By Dr. Matthew Ayibakuro
As citizens of Bayelsa go to the polls to elect a new governor at the weekend, the current electoral cycle and campaigns reveal disturbing issues on the state of democratic practice in the state. These issues have ramifications, not just for the current election, but also on the long-term trajectory of democracy and governance in the state, and the bulk starts with the two main political parties. Here is what we know so far.
If You Seek Respect for Democratic Values, Look Away from the Political Parties.
Strong democracies are founded on principles of inclusiveness and quality representation. Political parties are in a key position to safeguard these principles as critical gatekeepers of democracy. The events leading up to, during and after the primaries of the two major parties in Bayelsa State demonstrate the disturbing state of democratic practice within political parties in Nigeria.
Two important factors reflect this, amongst many others. The first is the rapidly increasing influence of money on decisions and processes in political parties. The PDP sold its nomination form for the governorship elections at N20 million – up from N5 million at the last general elections. The APC also sold its nomination form at N20 million, although its expression of interest form was sold at an additional N2.5 million compared to the PDP’s N1 million for the same form. These figures are difficult to fathom in a country struggling to implement a revised monthly minimum wage of N30,000 and where about half of the population live in extreme poverty.
These mammoth sums lead to the exclusion of most of the population from seeking leadership roles through the main political parties, effectively limiting them to smaller parties with no chance to win elections. Moreover, the cost of the forms is just a fraction of the sums of money aspirants have to spend to become candidates. At the indirect primaries of the PDP for instance, aspirants paid sums ranging from a couple of hundreds to over half a million Naira to delegates to vote for them. This is a disturbing trend that will no doubt evolve into vote buying on the streets.
The second factor that reflects the undemocratic state of the main political parties in the state is the degree of dissatisfaction and disgruntlement with the primaries process within each party. Since the primaries, at least one aspirant under the PDP – Joshua Maciver – has moved to the APC, whilst the followers of most other candidates have also openly expressed support for the APC, including taking up positions under the latter’s campaign structure. The most notable of these are the supporters of Chief Ndutimi Alaibe, the former Managing Director of the NDDC. The secretary of his campaign organisation pre-primaries, Prof Seiyefa Brisibe is now the alternate Director-General of the campaign team of the APC flagbearer, David Lyon. Chief Alaibe has a pending suit challenging the primaries process.
On the part of the APC, one of the frontrunners for the party’s ticket, Sen. Heineken Lokpobiri, and his supporters have been conspicuously absent from the party’s campaign activities, due to their disgruntlement with the direct primaries conducted by the party. Also absent is Preye Aganaba, a founding member of the party in the state, who was an aspirant and is also dissatisfied with the process of the primaries. Aganaba and Lokpobiri are both challenging the result of the primaries in court in separate suits.
As well as demonstrating the (un)democratic state of these major political parties, the implication of these cases in court is the possibility that either or both parties might end up without substantive candidates at the polls. In the bigger picture, these events show how the main political parties in Nigeria take away from, rather than enhance democratic practice in Nigeria, especially at the subnational level.
What About the Other Parties?
Information released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) indicates that about Forty-Five political parties will be on the ballot for the governorship election. Whilst this shores up the image of multi-party democracy in Nigeria, in practical terms, there is little chance of the other forty-three parties winning at the polls. Their impact throughout the period of the campaigns has also been minimal.
Among those who participated in the debate, the candidate of the Accord Party, Ebizimo Diriyai put up what was considered a strong showing. However, in a democratic setting dominated by affiliation to the two leading parties and mammoth financial outlays, the effect of this on his chances at the polls will be negligible.
The weak state of these political parties in Bayelsa State and elsewhere in Nigeria is a serious cause for concern. The country now effectively practices a two-party democracy, for all intents and purposes. This does not bode well for democratic practice and outcomes, especially in the light of the fact that, as pointed out earlier in this piece, both parties lack democratic depth and are not built on any discernible ideology, principle or policies. They simply serve as conduits to political power and no more.
In the specific case of the Bayelsa State elections however, one or two of these parties might yet play a consequential roll at this year’s governorship election, depending on the outcome of the various pending court cases against the primaries of both the PDP and APC.
Beyond the drama and intrigues that the current electoral cycle in Bayelsa State has witnessed, the state faces serious developmental challenges. From issues of insecurity and a deplorable power situation, to perennial problems of unemployment and poor infrastructure, citizens of Bayelsa State will be hoping that the outcome of this election would enhance their wellbeing and overall development. However, if what we know so far about the election is a pointer to the realisation of those hopes, then the next few days have to take a drastically different trajectory.
Making this happen obviously depends on all stakeholders. The political parties, security agencies, civil society and especially the citizens of Bayelsa State have to enrich the democratic process and ensure that it leads to outcomes that benefit the majority and not a few. Perhaps, in accordance with the trends in the campaigns so far, this would be one election where the result and its expected benefits will depend on the personalities and goodwill of the candidates, and not on the strength of democratic institutions and processes. This appears to be the only logical conclusion leading up to the elections. That is, sadly, where democracy is in Bayelsa State right now.
By Dr. Matthew Ayibakuro
On 16 November 2019, citizens of Bayelsa State will be voting for a new governor to lead the state for the next four years. The current electoral cycle, which commenced about a year ago – and arguably earlier – has intensified over the last few months. As expected, there have been rays of optimism mixed with reasons for sheer despondence with regard to the prospects of the election bringing about long-overdue meaningful development for the people of the State.
Whilst the outcome of the election is undeniably the most critical component of this process, it is also important to understand, contextualise and document the wide range of events that have taken place throughout the electioneering process. These events, ranging from the very serious to the purely dramatic, tell a unique story of the democratic and developmental trajectory of Bayelsa State. Even though this piece highlights what we know about this particular election, the points made here foreshadow the long-term hopes of the state and reflect the experience of democratic practice at subnational level in Nigeria.
Based on this, therefore, here is what we know so far about the 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa State.
An Election with the Best Possible Aspirants
The electoral cycle leading up to these polls commenced on the most optimistic note with some of the best possible citizens of the state putting themselves forward to contest. The most instructive part of this was the high number of persons from what may be considered a “non-political” background that sought to contest. The main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had aspirants like Maureen Etebu who has three PhD degrees and was the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of the Nigerian Maritime University, and Diseye Poweigha, a retired Commissioner of Police. The primaries were eventually won by David Lyon who is best known as the CEO of a number of companies in the oil and gas sector, including the popular Darlon Security and Guards Nigeria Ltd which employs youths across the state to secure oil installations. He did so despite his limited political experience and having contested against more experienced aspirants, including a former Senator and Minister.
However, the most vivid demonstration of quality aspirants was found in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The roll call of its aspirants included persons from a technocratic background like the serving deputy governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd) and a former diplomat and federal permanent secretary, Amb. Boladei Igali. There were also aspirants from a strong professional background like Arc. Reuben Okoya and Barr Anthony George-Ikoli, SAN. The list of 21 aspirants also had persons from the business community such as Pastor Keniebi Okoko and the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Chief Ndutimi Alaibe.
At the end of the primaries, the large pool of candidates had been cleared and limited to two: Senator Douye Diri of the PDP and David Lyon of the APC. Whilst there are divergent views on this outcome, it was encouraging to witness the quality of individuals that sought the office of governor of the state. Considering the degree of perennial leadership failure that Nigerians have experienced at both national and subnational levels, it is a positive sign that apathy towards politics has not prevented many of these candidates, who do not see politics as a primary career, from seeking leadership.
Political Victory Outweighs Meaningful Development Efforts
Since the commencement of the current electoral cycle, especially since the turn of the year 2019, citizens of Bayelsa State have arguably witnessed more actions and decisions from political office holders than in the three previous years combined.
Some examples of this include the holding of overdue Local Government Area elections about two months to the PDP party primaries, the installation/repairs of non-functional street lights in the state capital and the return of contractors to site on projects that had stalled for long periods of time. Perhaps, the most palpable demonstration of this has been the unparalleled appointments made by the Governor in the last couple of months, including sixty new special advisers in one swoop in October and the constitution of the leadership of rural development areas in the state.
On the part of the APC, it has been able to galvanise citizens in the State in the manner expected of an opposition party for the first time since the last governorship election in the State over three years ago. The political scene, the democratic experience and the developmental needs of the state have been yearning for a virile opposition experience like this for so long, and the outcome of the polls will tell if this rejuvenation of opposition politics in the state has come a little too late or not.
The broader implication of all this is the undeniable conclusion that the expedience of political victory outweighs the more important necessity to build sustainable democratic practices and enhance development outcomes. In Bayelsa state, instead of developmental gains and political victory having a mutually reinforcing effect, the buck ends with the exigencies of political victory and nothing more. After the next two weeks, democracy and development expediencies will likely hibernate for another three years, and then reawaken to another electoral cycle.
Who Needs Conversations or Debates on Policies and Programmes
With just two weeks to the polls, Bayelsans are no wiser about what specific policies or programmes differentiate the candidates of the PDP and APC and what, if anything, would be different from the past. Whilst the candidate of the APC released a long manifesto and that of the PDP released an executive summary of his manifesto, the thrust of both documents provides little indication of a distinctive policy or programme thrust around which a new government will be built.
This is, however, not even the major concern. From a neutral perspective, the real concern is the fact that no substantive conversation is taking place on the basis of these documents. A majority of the discourses led by spokespeople of the parties and other supporters are centered around the individual lives and personalities of the candidates and their benefactors: The incumbent governor, Seriake Dickson for Douye Diri of the PDP and the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva for David Lyon of the APC.
Beyond this, public discourse, especially on social media has focused on peripheral issues such as the perceived academic prowess and deficiencies of both candidates, defections from one party to another and Trump-like assessments of which party’s primaries have the most crowds. The governorship debates which took place a couple of days ago added very little to this process due to the absence of the candidate of the APC and the routine and unsubstantial answers provided by those who participated. At the end of the debates, there was very little for Bayelsans to be excited about in terms of any substantial policies and programmes that would change the development trajectory of the state post-election.
Except there is a drastic change over the next two weeks, the next governor of Bayelsa State would emerge, not because of the policies or programmes presented to the people, but because of his or her political party – parties that are not known for any particular ideology or policy thrust, – perceptions about the candidate’s private personality and the anticipated individual and political gains of the kingmakers and supporters.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
In the past couple of weeks, there has been widespread shock over the revelations of child sex abuse in British football clubs dating back to the 1970s. The scandal started on 16 November when former Bury and Sheffield United player Andy Woodward, 43, waived his anonymity to tell the Guardian of sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Bary Bennell, a convicted paedophile who worked for football clubs Crewe Alexandra, Manchester United and Stoke City in the 1980s and 1990s. Following his revelations, more than 20 former footballers have come forward with stories of historical sex abuse in various clubs in the country. As of 1st December 2016, about 350 victims had reported cases of abuse to the police with a helpline set up for this purpose estimated to have received 860 calls within its first week.
The scandal has been described as shocking, appalling and potentially worse than the revelations in the Jimmy Saville affair. But in the midst of the shock and widespread condemnation, many have stopped short of describing the scandal in terms of ‘corruption’. This is a fact that speaks of a broader issue about how corruption is conceptualised and understood globally; one that needs to change.
The reaction to the scandal has been swift as it should be. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has since set up a new helpline and five police departments in the UK are investigating the growing allegations. On its part, the English FA has announced an internal review with individual clubs also carrying out their own inquiries. FIFA has also released a statement confirming its awareness of the allegations and that it was monitoring the situation.
However, these processes have made little mention of the obvious role of corruption in precipitating these crimes and especially in the concealment of such abominable acts for decades. As the official inquiries by the FA and clubs continue, preliminary explanations by officials that they were simply not aware of such large-scale abuse cannot suffice. Neither will claims of negligence be enough to explain why so many football clubs failed to protect youngsters in the game. The FA will also struggle to exonerate itself in failing to detect, investigate and punish such crimes for over 30 years.
One particular piece in The Times has sought to downplay the significance of the scandal by noting the fact that one of the main perpetrators, Barry Bennell was convicted and sentenced multiple times for his crimes. However, it is this very fact that raises serious questions as to why the FA and clubs did not initiate further inquiries on the matter until the recent revelations. The growing narrative on the scandal shows that some clubs and officials were aware of these abuses and either ignored them or deliberately took action to ensure that they were concealed from the public. It has been revealed that Chelsea football club for instance, paid off an alleged victim after he threatened to go public with claims that he was sexually assaulted by a club official in the 1970s.
Corruption is generally defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Hence, instances where particular officials or the clubs were aware of abuse and decided to ignore or conceal it for their purposes amounts to corruption and this should be a central element of the ongoing investigations. There are wide range of reasons why such indifference or concealment might have occurred: to protect friends who are the perpetrators; to protect the image of the club and its financial interests; to avoid the stress and cost of a public inquiry, etc. In any of these cases, the officials or clubs involved would be putting their personal interest above that of the victims, thereby abusing the power entrusted in them. This is corruption and should therefore be called what it is.
The fact that the word corruption is not being used or used only passingly in this situation is an indication of the economic foundations of the global fight against corruption. It is not so long ago when the media went berserk over allegations of corruption in FIFA. The headlines were easily about corruption because it was about money. The obvious economic bias of the global anticorruption movement is such that cases where entrusted power is abused with grave human consequences, as compared to finances, are rarely seen as corruption. In fact, just two months ago, corruption made the headlines when revelations of financial impropriety against then England manager Sam Allardyce and other club managers surfaced.
However, in this case when the outcome is that most children might have actually suffered abuse or continue to suffer unnecessarily because some clubs or officials decided to protect their selfish interest by covering up cases of abuse, the media and the institutions concerned are weary to use the word corruption.
Perhaps the historical use of the word corruption to bedevil countries in the global south is quickly unravelling and after FIFA, the Panama Papers, the Sam Allardyce affair and others in recent years, countries in the global north like England are now struggling with an identity crisis over the reality of corruption in their countries and how best to conceptualise it.
The fact is that this is as much a case about abuse as it is about corruption. Granted the crime is sexual abuse but the only logical explanation for its continuation in the English game all these years has to be corruption. Remarkably, neither the global office nor the UK branch of Transparency International has issued any statement on the scandal. This is quite regrettable but not surprising, considering the financial focus of the global anticorruption movement.
However corruption is defined and wherever it is being tackled, the underlying objective must be one that, at the barest minimum, is wide enough to protect the interest of vulnerable youngsters who just want to play the game we all love. And any inquiry that fails to consider the corruption component of this scandal is not only incomplete but hypocritical and shameful. It is important to get this right at these early stages and avoid the type of corrupt cover-ups witnessed in the Hillsborough inquiry.
Why the Suspension of Whistleblower-Legislator Makes a Mockery of Nigeria’s Anti-Corruption Campaign
By Matthew AyibakuroOn July 21, a federal legislator in Nigeria Abdulmumin Jibrin blew the whistle on alleged “budget padding” by the speaker and other principal members of the House of Representatives, the lower house of Nigeria’s federal legislature. Jibrin had just been removed from his position as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the House the day before on a range of vague allegations including misconduct, incompetence, immaturity and total disregard for his colleagues and abuse of the budgetary process.
The revelations made by the legislator, in what is now known as the “budget padding scandal” in the country show that the speaker and other federal legislators had earmarked funds for fictitious projects by embedding them in genuine projects proposed by the executive for various departments and agencies in the 2016 budget. These funds would eventually then find their way back to the pockets of the legislators in the course of the implementation of the 2016 budget.
In a series of responses in the press, the speaker without necessarily denying the allegations, justified the practice by pointing out that whatever actions taken by the legislature with respect to the 2016 budget were within the constitutionally stipulated powers of that arm of government. He duly quoted relevant provisions of the constitution to good measure. He was also quick to resort to the law by quoting Section 30 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act to claim privileged immunity against any planned investigation of the issue by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nigeria’s foremost anti-corruption agency.
After months of intense conversation on the scandal in the media and by ordinary Nigerians whilst the federal legislature was on recess, Jibrin was, earlier this week, unanimously suspended by his peers for a time frame that could last for over a year, paying the ultimate prize for his revelations. The motion for his suspension alluded to his recklessness and to the damage he had done to “the image of the House”.
Budget Padding, Corruption and its Implications
It is worth noting that until Jibrin’s revelations, the concept of “budget padding” had never been part of the anti-corruption lexicon or indeed of public discourse in the country. And so a substantial part of the discussion on the issue has been on the exact meaning of the concept of budget padding and of the legality or otherwise thereof. Whilst the speaker, the legislators and their sympathisers continue to argue the legality of the practice, it calls into question the broader issue of the definition of corruption and taxonomy of corrupt acts. Is an act corrupt only because it contravenes the law or should corruption be determined by extra-legal considerations like morality and apparent breach of trust and morals? Should the discussion on corruption concentrate on the elements of the act alone or the consequences?
In this case, the consequences of budget padding by legislators, illegal or not, has very serious implications for socio-economic development in Nigeria. As the scandal has progressed, revelations now show that federal legislators get about N100 billion annually for projects in their respective constituencies with about 2516 such projects included in the 2016 budget alone. One commentator notes that if these projects were duly implemented, there would be at least 5159 federal projects located at the local level all over the country with each of the 774 local government areas getting about 7 such projects. The development implications of this are enormous.
Yet the conversation has regrettably being about mundane issues that have no effect whatsoever on the development implications of issues of this sort for the country. The members of the legislature been preoccupied with the effect of the scandal on its “image” and acted swiftly to preserve that image, whatever it is. The ruling party to which those involved in the scandal belong also acted promptly in cautioning the whistle-blowing legislator from making any further revelations to the press. The question left unanswered is, who will act swiftly for the ordinary Nigerian who ultimately bears the immediate and long-term consequences of such palpable corruption?
But why would the legislators care about the ordinary Nigerian or even understand the poverty with which he is stricken when they are the highest earning lawmakers in the world? And with such money, they can afford to procure prostitutes on foreign trips paid for by the ordinary Nigerian, return to sittings in the legislative chamber paid for by the ordinary Nigerian and suspend whoever tries to expose their corrupt actions to tarnish their image.
Understanding What Really Matters for an Anti-Corruption Campaign
The ruling party in Nigeria which was voted in primarily on the premise of fighting corruption has been establishing special courts and even more anti-corruption agencies, as if the ones in the country are not too many already. It has also been demanding, soliciting and blackmailing countries and individuals alike for the return stolen funds and taking other cosmetic steps in its fight against corruption. All these might be well received by donor organisations, the world press and western allies, but they would mean absolutely nothing to the ordinary Nigerian if fundamental institutions like the legislature are as dysfunctional as this scandal highlights, and whistle-blowers are shamed and discarded.
This scandal reiterates the fact that Nigerians cannot depend on their political institutions to fight corruption. The real fight is between ordinary Nigerians and those in power – executive and legislature, irrespective of the party, agency or committee. And in all battles, there are heroes and martyrs. Since it is apparent that the political leadership in the country is determined to martyrise Jibrin for his actions instead of celebrating him, it is left to ordinary Nigerians to celebrate him for his acts of heroism that has provided a rare peek through the hitherto dark veil of legislative tyranny in the country.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
I have just returned from spending my summer back home in Nigeria. This is the third consecutive summer I have done so. It is not difficult to tell that a lot has changed in Nigeria over the last one year: a new political leadership, a currency in free fall, an economy in shambles, unpaid public servants and an uneasy excitement about the government’s anti-corruption campaign. In the midst of all this intrigue however, some things managed to remain unchanged. The people are still resilient, resourceful and hopeful, churches and other places of worship continue to attract sufficient attendance and the public sector remains as inefficient as always.
From going through immigration and customs at the airport to trying to process a document of any kind in a public office to bidding for public contracts and indeed having any form of interaction with the public service in Nigeria, it is all so easy to tell that this is a country at peace with inefficiency. This has been the case for so long that it now appears that successive governments just do not care about it anymore. Most steps taken in this regard have often being half-hearted and never seen to a logical conclusion.
At a time when the economy of Nigeria is facing its most difficult times in decades and having to consider expedient structural changes that are long overdue, there is probably no better time to consider dealing with the size and inefficiency of the public service in the country. Sadly, the country continues to be gripped with the hysteria of fighting corruption in a rather deluded and mistaken belief that winning the battle fight against corruption will solve the mammoth and variegated challenges of socio-economic and political development in the country.
Beyond the “Fight Against Corruption”
As I have conducted researched on anti-corruption measures in sub-Saharan Africa over the last couple of years, I have become more convinced of the incongruity of the expression “to fight corruption”. Dealing with corruption is not just a “fight” you win by landing a deadly blow and then move on to others issues. It is a lot more complicated than that. This is a fact that the international development community which thrust the anti-corruption agenda on countries in the global south in the late 1990s is painfully realizing now as it begins to ask fundamental questions of the supposed fight against corruption which should have been asked a long time ago.
It is therefore in the best interest of countries like Nigeria to understand what really would drive development in a country like Nigeria beyond just supposedly fighting corruption when a lot more strategic issues are amiss. For instance, Nigeria ranks at No. 169 in the World and 36 in Africa in the latest Doing Business index of the World Bank that measures the ease of doing business in countries. This indicator takes into consideration the ease with which businesses can undertake activities like starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.
These are all services provided by the public sector and it tells a lot that the country ranks so poorly on the index. Whilst it is now fashionable to blame everything going wrong in the country on corruption and political parties appear to be in a fruitless battle of trying to establish which is more corrupt and should therefore carry more blame, there is very little a fight against corruption can do to remedy a situation like this.
Those fighting corruption can spend all their days in the ring and their nights in the gym; they can fly to their conceited coaches all over the globe seeking training and assistance and getting pats on their heads all year round in their bid to defeat corruption. It will all amount to nothing in the long term if fundamental issues like an inefficient public service are not dealt with.
The Cost of an Inefficient Public Service
It is not my intention to trivialize the need to deal with corruption. However, it is important to contextual this in the broader objective of achieving development. Without an efficient public service that understands how to do things right and also do the right things, whatever resources saved from dealing with corruption will end up re-embezzled or wasted without achieving the desired development outcomes for citizens. The cost of an inefficient public service, in terms of discouraging foreign investment, frustrating entrepreneurship and wasting valuable human and material resources will, on the long run, outweigh whatever benefits even the most fervent anti-corruption campaign may provide.
Nigerians are resourceful people. Their entrepreneurial drive coupled with the wealth of the country in resources and its sizeable market which provides inherent incentives for foreign investment can propel this country out of recession and onto prosperity. But first, its slumbering public sector has to be awoken. It is time for the government reconsider its approach of fighting-corruption-is-the-answer-to-all-our-problems and get its priorities right.
“From Whose Decisions to Whose Actions?” Reflections on UNCTAD 14, Youth Participation and Development
By Matthew Ayibakuro
It has been just over two weeks since I joined over two hundred youths from all over the world in Nairobi for the Youth Forum of the 14th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. The conference was aptly themed, “From Decisions to Actions” with an apparent focus on the implementation of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted at the UN in September last year.
As youths, we had been invited for the first time to UNCTAD to contribute to the discourse on the key issues of education, more and better jobs and state accountability, with the ultimate objective of “Shaping the World we Want”. But did we really achieve this goal?
A fortnight after leaving Nairobi, as I look back on what was, without doubt, an enriching experience, I realise that our participation in UNCTAD 14 will surely shape the world we want, but not in the ways we expected when we were selected for the conference and definitely not through the major activities or outcomes that UNCTAD itself organised the youth forum around.
UNCTAD Provided the “Form” for Youth Participation
As is the case with most instances of social exclusion of groups in society, a few years down the line, many might be asking how and why it took most UN bodies like UNCTAD 50-60 years before creating space for youth participation in its discourses. However, UNCTAD deserves commendation for taking the first step in this respect in Nairobi. And this was indeed a first step in most ramifications: the organisation of the youth forum reflected this in the piecemeal manner the agenda and activities were undertaken and in the fact that there was no predetermined plan for youth participation in the main events of the Conference.
But this was a good first step nonetheless. Participation is often comprised of “Form” and “Substance” very much akin to UNCTAD 14’s theme that distinguishes “Decisions” from “Actions”. And by inviting us to Nairobi, UNCTAD had taken a major step in providing the “form” for youth participation in development discourses. It would however be mistaken on our part as youth, and also from UNCTAD’s perspective, to magnify this beyond what it really was: a formal recognition of the role of youth, nothing more; nothing less. Looking back now, I realise we were never really going to change the agenda of UNCTAD or indeed that of the United Nations on the key issues we discussed in Nairobi, neither were we going to significantly impact the policies and programmes of our governments back home with the outcomes of our conversation.
So Where does the “Substance” of Youth Participation Really Rest?
My understanding of the essence of my participation in UNCTAD 14 and positively of youth participation in fora of that nature came full circle in the evening of July 20; the penultimate evening of the youth forum. Due to my research interest, I had been working with the sub-group on state accountability at the forum and on that evening, for about seven hours (5pm to 12 midnight) over fifteen participants drawn from countries as diverse as Uganda, India, Mexico, Iceland, New Zealand, Namibia, Australia, South Sudan, Great Britain, Dominican Republic, Liechtenstein and Nigeria worked together on what was to be the Youth Declaration on state accountability.
We discussed, argued, voted and reached consensus on the use and expression of paragraphs, sentences and even words as they describe the world we want on the broad range of issues bordering on state accountability.
Back in my room that night, I put down the first thoughts of this reflective piece. The substance of our participation in the forum rests, not in the declaration that was presented to UNCTAD the day after, but rather on what we had made and would eventually make of the space created by UNCTAD for us to meet; to understand the experiences of youth in our various countries, to learn from the process of creating consensus in a room with people from all over the world, to create and sustain life-long networks between ourselves. They were, in reality, the factors that would shape the world we want on the long run.
In a fitting coincidence, shortly after listening to Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary General of UNCTAD who put together a final cocktail dinner for us on the final day of the forum and to whom we will always be grateful for commissioning the forum in his time, I had a fascinating conversation with one of the delegates, a young artist from South Africa. She took the trouble to explain how her art was all about providing spaces for people to meet, to dialogue and create connections. She convinced me never to disregard the importance of such spaces in fostering good in the world. And so we must all recognise and appreciate UNCTAD for providing such a global space for us to meet.
Going Forward: Bridging the Gap From Decisions to Actions
Like artistic spaces, neoliberal theorists often argue that government should have as limited a role as possible in the economy, by concerning itself only with creating an enabling room for private enterprise to thrive. In the same vein, how we thrive as youth with the space provided us by UNCTAD is left to us. It is our prerogative now to use this space to continue the conversation, to forge a common voice and demand for more spaces, to proffer and build solutions and thereby bridge the time-lapse between decisions and actions as the world moves towards realising the SDGs.
To create the needed impact therefore, our approach has to look beyond just influencing how governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental institutions move from decisions to actions, to how we can make use of the spaces created to reach our decisions and take our actions and shape the world we want in the process.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
It has been just over three weeks since South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma survived an impeachment vote in the country’s National Assembly. This followed the ruling of the Constitutional Court that he had violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla.
Like David Cameron surviving calls for his resignation following the Panama Papers scandal in the British parliament, it was safe to reckon that Zuma might have survived this. That was until yesterday, when the country’s High Court declared that he should be charged with 783 counts of alleged corruption, fraud and racketeering in connection with a £4.4 billion arms deal signed when Zuma was deputy president in 1999. The charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) just weeks before the 2009 election in which Jacob Zuma emerged president.
Whilst awaiting the decision of the NPA on whether or not to reinstate the charges following the decision of the High Court, it is important to highlight yet another significant lesson to be learnt from the Jacob Zuma corruption case, and indeed the anti-corruption regime in South Africa.
Constitutional Institutions and Principles are Pivotal
Following the relative success stories of Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and the more prominent Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong, the model mechanism for dealing with corruption in the last couple of decades has been the establishment of specialised anti-corruption agencies charged with fighting corruption in their various countries. The United Nation Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) makes the establishment of such specialised anti-corruption agencies obligatory for state parties in Articles 6 and 36 of the Convention.
In response to this, anti-corruption institutions have cropped up in unprecedented numbers in countries all over the continent, albeit to to obvious limited effect. The establishment of these institutions has been important in creating the impression that these countries are taking specific action against corruption, whilst simultaneously fulfilling the expectations of international donors, institutions and partners. The reality on the ground has however shown that these institutions have achieved very little in terms of dealing with corruption. Even countries like Nigeria that have done one better by creating multiple institutions in this regard has shown little signs of significantly reducing corruption.
After years of relative failures, possible explanations proffered include the lack of attention for local circumstances in promoting this global model of institutions, the inadequacy of requisite infrastructure, deficit in capability of anti-corruption personnel and more importantly political interference in the work of these institutions.
The issue of political interference has featured prominently in most countries, prompting the cliche call for political will in the fight against corruption. The Executive branch in particular has been known to use these institutions to witch-hunt political opponents whilst simultaneously shielding their corrupt supporters from prosecution. In most countries, the performance of anti-corruption institutions has become only as long as the foot of the head of the Executive.
More than anything else, this shows that dealing with corruption goes beyond just the establishment of specialised anti-corruption institutions. It requires other supporting democratic institutions and frameworks without which these institutions cannot operate successfully. And for any country that is really serious about dealing with corruption, these institutions and their independence in particular should be constitutionally guaranteed. Issues like the appointment and tenure of members of these institutions and their financing need to be guaranteed in the constitution to give these institutions any chance of operating independently and successfully.
The South Africa Model
South Africa provides a good model in this regard. Chapter 9 of the Constitution establishes not only the office of the Public Prosecutor, but also for other important state institutions to support constitutional democracy like the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for Gender Equality and the office of the Auditor-General.
Considering the broad range of desperate steps taken by Jacob Zuma to shield himself in the light of the Nkandla scandal, it is difficult to see how the Public Prosecutor would have pursued the case against the President as she did without the all-important backing provided by the constitution. Recent efforts by the Senate in Nigeria to amend the Code of Conduct Act for the specific purpose of assisting the Senate President in an ongoing corruption case shows just how vulnerable these institutions are to political manipulation and restates the importance of providing constitutional backing for anti-corruption institutions and efforts generally.
In the face of overwhelming emphasis on institutions in the fight against corruption and in the overall pursuance of good governance, experience has shown the futility in expecting corrupt politicians and political systems to create independent and effective transparency and accountability institutions. Perhaps the emphasis should de-emphasise seeking political will to fight corruption and rather concentrate on insulating these institutions from any form of influence from political will in the first place, at least until the point when the political systems in most countries are entrenched in positive values and therefore dependable.
Providing constitutional backing for these institutions might not, by itself, provide a final solution to the challenge of dealing with corruption, but it will at least give the widely-spreading anti-corruption institutions a fighting chance against entrenched grand corruption prevalent in most countries.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
Without a doubt, the biggest news out of the African continent in last couple of days is the decision of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, declaring that the President Jacob Zuma violated the constitution by failing to repay public money spent on his private residence in Nkandla. The lavish improvements which Zuma must now pay for in the coming months include a swimming pool, amphitheatre, visitor centre, cattle enclosure and chicken run, amounting to over $15 million.
With the opposition now calling for the impeachment of Zuma following the decision of the Constitutional Court, it is safe to say that the story of this scandal which has dragged on for some time is not over yet. In the meantime, for those interested in issues of governance, it is imperative to highlight some very significant issues and lessons for the much talked about fight against corruption in South Africa and indeed other countries in the continent. A comparative analysis of the framework for anti-corruption in Nigeria and South Africa shall highlight these issues.
Independence of Anti-Corruption Authorities -Appointment and Removal
The headlines for the decision in Zuma’s case has been mostly about the Constitutional Court and rightly so. The bold decision of the court re-emphasizes the strategic nature of its role in democratic societies. However, the role of the Public Prosecutor should be getting as much or even more acclaim. The Court itself emphasized this point when it noted that the public prosecutor is “the embodiment of a biblical David that the public is, who fights the most powerful and well-resourced Goliath, that impropriety and corruption by government officials are“. This metaphor could not be any more apt considering this case was against the president of the country. Rare as this case is, it is no coincidence considering the independence of the office of the public prosecutor guaranteed under the constitutional and legal framework in South Africa.
Under Article 193 of the South African Constitution, the appointment of the public prosecutor is made by the president on the recommendation of the National Assembly. The latter is required to only recommend persons nominated by a committee of the Assembly proportionally composed of members of all parties represented in the Assembly and approved by 60 percent members. Based on Article 194, The Public Prosecutor can also only be removed on a finding by a committee of the National Assembly establishing grounds of misconduct, incapacity or incompetence. The National Assembly is then required to adopt a resolution supported by at least two thirds of members calling for the removal from office of the public prosecutor.
By comparison, the heads of the two strategic anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria -the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) – are simply required to be appointed by the President subject to confirmation by Senate. On removal, whilst an address supported by two thirds majority of the Senate is required for the president to remove the head of the ICPC, the head of the EFCC can solely be removed by the president for inability to discharge the functions of his office or for misconduct or if the president is satisfied that it is in the interest of the Commission or the public that he be so removed.
Why This Matters?
In the course of the Nkandla scandal, President Zuma utilized every possible political office and tool that owes him allegiance including the Minister of Police and Parliament, where his party the ANC holds a majority, to exonerate himself. And he probably would have succeeded, but for the courage and persistence of the public prosecutor. The fact that the president plays a rather peripheral role in her appointment and removal offered her the requisite security and therefore independence to carry out her duties without fear of removal or being influenced.
This is a far cry from the situation in Nigeria where the President plays a dominant role in the appointment and removal of heads of anti-corruption authorities and therefore displays very obvious and over-bearing influence over their activities. The fact that prospective and serving presidents in Nigeria have over the years made themselves spokesmen for anti-corruption agencies by promising to prosecute certain individuals or investigate certain issues makes a whole mockery of anti-corruption efforts. In countries that deal with systemic corruption, especially within the executive, the best a chief executive can and should be required to do is guarantee the independence of anti-corruption authorities and allow them do their work.
It may be argued that irrespective of the procedure for appointment and removal of heads of antic-corruption bodies, such individuals can still demonstrate seriousness in investigating and prosecuting corrupt officials and institutions once appointed. While this may be true, it leaves open the question of the fairness and impartiality with which they carry out their functions. This is a question that continues to bedevil the actions of anti-corruption authorities and the overall anti-corruption regime in Nigeria. Even the much acclaimed efforts of Nuhu Ribadu who was head of the EFCC under President Obasanjo were later ridiculed by claims of overwhelming influence by the President leading to selective prosecution of public officials.
It is difficult to envisage any circumstance where any of the numerous anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria will be able to hold a serving president of the country accountable for corruption under the current legal framework, and if we cannot guarantee that everyone is indeed equal before the law in this regard, then anti-corruption efforts in the country will continue in the realm of politics, instead of being about public resources, people, rights and development.
The first lesson from the Zuma case is therefore that granting independence to anti-corruption authorities is a prerequisite for any viable anti-corruption effort. It is time for Nigeria and other countries with similar legal frameworks to amend their laws accordingly.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
On Tuesday 8th March, the world marked International Women’s Day 2016: Various events were held in New York, Geneva, Ethiopia and elsewhere, numerous speeches made, Facebook posts and tweets put up and somewhere in the National Assembly in Nigeria, a Senator moved a motion asking Nigerian men to marry more wives, claiming that “the first care of a woman is marriage” and that marrying more than one wife is “a sign of respect for women”
Although the motion did not go through, and some might claim that it should be taken in good humour, it is important to note that this was taking place just a few days after another senator had, with benighted pride, referred to the need to marry Nigerian wives as a way of patronizing “made in Nigeria” products. There is absolute nothing funny in either the inapt coincidence of these statements made on the floor of the Senate or indeed in the timing.
What concerns me most however is the fact that other rational senators in the National Assembly did not speak up against these statements on the floor of the Senate, and as usual, most reactions condemning these statements came from women or women groups, with men satisfied to play a neutral role on issues bordering on gender equality once again. As considerable strides are being made all over the continent to secure the rights and protect the interests of women at political and institutional levels, perhaps the missing piece of the puzzle is the emergence of male champions for gender equality.
CELEBRATING THE PROGRESS MADE ON GENDER EQUALITY IN AFRICA
In the last couple of decades, considerable progress has been made on gender equality in Africa. Facts show that, as of February 2016, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in Parliament in the world with women constituting 63.8% of members of its lower house and 10 of the 26 members of the upper house. The top ten countries in this respect also include Senegal (ranked 6th) and South Africa (ranked 8). Countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America lie at an abysmal 48 and 95 respectively. Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Burundi are also in the top 20 in the ranking of countries according to the percentage of women in ministerial positions. The use of quota systems in most countries has been instrumental to making these gains.
At an institutional level, the African Union declared the years 2010 – 2020 the African Women’s Decade, with 2016 in particular being the African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the Rights of Women. In 2015, the African Development Bank Group produced the first African Gender Equality Index offering “a snapshot of the legal, social and economic gaps between men and women” with the major objective of providing the needed findings that will spur leaders, policymakers and civil society to start dismantling the barriers preventing women from contributing fully to the continent’s development.
These institutional efforts have also translated to reasonable success on the ground. Statistics show that between 1990 and 2011, almost 20 African countries have achieved gender parity in primary school enrollment, with others making good progress. There has been a 47 percent reduction in maternal mortality rates with similar progress in other areas like employment and access to healthcare.
However, most studies show that a lot still needs to be done in furtherance of gender equality on the continent. There is a palpable disparity in progress made between different countries in the continent on most of the issues mentioned above. But perhaps more importantly, there is still the prevalence of religion and culture-based prejudices against women in most countries; prejudices that are echoed in the statements of the senators referred to at the start.
GENDER EQUALITY: A MATTER OF NATURAL JUSTICE AS WELL AS DEVELOPMENT
The fact that most men are content playing a passive role on the issue of gender equality is a reflection of a lack of understanding of the foundations and ramifications of gender equality in society. This explains why, even though the right to equality and freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex is guaranteed in most constitutions, most men would show indifference to this right, in comparison to discrimination on grounds of colour, religion or ethnicity for instance. It is hypocritical that men would take a stand on discrimination in society on almost everything else, but not the institutionalized discrimination of women in their homes and offices and places of worship.
Discrimination against women, like any other form of discrimination questions the very conception of justice in society, but it also has ramifications for development in the continent. Women have always been economically active in Africa, albeit often as farmers and petty entrepreneurs, and in these roles they continue to contribute enormously to the welfare and life prospects of their families and children in particular. But this is changing slowly as women are beginning to occupy strategic roles in both the public and private sectors, and as the continent strives to harness its resources for development, bridging the gender gap and unleashing the full potential of women political, socially and economically could yield profound and enduring results for development on the continent.
In the light of this, the conversation on gender equality needs to progress from connotations of social norms, cultural formations and spirituality, traditional or otherwise: It is an issue of justice in society and like most issues of a similar nature in society, indifference on its own perpetrates the injustice. The patriarchal nature of present-day society mean that, without the involvement of men, progress on gender equality will continue to saunter. This is true in Africa, as it is in every other part of the world. The United Nations #HEFORSHE campaign was initiated in recognition of the important role of men in attaining gender equality.
There are fewer ways for us to be champions to our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our wives and our nieces that to play our role in creating a just society where they can all ‘equally’ realize their full potential and contribute to development in society, than in advocating for gender equality. This is my #PledgeforParity. Over to You…
By Matthew Ayibakuro
On the 5th February 2016, the Supreme court in Nigeria dismissed an appeal by the Senate President of the country, Bukola Saraki, paving the way for his trial on corruption charges to commence at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The widely anticipated decision of the apex court was considered a victory for anticorruption efforts in the country, at least in the interim. There were however a notable number of Nigerians who felt that the decision was yet another step in the unfolding persecution of the senate president through prosecution.
The background to the latter view arises from the dramatic emergence of Bukola Saraki as Senate President in June 2015, against the apparent dictates of the Presidency and the top hierarchy of his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC). Since his emergence, Saraki has had to deal with different corruption-related accusations against his person or close relatives and allies, including his wife Toyin Saraki.
Justified or not, Saraki’s recent travails with anticorruption agencies have led to the inevitable impression that they are not unconnected with his political squabbles with the Presidency and the leadership of his party. This is more so, considering the crux of the charges against him at the Code of Conduct Tribunal has to do with assets declaration made by him whilst serving as Governor of a State dating as far back as 2003 and never brought up until now. Furthermore, there are sixteen former governors in the current Senate of Nigeria, most of whom have long-standing accusations and even cases already instituted against them by anticorruption agencies. None of these accusations or cases have received the attention and diligence that has been accorded Saraki’s case.
Persecutory Prosecution – Does it Matter?
This situation leads to a number of salient questions that have ramifications for the anticorruption regime in Nigeria and elsewhere: would Saraki be on trial today if he had not fallen out with his party’s hierarchy? Corollary to this in broader terms is the fundamental question as to whether it matters at all if a person is facing prosecution for corruption as a result of political persecution. Does the motive behind the prosecution even matter if at the end of the day, the person being prosecuted is proven to be corrupt? Does the end not justify the means? To what extent should the ordinary citizen be concerned about the motives and processes that lead to the prosecution of corrupt public officials, as long as they are prosecuted and punished?
Experience around the world has shown that fighting corruption is no easy task. The global framework for anticorruption in the last couple of decades continue to emphasize the importance of strong governance institutions to eradicating corruption. However, the situation in countries like Nigeria and a few other developing countries who have made reasonable strides in establishing such institutions but not achieved commensurate reduction in levels of corruption, reiterate the importance of political will in the fight against corruption
Can Political Will to Fight Corruption be Apolitical?
Political will in this context presupposes, not just the will to fight corruption, but to do so impartially and with due regard for the rule. The latter is a factor that has been pointed to severally since the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari began in May 2015. Having being elected on the principal promise of fighting corruption, the government has apparently taken some steps to enunciate its commitment to fighting corruption. However, the manner in which it has gone about this, as displayed in Saraki’s case, has also led to concerns about the neutrality of the fight against corruption and its regard for the rule of law.
This has created a very complicated situation for ordinary Nigerians and observers. Haven cried foul over the lack of political will to fight corruption for a long time, should the efforts of a leader who seemingly possesses the will to do so be criticized due to perceptions of partiality in his efforts? Provided those who are prosecuted are corrupt, I guess many persons would care less about the motives behind such prosecution – political or otherwise. It would however be a very different situation where the person being prosecuted is innocent and is only being persecuted as part of a political agenda, and that is where the danger lies.
Until then, very few people would be ready to play a pivotal role in detracting the most serious commitment yet by a leader to fight corruption in the country. The perception that corruption is the biggest challenge to development is widespread and perpetuated both within and outside the country. In that light, it would appear that most persons would not mind sacrificing secondary issues like neutrality and even the rule of law, provided the fight against corruption is on full throttle.
Issues like political interference in the work of institutions like anticorruption agencies and the rule of law however, do have ramifications beyond just anticorruption and determine whether the fight against corruption is sustained over time or continues to oscillate depending on who is in control of state power. Nigeria and other countries in a similar situation will have to decide the trade-offs and determine where the right balance lies.