Moffat Ekoriko

Moffat Ekoriko

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Editorial Comment

Despite a succesful election, Nigeria has a tough journey to make

Last month, Nigeria clocked 20 in its latest attempt at constitutional democracy. President Muhammadu Buhari was returned to office. Although his opponent, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice- president, is challenging the results of the elections, there is relief that the country has crossed another milestone in one piece. 

There is always apprehension whenever Nigeria gets close to elections. In the past, post-electoral crisis were the undoing of the country, resulting in civil unrest and military coups. However, since 1999, Nigeria has put that sordid history behind it. Elections are still acrimonious but the political class recognises that stepping outside the constitutionally prescribed routes for redress is not in anybody’s interest. There are still issues of rigging, abuse of the security services and vote-buying. The phrase ‘generally free and fair’ has come to qualify the outcome of the exercise. 

Nigeria’s problems go beyond the politics, albeit it is the lot of the political leadership to address it. There are problems of security, structure, the economy and social cohesion. These problems are all intertwined.

First, the structure. Nigeria is meant to be a federation but years of military rule succeeded in bastardising the spirit of the arrangement, making the country a quasi unitary state. Let us make no mistake about this. There are semblance of federalism. The states have their political aparati, run their budgets and have governors and deputies who, like the president and deputy, have constitutional immunity. When it is recognised that not even the president of the Senate (the leader of the legislative arm and the country’s No. 3 citizen) enjoys that immunity, the depth of the arrangement can be appreciated. 

Beyond these, the states need federal approval to carry out tasks which are fundamental to their ability to chart independent economic directions. A coastal state like Akwa Ibom needs federal approval to build a seaport in its territory. Compare this with Dubai, one of the federating units of the United Arab Emirate (UAE) that is attempting to turn Dubai into a global commercial centre, and the limitations of the Nigerian structure becomes apparent. 

Revenue is appropriated by the federal government and shared out to the federating units instead of the other way round. The state have no security units of their own. This leaves them at the mercy of the political forces at the centre. Where the state is run by an opposition party, the constitutional designation of the governor as state’s chief security officer becomes a hollow provision. 

The country is also grappling with security issues. In the northeast, Boko Haram is still attacking communities at will. In the northwest, armed bandits kidnap and steal at will. It has gotten so bad that the governor of Zamfara begged the federal government to declare a state of emergency, a development that will  limit his own powers. 

In the central region, herdsmen are wiping out entire communities with such brutality that they resemble war zones like Yemen. The herdsmen have become sovereigns. Despite killing close to 5,000 of their countrymen in the past four years, not a single one of them has been arrested and put on trial. A state governor even confessed to paying them to stop the killings. The country now needs to address this apparent helplessness. Then there is the matter of social cohesion. It does not help a country if segments of the population feel excluded. President Buhari needs to consciously work on making every segment of the population feel they belong. 

Finally, the President has the economy to deal with. that is the subject of our cover story by Martins Azuwike, an economist who has acquited himself as a journalist. If the president can fix the economy (and other issues) within his second and final tenure, he will leave the scene a national hero.

Gaining from the brain drain

Moffat Ekoriko sets out a pathway for  Africa to gain from the brain drain

Nigeria’s labour minister Chris Ngige recently committed the faux pas of the year. He said Nigerian doctors who want to migrate abroad can do so since the country has surplus doctors. He added that their migration would even help as they would be remitting money home. 

While people have attacked him for his comments about Nigeria having enough doctors (which is not true), most missed the second part of his justification: foreign currency inflows. At about the same time, a post on social media advised the Nigerian government to establish a ministry of diaspora affairs after it turned out that diaspora remittances at $24.3bn for 2018 are fast approaching the amount of foreign exchange the country earns from oil annually. It is possible that remittances have already overtaken oil, given that, as with all matters of foreign inflows in Nigeria, there is a robust parallel market that would not be captured by official statistics. Even based on the official data, the remittances account for 6.1 percent of Nigeria’s GDP.

The country is not alone in reaping from its diaspora. Egypt grosses $28.9bn a year, accounting for 11.6 per cent of its GDP. The highest dependence on remittances is that of the Comoros at 19.1 percent of GDP. This is followed by Gambia at 15.3 percent.  

While attention is focused on remittances, Africa is missing out on the multiple benefits it can derive by tapping into the opportunities offered by its diaspora. With a little organisation, the continent could use the diaspora to fast-track economic growth and deepen developments in infrastructure and social services. The first step is for African governments to be aware of and recognise the potential. Ethiopia is the only country paying attention to its diaspora as an economic growth engine. There is hardly an African country with a ministry of diaspora affairs. That recognition of potentials would mean that political energy is focused on creating structures and programmes to integrate the diaspora into the domestic economic framework. It would also mean that Africans outside the continent feel a sense of connection to the homeland.

This recognition would also open the minds of African leaders to those whose forebears were taken to the Americas as slaves. They have been abandoned in a wilderness of stranded identity. A Nigerian legislator tried to sponsor a bill to give them the right of return to the country, but the economic potential of such an outcome was either not recognised or appreciated. Imagine inflows triggered by African Americans buying properties in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya.

Next, every African country needs to build a comprehensive database of its people abroad. This database will capture information like education, skills, age and employment. Schemes that tap into their expertise for the benefit of the motherland can be developed.  Imagine Nigeria’s many professors of medicine in the UK and US returning home at the end of their career to impart their skills in medical schools across the country. Imagine financial experts spending their immediate post-retirement years to deepen and leverage their global contacts to attract financial inflows into the motherland. Universities could access the database to approach lecturers to take up sabbaticals in Africa. This database would be most relevant in tracking and engaging future generations who may feel less of an attachment to the continent than their parents who were first generation immigrants.

There is still the issue of money. Most remittances are for personal projects and support for extended family members. The inflows can be deepened if governments actively encourage their citizens overseas to make saving remittances. Ghana has already shown what a success this can be. It is estimated that diaspora savings are as high as 85 percent of that country’s gross national savings. The challenge is that with the instability of African currencies, a system has to be created for such savings to be made in convertible currencies. Nigeria is well positioned for this given that it already allows foreign currency domiciliary accounts. These savings, if properly managed, can provide macro-economy stability, especially in countries that depend on fluctuating commodity prices. 

Sub-Saharan African countries also issue bonds. Nigeria successfully issued a $300m diaspora bond in 2017. Ethiopia successfully sold $56m in bonds to its diaspora last year after failing in its first attempt some years ago.

Beyond this, Africa could tap into the skills of the diaspora for its development planning. Having seen how developed societies work, the Africans in the diaspora have visions of what Africa should be. If exploited, last year’s $46bn remittances to the motherland would be an insignificant footnote of the contributions of the diaspora to an African renaissance. It is time to gain from the brain drain.                                  

 

Intervention Agency takes on Niger Delta development

With 18 years under its belt and a new management in place, the Niger Delta Development Commission has a renewed spring in its step as it continues its mantra of ‘making a difference’ to the lives of ordinary people in the region

For the people of the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s oil producing region, no intervention by the federal government has changed their development narrative like the setting up of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), 18 years ago. Despite enormous challenges, the intervention agency, under successive managements, has continued to work towards the achievement of its core mandate for which it was established by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2000.

The current interim board of the Commission, led by Nelson Brambaifa as Acting Managing Director,  which was instituted on January 25 alongside the Acting Executive Director Finance and Administration, Chris Amadi, and the Acting Executive Director Projects, Samuel Adjogbe, was another quick response in a series of efforts to address  the myriad problems still facing Niger Deltans.

Brambaifa has started to chart a new course for the agency by accelerating the pace of infrastructural and manpower development without recourse to political, ethnic or other divisive sentiments. His appointment has brought renewed hope to local communities, who for too long have felt left out of the rewards of what has been the country’s biggest success story – oil and gas.  

From political leaders to the proverbial common man in the street, fulsome expressions of gratitude for the work done are putting a fresh bounce into the NDDC’s 18-year old mission to ensure that the Niger Delta “is socially stable, politically peaceful, economically prosperous and ecologically regenerative”.

Okezie Ikpeazu, the governor of Abia State, recently told a Commission delegation in Umuahia, the state capital: “There seems to be a reinvigoration and a new verve. People now see NDDC in a better light. The previous experience where NDDC projects were looked at with suspicion appears to be over.”

Cross River State governor, Benedict Ayade, echoes the view, pointing to recent emergency restoration work on an important local highway. He said: “The Calabar-Itu Road repairs have helped us to raise our revenue profile and re-invigorate our economy. In fact, the Commission has directly put money into our pockets and helped our budget. We must celebrate the NDDC for coming to our rescue. They deserve all our praises.”

In Mbiakong, Uruan local government of Akwa Ibom State, community leader Aniefiok Udoh was equally effusive: “We are grateful to God and to the NDDC for coming to our aid. Our problem is now half solved as farm produce can now be transported with ease to the market. Soon we hope that the cost of foodstuffs will begin to come down, too.”

The Brambaifa-led interim management team has expressed its determination to enhance the delivery of projects by improving the transparency of its operations, leveraging on technology to increase accountability and efficiency. There has already been  widespread consultation with a variety of stakeholders to gain the support required to fast-track development in the region.

At the core of new thinking is the urgent need to facilitate sustainable ways of making money by strengthening the traditional livelihoods of the people, all part of a shared vision of tackling poverty, creating employment, preserving the environment and boosting agriculture and aquaculture.

The preceding NDDC board had initiated what it called the 4-R Initiative, targeted at “restructuring the balance sheet”, which had about N1.2 trillion worth of on-going projects; reforming the governance systems to prevent past mistakes recurring; restoring the core mandate of the Commission as laid out in its 2007 Master Plan; and “re-affirming commitment to doing what’s right and proper at all times”. 

The reform programme now ensures that budgets are prepared in such a way that the Commission is able to deliver “high impact” social welfare programmes that improve the living conditions of the myriad communities living in the region.      

Partners for life     

One of the NDDC’s major undertakings over the past 18 years has been to ensure that information technology plays a central role in priority development areas, particularly education, with N1.4 trillion already spent on 3,424 completed projects, including extending internet connectivity. Since 2016, the NDDC has stepped up its efforts in this direction, planning on how best to use it to build human capacity and fast-track social and economic development in the region.

As always, the strategy involves engagement with the key stakeholders and partners. The NDDC has since written to President Muhammadu Buhari, urging him to re-activate the hitherto comatose Commission’s Advisory Committee and the Project Monitoring Committee. Another body that is critical to a coordinated response to the development challenges of the Niger Delta is the Partners for Sustainable Development Forum.

Such partnerships  have led to greater collaboration among state and local governments, oil and gas companies, donor agencies, civil society and community-based organisations as well as other traditional institutions.

The NDDC has also linked up with the International Fund for Agricultural Development on a $60m (about N21bn) job-creation programme aimed at reducing youth unemployment.

Meanwhile, memoranda of understanding have been signed with international donor funded organisations such as the World Bank (Nigeria), Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND), Facility for Oil Sector Transparency (FOSTER), and Market Development for the Niger Delta Programme (MADE).

Specifically, PIND is looking to provide support for technical resources, while FOSTER is focused on helping to bring education, healthcare and other services closer to the people of the region. For its part, MADE will promote the development of agriculture value chains in the Niger Delta as part of the NDDC’s programme to get thousands of young people into jobs.

The work of another organisation, BudgIT, will help to simplify the budget of the federal and state governments and other sub-national institutions to ensure that the NDDC’s financial performance is in the public domain.

The NDDC is also working with USAID to support a wide range of programmes, among them women’s empowerment, gender equality and crisis and conflict management. Its partnership with the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) will enable the NDDC to track revenue due to it from the federal government and oil and gas firms operating in the region.

The Commission’s collaboration with the World Bank will allow it to tap into policy expertise and long term development funds that can be used to target specific sectors, while its work with the regional cooperation outfit, the BRACED Commission, will help it better co-ordinate with South-South state governors in the implementation of its core objectives.  

Making a difference

In fulfilment of its mandate, the Niger Delta Development Commission has awarded 8,557 projects since inception, of which 3,424 have been completed and handed over to communities and states. There are 2,257 on-going projects, while 2,506 are waiting to be started. The Commission has located poor-performing projects worth more than N200bn, with a view to freeing up or recovering funds tied to them.

The infrastructural project portfolio is distributed across civil works such as buildings, canalisation and reclamation, jetties and shore protection, electrification, roads and bridges, water supply, buildings, flood control and erosion, as well as in equipping and furnishing of schools and health centres across the region.

A key project in Delta State is the construction of 132kv Transmission Line and 1 No. 30MVA 132/33kv Substation at Ughelli and Ozoro. The power infrastructure project was completed in 2017. The Afiesere substation is a double circuit transmission substation that is powered through the 132KV transmission line from Ughelli. However, the double circuit arrangement provides for the extension of the transmission line from Ughelli to another 30MVA substation at Ozoro. The delivery of this project will help sustain as small scale businesses and cottage industries.

There are also programmes covering training and capacity building for oil spill response, telecommunications, building technology, entrepreneurship development and waste-to-wealth, among others.

Healthcare initiatives have been extensive with more than three million people receiving treatment in 366 medical missions across the region between 2007 and 2016. Emergency relief materials were recently delivered to a number of communities, Okerenkoko, Oporoza and Opobo among them, and seven healthcare facilities equipped. The supply of insecticide-treated mosquito nets for school pupils in all the 185 local government areas, essential drugs to primary health centres, and the immunisation of school children were all undertaken, as well as strengthening of dialysis services and delivery of medical equipment in selected hospital, plus the installation of  special refrigeration units and medical incinerators.

The commission has also undertaken to provide skills training for youths and women with the aim of reducing chronic unemployment. Welding and fabrication, furniture making and woodwork, catering and confectionery, food processing, home management, modern printing technology, fashion design and tailoring, computer technology and programming, solar power maintenance, maritime technology and entrepreneurship development are among the long list of fields available. Other programmes include Telecommunication (Fibre Optics) Training  and the Waste-To-Wealth Recycling Hubs. The NDDC is collaborating, too, with Smedan (the Small and Medium  Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria) and the Behavioural Health Integration Programme (BHIP) to establish an enterprise, innovation and growth hub based in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, as well with NGO the Thespian Crew Academy to train youths in the film industry.

Meanwhile, in 2011 the Commission went into partnership with Esi to develop a skills  training scheme in ‘home finishing’ trades such as plumbing, carpentry, floor tilling, electrical wiring and painting and decorating. Last year, 100 youngsters graduated from the scheme.  

Healthy minds and bodies

Between 2017 and 2018, the Directorate of Education, Health and Social Services distributed desks and benches to 364 primary and secondary schools in the nine NDDC-mandate states to create a conducive environment for learning.

So far, 1,411 students have benefitted from the Post Graduate Foreign Scholarship scheme, which was set up in 2010 to fill the local content gap in the oil and gas sector. Just over a thousand were supported at MSc level and 345 at PhD. Five  of the MSc students graduated with distinction from Coventry University in England and one from Aberdeen University in Scotland. Ubong Peters, a PhD student, won the three-minute thesis competition in Australia, while Augustine Osarogiagbon of Memorial University in the US completed his PhD in record time and has been offered a dual doctorate programme with two graduate assistants to work with him. A post-doctoral fellowship is also in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, Charles Igwe, studying  for a PhD in construction engineering at Concordia University in Canada, saved the Montreal Area Municipality more than $1bn by re-designing a major road interchange construction project in the city.

In the area of health, the Commission distributed hepatitis B and typhoid vaccines to primary health centres in the all the senatorial districts in the Niger Delta. Additionally, the NDDC supplied  protective kits against Lassa fever – 30,000 – and monkey pox virus to hospitals and clinics. Hospital equipment was also donated to six health facilities in the three senatorial districts of Akwa Ibom State. In line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, special medical referrals and check-ups were under-taken in an effort to monitor and contain ill-health. 

The NDDC distributed relief materials to victims of disasters and  those from displaced communities, including health packs and food items. Assistance to the less privileged was extended to the disabled, selected orphanages and aged people’s homes. Widows have not been left out either, with an empowerment programme set up to provide start-up capital for them to engage in small-scale businesses. The NDDC has also been equipping prisons with items like computers and printers and generators.

Women and youngsters first

The NDDC has embarked on the installation of its Rural Telephony Network aimed at  improving access to educational and healthcare resources for women and youths. It will also help farmers to sell their produce to people in urban areas, thereby reducing the rural-urban migration. The project has so far covered three communities in Ukwa West Local Government Area (LGA) of Abia State, Oloibiri community in Ogbia LGA, Opokuma and Agbere communities in Bayelsa State, as well as Unenurhie and Bolu Apelebiri communities in Delta State.

Meanwhile, the NDDC has organised Anti-Vandalism, Sensitisation and Awareness Campaign seminars for youths in the nine Niger Delta states in a bid to protect crude oil pipelines. One-day Women Entrepreneurship and Drug Abuse Prevention workshops were similarly organised across the region.

Growing better all the time

In agriculture, following determined efforts by the new board, the Commission is reviving its rice processing plants with a combined capacity of 210 metric tonnes per day at Elele Alimini in Rivers State and Mbiabet-Ikpe in Akwa Ibom State.

At a recent ceremony to finalise the partnership with private company Elephant Group to rebuild and run the plants, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Heineken Lokpobiri, commended the NDDC for its “strategic engagement” with his ministry.

He said: “I am happy that the NDDC rice mills will be put to good use. This will employ many people and this is one of the ways to reduce youth restiveness  and contribute to food sufficiency”. 

The Commission also provided 900 tractors and accessories donated to farmers to improve mechanisation of agriculture.

Industry markers

The Directorate of Commercial and Industrial Development sponsored an Oil Spill Response Management Training Programme in conjunction with the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency. Its aim was to reduce environmental pollution resulting from spills caused mainly by the ageing pipelines but sometimes by sabotage at the hands of Niger Delta militants. The training aimed to create a pool of qualified workers as well as address one of the principle causes of unrest in the region – the damage done to farms and fisheries by oil industry pollution.    

In the all-important petroleum sector, the NDDC is working on a public private partnership deal to establish modular refineries, starting with the Amakpe International Refinery in Akwa Ibom State. Towards this end, the Commission is currently collaborating with a number of key stakeholders, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria. 

    

Road to success

In Bayelsa State, Nembe stands as a metaphor of Niger Delta neglect. That’s why the 27km Ogbia-Nembe Road, with its seven bridges and more than 50 culverts, has been so welcomed. The N24.5bn road project, which begins at Oloibiri and cuts through dense rainforest, is a partnership between the NDDC and Shell Petroleum Development Company, and is already connecting 14 communities that were previously inaccessible by road. They include Emakalakala, Opume, Akipelai, Etiama, Ogbolomabiri, Bassambiri. Considered one of the NDDC’s star projects, it illustrates the kind of challenges confronting the Niger Delta in terms of its difficult topography as mangrove swamps had to be negotiated by the bridges and culverts. The road is now completed and will be ready for commissioning by the end of the year.

Previously parts of the area were not open to vehicular travel. Septuagenarian Madam Roseline Tony said: “I was here when the first car [belonging to Deputy Governor Gboribiogha Jonah] passed through. We danced and danced at the sight of it. I was so happy because I never knew I would see a vehicle drive into my village in my life time. Besides that, I have started making money from the little shop I opened by the roadside for travellers.”

Former chair of the Senate Committee of the Niger Delta, Peter Nwaoboshi, added: “This is what an interventionist agency is supposed to be doing – to link up these towns. We want to encourage you for this beautiful job you have done.”

Bayelsa also saw the construction Of Otuoke Internal Roads (Phase 2), Ogbia Lga is a 1.8km rigid pavement road project that was completed and commissioned in 2017.   

The NDDC has meanwhile signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ondo State Government to partner in the construction of the 50km Akodo-Araromi/Ibeju-Lekki Road, connecting Ondo and Lagos states. Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, said at the signing, which was witnessed by then NDDC chair Victor Ndoma-Egba, Nsima Ekere, then MD, and the Executive Director, Projects, Sam Adjogbe: “I concur with the new direction at NDDC to focus on few projects that impact the lives of the people of the Niger Delta. The development focus of the current NDDC Board has my full support.”

The Edo State government has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the NDDC for the construction of the Benin-Abraka Road. Governor Godwin Obaseki noted that this was a high priority project for the state in that it linked Benin to the oil producing hub of Edo State.

A similar pact with Delta State will see the construction of the Omadino-Okerenkoko-Escravos Road, significant because it will provide access to the once dreaded hot-bed of militancy in the Niger Delta. It will also link to the Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Escravos Gas Terminal and a number of communities in a major oil and gas hub of the region.

Between 2016 and 2017, the NDDC has undertaken a total of 415 emergency projects across the nine states to salvage dilapidated roads. These projects cover the important East-West Road at critical points in Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom states, the strategic Itu-Calabar Road, the Ikom-Calabar Road, the Aba-Port Harcourt Road.

The intervention was applauded in all quarters and received favourable mention on the floor of the Senate. Senator Magnus Abe, representing Rivers South East Senatorial zone, commended the NDDC for taking steps to repair the failed sections of the East-West Road and urged the Senate to provide more funds for the interventionist agency.

Senator Peter Nwaoboshi said in an interview at the time: “If the NDDC had not intervened in the Itu-Calabar road, the Cross River State government may not have been able to mobilise resources to tackle the challenge. People are commending the efforts of the NDDC in this direction. It shows that the Commission is listening to the people.”

In the past two years, the Commission has also paid attention to meeting debts owed contractors, as well as completing inherited projects. Among those completed is  Watch Tower Road, Bakassi Shoe Industrial Market, Osisioma,  Abia State: Prior to the contract’s award in February 2015, the road was impassable during the rainy season due to flooding. To overcome this, a rigid pavement design was adopted and the completed scheme has resulted in greater business activity around the market.

Construction Of Crystal Park Road, Aba/Owerri Road, also in Abia State, was awarded in 2014 for a 1.22km single carriage asphalt pavement with reinforced concrete drains. Works commenced in March 2016 and were completed in April 2018. 

The NDDC, has also commissioned the 3.2km  Ubaha-Umuogba Orindu link Road in Umuahia North LGA of the state.

In Akwa Ibom State construction Of Oku Iboku Internal Road, Oku Iboku, Itu LGA, was awarded in 2014 and completed three years later. It is of a flexible pavement design with reinforced concrete trapezoidal drains and covers a total of 5.8km.

The NDDC has been busy in major streets of the capital, Uyo. They include Nsentip, Udo, Atakpo, Ukana offot and Nkemba, Udo Eduok, H-Line, Ewet Housing Estate, as well as some sections of failed internal roads in Federal Housing. It has completed 41 out of the 67 emergency repair works, while others are ongoing. A jubilant Imaobong Essien, a seamstress living on Nkemba Street in Uyo, said: “NDDC has cleaned up our streets and made things easier for us. We are very grateful.”

This is echoed by Chief Ntekpere Akpanusoh, another resident: “It won’t be wrong if one says that the repairs of Nsetip Street deserve a testimony in the church. The road had been abandoned for years. The first day we saw caterpillars and tractors moving into the street to work, residents filled the street in celebration.”

At Ibeno LGA, those living along the Iwouchang-Okorutip axis, hailed the Commission for constructing the 600m bridge and 6.7km road in the area, saying that the bridge had prevented drownings due to boat accidents. It was the same at Ikot Abasi LGA where residents applauded the NDDC for recent road works.  

The construction Of Aba Eto Road, Odiono/Isutbe, Ikot Abasi, a 900m rigid pavement road with reinforced concrete drains, is another key highways scheme that has really made a difference to the Odiono community and environs.

Completed in 2017, the Igoli-Abakapa Junction Road, Ogoja LGA,Cross River State, was conceived to connect Ogoja and Yala LGAs with the purpose of reducing travel time between the two. It was awarded in December 2014 and provided for the construction and rehabilitation of 4.2km asphalt  pavement.

The Uti Agba’s Palace Road, in Obudu LGA of Cross River, was awarded in 2011 and links to the palace of the King of Obudu. Works began in 2012 but were later abandoned by the contractor. The project, 1.5km of asphalt pavement, was eventually completed in 2017 as a result of federal government intervention. 

The contract for the Betukwelohong Road in Obudu LGA was awarded in 2014 to connect Betukwel and Ohong communities with Obudu Town. Completed in 2017, it runs for 1.7km and has by all accounts been a boon for farmers wishing to trade their produce further afield.  

In Delta State, the Tebu-Gbokoda-Udo Road, Udo-Ajamita Road and Tebu-Gbokoda Road Olero Creek community provides access to the many coastal communities within and around Olero Creek Clan in Warri North LGA. Executed in various lots, it covers a total of 8km rigid pavement with reinforced concrete drains. The completion and commissioning of the project in November 2017 brought vehicular traffic to the Olero Creek district for the first time and eliminated the difficulties associated with the transportation of goods and services via the river.  

Construction of 3km Osubi New Layout Road, Okuokoko, Okpe LGA of Delta State, was awarded in December 2014. It has an asphalt pavement design with reinforced concrete drains for the discharge of storm water. 

Also in Delta, the Jumu Jayen Road Layout, off NTA Expressway, Ekpan, Uvwie LGA, was awarded in 2012 and is approximately 1.3km of asphalt pavement road that has opened up areas that 

were previously inaccessible to motor vehicles. 

Bashir loses power

After 30 years in power, Omar al-Bashir has been ousted in a military coup following a popular uprising. By Hawwa Adam

For years the international community has been trying to put Omar al-Bashir behind bars but in the end it was his own people that saw him jailed.

After three decades of running the country with an iron grip, Bashir was ousted in a military coup on April 11 following massive street protests. 

He is now under arrest in Khartoum’s Kober prison. Although Sudan’s public prosecutor has begun investigating the 75-year-old on charges of money laundering and possession of large sums of foreign currency, military leaders have ruled out extraditing him to face trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. 

The demonstrations began several months ago after Bashir introduced emergency austerity measures that saw a sharp hike in the price of bread and fuel. But trouble had been brewing for some years due to a combination of crippling US sanctions and the loss of oil fields following South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011. 

Although most sanctions were lifted in 2017, the economy remained in poor shape and there were sporadic outbreaks of unrest as living standards plunged. 

The current protests began last December   as people from all walks of life took to the streets. They included, doctors, health workers, lawyers and journalists, many of them members of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has helped to organise the mass sit-ins. Women were also notably out in force as well as young people. 

At first they focused on rising costs but then turned their ire on Bashir, demanding that he step down from office. The protests reached a climax on April 6 –the anniversary of a 1985 uprising that removed Sudan’s then hard man Jaafar Nimeiri. A few days later the military intervened. 

Bashir, a former army commander came to power in 1989 and assumed the presidency in 1993. Sanctions were imposed on Sudan in 1997 after the US accused it of supporting terrorist groups, including al-Qaida. 

After signing a peace deal to end the 21 year civil war between the north and south of the country in 2005, conflict in the marginalised western region of Darfur worsened and the government’s brutal crackdown led to the ICC’s accusations. 

Despite the issue of an international arrest warrant, Bashir won consecutive elections in 2010 and 2015, though the latter was boycotted by most opposition parties.

While the crowds welcomed his overthrow, protest leaders have warned they will not accept a permanent military government and rejected its announcement that it would hand over power in two years’ time. In defiance of a curfew they maintained their occupation of the streets outside the military’s HQ, saying they had broken off talks with the government because it contained “remnants” of the old regime. 

They made it clear that it must dismiss three of its members, who until the April 6 were defending Bashir and involved in the use of excessive force to clear the streets. They three are Galal Aldien Alshiekh, former deputy head of the National Intelligence Security Service, former police chief Altayeb Babkir and Omar Alzein, head of the Islamic Front organisation in the armed forces.

“People fear the military council will try to stay in power as long as they can. And that is not driven by any actual things that are being done now, but by fear of the past. It is what happened after both of Sudan’s previous revolutions in 1964 and 1985,” an opposition source told Al-Jazeera.

Demonstrators also swiftly rebuffed an offer of $3bn in aid to Sudan from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on April 21, saying they could “keep their money”

“They are lobbying and using money to try and control Sudan. We have enough resources to look after ourselves and our interests,” Adil Gasem Alseed, a trader, told Al Jazeera.

“"We can rebuild our country without their help. We say thank you, please keep your money,” the 52-year-old said.

After ordering protesters to take down their road blocks, the military took a more conciliatory stance. The head of the military transitional council, Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, told the BBC’s HARDTalk programme on April 22 that the army will not use force against protesters who want it to leave power.

“Protesters have a right to demonstrate anywhere, and we want to reach an agreement [to hand over power], we are not here to stay. The army will go back to the barracks,” he said.

Meanwhile, a leader of one of several armed rebel groups in Sudan ordered a three-month ceasefire. Abdulaziz al-Hilu, of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), which has been fighting in Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, said the truce was a “goodwill gesture” and called for immediate transfer of power to civilians.      

Bouteflika over pushes his luck

A veteran of the independence movement,  Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid to run for a fifth presidential term proved to be his downfall. By Rita Hernandes 

For Algerians it was a real slap in the face. Felled by a stroke and barely able to walk or talk, their president of 20 years, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, announced in February that he was going to run for a fifth term. 

Tens of thousands poured out onto the streets in protest calling on the 82-year-old to withdraw his candidacy. He eventually did  but the mass demonstrations continued. On April 2 he stepped down as president but, fed up with years of corruption and state repression, people want his inner circle to quit as well as they march through the streets demanding “radical change”.

It is quite a turnaround for a country that  during the 1960s was once host to liberation movements from around the world following its armed overthrow of French colonial rule.  This is where Bouteflika began his steady ascent into Algerian politics, joining the military wing of the National Liberation Front (FLN) in 1956 during the bloody war of independence.   

The young Bouteflika quickly rose through FLN ranks and was appointed minister of youth, sports and tourism at the age of 25 in Algeria’s first post-independence government led by Ben Bella. In 1963, he became the world’s youngest minister of foreign affairs – a record that he still holds to this day – and Eldridge Cleaver and Che Guevara were among the fellow radicals he welcomed to Algeria. Nelson Mandela came too and was offered military training. 

Despite its revolutionary fervour, deep divisions in the government saw Bella ousted in 1965. A trusted ally of the new leader, Houari Boumediene, Bouteflika retained his post and in 1967 caused an international stir when broke diplomatic relations with the US over its role in the Six Day War against Israel. 

In 1974, he was appointed president of the UN General Assembly and in an unprecedented move invited Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat  to address it for the first time.

However, his political career looked like it was coming to an abrupt end when corruption charges forced him to go into self-imposed exile in 1981. He returned to Algeria in 1987 and was soon readmitted to the FLN’s central committee. Algeria’s fortunes, though, took a turn for the worse as the FLN’s efforts to hang on to power in 1991 via annulled elections sparked a 10-year civil war in which an estimated 150,000 people were killed. 

After turning down the opportunity to run for presidency, Bouteflika eventually agreed to do so in 1999, winning a landslide victory. He is credited with ending the civil war and rebuilding the country and its shattered economy, helped in no small measure by record high oil prices. But there were accusations that the president’s family and inner circle were benefitting financially from the massive construction projects taking place.  

In 2008, the president changed the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in office. When the Arab Spring broke out in 2011 ousting his fellow heads of state in Tunisia and Egypt, Bouteflika was able to use the country’s vast oil wealth and fears of a return to civil strife to stay in power. 

By 2012, it appeared he was ready to step down. “My generation is finished,” he said in a speech. “Our time is over. Our time is over. Our time is over.” 

However, despite suffering a stroke in 2013 that confined him to a wheelchair, Bouteflika announced would stand again. His election victory speech in 2014 was to become his last public address. After that he was rarely seen in public, prompting accusations that he was president in name only.  

Astonishingly, despite the wave of anger over his attempted fifth term, Bouteflika offered, via a letter read out on state TV, talks and constitutional reform in the event of his re-election as a way forward. When this did not quell protests, he said he would withdraw his candidacy but stay on as leader until the election to ensure a peaceful transition. This did not work either and Bouteflika appeared, probably for the last time, before TV cameras to offer his resignation after Algeria’s powerful army chief of staff, Ahmed Gaed Salah, declared that he was unfit for office. 

Abdelkader Bensalah, the speaker of the upper house of parliament, has been appointed interim president until elections are held in June but the demonstrations are still going on. Protesters have vowed to continue piling on the pressure until the whole political system, in which the military plays a significant role, is overhauled.

One man, Selmaoui Seddik, told Reuters: “God willing, we will have a 100 per cent democratic transition, this is very important. We need to remove the whole previous regime and that is the hardest thing.”  

Another said. “This is just a little victory - the biggest is still to come.”  

Nigeria Elections: Choice between competence and integrity

The forthcoming elections in Nigeria is a choice between the integrity of President Muhammadu Buhari and the competence of Atiku Abubakar, the leading contenders in the race. Moffat Ekoriko and Peterclaver Ebochue report

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, one of Nigeria’s most formidable politicians and the leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress set off the race to frame the issues in the country’s forthcoming elections. The country is going to the polls, in February and March, to elect the president, 32 state governors and federal and state legislators. In an allegory on the charcter of the two leading candidates, Tinubu said, “Leave a naira on the table with Buhari in the room, you will find the naira on the table when you return,” He was alluding to the famed integrity of President Muhammadu Buhai who is running for a second term in office, after his feat in defeating an incumbent Nigerian president in 2015. His main contender is Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s vice president for eight years (1999 – 2007) and a successful businessman who is running on the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The party became Nigeria’s main opposition party after losing to Buhari’s APC at the last election.

An anonymous writer on social media latched on to Tinubu’s comment to crack a joke, albeit one which now clearly reframes the election. According to him, ‘If you leave Buhari with N1 in the room, he will pretend not to see it while his aides will steal the money. If you leave it with Tinubu, both the N1 and the table will disappear by the time you return. If you leave it with Atiku, he will multiply the money to N1,000, take 50 per cent and and leave 50 per cent on the table for you.’

In Tinubu’s eyes, Buhari’s integrity is unquestionable, much like that of a colonial banker. To the man who amplified his comment, Atiku’s integrity may be questionable but he has the competence to improve the situation. There is no point bringing Tinubu into the picture since he is not a candidate. The banter is an apt framing of the issues in the election. Nigerians are asked to chose between integrity (as in Buhari) and competence (as in Atiku). Interestingly, none of the top candidates is credited, even by their staunchest supporters, as having both attributes.

Those who have both, are campaigning on the fringes. They are Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), a an economist, journalist and former deputy governor of the central bank;   Oby Ezekwesili, former Vice President of World Bank, former Minister of education and Co-founder of ‘Bring Back Our Girls’, BBOG, Movement who is running on the platform of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN);  and Adesina Ayodele Fagbenro-Byron, a former governance adviser with the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, a lawyer and musician running on Kowa Party platform. As at the last count, the Indpendent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has registered 91 political parties though only 46 parties fielded candidates for the presidential race. Of this number, a handful of the parties are said to be serious while the rest are believed to have gone into the race just for the records or probably to test the ‘waters’. According to reports, most of the newly registered political parties do not have the grassroot support and structures across the 36 states of the country.

Part of the campaign strategy of the APC is to continue to paint PDP as the party of corruption. The party has not wasted time since it took over power in May 2015 to blame Nigeria’s woes, be it economic or security, on the corruption which it claims PDP foisted on the country. In fact, its campaigners in 2015 had asked Nigerians to vote in Buhari so that he ‘will kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria’. More than three years on, the party is still anchoring its legitimacy in power on the anti corruption mantra.

APC is quick to reel out its achievements on the anti corruption front. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the government anti corruption agency, recovered N473.06 billion ($1.3 billion) as proceeds of corruption and other economic crimes in 2017, the last year for which data are available. Many Nigerians still believe that Buhari is the man to fight corruption, despite attempts by the opposition to puncture his integrity persona. The challenge the opposition faces is that despite being a public officer since the age of 19 (bar the 30 years he was out of power), Buhari has no oil bloc or business that can be traced to his name.

The opposition has moved to demystify the president’s persona. They have pointed out and correctly too, that the president is surrounded by known corrupt persons, and officials of his government caught with their hands in the oily Nigerian pot have been let off with slaps on the wrist. Immediately  he inaugurated his presidential campaign council, the PDP quickly asked him to send the list of members to the EFCC for vetting if he means business. The most damaging counter attack appears to be that of petroleum subsidy. When the president was campaigning for office in 2015, he accused his predecessor of fraud in subsiding 30 million litres of petrol a day when the assessed consumption was 20 million litres. Bukola Saraki, the president of Nigeria’s Senate and now the director general of Atiku’s campaign council says Buhari’s government is subsiding 50 million litres a day. Worse, the funds for the subsidy was never appropriated by the National Assembly. As at May, the government was spending $7 million daily to subsidise fuel imports. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), the state oil company, which is the sole importer of the product calls the subsidy ‘under recoveries’, the difference between the cost of the fuel it imports and the pump price of the product. The subsidy tells part of the story. For an oil producing country, Nigeria still runs a high fuel import bill, which was $2.7 billion by the first half of 2018.

The ruling APC has latched on to the perception of corruption against Abubakar. His former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, who later endorsed his candidature had literally written off the candidate as a man unfit to hold public office. To Atiku’s handlers, the message has shifted to his competence and the promise to turn round an economy which has depreciated on all known indices. The attempt to play up the integrity plus competence reputation of his running mate, Peter Obi, an economist and businessman, has not gained traction. Reason: Buhari’s running mate, Yemi Osibanjo, a professor of law and the current vice president, is also perceived as honest and competent: rare attributes for  a Nigerian politician.

The opposition wants President Buhari to run on the basis of his performance in office, which has been rather poor. On security, the president has not delivered as promised. Boko Haram insurgents have become bolder in recent weeks taking over towns like Baga, close to the shores of Lake Chad. His biggest security challenge has been killer herdsmen, recognised globally as the world’s fourth deadliest terrorist group. The president has not been able to reign in the herdsmen, sparking accusations that at best, he is a passive supporter of their actions. Last year, the international Society for Civil Liberties and rule of Law, an NGO, counted 1,750 people, mainly Christians, killed by the herdsmen, in the first half of 2018. The group, said the death count from the activities of herdsmen and Boko Haram, from June 2015 when the government came into to power to mid 2018 stood at 8,800.

On the socio-economic index, Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the highest number of poor people. Given that Nigeria’s population is one seventh of India’s, it is an appaling performance. The national currency has depreciated by 50 per cent and the country’s statistican says the number of unemployed Nigerians increased by 3.3 million to 20.9 million in the third quarter of 2018.

President Buhari has hit back with his government’s achievements. Top of the list is the transformation in agriculture, which has seen the country achieving near sufficieny in food production. Godwin Emefiele, the central bank governor says the country’s monthly food import bill has fallen from $665.4 million in January 2015, four months before the new government came into power, to $160.4 million by October last year. According to him, the cumulative savings over the period came to $21 billion. The government has also invested heavily on infrastructure, putting in a record $9 billion in the last two years.

With INEC, Nigeria’s electoral umpire scheduling the presidential election for the 16th of February, 2019, there are fears about the credibility of the exercise. PDP is worried that the security agencies will not be impartial in the policing of the elections. The heads, bar two,  of all security agencies in Nigeria are from the president’s inner circle. President Buhari succeeded in ignoring the spirit of federal character in the constitution to appoint security chiefs only from his part of the country. Uche Secondus, national chairman of PDP in reviewing the performance of the party in an election in Ekiti State last year said ‘they contested against APC and the security agencies’. NewsAfrica learnt the party still harbours that fear.

Few weeks ago, Amina Zakari, President Buhari’s niece by marriage was appointed the head of the collation centre at the electoral commission. This is being seen as part of the plot to rig the election in favour of the government. The attempt to remove the country’s highest judge, Walter Onnoghen, in breach of laid down constitutional rules is perceived as another. The government filed charges against the chief judge at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on January 11 with a summons to appear in court on Monday. The government is accusing the chief judge of failing to declare his assets in line with public service rules. To the shock of many, the government also filed a motion asking the chief judge to step down from office. Under Nigerian laws, any allegation against a judicial officer has to be reported to the National Judicial commission which is vested with the power of investigation and discipline of judges. This was not done in this case. In fact the timeline from the receipt of a petition against the chief judge to filing of charges was 48 hours, an unpredecented record in Nigeria’s law enforcement history. The move against the chief judge has attracted condemnation from politicians, civil society and lawyers.

President Buhari has also refused to sign the amended electoral bill which could have institutionalized the deployment of card reader technology. Proponents of the bill says it will check malpractices like bloated votes as the capturing of accredited voters will be transmitted in real time to a central computer. On his part, the president in refusing to sign the bill into law says it will create confusion, coming so close to the actual elections. He has, however, promised to deliver a credible and fair election.

 

Africans are seeking good governance

In August last year when Angola’s Eduardo dos Santos handed over power to a protégé, very few analysts suspected that it was the onset of the Southern Africa Spring. For one, the process lacked the socio political upheaval of the Arab Spring which threw out leaders like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi,  hitherto thought untouchable. Also, the process was internal to the ruling political circles. The 74 year old former liberation fighter, was stepping down after 38 years in power. He was Africa’s longest serving head of state. Only Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema has lasted longer in power.

Pressure from within the ruling Movimento Popularde Libertacao de Angola (MPLA), hardly visible to the outside world led to Dos Santos, increasingly frail, stepping down to allow his defence minister Joao Lourenco to carry the party’s flag in the presidential elections. This ended what was increasingly becoming his family’s capture of the state.

Analysts began to take notice when the new leader, far from being a stooge of the Dos Santos family as feared, moved against their control of state institutions. First, he sacked Isabel dos Santos, the president’s first daughter who is also Africa’s richest woman as the chair of the state’s oil company, Sonangol. Coming barely three months in office, this took many people by surprise. The new leader was not done. In January this year, he also sacked Jose Filomeno dos Santos, his predecessor son, from the country’s sovereign wealth fund where he was the head. The younger Dos Santos is now under investigation, facing possible trial for the transfer of $500 million from the country’s central bank to the UK.

It is not known what impact the Angolan experience had on the political elite in Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is plausible that the courage of the new Angolan leaders in moving against their former and revered leader emboldened certain factions in Zimbabwe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) party to move against their own revered leader. In what looked like a coup that was not a coup, Mugabe was forced to resign. This not only ended his 37 years rule, it also aborted a plot by his wife, Grace, to succeed him. The only man standing was Jacob Zuma, a politician with the proverbial cat’s nine lives. Our cover story tells the story of the end for Africa’s liberation leaders who were revered for their role in liberating their people but overstayed their time in power.

What was common in the exit from power of the three leaders was that they were engineered from within the ruling parties. It tells volumes of the grip the leaders and the erstwhile liberation movements turned political parties had on their countries, that years of attempts by the opposition came to nought. The changes indicate that the younger generation of Africans are demanding higher standards of governance from their leaders.

The spread of social media is giving lots of younger Africans a voice and a platform to challenge what was hitherto political wisdom. Some of the leaders have hung on to power by spreading fear of what would be the outcome of their exit. For many Africans, stability has been traded for good governance. People are beginning to realise that stability and good governance are not exclusive outcomes. If anything, good governance is best guarantee of a country’s stability. It is better for a country to b well run based on the rule of law, transparency of the leadership and mass participation than to tie its fate for four decades to one mortal, no matter how well intentioned.

The truth is that the end of the African big man has come although most of the leaders still hanging on to power are yet to get it. Very soon the spring of political change will reach the African francophone regions where some of the leaders are surviving in office on the back of French security support. As a Senegalese proverb puts it: no one can hold the ocean with his hands. The yearning for good governance in Africa is like a surging ocean: one can hardly think of what can control it.

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