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Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Winning War Against Corruption, A Task That Must Be Done

Opinion@ITRealms:

Introduction
It gives me immense pleasure to welcome you to this Press Conference on the State of our dear Nation. The present need for critical and patriotic voices, as Nigeria passes through its current stormy moments, cannot be over-emphasised. At the Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED), we are poised to join forces with other credible civic agencies to populate the national space with ideas that would translate into better governance. For us therefore, it has become imperative to amplify the views of the Nigerian people, with respect to the many burning issues in the Nigerian polity. If citizens and those in control of the levers of state power are to get clarity, and not get the issues muddled up, credible actors in civil society need to speak up more often. This task becomes even more critical when it is realised that there is a mushrooming of groups with neither antecedent nor character to navigate the discourse towards a people-centred solution to the current crisis Nigeria faces. The civic space has become awash with a motley of so called civic groups and coalitions, whose motivations are clearly at variance with the aspirations of the long-suffering people of this country. These groups only show up when there are personal and elitist interests to protect or defend. And in many cases, they purport to speak for the entire civil society. It is therefore a matter of urgency that credible groups in civil society speak up more, to avoid the ongoing tendency to muffle the real voices of the people. Ladies and gentlemen of the media, this is part of the motivations for our decision to convene this event to offer direction in a number of areas that have engaged the attention of Nigerians in recent weeks.

POLITICS
CHRICED has been keenly following developments in the polity, especially as they concern the electoral space. It is our considered view that the biggest threat to Nigeria’s democratic space remains the politician, whose tendency for do-or-die politics, generates so much heat in the system. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ondo State in the build up to the November 26 governorship election. When the faction of those now spitting fire and brimstone won the right to fly the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the Edo governorship election, the heavens did not fall. Now that the pendulum has swung the other way, the expectation is that the politicians should accept the outcome and refrain from the blackmail of insisting that if their side does not win, then hell will be let loose. This desperate attitude is at the heart of the stunted growth of democratic development in Nigeria. The earlier political actors begin to act like responsible adults, the better it will be for Nigeria’s democracy. 

Security
CHRICED commends the nation’s security forces for the yeoman’s job they have been doing to beat back the insurgents in the North East, and reclaim the pride of the nation’s armed forces. We are however not unmindful of the fact that a lot still needs to be done to keep the threat of Boko Haram at bay. The occasional and sporadic attacks by Boko Haram, resulting in scores of deaths, makes it clear that a lot still needs to be done to vanquish the threat of terror. In the Niger Delta too, it is apparent that the military needs to redouble its efforts to deal with pipeline vandals and other enemies of the state. CHRICED calls on the Federal Government to move quickly towards addressing the root causes of these problems, so that the nation’s security apparatus will no longer be stretched to its current limits. Moving quickly to address the root causes will equally save the nation the billions of Naira being spent to sustain the campaign against the insurgents across the country.     

Fight Against Corruption
CHRICED stands firm with the Federal Government in the ongoing onslaught against the rot in the nation’s judiciary, as well as in other arms of government. It is remarkable that the fight against corruption is now bringing into its dragnet highly placed officers of the state, who were hitherto untouchable. For us, the willingness to take the fight against corruption and graft to the door step of those wielding the judicial powers of the state, is both courageous and commendable. It is akin to asking the physician to heal himself. At least from the revelations that have come so far, Nigerians have been given a sneak preview of the extent of the decay in key institutions of the state, and have seen how the course of justice has been serially mortgaged over time in this country. While CHRICED is not declaring anyone guilty before they are passed through the judicial process, it is mindboggling that an institution which should serve as an important social modulator has been so degraded by bribe-taking and unconscionable abuse of powers. For those attempting to defend the indefensible by raising questions about the arrest of the judges, it will be interesting to know how many of such defences were raised when ordinary Nigerians were being denied justice because of the cash and carry judicial system that had been foisted on Nigerians. How many of those crying wolf now made attempts to condemn the apparent judicial apartheid, in which there was a separate kind of justice for the rich and the powerful, and another for the poor and vulnerable. It therefore stands to reason that those who saw no moral obligation to defend the interest of the ordinary Nigerian when it was being serially abused by a corrupt judiciary, have no moral foundation to castigate a clear attempt to bring certain officers in the temple of justice to account. 

Nigerians are therefore in support of the attempts to cleanse the Aegean stable in the judiciary, as well as other institutions of the state.  Unlike some that have tried to conflate the issues by holding up the narrative that this is an attack on the judiciary, we hold that the action to bring corrupt judges to justice, falls in line with the expectations of citizens that all forms and appearance of corruption in the state must be clinically dealt with. CHRICED calls on the Federal Government to follow up this surgical intervention by ensuring that the arrested judicial officers are brought before courts of competent jurisdiction to account for their actions. In fact, CHRICED is of the view that the case of these judges throws up the efficacy of special courts for the trial of cases of corruption. It will not be good for these kinds of cases to drag on endlessly, thereby allowing the accused to further conflate the issues around their indictment. We therefore call on the government to ensure that legal and administrative structures are put in place to ensure that all cases of corruption are speedily tried and dispensed with. It is by doing so that the confidence of the average Nigerian would be lifted in the capacity of the government to successfully deal with graft.

Corruption fighting back in the National Assembly
As the onslaught against graft in the judiciary intensifies, it is not surprising that the arrowheads of corruption in the legislature have been taking desperate steps to undo institutions saddled with the task of ensuring public officers stay above board. Nowhere is this anomaly more apparent than in the National Assembly, where legislators in defiance of the voices of the people, have gone ahead to amend the Act setting up the Code of Conduct Tribunal with the aim of weakening it and making it pliable. This treasonable amendment is unacceptable to the Nigerian people, and it will surely be resisted. It is a clear case of corruption fighting back with all vehemence. 

At a time the nation is faced with crisis on many fronts, it is strange that members on the so-called hallowed chambers can offer the nation nothing, but sheer mischief. Nigerians are not unaware of the shady games which led to the passage of the retrogressive amendment aimed at whittling the powers of the CCT. Nigerians are also in the know of acts of subterfuge that orchestrated absence by lawmakers from the majority party, which was used to create an alibi to concoct the dubious passage of the offensive amendments to the CCT Act. One does not need to look far to see the motivations behind these machinations to weaken key institutions in the fight against graft. It is a case of participants in the endless looting of Nigeria fearing the consequences of their actions, and taking the route of weakening institutions to secure for themselves and their tainted leaders like Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara soft landing. 

CHRICED calls on the President to ignore this latest round of subterfuge from the National Assembly by declining assent to this attempt to render prostrate a key institution in the fight against corruption. But beyond the refusal of assent, CHRICED calls on the Federal Government to show more grit and determination in the push to bring corrupt elements in the National Assembly to book. As things stand, the arrowheads of corruption in the legislature are having a field day. At the expense of Nigerians, they have padded budgets and nothing has happened. At a time of scarcity of financial resources, these so called honourable and distinguished members have not been honourable and distinguished enough to cut their jumbo allowances, both known and unknown; legal and illegal. They have not been productive enough to pass legislation to grant autonomy to the local governments, which are currently under the stranglehold of the state governments. Rather they keep guzzling a substantial chunk of the nation’s resources, while majority of citizens wallow in unemployment and abject poverty. This cruel form of greed and elite driven corruption must be immediately tackled. Even if output is to be assessed, what would the National Assembly say it has contributed to good governance to warrant the huge chunk of resources it drains from the public purse?   In fact, if the judiciary required a surgical blade to push the debate towards dealing with corruption, the National Assembly needs a transplant to replace organs that have long rotted beyond any usefulness to the Nigerian people. CHRICED again calls on the Nigerian people not to remain silent in the face of these institutionalised stealing from the people. Citizen action is urgently required to stop the current unchecked impunity and abuse going in the National Assembly.  

THE ECONOMY

Tackling unemployment 
As the Federal Government battles the monster of corruption and insecurity, it must realise that the task of putting the youth back to work is critical. In fact, insincere critics of the government are quick to use the current realities of unemployment and the recessed economy as talking points for vilifying government’s efforts to tackle corruption. To conflate the issues, some clever-by-half analysts are even going ahead to spin theories that government’s push for transparency and prudent management of finances, is responsible for the cash crunch in the system. CHRICED is of the view that the Federal Government should not give ammunition to its adversaries by not taking decisive step to put young Nigerians back to work. CHRICED insists that the various components of the social protection plan as being implemented currently, are not far reaching enough to deal with the crisis of unemployment the nation currently faces. CHRICED calls on organised labour to move beyond the push for minimum wage towards advocating for people-oriented solutions to the nation’s unemployment crisis.  

Dealing with this crisis requires radical out of the box interventions, which will create quick wins in the shortest possible time. In that regard, fixing the economy by implementing programmes that will immediately raise the purchasing power of Nigerians, cannot be overlooked. As CHRICED has suggested before, the Federal Government could explore the option of pumping N1 billion into establishing one industry in each of the 774 Local Government Areas. We make bold to state that such a novel approach will put economic power in the hands of the people at the grassroots, create thousands of direct and indirect jobs, while planting the seeds for the industrialisation of Nigeria. With the scale of the current unemployment crisis in Nigeria, we believe only this kind of far reaching approach would begin the process of reversing the lack of jobs for millions of young people, especially in the rural areas. 

Importantly, we believe that by now, the government should have learnt valuable lessons from the Boko Haram insurgency and the militancy in the Niger Delta, to understand how critical it is to empower young Nigerians. As a matter of keeping promises too, the President must remember that he was propelled to the Presidency on the back of passionate youths who believe he would make the difference. As we have done before, we call on the President to reciprocate this belief in him by Nigerian youths. The only way to do so is to ensure jobs are created to give this important constituency of Nigerians, livelihood opportunities.

This crisis of unemployment is the reason why at CHRICED therefore, the question of livelihood opportunities for young Nigerians is central to the advocacy we have been doing. CHRICED has been very much involved in campaigning for fairness, transparency and inclusiveness in government-run youth employment and empowerment schemes. We have developed in consultation with critical stakeholders, a Draft Code of Principles for the Design and Implementation of Youth Employment and Empowerment Programmes. These principles go to the core of the need to ensure all such programmes are governed with the best practices in terms of transparency and accountability. In the light of the several scandals that rocked government agencies in the last one year, such a monitoring framework becomes even more important.
  
Devaluation and the free fall of the Naira
CHRICED considers the continued free fall of the Naira as one of the biggest threat to Nigeria’s economic recovery. The foreign exchange crisis has resulted in a situation where several companies have shut down resulting in job losses. Citizens have become increasingly pauperized in the face of the current foreign exchange quagmire. Many foreign airlines operating in the country only recently indicated that they would be suspending their operations, with severe implications for the aviation industry. These realities make the need for urgent action on the economy much more urgent. CHRICED is of the considered view that now is the time for the Federal Government to halt the drift in the economy.

As noted in previous interventions, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as presently constituted is a big part of the problem, the Nigerian economy has been facing. It is our considered view that the problems in the economy would not have been this bad, if the current CBN leadership did not throw open the vaults for treasury looters to have a field day. It therefore stands to reason that those who created the problems can never be trusted to provide the needed solutions. Instead of thinking creatively to proffer solutions to the current economic woes, the people in the apex bank who pushed Nigeria to these dire straits would rather concentrate on trying to hide their guilt. Mr. Godwin Emefiele, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and members of his Board would rather focus on how to survive and bury records of illicit deals, than work towards revamping the economy. CHRICED calls on the President, if he is indeed serious about restoring the economy, to overhaul the CBN. President Buhari should follow the shake-up at the apex bank by bringing in sound minds that would give a new direction in the management of the economy.


SOCIAL SPACE

State of the health system
It is acknowledged fact that Nigeria’s Health sector is in shambles and this issue aside the energy problem and other related developmental issues need to be addressed and fixed as quickly as possible by the President Buhari administration. In many places in Nigeria, our hospitals, especially primary Health centres are far away from where people live and some are with expired drugs, dilapidated structures, corrugated roofs covered with cobwebs and in many places, have become inhabitants of domestic animals.  From study in some tertiary and secondary health centres, ordinary water supply is not available. Patient’s relatives therefore have no option but resort to buying water in jerry cans. Health workers too have to wait endlessly for essential drugs and disposable gloves, as well as faced with irregular power supply.

Also, the rate at which women are dying of preventable and avoidable complications of pregnancies across the entire nation is alarming. Nigeria accounts for 10% of the global estimate of maternal death, though according to World Health Organisation, our population only accounts for 2% of the world population. It is therefore, no wonder why our train qualified Doctors and Nurses are all eager to leave the country and travel abroad. Therefore, in a time of recession such as we are, CHRICED believes strongly that government spending should focus on the issues that are most critical to the well-being of citizens. One such area is reducing the scourge of high maternal deaths across the country. The high rate of maternal mortality paints a very ironic scenario in which a mother that is on the verge of bringing another human to life, loses her own life in the process. Apart from the inhumanity apparent in such a tragic situation, it runs contrary to the spirit and letters of all national and international human rights instruments, which advocate the right to life as an inalienable human right. CHRICED calls on government at all levels to do more to tackle maternal deaths due to the poor state of health infrastructure. Citizens must also begin to explore avenues to hold government to account and ensure it works on social issues like maternal health for the good of most of our citizens. 

State of the Education
There is no doubt that the standard of Education in our country has eroded and fallen beyond expectation. This fact is no longer disputable judging from the massive failure of WAEC and NECO by our secondary school leavers.  Again, when we access the quality of graduates from our Nigerian Universities which has made most Nigerian graduates unemployable today, one cannot but sit to wonder where we are going, and where is our future. Therefore, we call on the government at all levels to take serious action to bring back the quality standard of education that once existed in Nigeria, which made our graduates compete anywhere in the world.

Text of Press Conference addressed by Executive Director of Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, at Valencia Hotel, FCT Abuja, on Tuesday, November 1, 2016

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