An open letter to Buhari’s supporters

“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians” Gandhi said once. He must have read about Jesus in the Bible, but found his disposition at sharp variance with his discoveries when interacting with Christians, who were supposed to be followers of Christ. I wonder what Gandhi’s thoughts might be were he alive today, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

A lot of our disposition to certain brands and brand names, are as a result of experiencing them through proxies. For example, if there are 12 call center representatives for a bank, and 8 of those representatives are courteous and helpful, while 4 are not, the perception of that bank will be shaped by which of the representatives we encounter. If this experience remains consistent, then eventually an impression is formed which can be difficult to change in any direction.

Gandhi never met Jesus Christ, just as many of us will never ever meet the CEOs behind the companies that produce the goods and services we use on a daily basis, but that does not stop us from forming impressions about those goods and services, based on our experiences on a regular basis.

This has relevance for the current season of campaigning in Nigeria, especially as it this relates to interaction on social media. The APC recently picked Muhammadu Buhari as its Presidential candidate, and his supporters have gone into overdrive pushing for their candidate. A lot of the time, however, the way they engage leaves a bit to be desired, so much that I have seen tweets from people saying that they do not like Buhari on account of his supporters. On first look, this comes off as a lame excuse, but just as the conduct of some Christians can turn people away from Christianity, the conduct of Buhari supporters can turn people away from voting for him in February.

Too often, there is a resort to insults and other extreme language in support of the Daura-born politician. It is true that he inspires a fervour among supporters rarely seen, but that fervour should be channelled toward re-introducing Buhari to the electorate, and highlighting the aspects of his record that put him in a good position to get Nigeria back on track, rather than alienating those disappointed in the current administration and who are open to voting another way, but still have legitimate questions.

Rather than combative, the tone from his supporters – many of whom have a lot of followers – should be much more persuasive. Buhari will do interviews, be on the campaign trail and maybe even do a couple of debates, but he cannot reach everyone. Whether online or offline, incendiary and uncouth language should be shunned in favour of a narrative that sells their candidate, a narrative which is much stronger than it appears at first glance.

This is not to say that the many failings of the current administration should not be pointed out. Far from it. The issue is that even those criticisms can be made by merely presenting people with the facts in a way that can change minds.

 

Following a very well organised and fair primaries exercise, the APC has begun to gain momentum as the year comes to a close. More and more, this is looking like the best chance for a ruling party to be voted out for the first time in our history. As the Presidential candidate, Buhari is leading that charge, and every interaction his supporters have with others contributes to that effort. May it not be said that he lost votes because of them.

 

An open letter to APC delegates

I wonder how many of the delegates who will vote to decide the APC’s presidential candidate will see this. They will probably be too busy having last minute discussions with emissaries of the candidates, who are trying to win them over. That is the beauty of democracy. At this stage, I am sure that only a few people really know what will happen today. It will be a close race, and rightly so.

The two leading candidates are Buhari and Atiku Abubakar, and as the delegates finalise their choices and approach the booths over the next several hours, they must ask themselves not just who is likely to give President Jonathan the best fight at the polls, but also who is most likely to be able to execute his agenda in office.

Muhammadu Buhari, now in his fourth presidential race, is perhaps the only national figure consistently aligned with the opposition since 1999.  He has never flirted with the ruling party at all, and that is much harder than it looks. His reputation for integrity, established since his time as military head of state, remains intact. He also enjoys very strong support from the Northern electorate, and has a strong anti-corruption stance, which is a good one, given the extent to which it has destroyed our nation.

In addition, he is expected to be strong on security issues, given his success with the Maitatsine in the 1980s.

The problem however is this: once you move beyond these plus points, there is not a lot besides. While corruption is a big problem, it is not Nigeria’s only problem, and so far, Buhari’s plans to fix these are not obvious. In fact, there is no detailed plan from him to deal with issues of insecurity and corruption as they are currently manifest, given that these problems have metastasized over time.

His capacity to pass delicate legislation is also in doubt. He will have to work within a democratic structure, and a National Assembly that is often indolent and obstructionist, to say the least. Even if corrupt officials will be tried and jailed, that must also take place within the our broken judicial system.

At this point, the issue is obvious. There is little evidence that the General has taken the time to examine Nigeria’s problems and craft solutions to them.

On the other hand, Atiku Abubakar has done so in a very detailed document, which you can find here. He appears to possess all the tools to make a success of governance from day one. Under the Obasanjo government, as Vice President, he was instrumental in putting together the economic team that improved Nigeria’s position, and put the country on the path to sound growth.

This eye for talent is also evident in the way his campaign is being run, which everyone agrees, whether they like his person or not, is the best in this election cycle. It is a mix of new school social media savvy and old school campaigning, which has seen him visit delegates from 35 of 36 states, trying to sell them on his agenda.

This kind of 36 state campaign is the kind of national outlook and mentality that Atiku has cultivated over three decades of political activity, and will serve him well in a national election. He was a high ranking member of the SDP in 1992, and nearly became Abiola’s running mate. His networks and resources were also important in creating the PDP as we know it today.

These networks and resources have already been put at the disposal of the APC, in order to make it a second national party capable of holding its own and standing the test of time.

As presidential candidate, Atiku has the ability to split support for Jonathan in the South, something Buhari does not have. His influence will not be limited to a particular sector of the country. In addition, Atiku has demonstrable capacity to hit the ground running from day one, based on his manifesto, his ability to build crack teams, and his ability to work with the various arms of government to achieve objectives.

The former Vice President has pledged to support whoever the APC picks as its candidate today. It is a promise I hope he keeps, but as the delegates approach the ballot boxes later on today, they must ask themselves which of the candidates has the best chance in a general election, AND the ability to govern effectively. The answer to both questions in my view is Atiku Abubakar.

The inevitability of Tambuwal’s defection

Throughout this political transfer window of movements between the PDP and APC, the announcement by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal that he was moving to the All Progressives Congress was treated with rather less surprise than a casual observer would have expected, considering that he is the fourth in line in terms of constitutional succession to the Presidency, and is hence the APC’s biggest defection in its one year of existence. Close watchers of Nigerian politics would not have been surprised. In fact, it has been perhaps the worst kept secret of the past one year, and there are a number of reasons for this.

Flashback to 2011. As the dust settled after the PDP’s victory at the 2011 elections, the speakership of the 7th house of representatives was zoned by party bosses to the South West, despite the decimation of the PDP in that zone at governorship and federal legislative levels. The choice of the party was Mulikat Akande-Adeola from Oyo, who secured another term as representative while most of her PDP colleagues fell away, but Tambuwal made his moves, ran against her and won. He did this with the assistance of then ACN lawmakers.

The result of this was a House of Representatives that stood relatively free of Presidential influence, and Tambuwal himself free to speak his mind at critical moments like during the fuel subsidy probes and monies unremitted to the Federation Account by the NNPC. The price for this was a Speaker who never quite fit in with his party. He was, to paraphrase the Bible, ‘in the PDP, but not of the PDP’. His absence at major events, together with his criticism of the executive branch meant that as soon the APC became a reality late last year, it eventually became an issue of when, not if, he would switch parties.

The current governor of his home state of Sokoto, Aliyu Wamakko, also moved to the APC, together with 27 of 30 members of the state house of assembly. This provided further incentive, especially as Tambuwal is rumoured to want to become governor. In fact, reports surfaced in January that Tambuwal would be offered the PDP governorship ticket, in order to prevent his defection. However, 3 house members, together with the deputy governor of the state Mukhtar Shagari (Yes, Shagari’s son) stayed with the PDP.

So, the PDP knew it was coming for some time. As soon as Tambuwal declared his switch on Tuesday, he promptly adjourned sitting till December 5th, ostensibly to secure his position. The PDP counter attack was to promptly remove his security detail, and the Inspector General of Police was quick to justify this move by quoting Section 68(1) of the 1999 Constitution:

A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if – (g) being a person whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected; Provided that his membership of the latter political party is not as a result of a division in the political party of which he was previously a member or of a merger of two or more political parties or factions by one of which he was previously sponsored.

There are a number of issues here. First, the Inspector General has quietly moved from being a law enforcer, to a law interpreter, since he obviously serves at the pleasure of the Executive arm, separation of powers be damned. It brings up all the familiar fears about a federal police that is too close to the Executive for comfort, and is merely a continuation of the pattern seen in places like Rivers state – where Commissioner Joseph Mbu was used to intimidate Rotimi Amaechi – and several other examples. Clearly, the message remains that falling foul of the executive arm will see the police used against you.

Second, the IG is clearly poorly suited to being an interpreter of the law, because of all the cross carpeting done, no seat has been declared vacant by the courts, nor is it likely that will happen soon. In addition, in the specific case of Tambuwal, the Constitution has this to say in Section 50(2):

 The Speaker the House of Representatives shall vacate his office -

  1. If he ceases to be a member of the House of Representatives otherwise than by reason of a dissolution of the Senate or the House of Representatives; or

  2. When the House of which he was a member first sits after any dissolution of that House; or

  3. If he is removed from office by a resolution of the House of Representatives, by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of the members of that House.

Therefore, as my learned friend Tex points out here, Tambuwal can either declare his own seat vacant, or be removed by two-thirds of the 360 members (240), a number the PDP do not currently possess.

The foregoing will then make it obvious why the Speaker chose to delay his defection till this moment, and embark on recess immediately after. The recess will allow for the necessary politicking by house members in their constituencies, but also allow Tambuwal to secure his position for the remainder of his tenure, by co-opting the support of his colleagues. He is no stranger to such an exercise, having out-flanked the Presidency’s chosen candidate in 2011.

Many agree that the honourable thing to do would be to resign as Speaker, pending another vote in the chamber, and a very likely conclusion to this particular 2015 sub plot could be a renewed vote of confidence in his leadership of the house, either through voice vote or actual casting of ballots.

While it is not certain that is how events will play out, Tambuwal’s reputation as a rather shrewd and savvy politician will only be enhanced should he retain his place as Speaker up till the elections.

Two rather scary tweets

Everyone has been celebrating our ‘Ebola free’ status given by the World Health Organisation. While that is perfectly understandable, and evokes a sense of national pride, it could also be a double edged sword, as shown by this tweet:

Further confirmed by this tweet:

The argument may be that internal checks may not be a high priority, since there are no cases left in the country. However, the creeping suspicion is that this laxity has spread or could spread to the international airport and our land borders.

For as long as the situation in Liberia and Sierra Leone is not brought under control, and the rate of infections begins to decline, we cannot relax on preventive measures for Ebola. For once, Nigeria is in the headlines for something positive. Let us ensure it stays that way.

Because Pastor Adeboye says so

I was reading Feyi Fawehinmi’s most recent post about the possibility of a luxury tax, and this line jumped out at me:

Most of the owners of private jets in Nigeria for example, already use all sorts of sophisticated ownership structures to avoid the jets being traced back to them.

That line serves as the starting point for this train of thought.

Nearly all of you will be familiar with the case of $9.3 million being carried in a private jet to South Africa, allegedly to acquire weapons for Nigeria’s security agencies. That is, at least, what the Nigerian government would have us believe.

The excuse for such a crude way of conducting business was that the Americans refused to sell our government weapons, citing human rights issues and other concerns. It is not the first time such an excuse has been put forward.

It is clearly not the first time that money has been moved into South Africa in this manner, so we can only wonder what led to the cat being let out of the bag.

The private jet used in that ‘movement’ was leased by a company in which Oritsejafor has an interest. Combined with his closeness to the Presidency and the President, the choice to use a private jet and not any in the Presidential Air Fleet (for a supposedly legitimate arms deal), as well as the fact that these days, money can simply be wired from one central bank to another (again, because it is supposed to be legitimate), raises more questions than answers.

Those questions would need answering in a transparent manner, especially as we enter a period of increased political activity, an ongoing insurgency in the North East, continued militancy in the Niger Delta, a pervasive climate of insecurity that has never really left.

There are also lots of concerns about the readiness of our Armed Forces to defend our territory, and the tools they are given to carry out this task. None of these concerns have been definitively addressed, and rather than having influential members of society call for an investigation into this matter, we have this from Pastor Adeboye:

Pastor Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor is a man of God I trust and I can personally vouch for him. I believe on the issue of his aircraft being chartered and the purpose it was used for he had no prior knowledge […] One anointed cannot attack another anointed. A pastor cannot attack another pastor. Touch not my anointed is what God said.

This kind of sentiment is a dangerous one, because we have heard it so many times before. In the Stella Oduah matter of procuring bullet proof vehicles, some quickly muddied the waters by saying it was because she was Igbo.

That is the way it goes whenever a public servant or someone in the public eye is supposed to be held to account or asked questions. It becomes an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ argument, effectively taking important questions and relegating them, in favour of creating a circus of endless accusations and counter-accusations on the pages of newspapers, and these days, social media.

Sundry issues of the state of Nigerian Pentecostalism, while important, are not the main issue here. The issue is that the connections between the principal actors involved are too close not to call for an investigation. That is what Pastor Adeboye should have done, were he to speak publicly, otherwise he may have decided to hold his peace on such a sensitive issue, while supporting his friend in private.

He has chosen not to hold his peace, and, while he is quite free to express himself in public, he should therefore be ready for whatever criticism will come his way.

The facts surrounding the seizure of that cash in a jet belonging to Oritsejafor, warrants questions which cannot just be waved away with the banality of ‘touch not my anointed’. Pastor Adeboye is not a judge, or a law enforcement agent. There are processes for determining the guilt or innocence of anyone, and none of those processes have been applied here. That is why people will continue to talk, and why some will now link him to Oritsejafor directly, in the absence of such a transparent process.

Rather than absolve his friend, Pastor Adeboye has now taken up the role of a ‘heat shield’, placing his credibility on the line for someone who, for all we know, is actively involved in arms smuggling.

But we may never know the truth, because no investigation has been, or will be, conducted. So we might as well take Pastor Adeboye’s word for it.

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.

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.

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.

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

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