buhari1

3 quick thoughts on Buhari’s ‘loan’

This from the Vanguard is generating quite a bit of discussion:

Buhari meanwhile, yesterday procured the party’s N27.5 million expression of interest and nomination forms at the national secretariat.

Lamenting that the costs of the forms were high, he said that it took the understanding of his bankers in Kaduna and Abuja to raise the money.

“It’s a pity I couldn’t influence this amount to be put down  as in the case of ladies and the disabled that intend to participate. I always looked left and right in our meetings but I could not read sympathy, so I kept my trap.

“But I felt heavily sorry for myself because I don’t want to go and ask somebody to pay for my nomination forms, because I always try to pay myself, at least for the nomination.

“N27 million is a big sum, thankfully I have personal relationship with the manager of my bank in Kaduna and early this morning, I put an early call (and) I told him that very soon the forms are coming, so, whether I am on red, or green or even black please honour it, otherwise I may lose the nomination.

“I was about to go to Kaduna this morning and I told the Chairman (John Odigie-Oyegun) but he said in that case, you better pick your form and keep a straight face. That means there is no excuse,” Buhari said.

Responding after handing over the forms to Buhari, the national chairman of the party, Chief Odigie-Oyegun explained that the N27.5m was carefully chosen to “separate men from the boys”.

“Let me say that the N27.5m is to separate the men from the boys. It is quite clear. We know you. I don’t expect you have N27m under your bed. But I expected that there are Nigerians who will vouch for you any day and who are ready to stand for you any day and that is the result that we have obtained today”, he said.

There are a number of issues here:

1. The cost of nomination forms is clearly too high, and has been for a long time. The nomination form for the PDP, for instance, is N10 million. It creates a barrier for entry and along with an absence of independent candidacy, these are two of the most serious obstacles to get better candidates, especially at lower levels of governance, which are just as important as the Presidency, if not more so. This needs to change, and it will be a better use of our time than seeking a percentage of political positions for young people.

2. It is unclear what game Buhari was trying to play here, if any. The quotes above indicate that he did not have the cash on hand, for whatever reason, at the time, hence the need for a facility from the bank. In  addition, from the quotes above, there is no mention of the word ‘loan’. Any number of reasons could have led to a situation where he had to call his bankers. The bottom line, of course, is that he wanted the form, and he got the form. No matter the cost.

3. The APC is barely a year old, competing with a party in power for 15 years, along with all the advantages that come with that position. They need to raise funds for a national campaign. A lot of funds. The presence of campaign finance regulations and their enforcement by INEC would have levelled the playing field somewhat, but that has no chance of happening soon. So, it is an arms race that accounts for the high cost of the forms. To those who bother with these things, it is a worrying sign. But most do not. So there.

EBOLA02_3000930b

Africa in the time of Ebola

With concerns over the Ebola virus increasing daily and cases being reported in the US, it is now clear that if anyone thought it would be confined to West Africa, they were sorely mistaken. Meanwhile, Nigeria is on the verge of being given a clean bill of health by the World Health Organisation:

If the active surveillance for new cases that is currently in place continues, and no new cases are detected, WHO will declare the end of the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Senegal on Friday 17 October. Likewise, Nigeria is expected to have passed through the requisite 42 days, with active surveillance for new cases in place and none detected, on Monday 20 October.

It is a bit puzzling that more advanced nations have responded in a rather panicked way to Ebola. They have had more time, and their public health infrastructure is much more advanced than what obtains in Africa.

Nigeria’s handling of its own Ebola outbreak has earned it a lot of good press, and rightly so. The sheer amount of work that went into tracking down primary and secondary contacts was described by the WHO as ‘world class epidemiological detective work’.

It had to be. Once the first case of Ebola was confirmed, there was an unprecedented awareness campaign on social media, radio and television, with everyone getting informed and putting the word out. Hand sanitizers became a must-have and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) directed the ‘shaking of hands’ during Mass in Catholic churches all over the country to be suspended, to reduce physical contact. That directive remains in place.

Even though the strike by resident doctors was ongoing at the time of the outbreak, the Lagos State government was able to put together a formidable response, one which is only now getting its due recognition from outside the country.

Expectedly, in an election season, there has been a mad dash to claim credit for beating the outbreak by the Federal Government. For his part, Governor Babatunde Fashola chose to mention people by name, the real heroes on the ground. Even though there is much that is wrong with Nigeria in every respect, there are still pockets of competence, and examples of what is possible when everyone does their part. The lessons learned here are already being passed on to other countries, lessons which are likely to form the template for responding to infectious diseases in future.

At this stage, however, I have two major concerns. First, I hope that once Nigeria and Senegal are certified Ebola free, that health authorities and the general populace do not just switch off and become slack in their vigilance. For as long as there are such a large number of cases, the chances of one person carrying an infection entering the country through land borders, airports, and seaports is significant. In the midst of intense politicking this election season, we must guard our gates.

My other major concern is for Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and indeed Africa at large. Many African countries have been ravaged by war and corrupt, inept governance for decades, leaving behind little by way of public services. Liberia and Sierra Leone are two of the more extreme examples of this, and now Ebola has come to strip them of whatever claim they had of being sovereign states.

Health workers face risk of infection due to minimal protection, and on top of this are either attacked or bribed to leave the deceased with their families, instead of having them cremated to curb the spread. They have already gone on strike for an increase in their hazard allowances. Put together, it points to the fact that things will not calm down anytime soon. What international agencies are trying to do is become alternate governments overnight, a daunting task. In Nigeria’s case, the WHO and CDC had government officials ready to put in the leg work, and a population that imbibed the message and passed them along quickly. None of this exists in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The best neighbouring countries can do is to make sure infected people do not cross over.

In much the same way a weakened immune system makes even a common cold problematic, weak and failed states face collapse under the weight of outbreaks like this, and the longer it goes without Ebola coming under control, the higher chance there is of that happening. Last month in Liberia, some ministers fled the country like rats leaving a sinking ship and were duly fired. It is not impossible that more will follow. The clock is ticking.

Peak oil, US energy independence and geopolitics

Ever since I discovered the concept of ‘peak oil’, I have been fascinated by it. It was put forward in 1975 by an American scientist called M. King Hubbert and he essentially said that since fossil fuels – crude oil in particular – were nonrenewable sources of energy, there would come a time, 1995 in his estimation, when the maximum rate of crude oil extraction will be reached, after which would come a slow, but inevitable decline. It is important to understand when, and in what context, that prediction was made, in order to understand why it was easy to believe that theory.

Until very recently, say the last 10 years, the number of places on earth where crude oil could be extracted viably were a lot fewer due to low prices, and the rate of production from some of the largest existing wells had begun to decline. In addition, the cost of extracting crude oil had begun to go up, because the crude was harder to reach. To add to this, conflict in the Middle East as a result of the Second Iraq War and increasing demand for energy by a booming global economy, led by China, saw prices take off from about $23 a barrel on April 29, 2003, to an all-time high of $140.73 on July 3, 2008, just before the global economic meltdown.

The story of human civilization over the last 150 years would be utterly impossible to tell without the magic of crude oil discovery, and all the uses it has been put to. Without it, much of what we regard as progress would simply not have happened. To name just one example, our ability to move things and people over great distances at the kind of speeds we take for granted today, would simply not exist. So, the spectre of Hubbert’s peak continued to hover, spawning all kinds of theories about the fate of mankind should we run short, or run out, of crude oil.

All this background up till this point is necessary because by Hubbert’s calculations, we should have reached peak oil by now, which means that the price of a barrel of oil should be high, and not reducing, as is currently the case. Since its high point this year of $110.48, the OPEC basket price of 12 crudes has lost 30% of its value. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Slower global growth, especially Chinese growth.
  2. Libyan oil coming back online after the fall of Gaddafi, as well as Iranian oil (embargo lifted)
  3. Increased output of oil in the US, led by shale.
  4. More oil extracted from existing/hard to reach sources, as a result of better technology.

The last two – better technology and just more oil, period – are things Hubbert could not have foreseen, and while economies can always rebound, it is becoming abundantly clear that there is a lot more crude oil than we thought there was, and the means of accessing it is better than ever. So, while Hubbert’s peak MAY still come to pass, it is quite a bit farther away than we thought.

America’s shale revolution is important because a significant number of American politicians, commentators, and business people have endorsed the idea of ‘energy independence’, and turned it into a bit of a crusade. Since 1973 when America could no longer cater for its domestic energy consumption, it has had to kowtow to and tiptoe around the Saudis in exchange for oil, all through gritted teeth. When it was not doing that, military regimes like Nigeria’s that had oil, were treated rather lightly in exchange for keeping the crude flowing. In short, a lot of America’s foreign policy decisions over the last 40 years have been determined by access to energy, and some have dreamed of a time when Uncle Sam will be free of those shackles.

Commentators like Thomas Friedman and other environmentalists have proposed things like a ‘carbon tax’, the proceeds of which would go to research in alternative energy sources, one or some of which would eventually reduce American dependence on foreign crude, as well as energy efficiency proposals across board. These proposals were also put out due to the very real challenges of climate change. With shale coming on strong, however, that conversation has changed slightly.

There is a lot hurrah-ing over America’s strong oil output, and not just because the need to bend low to the Saudis is now much reduced. Low oil prices are seen by the Americans as a way to achieve geopolitical objectives that appear to be beyond military might or diplomacy. It has long been thought, with good reason, that high oil prices – and high commodity prices in general – often insulate governments from reform. Nigeria is a textbook example of this. Each period of high oil prices in the nation’s 54 year history so far, has passed with even more waste and even more corruption. Karl Marx said once that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce – to say nothing of the fourth or fifth time.

The sure way to connect a people to their government is through taxes, hence the phrase ‘no taxation without representation’. This link can be short-circuited when the government can simply sell natural resources and carry on life as usual. As such, the phrase ‘taxpayer’s money’ does not really apply in Nigeria: The total non-oil revenue of the entire Federal government – N800 billion – is not quite half of the federal wage bill.

So, the hope is that a prolonged period of low oil prices will bring governments like those in Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and others in the Middle East out of their bubble and make them behave better. For Vladimir Putin, the alarm bells are already ringing as the Russian economy also feels the effects of sanctions.

America would like nothing better than to keep oil prices low, if it hurts Putin. It will also hurt the Saudis as well, but from all accounts they are prepared for an extended period of lower prices, in order to put shale producers under pressure and preserve their market share. Other OPEC nations are unlikely to agree with this position. Rather than keep spending low in time of surplus and save for a rainy day, countries like Nigeria do what they always do: Spend like there is no tomorrow.

The question is what will happen if prices stay low for a prolonged period, as an increasing number of analysts are predicting. Will it inspire a change in the way the Nigerian government spends, or will they be the last to feel the pinch, while everyone else drinks the harsh medicine? It is safe to assume that fuel subsidy will go next year, but since we import petrol for domestic consumption, the price at the pump may not be significantly higher than it is now.

The Medium Term Economic Framework for 2015-2017 should be submitted in the coming weeks, and all eyes will be on the crude oil benchmark on which much of government spending is based. It is certain to be much lower than the current benchmark of $79, and a major tax drive by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is already underway to make up for the big hole in government revenues.

All told, the coming weeks and months will be very interesting locally and globally. It will be interesting to see how governments used to huge oil revenues make do with much less, how long the trend will persist, how low prices will go, and the overall effect of these events.

Terrorism and the Nigerian media

For newspapers and television, acts of terrorism inevitably make good copy and compelling viewing. The hijacker and the terrorist thrive on publicity: without it, their activities and their influence are sharply curtailed […] they see how acts of violence and horror dominate the newspaper columns and television screens of the free world. They see how that coverage creates a natural wave of sympathy for the victims and pressure to end their plight no matter what the consequence. And the terrorists exploit it.

And we must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend. In our societies we do not believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship. But ought we not to ask the media to agree among themselves a voluntary code of conduct, a code under which they would not say or show anything which could assist the terrorists’ morale or their cause while the hijack lasted?

The above was from a speech delivered by Margaret Thatcher, to the American Bar Association on July 15, 1985. The hijack Thatcher referenced, was the TWA Flight 847 which occurred in June that year. While the situation was ongoing and even afterwards, ABC, an American news network, aired extensive interviews with both hijackers and hostages, giving massive publicity to the hijackers.

The role of the media is to gather information, apply news values and judgement to that information – the ‘gatekeeping function’ – and transmit it onward to the viewer or listener. This is the way by which we are informed of events happening in our immediate environment and even far flung corners of the world, and this information helps us to act accordingly.

However, these roles of the media, when applied to acts of terror and the pronouncements of terrorists, comes dangerously close to furthering their agenda.

In warfare, the control of communication has always been very important, and in the war against terrorism, especially in the 21st century, this is even truer. Terrorists are ambitious people who know how to manipulate the media. They attack targets in a manner that is certain to draw media attention and give them a platform to push their ideology. Radical teachings and propaganda videos are also posted online to win sympathy for their cause. Like Robert Kaplan noted recently: “Passion, deep belief, political protests and so forth have little meaning nowadays if they cannot be broadcast”.

Many of us will remember Osama bin Laden’s use of media organisations like CNN to broadcast his videos, and other terrorist groups like Boko Haram and ISIS have followed this example. ISIS in particular have shown a great affinity for communication channels, using them to recruit disaffected Muslims from the West.

Another thing ISIS love to do is decapitate American and British citizens on camera and put the videos on the internet. The aim of these acts, carefully choreographed, is to project brutality, spread fear among Western citizens and to goad Western governments into taking rash actions.

Some people who have realized this ploy started a hashtag called #ISISMediaBlackout, pledging not to watch or share any of the videos, and it is about time that citizens of other countries battling with terrorism take a similar position.

Over the last two weeks, strong indications emerged that Shekau, or someone masquerading as him for the purpose of making videos, was killed by the Nigerian military. While it may not be an absolute certainty that the real Shekau is dead, it is also true that Boko Haram’s leadership have a vested interest in keeping their leader – or the idea of him – alive, in order not to dent morale.

With this in mind, the value of disseminating videos and statements of Abubakar Shekau is highly questionable, beyond selling papers and generating website hits. For all we know, news outlets and blogs are the life support keeping a dead terrorist leader alive in the minds of Nigerians.

In addition, some of the reportage about the ‘capture’ of several towns in Borno close to the border with Cameroon, last month, failed to reflect the context of a fluid battle situation, and rather gave the impression that Nigerian troops were being overrun, when this was inaccurate.

On the government side, there is a lot more it can do to put its message out there. The use of embedded reporters reporting live from the front lines can be very effective, and I do not imagine it will take that much to ensure their safety. The presence of the Defence headquarters on Twitter helps, but the handling of the account needs to be much more professional, and should include videos of the Nigerian military in action as often as possible, not just tweets.

War is not just fought on the battlefield. It is also fought in the hearts and minds of people, and the media is a key part of shaping perceptions. Our new media age means that all of us are simultaneously producers and consumers of media. We draw from, and contribute to, the stream. The implication of this is that there is a greater need than ever to be conscious of what we view, read, and share. Watching, viewing, and spreading messages of terror means that half the terrorist’s job is done.

Terrorism is theatre, and we must deny the terrorists a stage, whether on our television screens, the pages of our newspapers, and our social media streams.

Ayo-Fayose

A twist in the Ekiti tale

The case was supposed to have been closed.

The nation had spent months trying to figure out how an incumbent governor who was said to have been ‘performing’ by all accounts, could lose in every local government to a man who had been impeached years earlier, and whose antecedents are colourful, to say the least. Much of the discourse centered on the phenomenon of ‘stomach infrastructure’, which essentially held that certain things – like not being ‘stingy’ and ‘connecting with the grassroots’ – mattered more to the electorate than good roads and other social services.

Those terms are euphemisms for the kind of governance that got us to where we are as a nation, and expose an irony about the Nigerian electorate: For all the weeping and grinding of teeth about corruption, most of the people that cast their votes at elections would like their own piece of the ‘cake’ – however small or badly baked – whether in form of rice, contracts, tips, and any of the legion ways by which favours are dispensed in our society.

Of course, there are those who would disagree. There are those who hold the opinion that it is demeaning to say the people of Ekiti sold their votes for rice and other things, and that maybe the government of Kayode Fayemi is not as good as ‘outsiders’ make it out to be. Fayemi certainly made some missteps, like taking on civil servants and teachers in reforms, and also not developing his own political structure (read, ‘patronage networks’) in the state. The former could have been left for his second term, and he paid the price. Furthermore, educational reforms in other APC states were scaled back, for fear of creating discontent that will have an effect at the polls. Sacked teachers were recalled, and planned assessments of teachers were cancelled.

However, it seems there remains a twist in the Ekiti tale. After the initial statements that implied we would have a peaceful procession to a change of government, the atmosphere has gotten to boiling point. A suit was filed by a group called E-11, challenging the eligibility of Fayose to even run for office at all. First, let us also establish that there is grounds for a suit in the first place. Section 138(1)(a) of the 2010 Electoral Act says:

An election may be questioned on any of the following grounds, that is to say:

  1. That a person whose election is questioned was, at the time of the election, not qualified to contest the election.

Section 182 (1)(i) of the 1999 Constitution says:

No person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a State if:

He has been indicted for embezzlement or fraud by a Judicial Commission of Inquiry or an Administrative Panel of Inquiry or a Tribunal set up under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, a Tribunals of Inquiry Law or any other law by the Federal or State Government which indictment has been accepted by the Federal or State Government.

Now, Fayose’s impeachment as Ekiti governor in March 2006 on charges of corruption certainly falls under this umbrella, a fact which would disqualify him from running. In addition, if he did not state that he was impeached in the nomination form submitted to INEC, it would go against Section 31(5) and (6) of the 2010 Electoral Act which say respectively:

A person who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by the candidate in the affidavit or any document submitted by the candidate is false may file a suit at the High Court of a State or Federal High Court against such a person seeking a declaration that the information contained in the affidavit is false

If the court determines that any of the information contained in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate is false, the court shall issue and order disqualifying the candidate from contesting the election.

The above would explain recent happenings in Ekiti, where the judge presiding over the case brought by the E-11 was manhandled by thugs loyal to Fayose, and property vandalized. Such behavior means that there is a real fear the ruling could go against the governor-elect. It also casts serious doubt over Fayose’s claim to be a different person the second time around. His first term was littered with incidents of intimidation of political opponents, as people like Femi Bamishile, the family of the late Ayo Daramola, and many others can attest.

The events between 2003 and 2006 in Ekiti were clearly not enough to convince a majority of people to deny him a return to power, and even before taking his oath of office on October 16, we have probably been given a foretaste of things to come.

But for this little matter before the court.

We squabble, they suffer

I wanted the perspective of a doctor on this latest strike, and Dr. Chijioke Kaduru has obliged. I thank him for this contribution. Feel free to add your two cents below.


Doctor and healthcare worker strikes are a global phenomenon with the potential to negatively impact on the quality of healthcare services and the doctor-patient relationship. Strikes are a legitimate deadlock breaking mechanism employed when labour negotiations have reached an impasse during collective bargaining. The right to strike is considered a fundamental right whose derogation would be inimical to the proper functioning of employer/employee collective bargaining in democratic societies.

According to the World Medical Association (WMA) Statement on the “Ethical Implications of Collective Action by Physicians” adopted by the 63rd WMA General Assembly in 2012, in Bangkok, “Physicians may carry out protest action and sanctions in order to improve direct and indirect working conditions that also may affect patient care. If involved in collective action, National Medical Associations should act to minimise the harm to the public and ensure that essential and emergency health services, and the continuity of care, are provided throughout a strike.”

In essence, it is both legal and ethical for Physicians to go on strike, contrary to what many claim. Physicians are however encouraged to minimise the harm to the public, where a strike has been embarked upon. This writer however, puts doctors on a pedestal, and therefore finds it difficult to swallow that doctors would take up industrial action for the reasons stated for this current strike, (though within their legal & ethical boundaries).

Our Complex Situation

The Federal Government (FG), the Nigerian Doctors and the Nigerian Allied Health Workers are appear to be blindsided by one of Nigeria’s worst kept secrets – Our health system is on the brink of total collapse. How else can one explain this mire of incompetent handling of negotiations by the FG, and recurrent strikes from both doctor and allied health worker groups?

The Nigerian health indices are among the worst globally, and our health services in the public sphere, are not nearly as good as it could be. Whilst recognising the efforts that have been put in by the FG and all healthcare workers, over the years to strengthen our health system, the current warring of the factions, does more to undermine the efforts of all these groups over the years, whilst leaving us with a huge gap that still needs to be met, in our health status.

The current industrial action by the Nigerian Doctors, is part of a complex situation broadly involving four stakeholders, that has been on-going for longer than some of us care to chronicle. This four-way situation involves the Doctors, the Allied Health Workers, the FG and the Nigerian Citizens. The complexities of this situation make any attempts to simplify it, laughable.

The FG have botched the debate, every step of the way. They have made some agreements that are difficult to implement, especially in the context of current practise and existing policies. They have made promises to both sides. They have left a lot unratified. They have underinvested in Health. The FG have ultimately not done what is expected of it, in ameliorating this conflict or in fostering the health of citizens.

The Allied Health Workers want better recognition, better entry levels and navigation within the civil service, and ultimately, the opportunity to also lead the tertiary hospitals and the health sector. Arguments have been put forward on the mismanagement of the health system by doctors in leadership over years, as well as examples of the leadership models of other countries, many of which do not have doctors at the helm, but are ultimately doing well. The Allied Health Workers blame the doctors for everything wrong with the Health System and blame the FG for always indulging doctors.

The doctors want to preserve their statuses as leaders of the tertiary hospitals and the health sector, want to limit the use of certain terminologies that connote ownership of patients to doctors alone, want to preserve a salary relativity that structures earnings within the health sector, want the FG to provide better financial support to working doctors, and are making certain key demands that will uplift health service delivery in the country (including passage of the National Health Bill). The Doctors accuse Allied Health Workers of trying to undermine their ownership of patients, leadership in the provision of care to the patient, and for most other issues surrounding the conflict. They also blame the FG for indulging the Allied Health Workers.

The FG gets the blame from both sides, obviously. And no one else is willing to take responsibility for their own shortcomings.

The Nigerian Citizen, the fourth stakeholder in this complex situation has become little more than mere collateral damage. I would like to point out that there is significant evidence, that contrary to popular belief, withdrawal of services or strike actions by doctors and healthcare workers will not automatically lead to an increased number of patient deaths or total failure of healthcare service delivery. However, all the research that provide this evidence, were conducted in mid-to-high income countries, with well-established emergency services and relatively advanced health-seeking behaviour. In context therefore, it is within reason to say that the Nigerian citizens are at risk of loss of lives and deformation, in the event of strikes by any of the groups of healthcare workers.

The citizen, who all the health workers swore to look after, has become collateral damage in the squabble. This is, at best, completely unacceptable.

Leadership in a Crisis

“We understood perfectly that the life of a single human is worth a million times more than all the property of the richest man on earth. And we learned it; we, who were not of the working class nor of the peasant class. Social medicine demands that it be well understood that far more important than a good renumeration is the pride of serving ones neighbour. That much more definitive and much more lasting than all the gold that one can accumulate is the gratitude of a people. And each doctor, within the circle of his activities, can and must accumulate that valuable treasure, the gratitude of his people.” Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara

As a Physician in training many years ago, I was magnetised by the will and wisdom of Dr. Che Guevara, a doctor who became part of a revolution, following his experience as a doctor, witnessing illness, hunger, and poverty. He became a man defined by his need to push for the benefits of the masses. Such need to help the masses, continues to drive many to become physicians today. While recognising that we cannot create a utopia, it is important to point out that being a doctor is more than just a job and doctors, must remember this.

Doctors, are stakeholders in this society. Doctors cannot absolve themselves of all responsibility, in the mess that is our health system. They cannot pitch the people against the Allied Health Workers and Government, in the hope that they will come out of the situation smelling of roses.

When we decided to become doctors, we made a choice to live a life of sacrifice, with the intent to foster humanity. I hope we never lose sight of that. I hope we can take leadership of the health sector, and be the example. I hope we can look past the squabble and see the big picture, with a focus on building a better health system for our people. Our demands, no matter how reasonable they may seem to some, should not have to come at the cost of the lives of the poor, who are the ultimate victims.

Let us lead, in a crisis.

Attempting to define ‘stomach infrastructure’

In the first week of April, 2013, the warning signs were already there.

Over a year ago now, I attended a symposium organised by The Future Awards in Ikogosi, Ekiti State. At the session attended by the governor, Kayode Fayemi, one Ekiti indigene after another got up told the governor to pay attention to ‘stomach infrastructure’. That event is significant in hindsight, because if there was one danger sign ahead of a re-election push, that was it.

Now, people all over the country are trying to pick through the wreckage of a campaign that seems to have been dead on arrival. Instead of congratulations, there are post-mortems. The post-mortems are necessary because Fayemi was widely perceived as a governor who was performing. Some have even described him as the best pound-for-pound (apologies to boxing fans) governor in Nigeria. Why then did he lose?

The events on June 21st have confirmed to me that, were Gary Chapman to write the Nigerian political equivalent of ‘The Five Love Languages’, ‘Stomach infrastructure’ would be the top love language.

It is not like Nigerians do not appreciate good roads, hospitals, and other amenities. It is that there is something that matters to them a bit more than that. There was a lot of debate on social media about sharing rice to potential voters in the days before the election, but to restrict the idea of ‘stomach infrastructure’ to food, whether cooked or raw, is naïve.

Stomach infrastructure is simply the system by which political patronage is dispensed to various groups in a particular society. This patronage can take many, many, forms. For instance, putting in a good word for the relative of a high ranking party chieftain, approving a contract or an appointment for a close political ally or their relative, and so on.

Stomach infrastructure means honouring an invitation to an important social club in Ekiti, and ‘declaring’ for its members. It can also mean turning a blind eye to a racket, or several rackets, for that matter. Other times, it is simply dispensing hard currency.

I am sure by now you begin to get the point. Grassroots politics, as far as Nigeria is concerned, is more or less a fancy term for building and maintaining stomach infrastructure. Having a strong ‘political structure’ is more or less the means by which this political patronage is consistently dispensed, the means by which it reaches the ‘masses’.

It is this (infra)structure that sustains you when you try to do unpopular things like take on the teachers and civil servants, as well as reform the civil service in general. It is this structure that enables you to call in favours on election day. It is this structure that enables you to ward off challengers like Ayo Fayose, backed as he was by a rejuvenated PDP.

Ibrahim Babangida, to name just one example, understood this idea of ‘stomach infrastructure’ very, very well. MKO Abiola understood it too. Both men were famed for their generosity and people skills, traits which kept them relevant in Nigeria’s power play for decades.

My best guess about what happened, is that the culture shock of moving from the governance style of Niyi Adebayo, Ayo Fayose and Segun Oni, to the style of Kayode Fayemi, was so great that it produced a backlash. Overnight, the people of Ekiti went from experiencing one extreme to another, and they just could not take it. Then, along came a familiar face at just the right time, with just the right people skills, who had just the right party behind him.

The reason why Ekiti cannot be used as a barometer for the rest of the country, is that what happened there was a perfect storm. It does not take just one factor to bring about the defeat of an incumbent, especially by such a margin.

Fayemi took on the teachers over competency tests, and implemented the results, leading to the demotion of some who had served for decades. The rest of them never took the tests and punished him at the ballot box. This fight may have been better left for a second term. There was also a lot of friction over the payment of the new Teachers Salary Scale, which he said the government could not afford. Again, scaling back on ambitious goals to focus on ‘bread and butter’ issues could have saved the situation.

The biggest fall-out of this election is that it might cause many who want to seek political office to pause and wonder what the point is, if someone who is performing can be so summarily rejected. The best thing to do is learn. The majority of Nigeria’s electorate are preoccupied with basic issues of survival, and this affects everything else. No amount of political correctness can change this.

Democracy remains a popularity contest, and for as long as everyone above 18 can vote, then the wishes of the majority must be taken into account to a significant extent. If the people in a particular place want to be governed in a certain way, then that must be accommodated, even if it means deviating a bit from a pure focus on the traditional indices of governance.

 

official-partner-merchandise-fifa-brazil-2014_531082945bd94_w1500

Getting into the World Cup groove

The World Cup starts in 2 days, 20 hours, 42 minutes and 30 seconds. Make that 29. 28. 27. 26. 25.  As is usual with these things, everyone wants to get in on the act of predicting how far all the teams go.

I have watched the application of statistics to quantify football over the last few years with great interest, primarily because I am a lover of both.

One thing that strikes me in all the models I have seen so far, is how nearly all of them are united in the conclusion that Brazil will win the World Cup. It is not even really close, as Brazil are about three times more likely to win than anyone else.

As far as Nigeria is concerned, the pre-tournament prediction models make for slightly disturbing reading. Only one model, done by EA Sports, has the Super Eagles qualifying for the second round. Incidentally, it is that same model that has Brazil not winning the World Cup, losing to Germany in the final.

You can see the EA Sports predictions here. The others, by Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs, Five Thirty Eight, and a chap called Andrew Yuan, whose work was cited by the Economist, can be viewed here, here, here, and here.

Also, if it is your thing, you can play World Cup Fantasy Football here. Picking 23 players from 736 is insanely hard.

In addition, there are very, very good previews from FourFourTwo, WhoScored, and the Guardian UK.

I really can’t wait.

nigeria_michelle_obama_460

Homeland, Person of Interest, and the limits of impunity

Now is the time to expose the truth to our fellow citizens

The truth that has been lurking beneath the shadows for so long

That their country is no longer theirs

That their freedoms have been stripped away

One camera, one cellphone, one megabyte at a time

Now is the time to pull back the curtain

Welcome to your trial ladies and gentlemen

Welcome to the trial of the United States government

Court is now in session

 

I don’t watch a lot of television these days, but two shows I have always kept up with are ‘Homeland’ and ‘Person of Interest’, because of their relevance to the times in which we live. I will have to do a quick summary of both shows for those who may not be following, in order to make my point. Stick with me.

Homeland is about a US Marine by the name of Brody, who switched sides while in captivity. The event that led to his ‘radicalisation’, was the killing of his host’s son in a drone strike in Iraq. Brody had developed a bond with the son of Abu Nazir (the man with whom he was staying), and Nazir used his son’s death to first, convince Brody to wear a suicide vest, which didn’t go off, and eventually to kill the Vice President, who authorised the drone strike and eventually its cover up. Up to that point, Homeland was essentially a critique of drone warfare, which eventually became slightly overshadowed by a love affair between Brody and Carrie Matheson, two of the show’s main characters.

Moving on swiftly to Person of Interest, the main theme of which is the good and mostly bad sides of a surveillance state. The American people are watched over by a surveillance programme called ‘Northern Lights’ created by Harold Finch. This machine churns out Social Security numbers of people linked to all kinds of violent activities, including, but not limited to, acts of terrorism. Finch takes it upon himself to help people in mortal danger, with the assistance of a couple of others. The dialogue has a particular brand of humour which I quite like.

This takes me to the opening lines of this post, said by Leslie Odom Jr’s character, Peter Collier, in the final 45 seconds of Episode 22, Season 3, of Person of Interest. A few episodes earlier, Collier’s group ‘Vigilance’, no doubt with a nod to that famous quote widely attributed, incorrectly as it turns out, to Thomas Jefferson, exposed the existence of Northern Lights to the world. Those revelations led to a cancellation of the Northern Lights programme, opening the way for a privately owned surveillance system called Samaritan, to be put at the service of the US government. The pitch for Samaritan was being made to a top presidential adviser when Collier and his group took them hostage,with the aim of putting them on trial and broadcasting it on the internet.

In that same episode, Collier’s motivation was also revealed. He had an elder brother who was a recovering alcoholic, and had been sober for nearly two years. While at dinner with him one evening in 2010, his brother was arrested on grounds of ‘national security’ and detained for weeks. After his release, he lost his job and took his life. Collier went looking for answers, and was presented with four photographs showing his brother talking to an Arab man, whose cousin was linked to terrorist activity. That Arab man showed up at the funeral, and  told Collier that his brother helped him on his own journey of sobriety. It turned out that there was no reason whatsoever to detain him. Filled with a desire for revenge, Collier joined Vigilance and resolved to expose the government that took his brother from him.

That is that for the background. The common thread running through both shows is a government that suffers serious consequences as a result of hurting one too many people, and not providing any means to seek redress. In a word: Impunity. It is that impunity that was foremost in Edward Snowden’s mind when he released information exposing the extent of America’s surveillance apparatus. It is that arc of impunity that every government and corproration, left to its own devices, ultimately bends toward.

In another example, the drone programme which has gone into overdrive during the Obama administration, could be creating as many enemies for the US as it eliminates. There is yet to be adequate transparency and reform in the ways targets are chosen, disclosure about innocent people who are killed, and most importantly, accountability for those deaths. While both shows contain messages about the need for thorough reform in the US drone and surveillance programmes, other countries, like Nigeria, also have lessons to learn.

Extra judicial killings and unlawful detentions in Nigeria are a way of life. These crimes are committed by the Army, Police and other security agencies, and the victims of these crimes have no recourse. For example, no one was ever brought to justice for the killing of the Ogoni Nine in 1995, just as no one ever went to jail for authorising a reprisal attack in Odi, Bayelsa state, in 1999. To what extent did these and other events lead to the violent militancy and costly amnesty in the Niger Delta?

The current violent strain of Boko Haram can be traced to 2009, with the extra judicial killing of then leader, Mohammed Yusuf. To what extent did his killing, along with many others, by the police, lead to the situation we have today? In trying to fight the insurgency, several crimes have been committed by the Nigerian Army against innocent civilians. Many people have been unlawfully detained and killed, with no one answering for these crimes. Such events inevitably lead to sympathy for terrorists and obstruct moves to resolve the insurgency.

It is this same impunity which makes it possible for soldiers sent to the front lines to be treated in the worst way, paid pitiful amounts of money to put their lives on their line and are poorly equipped to boot. If they get injured or killed, they and their families are on their own a lot of the time. Yet, no one answers for it.

There are only so many wrongs a nation, a government, can commit before the chickens come home to roost. While the world rightly screams ‘Bring Back Our Girls!’ from the rooftops, it is merely a manifestation of several atrocities over many years. I for one would like a trial of the Nigerian government. It would be prime time stuff.

904034_653805521334845_3405441448476112712_o

The Truppr 5k

I love to run, and this may not be a surprise to some people. I often run by myself and though it was hard at first, I have been able to keep up with running on a regular basis, twice a week at least. As the months have gone by, I have witnessed more and more people take up exercise on the streets of Lagos. Some run by themselves, some run in a group. It always makes me happy because exercise confers real benefits, and as many people as possible should enjoy them.

When enough people begin to undertake a particular activity, it is inevitable that communities will form. Bosun Tijani, a co-founder and CEO of the Co-Creation Hub and a prominent member of Nigeria’s growing technology community, is also the founder of Truppr, which aims to create a community of fitness lovers across a number of sports, like football, running, tennis and general aerobics.

The 5k run held today, and being a fan of long distance myself, it was a no-brainer for me to take part. I also knew it would be fun to meet up with good friends and make new ones. A Fitbit Flex was up for grabs too, so that was added motivation, quite apart from the desire to be first and beat my last time. It was a great turnout, and there was some celeb support there too. Kate Henshaw was in attendance and ran the full race. Esta Morenikeji took the pre-race warm up, and by the time she was done, I really couldn’t wait to get started.

The key, as always, is to start a little slowly then storm to the finish. It almost worked, but for Opeyemi Balogun’s resilience to pip me right at the finish line. Oddly, I met him for the first time exactly a week ago, and had no idea he is such a strong runner.

886808_653804748001589_4672900504975542886_o
Answering some questions after the race

So, no Fitbit Flex for me. I am dying for an activity tracker/smartwatch though, and I fancy my chances next time round, which should be next month. The event itself was very well organised, and a big thumbs up to everyone involved in the planning and execution.

The Truppr 5k was a lot of great fun, and I am happy it will be a regular event from now on.  I encourage you to sign up for the next one. The more the merrier.

View all the pictures from the event here.

'The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.' — Joseph Joubert

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,946 other followers