Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Descent into an Animal State

                                                            By Olu Akanmu

“To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have no place.  Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body or mind “

-Thomas Hobbes

Elected representatives of the people are climbing high fences in agbada and three piece suits with their shoes falling off behind them. The hallowed chamber of the people’s representative is tear-gassed.  Elected representatives of the people struggle with handkerchiefs to clean their red and peppered eyes from police tear-gas inside their hallowed chambers. A judge is slapped by an elected governor with the police as spectators. Thugs invade a court and its judges take to their heels with their robes flying behind them like parachutes. Seven or is it nine legislators impeach a speaker of a twenty-six member parliament.  The Speaker and the legislators go into hiding. Journalists supposedly representing the free press, covering an event which the President would have attended in the Delta are kidnapped under broad daylight by war lords with the official security of the state as on-lookers and later negotiators. In the basins of the Benue river, armed bandits invade farming communities, slaughter the men and destroy farmlands.  No-one knows the armed bandits. They come, they go as they wish, marauding Nigeria’s north central region. Close to the Chad, armed bandits invade a town, behead the men, capture the women as objects of war and shoot the Emir.  The animal state is here.

The animal state is where the rule of law is suspended or no longer holds, where might is right. Anyone who controls the means of coercion whether legitimately or illegitimately can break the law, use the means of coercion as he or she wishes without recourse to the rule of law. It is the state of war of all against all. The self-interest of the controller of means of coercion is what matters. In non-animal states, where the control and the deployment means of coercion is legitimately delegated to managers of a state as a government, by the people as sovereign, the managers of the state must act not in their self interest but within rule of engagement or the law given by the people sovereign. It implies that the right to control the means of coercion and security forces can be abused by managers of the state if they act in their self interest outside the rule of engagement of the law.   

In non animal societies, where there is law and order, no-one else controls the means of coercion, which is largely arms or an armed body of men, except the government. A legitimate armed body of men and the state are so organically linked that Vladimir Lenin was famously quoted to have said that the state in the last analysis consist of armed bodies of men. Essentially, on the long run, state power is wielded by absolute use of force. It must however be done within the rule of law. The tragedy is that in Nigeria today, we have several armed bodies of men with means of coercion existing independently of the state such as the Boko Haram, and the diverse ethnic and riverine militia operating across the country. These private armies enforce justice according to their own rule and interest making the state look increasingly like a jungle where anything goes like an animal state.

While it was not palatable, we seemed over the last few years to have reconciled ourselves as a people to these illegitimate private armies and private police operating outside the control of the state. We tacitly accepted that ours in Nigeria is a state with failing security, law enforcement and judicial institutions where people largely have to resort to self-help in pursuit of their self-interests. Essentially, we tacitly accepted those who have invoked the law of the jungle on our collective psyche, that you can take the law into your own hands especially if you can build your own private means of coercion, your own private army and enforce your self-appointed rule on the larger society.  That is why until Chibok woke us up, we seem as a nation to no longer blink at news of kidnappings and the criminal mass murder of young children. We just move on especially if it did not happen near us.

If we tacitly accepted the marauding illegitimate private armies and private police, coercing us as they wish as in the jungle, the last we should accept is the capture of the legitimate security institution of the state by a narrow political elite using it to enforce its wish and will on society. This will be tantamount to a double jungle, a double jeopardy.  If Boko Haram, the ethnic and riverine militias are operating with laws of the jungle, we cannot afford our official security forces to act and operate the same way outside the rule of law. If they do, the double jungle situation akin to an animal state will quickly tear down our fragile social cohesion along the visibly open sectional, religious and demographic cracks.  It is therefore critical that the managers of the state act within the law and the rules of engagement in the deployment of the police and the army.  While the executive arm of government has a legitimate obligation to control and deploy the security forces, it must recognize that this obligation comes with a sacred moral responsibility to rise above politics and self-interest in the deployment of the official security apparatus of the state. If not so, it will breach social trust as a government of all.

Our political experience is showing that we need to strengthen the rule of engagement of our security forces, especially the police to prevent them from being abused by executive arm of government. The office of Inspector General of Police needs to be made more independent of the executive. The National Judicial Council should nominate the Inspector General of Police and his or her appointment ratified by the Senate for a fixed constitutional term. He or she should only be removed from office by a two-third majority of the national assembly just as it applies to the office of the Chief Justice.  As it has been canvassed severally, the office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation should be separated. Prosecutorial powers of the state should be taken from politicians and given to an Attorney General appointed for a fixed term who cannot be fired by the President except if he is so recommends to parliament and parliament accedes.

The legislative arm of government at federal and state levels also need to become more independent of the executive for check and balance and moderation of executive powers.  Our executive-legislative relationship at several levels of government has been rather too incestuous.  It is an open secret that because the legislative arm of government tends to be financially compromised or settled by the executive, it tends not to command executive respect. The tear –gassing of the hallowed chamber of the House of Representatives of the people show how low, how un-hallowed the executive and its organs takes the legislative arm of government. Whatever crises are in the national assembly, the executive and its organs should leave the national assembly to resolve it within themselves or with the courts as a de-facto independent arm of government.  The national assembly especially the Senate must take all necessary actions to reclaim its respect and independence after the recent national assembly events. If not, some day, in the future, an overbearing executive, using the precedent of recent events, will sack the national assembly akin to a constitutional coup, just because the national assembly refuses to kow-tow to it.         

Olu Akanmu publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on http://olusfile.blogspot.com

 

Monday, October 6, 2014

For Statutory Policy Conferences of Political Parties


By Olu Akanmu

In the months of September and October every year in the United Kingdom, the leading political parties, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats usually hold their annual policy conferences.  Attendance is usually massive from across the United Kingdom with senior and local leaders leading major policy sessions on subjects like education, health, transportation, foreign affairs, economy, industry, sports, home affairs, immigration, science and technology. The calendar of the policy conferences are usually arranged back to back such that as one political party conference finishes, another one begins.  In the British system with opposition shadow cabinets, the leading speakers on policy areas are usually the shadow cabinet members whose policy speeches are usually a critique of the ruling party performance in that policy area over the one year period.

The policy speeches are usually well researched, with data, facts, anecdotes presented from major ideological perspectives of the political parties. Each policy speech will then be followed by policy debate and contribution from delegates from across the country where they bring local and regional perspectives to support or flesh out their party’s perspective on each policy subject. The delegates tend to vary from rank and file members, to local councilors, elected legislators in regional houses and the Westminster. Of course, in the typical British style, there are usually the strong elements of British caustic political humour where jabs are thrown at opposing political parties’ perspectives and personalities.  The jabs are usually policy-based to illustrate policy gaps and weaknesses of competing political parties’ policies.

The press as the modern day forum for the people to follow the parties and their policies are not usually left out. The party conferences from beginning to end are usually televised life on BBC Parliamentary channel. Other stations will tune in live to major policy speeches of the Prime Minister, the Opposition leader, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Opposition Cabinet Economy spoke person. One interesting aspect of the sequencing of the political party conferences is that the opposition policy conferences tend to come first and the ruling party policy conference tends to come last, ensuring that they respond copiously to the policy critique that would have been given by the opposition parties.  Imagine an APC Policy Conference for three days with major policy speeches and sessions on education, health, economy, industry, employment, and infrastructure.  To do this, APC will have to do its homework properly on diverse subject areas with specific details on what it will do differently from PDP. In a three day conference with live telecast, an APC would have had to constitute policy teams to do thorough research which will be presented at the conference. There will be no room to hide with vague details as the policy conference will not be the type of typical one- hour press conference addressed by its Publicity Secretary.

If a week later, a PDP policy conference follows, you can be sure of policy fire for fire, critique for critique based on ideas to move the nation forward. Policy debates and speeches by the PDP will be led by members of the Federal Executive Council or senior members of parliament in the subject policy portfolio. They will have to tell us why they have a better governance idea; how they are executing it and the result they have delivered. In such policy conferences, there will be very little room for absolute focus on primordial issues of ethnicity and sectionalism. If such subjects would be discussed at all, it will be done in a policy context such as federalism, devolution of power, resource control and impact on the quality of life of the people.  The fact that such policy conferences happen every year with or without election also means political parties are constantly forced to keep sharpening their governance policies such that as we approach elections, we know what they stand for or how they differ.

Today, a critical problem of our electoral process is the lack of true plurality of governance ideas or the little robustness of policy ideas. It is not very clear today how the PDP and the APC are different. It is not even clear whether the electorate know what they stand for. Elections today have thus become a debate on personalities, character and ethnicity of the candidate with all attendant counter-productive emotions. A political party policy conference will throw up our bright politicians, the ones who have depth, who have schooled themselves properly in governance, who have real ideas to improve the well-being of our people. The lack of formal public platform for policy discussions such as this has rather thrown up the typical Nigerian politician who is more or less a rice distributor among the party members, hailed and carried shoulder-high because of the naira that he doles out to his party rank and file. This typical Nigerian politician, the narrow privileged elites are the ones who seem to have permanently captured our political parties, reproducing themselves in leadership successions. And this has essentially turned our elections into choices between blue-black and black-blue candidates.

In recent essays, we have called for electoral reforms to fix our broken and dysfunctional electoral process that usually throws up our worst or at best our averages for electoral offices. We also wish to call for statutorily compulsory annual political party policy conferences.  We need to build a new polity driven by policy and great thoughts rather than ethnicity and sectionalism. We need to have an active citizenry, a civil society that engages the politicians on their governance ideas, its execution and results delivered. We need to have political parties with contesting ideological perspectives on driving the nation forward, where some will be truly a little to right while others will be truly a little to the left. We need to get our intelligentsia to join politics, to drive policies and great governance ideas and philosophies. We need politicians who can write again, great books and political thoughts such as the Voice of Reason, Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution and Renascent Africa. We need to build a new politics and electoral process driven by policies, great contesting governance ideas and philosophies among our political parties. Statutory annual policy conferences of political parties, as part of our electoral reforms will make this happen and raise the quality of our governance.

Olu Akanmu publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on http://olusfile.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Nigeria’s Sobering Competitiveness Rankings

By Olu Akanmu
 
The debate about whether the recent World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness  Index (GCI) rankings is fair to Nigeria, whether our 120th position out of the 144 countries rated reflect our true reality is too critical to ignore. There are real dangers that rather than reflect deeply and inwardly on the lessons of the GCI , on its ranking pillars such as institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, health and education among others, we may end up living in a denial of our true reality. We tell ourselves that the world does not really know us, that our realities are better than the ranking. We then begin to act like the proverbial ostrich that buries its head in the sand.
While we must acknowledge the  positive rankings of 42nd  on macroeconomic environment and 32nd  on market size, it is important to be sober on our 129th  ranking in institutions, 135th  in infrastructure, 146th  in health and primary education,  120th  in higher education, 108th in technological readiness  and 100th  in innovation. Why should we argue with such relative obvious rating of our economy?  Perception is reality if containers take seven hours to do a maximum five kilometer journey from our busiest sea-ports in Apapa to Mile 2. Perception is reality if the three km road from our busiest international airport in Lagos to Isolo junction remains sub-motorable, un-repaired in years with several pot holes welcoming international visitors. 
Perception is reality if the Nigeria state continues to fail its citizens by not guaranteeing them security of life and property as its core social contract with the people. Perception is even more reality when it’s military takes a tactical detour under enemy fire to another country in its counter-insurgency operations.  The state and its institutions have failed to protect the people to pursue their economic activities in peace. Impunity and corruption remains pervasive as our judicial and law enforcement institutions remain weak, unable to bring high profile economic crimes to justice. The rule of law applies only to those who are weak, who cannot work around the law. Even the state does not respect its own contracts as we saw in the near imbroglio concerning the Transmission Company of Nigeria in the power sector.  On the political front, our weak democratic and electoral institutions continue to throw –up our worst, or at best our averages for leadership. While there are semblances of democratic elections, weak internal political party democracy and its capture by narrow elite ensures that our political parties do not sufficiently reflect the wider will of the Nigerian people. We are also seeing the potential capture of our regulatory institutions by a narrow elite that may not see our regulatory institutions balance properly the interest of powerful elites with the wider interests of the people with implied potential policy flip-flops.
Given that most of us who are having this competitiveness debate send our wards to private schools locally and overseas, it is difficult to appreciate the real crisis of primary and secondary education, another pillar of the competitive index. We are what we are today because of the foundation of great public primary and secondary education that we received. Today, our dysfunctional primary and secondary education system has become a mass factory for producing young illiterates. 1.2 million of the 1.7 million students that sat for WAEC in June 2014 failed Maths and English. Yet we are quarrelling with World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness ranking. President Goodluck Jonathan should have declared a national emergency! It should have been a core agenda issue for the National Council of States.  The mass failure trend in secondary education has been there for some time. Only 38% of students passed Maths and English with Credits in 2012, it declined to 37% in 2013 and now to 30% in 2014. Higher education is even in a bigger crisis with poor infrastructure and sub-standard academic faculties in many universities and polytechnics. There is no Nigerian university among the top 1600 in the world. Yet, we argue with our competitiveness rankings! We need to be sober and reflect deeply on how low our great citadels of learning previously known globally for their scholarly work have sunk.  Formal vocational education until recent efforts to revive it has nearly become history as we keep producing graduates without relevant employability skills for the needs of industry and the larger society. Hotels in different sizes are springing up everywhere as result of our economic growth, yet there are very few employable formally trained chefs and hoteliers among our young people. Our factories and constructions sites lack technical people who can fix our machines. We have to import tonnes of Indians, Chinese and Israelis to do jobs that should have employed our people.  A poorly educated workforce can definitely not make its industries and economy competitive.  If our GGI ranking is a perception, it needs to also be a sober reality. Rebased economy or not, a key lesson of the GCI ranking is that just because an economy is big, does not guarantee its competitiveness, or competitive return on investments relative to other economies.
The other side to the crisis of our dysfunctional education system is that it will breed and reinforce greater inequality in our society as the typical social mobility that education provides to move up the social ladder disappears for the majority of people. Our social inequality is rising very fast further compounded by massive unemployment and underemployment. This can only lead one direction; greater social crises and misery that become an even more fertile ground for extremism, crime and insecurity that could spread far beyond North Eastern Nigeria.  National competitiveness can definitely not get better under the context of such leading indicators.
What needs to be done? The first thing is to accept our sober reality and not to fight it as a perception. Of all the twelve pillars of the GCI ranking, the foundation issue of our national competitiveness seems to be largely a problem of failed governance and democratic institutions. It is on top of this that all other issues of the other eleven pillars sit. We need to fix our broken and dysfunctional electoral process that throws up the worst or at best our averages for electoral offices. Political parties as critical electoral institutions need to reflect the true plurality of the will and aspiration of the people. This has not happened largely because of their weak internal party democracy and their capture by very narrow elites in both the ruling and opposition parties with largely similar self-interests. Our elections are therefore largely becoming a choice between blue-black and black-blue. Fixing this limited plurality problem in our electoral process and ensuring free and fair elections that drive true accountability and real consequences for poor performance will create genuine incentives for good governance. Civil society and the free press must push for necessary electoral reforms to achieve this. We need to revisit the Uwais Electoral Reform Commission report that addresses these issues. We must ask President Jonathan or whoever the next President is to reopen discussions on electoral reforms.
Olu Akanmu publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on http://olusfile.blogspot.com

Monday, August 4, 2014

Nigeria's Presidential Elections and Potential Democractic Farce


By Olu Akanmu

If President Jonathan contests election against himself, without an opposition, essentially a national referendum on his performance, it is doubtful given his approval rating that he would win more than 50% of the votes.  Public confidence in the government has been eroded by the perception of a weak commitment to fight corruption occasioned by series of corruption allegations and scandals. Whatever is left of public confidence in the administration was further damaged by Chibok, the view that is held by many Nigerians that the administration failed to rise above politics at critical times to provide decisive, rallying and confident-building leadership in the war against terror. Positive directional policy reforms of government in agriculture and the economy have been obliterated by corruption and Chibok.  Social contract of the state with the citizen, that the Nigerian state would guarantee security of life and property for its citizens in exchange for their submission to the state, has virtually collapsed under the current administration. Nigeria is now officially rated the 15th most failed state in the world, in the same peer group with Yemen, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Somalia.  It is not a descent that we would have imagined ten years back.  Watching Afghanistan and Iraq and their bombings on CNN a decade ago used to look so remote, so far away until the bombing of St Theresa’s Church in Abuja on Christmas day, 2011. Whatever political issues are around Boko Haram, the buck stops with the President as the leader of the country to fix them with the right combination of toughness and political dexterity, ensuring that no Nigerian citizen would be murdered in cold blood or kidnapped from fulfilling their life dream.  

As we ascended on the failed state index to fifteenth  position, we continued to descend to the bottom among the least transparent and most corrupt countries in the world. Nigeria was 37th from bottom among about 180 countries in the Transparency International Index in 2011, 35th from bottom 2012 and 33rd from bottom 2013. At the current non-linear growth rate of corruption in Nigeria, it will only take us some few more years to sit firmly among the top ten most corrupt countries in the world.  The twin combination of corruption and the failure of the state to guarantee security of life and property for citizens could further accelerate the descent of the Nigerian state into a de-facto failed state like Somali or South-Sudan. While this may sound alarming, we only need to ponder whether we could have imagined this current state of the nation some years back. Anything is possible if the citizens do nothing about it or if they are constrained by the weakness of our political institutions from doing nothing about the current situation.

Given that currently, President Jonathan is not likely to win more than 50%  approval for his Presidency in a national referendum if he was contesting against himself, ( assuming that there is full and high voter turn-out, for such referendum),  one would have expected that the opposition would be guaranteed a victory at the next Presidential elections. This is not so especially with the state of the opposition.  While there is a significant and large disenchantment with the current administration, the opposition is failing to harness this disenchantment into a rallying movement beyond its members and its traditional loyal base.  A key feature evolving in the next Presidential election is the emergence of a clear large independent swing political voting base, disenchanted with the ruling party but unconvinced by the opposition that it is any different from the ruling party by policy and character to win its votes. This is the base depending on how it votes or its apathy to the election that will swing the Presidential elections assuming the elections next year are truly free and fair.

The opposition seem to be suffering from two major critical problems that stand between it and electoral victory. First is the lack of a rallying clear and articulated governance value that stands clearly above any perception of politics of political exigency and opportunism.  While it is true, that there is no permanent friend in politics but permanent interests, it is also true that those who take this political principle too far cannot stand for any political value, as their politics become a cocktail of political self-interests and exigencies. How come those who were in the vanguard of NADECO in the days of Abacha, with the highest of democratic values are in the same boat with those who will lay a red carpet to welcome from prison those who tormented and maimed members of the same NADECO democratic opposition  as field commanders of the Abacha junta? How frightful it is that those who lay this red carpet are even contemplating picking up the opposition’s Presidential ticket and will expect the old NADECO base to vote for it? The second problem of the opposition is the critical fault-line in its party between the Conservative North and its South Western wing. The Northern Conservative wing of the opposition seem to be in the politics of political exigency of returning power to the North by any  convenient political alliance after learning in three election failures that the North is no longer politically homogenous.  Its conservative governance and right wing values seem to be anathema to the centre-left political origin and the values of its South Western wing. These two related internal contradictions seem to be the bane of the opposition, affecting its homogeneity and delaying the emergence of a rallying Presidential ticket to challenge the ruling party.  How the opposition resolves these internal contradictions will largely determine the outcome of the Presidential elections next year assuming that it will be free and fair.

There are two scenarios that could play out in the political opposition. They are the emergence of sectionally popular but nationally unelectable Presidential ticket, or the emergence of nationally electable Presidential ticket but with the widening and probable cracks in the fault-lines between its conservative North and South West wing which works to weaken its nationally electable Presidential ticket. In the first scenario, the independent swing voters feeling disenchanted and seeing no real alternative to the PDP may be apathetic towards the election. A Presidential victory on a narrow electoral base, below 50% of registered voting base becomes a possibility, assuming a free and fair election.  In the real sense, such victory will be unpopular and genuinely undemocratic as the large majority that became apathetic to the elections would be really expressing a clear lack of choice among the Presidential candidates. The institutional weakness of our electoral system with regards to party financing and its capture by a narrow elite, and weak internal party democracy would have conspired not to offer real choices to the people. With regards to the two scenarios, a potential opposition victory is possible only if its internal democracy is strong enough to resolve its internal contradictions democratically and heal its fault lines.  In the absence of this, the kind of fault-lines that has emerged in its Ogun and Oyo state wings and how it could be potentially exploited by the ruling party at the centre might play out. History beckons.

The challenge of nation building that we face today with regards to national security, healing our ethnic fault lines and building a strong economy that creates wider prosperity for the majority of our people demands a strong and credible President that can rally the nation together.  The emerging scenarios however seem to be leading us to the opposite of this. We seem to be approaching a lame-duck Presidential scenario in which the critical problems of our nation building will become even more magnified to our own embarrassment and that of the international community.  The institutional weakness of our electoral system that does not throw our best men and women forward for national leadership has never been this obvious.  Beyond the Presidential elections, civil society must push for serious and urgent reforms of internal party democracy that ensures stronger and more democratic political parties that reflect the broader will of its members rather than the will of a narrow elite that has captured these critical democratic institutions.  Stronger and more democratic political parties will also attract wider citizen participation as the people begin to see political parties as true institutional mechanisms to influence society and put their democratic aspirations forward.

 It will not matter whether we have a pluralist democracy of many political parties. As long as all these parties lack internal democracy, our democracy will be tantamount to a farce, a government of a narrow elite (that have captured our political parties) for the narrow elite by a narrow elite. What we have today is a near optical illusion of the real democratic aspirations of our people. We have a selectoracy rather than a real democracy. Yet we must not give up on our democratic aspirations. Civil society must push actively for electoral reforms, an agenda that transcends the coming Presidential elections. We must push without compromise for the adoption of the Uwais electoral reform report for laws and regulations that ensure internal party democracy with heavy sanctions for breach of those regulations.  Truly, democracy is a journey but we have today in our emerging presidential elections context shows that we are very far from our democratic destination.
Olu Akanmu publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on http://olusfile.blogspot.com
 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Life After School: Learning, Adaptation and Employability


Life after university is continuous learning, adapting to circumstances and new context of life opportunities that may be unforeseen, developing skills to continuously make oneself employable. This learning was shared with students of the Faculty of Pharmacy, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife at the 50th Anniversary of the Faculty.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Let’s talk about INEC, not the letters.

By Olu Akanmu

So much has been said about the letters between former President Obasanjo and President Jonathan. While Chief Obasanjo raised very weighty issues on the affairs of the Nigerian state, President Jonathan’s response seemed to sound like “ whatever you have accused me of doing, I am reading from your playbook”.  Essentially, the Presidency’s response which worked and moderated the caustic nature of the former President’s letter, at least among its sympathizers was “why should the pot call the kettle black?”. It was a good political communication strategy to reframe the issue and the people’s paradigm. It was no longer about the fact that the kettle should not be black but why should it be the black pot that should say it or call attention to it.  We should give a strong pass mark to the Presidential Communication team. They have been well educated in the Republican Karl Rove political communication school perfected in the days of American President George Bush.  It is about reframing the issues to divert attention from relevant substance, move early to create and frame a negative image for a potential opposition, virulently destroy the opposition image such that it will battle and focus on its image and credibility rather than the real substance or the issues of governance. In the Karl Rove political communication school, anything is worth attacking to damage a potential opposition source, and divert attention from the substance of governance in a political campaign; personal life, family, character, personal weakness, family history etc. The Republicans not being able to fault the very successful performance of President Clinton in office, went virulently after his private life to destroy the good governance ideals that Clinton represented.  In the Karl Rove school, if you can’t win on content, make the form the content, reframe the form negatively and make it the content so that the original content no longer becomes the issue.  There is no doubt that the next one year will be interesting. We expect to see more and more of the Karl Rove tactic in play in the political space.

There is an implied impunity in the Karl Rove style of political communication as it has recently been applied here in Nigeria. It sounded like “yes ke, if as a kettle, I am black, so what?”. A related event which manifests this impunity even more profoundly in the public space showing how low,  morality and accountability has descended in our polity is the NNPC missing billion or accounting reconciliation saga. Government communication sounded as follows. It is not true that forty-five billion dollars is missing from NNPC account. It is just ten billion dollars that we could not reconcile or account for. Just ten billion dollars, so there is really no issue.  Again note the substitution of “form” for “content” in the communication strategy. It is not about whether there are huge amount of money that could not be clearly accounted for (content and substance); it is that it is not as big as it was made to look, just ten billion dollars! (form), so the hues and cries were not justifiable.

The Presidential letters and the NNPC missing billion or accounting reconciliation saga should be telling us something bigger than both issues.  That the people of Nigeria do not seem to matter. The political elites seem to be able to do anything and get away with it.  The law enforcement institutions are weak, therefore there is pervasive impunity as the Presidential letters and the NNPC saga showed. The only and last recourse for the people in such circumstance, to ensure that governments govern well is electoral system, their right to vote out governments that betray the wishes of the people. If all institutions of the state fail, the electoral institution must not.  The judiciary at least as we see in Nigeria may not necessarily be the last hope of the common man.  The last hope of the common man has to be INEC or our electoral institution where our votes will count and “we the people” will exercise our right to vote and vote –out governments that betray our will and trust. The only reason that politicians govern well is the fear of losing elections. If our electoral institution cannot guarantee that our votes will count, we can say goodbye to good governance permanently and expect more of the current situation in the many years to come.

There are strong reasons to be concerned about our electoral institution and INEC in particular. The Anambra governorship election was a national embarrassment. INEC has not told the Nigeria people clearly what it will do differently to ensure Anambra does not repeat itself.  In our previous essay titled “The Credibility Nosedive of INEC”, we called for the wholesale adoption of the recommendation of the Uwais panel of electoral reforms which includes, the setting up of independent Electoral Offences Tribunal, the prescribing of severe jail terms for election rigging and a long ban from politics of those found guilty of electoral crimes. There should also be strong sanctions for breach of internal party democracy, the promotion of active citizen participation in policy and politics through a strong civil society, a strong and free press and genuine commitment to public transparency by the government and our courts through the enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act.  We must also reform political party financing, make it transparent with the necessary controls to ensure that political parties as critical electoral institutions remain democratic and are not hijacked by corrupt political elites.  INEC has an opportunity to redress its ignominable performance in the Anambra elections with the coming elections in Ekiti and Osun states as precursor to what must be a free and fair Presidential elections. It does not matter who wins the elections as long as they are free and fair and the will of the people manifestly prevails.  At least we know that we can vote out any elected underperforming government in another four years.  That is the most important check and balance that the people have to moderate the excesses of the political elites.  If it does not work as such, the current level of decadence will continue and our political debates may become permanently framed as which is better between the black kettle and the black pot. It is therefore critical that we shift focus back again to INEC and the necessary electoral reforms that will ensure free and fair elections and good governance.  Therefore, compatriots, beyond the Presidential letters, it should really be about INEC.

Olu Akanmu, a company executive publishes a blog on Strategy and Public Policy on www.olusfile.blogspot.com