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2011 And Issues Nigeriana By Okey Ndibe

December 27, 2010

In a mere three days we will be ushered, ready or not, into 2011, a particularly crucial year in the political calendar of Nigeria. It’s hardly an exaggeration to suggest that what happens in the coming year is bound to determine whether Nigeria finally begins to rise from the ashes of dejection, disillusionment and disaster or propels itself into a decisive and irredeemable state of chaos, disorder and failure.

In a mere three days we will be ushered, ready or not, into 2011, a particularly crucial year in the political calendar of Nigeria. It’s hardly an exaggeration to suggest that what happens in the coming year is bound to determine whether Nigeria finally begins to rise from the ashes of dejection, disillusionment and disaster or propels itself into a decisive and irredeemable state of chaos, disorder and failure.

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In the political arena, the elements are present either for an exhilarating moment of democratic renewal or for a catastrophic explosion. The most important element, it seems to me, is to be seen in the internal dynamics of the Peoples Democratic Party.

 It’s true that few Nigerian political parties live up in any impressive way to the precepts of democracy. Even so, the PDP has patented a notoriety for being allergic to the rituals of democracy. Each time the party had any opportunity to hold elections within its own fold, it resorted to what its operatives misnamed “consensus.” Often the word consensus was a pseudonym for the imposition of a cabal’s choice on the collectivity.

It’s good for Nigerians that, for once, the PDP’s presidential primaries will not be decided through that gimmick called consensus. Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, current occupant of Aso Rock, must fend off the challenge of Mr. Abubakar Atiku in a primary contest that’s likely to go down to the wire.

Regardless of which man emerges as the PDP’s candidate, there’s little question that the party would be weakened. Mr. Jonathan may be so bruised by the process as to limp towards the finish line in the presidential election proper.
Jonathan’s political deficits are wholly self-inflicted. History had offered the man two paths to greatness. One, he could have removed himself from the presidential race and offered to serve as a disinterested agent of transparently credible elections. Had he taken that road, Mr. Jonathan would have earned our collective debt as a veritable hero, a true founder of modern Nigeria. He spurned the offer – a sad choice, but one to which he had every right. His other path, then, was to spend the year loaned to him on the presidential seat to go to work for the Nigerian people and to build a legacy of verifiable achievements. Tragically – perhaps out of a deficiency of vision or absence of will – he squandered the year with nothing to show for it in terms of achievement.

A few weeks ago one of his acolytes telephoned to ask me what I thought of Mr. Jonathan. “Very little,” I answered, then explained that the man had neither achieved any politically bankable results nor demonstrated any awareness of the depth of Nigeria’s manifold crises. My caller then made a claim that Jonathan had not produced results because he was still on “Yar’Adua’s time.” Once Jonathan received his own four-year term, pronto, he’d become superman and dazzle us with achievements.

The logic struck me as weird. As I explained to my interlocutor, Jonathan has been on the equivalent of a one-year probation. In the real world, when you’re in the probation period of a new job, you better turn the best performance. You’d know that, at the end of the probation, your supervisor or employer would decide whether to hire you permanently or let you go on the strength of your work.

That’s the real world. By contrast, in the bizarre world of Nigerian politics, a governor or president on probation would snore through his or her test period – and then proclaim that he needs a substantive new term before he or she must wake up and start working. It’s bunkum.

Nobody expected Jonathan to wave a magic wand and instantaneously solve Nigeria’s electric power crisis. Nobody thought he could fix the country’s scary healthcare or transform its educational system. No, these are deep-seated problems that would require years of focused, intelligent action.
But Jonathan could easily have shown his hand by taking on a problem that’s at once grave and yet amenable to a fairly quick amelioration. For one, he could have focused on redressing the dismal condition of Nigeria’s major highways. It’s far from being rocket science.

Let’s not forget that when one of presidential jets had a little hiccup at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, Mr. Jonathan quickly rallied the federal cabinet to approve the purchase of three new jets. His personal comfort was threatened, and we saw a decisive (albeit financially wasteful) Jonathan. Why hasn’t he moved with the same alacrity to address the terrible condition of Nigerian roads? Why hasn’t he been touched by the harsh experience of thousands of Nigerians who spend nightmarish hours on gutted roads, perish on them, or are woe-beset by the loss of loved ones?

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Mr. Jonathan’s ineptitude has left him the default choice of contriving to win his party’s nomination, and the presidential election, by the usual crooked means. A few weeks ago, his aides sought to curry the affection of members of the Save Nigeria Group with a $50,000 bribe. In the scandal that ensued, Nigerians learned – from Mr. Godsday Orubebe, a member of Jonathan’s cabinet who reportedly provided the dollar-denominated cash – that $50,000 was, essentially, nothing.

In running his presidential campaign, Mr. Jonathan has cleaved to ethically questionable methods as well as unsavory characters. He’s fully embedded with Tony Anenih, a political throwback adept at “fixing” political matches. In his trademark rhetoric, the toxic “fixer” has warned Nigerians that there is no vacancy in Aso Rock. Translation: the election will be – is already – rigged!
Among the effects of Jonathan’s wretched record and lack-luster style is the improbable fact that Atiku is being taken seriously as a presidential candidate. There’s no question that Atiku is a consummate politician, with a flair for striking deals to build all manner of coalitions. But Atiku is, in the last consideration, a disaster in the mold of former military dictator Ibrahim Babangida. An Atiku presidency would mean business as usual, the perpetuation of a politics of patronage of a few and the damning of the many. The good news is that an Atiku candidacy is eminently beatable; the man is hobbled by an image deficit that has domestic and international reverberations.

It ought to be spelt out: the PDP appears poised to implode from the consequences of its internal contradictions. That prospect would be wonderful for Nigeria. The defeat of the PDP and whoever becomes its presidential candidate strikes me as a salutary development for the prospects of Nigeria’s democratic flowering. But it’s going to be a small first step.

The party that will take the driver’s seat in unseating the PDP must impress Nigerians with a comprehensive plan that both defines the country’s grave crises and stipulates a set of solutions. Nigeria’s power sector has languished for many years. The country’s health system is designed for death. The country’s educational system is a shambles. Above all, Nigeria’s ethical and moral air is too polluted to sustain humane lives for citizens. It falls to enlightened citizens, acting within and without the various political parties, to devise programs to inaugurate and fuel Nigeria’s renaissance.

Path to credible polls

The House of Representatives alone has two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly and so could pass the bill at the joint meeting notwithstanding the position of the Senate on the matter. If the President within 30 days after the presentation of the bill to him, fails to signify his assent or where he withholds assent. The bill shall again be presented to the National Assembly sitting at a joint meeting. If passed by two-thirds majority of both houses at such joint meeting the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.

Curtailing the powers of the National Assembly

The difficulty here is that the power to alter any provision of the constitution is vested in the National Assembly by section 9 sub-section 1 of the 1999 Constitution. The provision under section 59 of the Constitution requiring a joint sitting to pass a bill applies only to money bills. Any other bill can die if one of the houses of the National Assembly refuses to pass it. Money bills cannot die because there must be annual appropriation of funds to run the affairs of the nation. That is why the law has to be in such a way that whatever happens there must not be a deadlock. The ultimate power to decide is vested in the greatest number of the elected members of the National Assembly, the House of Representatives.

2011 elections.

Elections are not conducted alone by the head of the electoral commission. They are conducted at the polling booths in all the wards of the 774 local governments in the country, where the voting takes place. Our appeal is not just to Professor Attahiru Jega, because no matter how good he is he will not be in all the polling booths on the Election Day. Therefore, our hope is that those who are charged with the responsibility of conducting elections at all levels do their jobs. Also, those who are contesting elections should try to have the spirit of fair play in the elections. They are the people who instigate rigging. If the politicians are not ready to rig or pay someone to rig for them, there will be no rigging at all. INEC officers and other agents working at the polling booths will not just start rigging elections for the mere fun of it.

OKEY NDIBE ([email protected])

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