FEATURE ARTICLE

Ibibia Lucky WorikaWednesday, June 11, 2008
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Port Harcourt, Nigeria

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ARE RICH NATIONS BLOCKING AFRICA'S GROWTH? (III)

In the long-run every Government is the exact symbol of its People, with their wisdom and unwisdom; we have to say, Like People like Government. - Thomas Carlyle


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magine a football tournament in which Africa fields not its best eleven, but its most geographically-spread team reflecting a balance between the major regions; imagine an international chess competition, where rather than put forward its best chess player, Africa fields its best poker card player; imagine a world beauty contest where Africa fields say, the daughter of Nelson Mandela, simply for being Nelson Mandela's daughter rather than its most beautiful girl. Yet by fielding politicians whose desire in politics is everything except to enthrone good governance, by fielding politicians who simply represent ethnic or tribal cleavages, Africa continues to put square pegs in round holes in an otherwise very serious enterprise of governance. The quality of leadership in other more progressive lands is, perhaps, a million light years away from Africa's coterie of overwhelmingly dubious politicians, military officers and ex-military officers or veterans, who have collectively had a stranglehold on and cumulatively stunted its growth and prosperity. That Africa's leaders generally advance first, their self-interest; and, second, their ethnic agenda; and, lastly, their country (if at all) is no gainsaying.

This article was originally instigated by reports from Yokohama, Japan, where over forty heads of African states participated in a three-day conference to discuss economic growth, stability and climate change published in The Guardian on Thursday, May 29, 2008 and, entitled, "African leaders accuse rich nations of blocking continent's growth". While noting the examples and instances often cited to justify the grand conspiracy theory against Africa, the first part http://nigeriaworld.com/articles/2008/jun/041.html concludes that Africa's political leadership has been complicit in her underdevelopment. The second serial, also published on the same website builds on the arguments in the first by counteracting all the arguments supporting a grand conspiracy theory and warning that,

"Africa risks unprecedented destitution, proliferation of failed states, emigration and more armed conflicts absent sincere and caring leadership that serves the interests of her people rather than a coterie of the political class that has been in power and continues to be recycled whether in military, ex-military or civilian gab."

This concluding serial attempts to articulate a way forward for Africa. It proposes that Africa should Reform, Implement, Monitor and Enforce Compliance (AFRIMEC) of its democratic and development agenda. These include but are not limited to reforming its electoral process; civil service, including police and armed forces; education; health; agriculture; power; job creation; human rights record; and sustainable development objectives and strategies just to mention these, but under a sincere and caring leadership. Given the difficulty of doing justice to issues of this serious gravity in a single article, this concluding serial shall consequently be published in five major parts. Part 1 of this concluding serial shall deal with the issue of electoral reform; Part 2 will examine civil service reform which would include the Police and Armed Forces. Part 3 will deal with the rule of law, which in its contending perspectives has been used both as a shield and sword. Part 4 will consider reform in education and human capital development. Part 5 will deal with the issues of implementation, monitoring and compliance enforcement of the democratic and reform agenda. The concluding segment, Part V will summarize the major findings with a final word on the crucial role of political leadership in Africa. The serial will not examine the equally significant issues of commerce, industry, agriculture, health services without which no nation on earth can truly boast of economic development. The exclusion of discussions on these equally crucial issues is based firstly on the fact that the author does not consider himself an authority on these specialist fields; and secondly, on the firm belief that once Africa gets its politics right, all the others will necessarily follow suit.

While we cannot easily place a price on ethnic chauvinism and religious bigotry, recent studies indicate that corruption is costing the African continent over US$150 billion annually, enough to fix over half of the continent's infrastructure deficit. The first principle is to put square pegs in square holes. By throwing up men and women with requisite qualifications, competencies, skills, goodwill and integrity in the communities, towns and cities while allowing the electoral system to take its natural course without executive interference, Africa would have started on a journey of self-renewal in its quest for good governance that should ultimately lead to sustainable development.

Africa should reform:

The Electoral Process

"Electoral reform may sound pretty small within such a grand vision. But electoral reform is the key, the opening up of the political system, the means for restoring hope and confidence to the Nigerian (African) people." - Princeton Lyman

Throughout the length and breadth of Africa, democracy has been standing on its head - dead people sometimes vote, opposition politicians and their supporters are indiscriminately killed and where they cannot, opposition politicians, including those within the ruling party who have run out of favour with their colleagues in power are arbitrarily barred from contesting elections by either the National Electoral Commission or other responsible government electoral agency. It has happened in Nigeria, Cote D'voire and Zimbabwe just to mention these. Even the Police, constitutionally empowered to preserve and protect the people by ensuring law and order are brought into the fray. Originally set up and paid to protect human lives and property, the Police have become overzealous during electioneering campaigns in protecting the ruling party by intimidating and sometimes killing innocent voters perceived to be in support of the opposition in the name of maintaining law and order as we have seen most recently in Zimbabwe. The failed attempts to unseat President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt; the democratic debacle in the definition and application of "citizenship" in Cote D'voire and ensuring unrest, which led to the evacuation of foreigners and temporary movement of the African Development Bank from its headquarters in Abidjan to Tunis amongst others; the recent post-election unrest between Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and supporters of President Kibaki and his Party of National Unity (PANU) in Kenya; the controversy surrounding Nigeria's third republic elections; including the recent political logjam in Zimbabwe between Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and opposition leader, Tsvangirai's MDC; absence of a credible government in Somalia, are all constant reminders that genuine electoral reform that truly establishes an independent umpire for elections in Africa, which has been missing all these while is a sine qua non to democratic stability and good governance.

Princeton Lyman, Adjunct Senior Fellow of Africa Policy Studies, one time U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and, later, Nigeria in an address at the Conference on Electoral Reform National Programme of Commemoration Yar'Adua Memorial Forum on March 19, 2005 delivered a paper titled, "Electoral Reform: The Next Milestone in Nigeria's Democracy" wherein the author anchored his basic proposals on three broad areas while enjoining others to deliver on the specifics:

  • Enhancing the independence and strengthening the capacity of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (INEC).

  • The system for counting and aggregation of votes must be made more transparent and verifiable.

  • There must be evidence of prosecution of violators.

By sheer coincidence or providence, those present at this forum included the former President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, his erstwhile estranged deputy and, later, Presidential candidate of the Action Congress (AC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and then Executive Governor of Katsina State and now President of Nigeria Alhaji Musa Yar'Adua. Whether this address was well-received and if it had any impact on the electoral process in the 2007 Nigerian elections should be left to electoral pundits. However, upon assumption of office, one of the things the current President of Nigeria has embarked upon is electoral reform, which if honestly and sincerely pursued could be the single most important legacy his administration could bequeath to the Nigerian people. As this article is being published, the author is aware that Nigeria's Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) has submitted its report to President.

There will be important lessons for other African nations, not least because of Nigeria's leading role in Africa. The specifics of electoral reform in Nigeria must seek to address how INEC can truly be seen as independent of partisan bias or control, even of the incumbent administration. Of course, this relates to the selection of its members, the autonomy of its budget, and the authority it exerts to implement and enforce compliance with the electoral laws and regulations. These reforms must extend down through the state and local government level for it to be effective in galvanizing and stabilizing Nigeria's wobbling democracy.

The interim report of the Political Reform Committee set up by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua of Nigeria revealed that it reviewed the roles and functions of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and States Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) with a view to making appropriate recommendations. As at the time of filing in its report, there were indications that it was working on recommendations to improve the performance of security agencies, political parties, non-governmental groups, the mass media and Nigerians in the electoral process. The committee discovered that the inadequacy of political and civic education in the Nigerian context had impacted negatively on the electoral process and pledged to make "appropriate recommendations for civic and political education as well as modes of civic engagement that will deepen democracy."

Sketches of the final report have been published by Nigeria's leading dailies. These include but are not limited to "the amendment of existing laws including the Electoral Act"; "re-introduction of independent candidature in all elections"; "first line of consolidated funding for the INEC as well as state independent electoral commissions (SIECs)" for financial autonomy and independence; the creation of additional electoral agencies, implying the splitting of INEC; the introduction of proportional representation, just to mention these. We are told that, "the committee received a total of 1,466 memoranda from within and outside Nigeria" and "also held public hearings in 12 selected states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where a total of 907 presentations were made" including invitation it sent to experts from 11 countries. The report consists of Volume 1 (main report), Volume II (memoranda received by the committee), Volume III (analysis of the presentations), Volume IV (verbatim report of the public hearings), Volume V (containing reports on the retreats with foreign experts) and VI (containing appendices to the main report). It is hoped that this report will not end up the way of most other reports - forgotten in the dustbin of history.

Electoral reform in Nigeria, in particular, and all of Africa in general will make elections more credible and results much more acceptable nationally and internationally. The criticisms that trailed Nigeria's and Zimbabwe's last elections were fall-outs of irregularities and, in some cases, outright bias of the respective electoral commissions. But more importantly, a credible electoral process will throw up the much needed competent men and women of good will and integrity to run the affairs of Africa at all tiers of government. An intense mobilisation at the grassroots, thorough re-orientation of the political class backed by appropriate reworking of the Electoral Act and the constitution are indispensable to future elections in Nigeria, afortiori, all of Africa.

Nigeria's Supreme Court has just ruled on the much-awaited challenge by opposition parties to the last presidential elections. Imagine if the challenge had been sustained, opposition politicians and their supporters would most probably have taken to the streets in jubilation, while the PDP-controlled Federal Government would have been forced to contain them and simultaneously restraining the angst and disappointment in their supporters. The business of government would have, at least, temporarily ground to a halt with so much uncertainty in the land regarding who should be in charge.

In the 1960s right through the mid 1990s, these could very easily have been veritable basis for another ill-guided adventurous military officer and his cohorts to seize political power with its attendant debilitating consequences for the polity. The Supreme Court has yet again saved Nigeria from drifting inexorably towards political Golgotha. However, by ignoring the incessant calls for electoral reform; by assuming that the Supreme Court will forever save a defective or fundamentally defective electoral process and, invariably save democracy; by taking for granted, that opposition politicians and their numerous supporters will always abide by the outcome of the judicial process and go about their businesses, Nigeria risks its own very existence. It is for this reason that the President of Nigeria's call for electoral reform and the report submitted by the Electoral Reform Committee should be supported by all well-meaning citizens including the National Assembly, State Houses of Assembly, Local Councils as well as all State and Local Government Executives. The next serial shall examine reform in the civil service.

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