last presidential poll should be investigated for their alleged partisanship and connivance with politicians to sabotage and derail the due process. Similarly, INEC should investigate its staff accused of involvement in election fraud, especially electoral officers at the councils, supervisory presiding officers, and dubious ad-hoc staff, while all those involved in malpractice should be arrested, prosecuted, and punished adequately, to serve as a deterrent to others.
One of the issues that give most Nigerians real cause for concern as the nation picks its way through the delicate democratic pathway is the perceived complicity of security operatives in allegations of manipulating the elections to achieve pre-conceived results. It is a fact that the integrity of any election can be determined by the security situation at any given time as the electorate goes about choosing their leaders freely without let or hindrance.
We demand improved performances from the various security operatives participating in tomorrow’s governorship and State Assembly election. Many of them had put up shabby performances during the February 25 presidential poll. They aided and abetted some thugs to snatch ballot boxes. Though we commend some for showing professionalism, Nigerians request remarkable improvement.
Security agents who should participate in the conduct of elections must be professionals who are willing to discharge their duties without minding whose ox is gored. If Nigeria has to grow and this democracy has to survive, we must, as a nation, take a stand on what to do about the involvement of security agencies in elections. This is pertinent because their role, positive or negative, can make all the difference.
Political parties and their candidates should speak to their agents and supporters to see the elections as a contest and not war. They should refrain from acts of violence that may mar the exercise or compromise the security of our personnel, observers, the media, and service providers. The directive to State Commands by the Inspector-General of Police to handle all cases of electoral offences expeditiously is indeed heart-warming.
In Rivers State, the journey has been good so far. No one envisages any terrible or apocalyptic situation in terms of the election. However, we must all be vigilant. Every eligible person should vote. We must comply with the rules and let each one exercise their franchise. No one should exhibit lawlessness. Political bigwigs and their gladiators must call their lieutenants to order. Anyone itching to undermine the process in the state should please think again.
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