Africa's new dawn for democracy

While the West seems to have abandoned many of its basic democratic principles during the Covid-19 pandemic, in Africa governments have been voted out of office, lockdowns overthrown – and people have been taking to the streets in defence of civil rights. NewsAfrica examines whether 2020 marks a turning point for the continent – or yet another false dawn.

‘Nigeria will never be the same again, no matter how the #EndSARS protests end,’ the Nigerian journalist Cletus Ukpong told NewsAfrica.

He was referring to the ongoing mass protests that have rocked major Nigerian cities, including Lagos, Abuja, Abakiliki, Jos, Umuahia and many more.

The demonstrations were sparked in October by a viral video of a man allegedly being killed by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).

The controversial SARS unit of the Nigerian Police Force has a long history of abuse. But what started as demonstrations against police brutality grew into an enormous mass protest – the result of pent-up anger in the West African state over the dehumanising policies of government, maladministration, and the growing problem of hunger, joblessness and high energy prices caused by the Covid-19 lockdown.

And while Africa’s most-populated country may have witnessed such mass demonstrations before, including the ‘Occupy Nigeria’ protest in January 2012, many observers claim that the #EndSARS protests have been different.

Some even called them the ‘protests of the decade’.

‘No previous protests have been so massive and so widely supported by all segments of society,’ said Dapo Olorunyomi, co-founder, CEO, and publisher of the Premium Times, who was one of the four global winners of this year’s International Press Freedom awards.

‘In the past, you would see that parents would tell their children: please, don’t go out. But now, parents encouraged their kids to participate, despite of the danger,’ said the Nigerian.

Even religious leaders have endorsed the protests. In a recent statement, several bishops, including the head of the Catholics Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, urged officials to listen to the protesters and added: ‘The audacity and impunity with which the SARS officials have been operating all the while is a manifestation of the failing state of Nigeria.’

The protests have also been remarkably well organised ‘in a way that Nigeria has never seen before’, according to Olorunyomi.

Arrangements have been made, for example, for food and water.

They have medical personnel on standby, ambulances and mobile toilets for convenience.

And the costs of the protests are being funded primarily through decentralised donations from Nigerians at home and abroad.

Local tech start-ups – most of which are led by young entrepreneurs – have also become prominent actors in the campaign, with donations for the firms being used to pay off hospital bills for those injured in protests.

Like the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the #EndSARS movement is unique in that it has no clear leader or hierarchy driving it.

Yet, thanks to the use of online platforms, the activists have managed to quickly raise global support, including from celebrities like Kanye West and Beyoncé, ‘Star Wars’ actor John Boyega and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

In Canada, England, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, the Nigerian diaspora has also organised protests in solidarity with their counterparts at home.

‘Nigerian youth were often seen as lazy and unthoughtful, a perception largely fuelled by the government,’ mused Olorunyomi.

‘Therefore, people were positively surprised by the way that these articulated, educated youth have been organising these protests.’

Several regional politicians soon endorsed the protests.

The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, for example, stated that ‘there is nothing wrong in what the young people are doing. I think we should encourage them to ask more questions.’

And the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, said that seeking an end to SARS’s brutality is a worthy cause that must be supported by all.

Within three days of the protests starting in October, Nigeria's Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced the ‘dissolution’ of SARS under pressure from protesters and politicians.

However, with the SARS officers set to be redeployed to other police departments rather than sacked, the demos have not only continued, but grown louder, with protesters calling for a total overhaul of Nigerian society.

But such muscle-flexing hasn’t be confined to Nigeria. Protest movements have popped up across Africa during the Covid-19 pandemic, and, unlike the partisan movements that flare up from time to time, these demonstrations are somewhat unique in that they’re all led by youngsters.

In Namibia, for example, the capital Windhoek has been brought to a standstill by protestors demanding immediate political action on gender-based violence.

The #ShutItAllDown protests were sparked after the body of a young woman was found in a shallow grave outside the Namibian port town of Walvis Bay.

The protests later spread to other towns when, a week later, a 27-year-old woman was allegedly brutally murdered by her boyfriend because she wanted to end their relationship. 

In a petition addressed to the speaker of the National Assembly, the campaigners called on Namibian authorities to declare a state emergency over gender-based violence, and review sentencing laws for sex offenders and murderers, among others.

They also demanded the resignation of Doreen Sioka, minister of gender equality, poverty eradication and social welfare.

Like neighbouring South Africa, violence against women is a persistent problem in Namibia, in particular, sexual violence and ‘femicide’ – the intentional killing of women or girls because they are females.

Reports earlier this year said police were receiving at least 200 cases of domestic violence a month in the country of slightly under 2.5 million people, while more than 1,600 cases of rape were reported during the 18 months ending in June 2020.

Campaigners said that, like in other parts of the world, the lockdown introduced to slow the spread of Covid-19 had made life even harder for domestic violence survivors forced to self-isolate with their abusers.

But protests haven’t been confined to Namibia and Nigeria.

Young people also took to the streets in cities across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in October to campaign about historic murders and rapes committed in the east of the country.

Meanwhile, Zimbabweans have stared down Emmerson Mnangagwa’s infamous security forces as part of the #ZimbabweanLivesMatter protests kicked off by local rappers and influencers.

And it’s not just protests. Despite the pandemic, Africa has witnessed a number of national elections in the past few weeks, including in the Seychelles, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Tanzania, Ghana and Burkina Faso.

This flurry of polling stands in sharp contrast to Europe, where scheduled elections have been cancelled, with civil rights groups lamenting a deterioration of democratic values.

Experts from the American think-tank Freedom House identified what they called a troubling ‘crisis of confidence’ in the US and Europe, where governments have curtailed long-held democratic rights during the pandemic, including freedom of speech, freedom of protest and freedom of the press.

Draconian lockdown laws have also been largely introduced on the whim of ministers in many Western countries, with subsequent attempts to challenge them in parliament or the courts often blocked.

A report by the UK’s Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies, for instance, warned that Britain under Boris Johnson’s lockdown regime is currently suffering a ‘pandemic of misinformation' that if allowed to flourish will result in the collapse of public trust and see democracy ‘decline into irrelevance’.

The former British Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption went even further, saying in late October that the laws introduced during the pandemic will undo the unity of British society and lead to long-term authoritarian government.

He accused Boris Johnson’s administration of creating 'truly breath-taking' new criminal offences without the legal right to do so, and of giving police 'unprecedented discretionary' enforcement powers, some of which were used to suppress peaceful opposition to its policies.

The grim situation in the UK, where a doctor was arrested and held for 22 hours for reading out a letter objecting to government policy, is in stark contrast to Great Britain’s former African colony Malawi, where, in a move largely ignored by the world’s press, its judges not only ruled the country’s lockdown unconstitutional but ordered the president to go to the polls for re-election, which he subsequently lost.

The Malawi High Court, sitting as a Constitutional Court, barred a lockdown in April and, in September, even ruled that the Covid-19 rules, including the attempted lockdown, were unconstitutional.

In its decision, the three judges found that the rules were unconstitutional as they were made in terms of a law that did not permit such rules to be made.

They also criticised the government for imposing a lockdown without concern for the poor of Malawi who would not be able to access food and other essentials if they could not leave their homes.

Malawi has currently registered only around 6,000 Covid-19 infections and just 185 people have officially died of the virus.

‘The levels of poverty in Malawi are such that a lockdown without relief would have been equivalent to death,’ said the Malawi political analyst Boni Dulani, who is also the Director of Research and Operations at the Institute of Public Opinion and Research (IPOR).

‘In a survey done by our institute, most Malawians said they were more scared of dying of hunger than of Covid-19.’

Dulani admits that the court order was significant – protestors in Britain have yet to have their case heard in the Supreme Court – but he reserved his most gushing praise for the ‘boldness’ of civil society organisations that went to court and challenged the lockdown order.

‘This is a new approach by civil society organisations,’ said the political analyst, who is also a senior lecturer in Political Science at the University of Malawi.

‘Previously, they have limited their approach to protests and demonstrations but increasingly, they are also very active in seeking the legal option.’

The shock decisions by the Malawian courts in April and September followed a series of landmark democratic moments in the southern African republic, which was ruled by a brutal dictatorship for the first three decades after independence.

In February, the courts nullified the 2019 presidential elections and ordered a rerun, saying: ‘Irregularities had been so widespread, systematic and grave that the results of the elections had been compromised and couldn’t be trusted as a reflection of the votes.’

Against everyone's expectations, opposition candidate Lazarus Chakwera won the re-run election in June, which made it the first time a court-overturned vote in Africa led to the defeat of an incumbent leader.

‘This constitutional court ruling was historic on several fronts,’ explained Dulani.

‘It demonstrates that we now have a new progressive generation of judges that are very willing and ready to make independent judgements that can significantly alter the political landscape.

He added: ‘While challenging election results previously was largely an academic exercise, with little likelihood of the results being reversed, the historic ruling that annulled the 2019 presidential election will certainly embolden other election petitioners in the future.’

The recent opposition victory in Malawi, according to Dulani, is also one of the marks of a ‘maturing democracy’, while he said the court’s decision to force a second vote ‘will go a long way in emboldening the judiciary on the African continent to make decisions on political matters that previously would not have been envisaged.’

The Malawian judiciary is not alone in its new-found confidence.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), which was established in 2004 by African countries, has taken a number of unusually bold decisions this year.

The continental court, which is based in the Tanzanian city of Arusha, ruled, for instance, that Ivory Coast should allow ex-rebel leader Guillaume Soro and the former president Laurent Gbagbo – who was acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court last year – to participate in the countries’ presidential election.

The country’s electoral commission had disqualified both men from the October 31 poll due to their criminal convictions.

Arnaud Oulepo, a research associate at the Centre of Research for International Cooperation and Development, University Cadi Ayyadin Morocco, said the presence of the court made ‘coup d’état or violence’ less likely.

‘The positive thing is that it means that democracy and electoral matters are more and more litigated in courts.’

However, the bold decisions regarding Soro and Gbagbo also seem to have little effect as Ivory Coast simply withdrew its recognition of the court’s jurisdiction in April this year and barred the two candidates from standing anyway.

Ivory Coast’s decision to quit the court, follows in the footsteps of Benin and more authoritarian states, like Tanzania and Rwanda, which left the court after similarly robust rulings.

Tanzania withdrew its support in November 2019, despite being the host of the AfCHPR.

While Rwanda left after growing concerned that the African Court might be used as a platform to ‘change the narrative’ of the country’s 1994 genocide (a criminal offense under the Rwandan criminal code).

‘The withdrawal of these states is unfortunately a bad signal,’ said Oulepo. ‘As former US president Barack Obama said: “Africa doesn’t need strong men. It needs strong institutions.”

‘Those institutions, including the AfCHPR [court], will never come close to reaching their due potential if they are constantly under attack by leaders who seem to care more about entrenching their own power rather than protecting the rights of their citizens,’ added the Morocco-based law expert, who believes that the judiciary in Africa is starting to play a more significant role in law-making.

Of course, Africa is by no means a utopia. In many parts of the continent, human rights are sharply deteriorating, including in Mali, which is facing ethnic and tribal conflict, as well as the Northern Provinces of Cameroon where the army and rebels alike have both committed atrocities.

October’s elections in Guinea and Ivory Coast were overshadowed by the threat of violence.

While protests in Nigeria are starting to take a troubling – and all too familiar – turn for the worse.

Indeed, what started out as small peaceful protests that drew concessions from the government, quickly turned violently as gangs attacked protesters in various cities, including Lagos and the capital, Abuja.

Rioters also vandalised public buildings, burned private businesses and stormed prison facilities to help inmates escape, prompting state governors to impose curfews to curb the escalating unrest.

On October 20, meanwhile, the Lagos governor ordered a 24-hour curfew in a move straight from the old play book, and on the same day security forces opened fire on unarmed demonstrators who were waving Nigerian flags and singing the national anthem in Lekki.

The attack was live streamed on Instagram by a witness and caused widespread outrage.

Speaking after the massacre, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said 51 civilians had been killed and 37 injured since demonstrations began, which he blamed on ‘hooliganism’.

He also accused ‘rioters’ of killing 11 policemen and seven soldiers.

Buhari’s statement came two days after Amnesty International put the death toll at 56, with about 38 killed on October 20. Amnesty said investigations on the ground confirmed that the army and police killed at least 12 peaceful protesters in Lekki and Alausa, another area of Lagos where #EndSARS protests were being held.

With the government taking an increasingly firm hand against the protests, not everyone is convinced the #EndSars movement may end up being the watershed moment it appeared to be for Africa’s largest democracy in mid-October.

‘It's unclear what comes next for the #EndSars movement,’ said the BBC Nigeria correspondent Mayeni Jones.

‘On the surface, most of their five points demands have been met. Some of the detained protesters have been released. Panels of enquiry have been set up around the country to investigate allegations of police brutality - although how independent they really are is up for debate.’

Crucially, though, one of the protesters’ key demands – compensation and justice for victims of police brutality – has yet to be answered, and talk has already moved to how the protests could impact Nigeria’s 2023 presidential elections.

Protesters are said to be hoping to capitalise on their new-found popularity to campaign on issues relevant to this youthful nation.

‘The events of the past two weeks have transformed Nigerian youth into a force to be reckoned with in the general elections, less than three years from now,’ said Chioma Agwuegbo, of Not Too Young To Run, an advocacy group dedicated to getting young Nigerians into public office.

She told Al Jazeera that 2023 will be ‘interesting for the future of the country because there’s rage’.

Yet while the streets may be ablaze with fury and the courts may be flexing their muscles in the face of government over-reach, the jury’s still out on whether this defiant new spirit will lead to long-term societal change in Africa.

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Election fever sweeps Kenya

Campaigning for Kenya's 2022 presidential poll has already begun – and there are fears that the rifts that led to the 2007-08 electoral violence are resurfacing.

Kenyans famously follow politics like rest of the world does sports or reality TV.

But even by Nairobi’s politically obsessed standards, the lead-up to the next presidential campaign is proving pretty unusual.

Despite being in the midst of a pandemic – Kenya recently announced tough new lockdown measures – campaigning is already under way for the August 2022 presidential poll.

The early start is because President Uhuru Kenyatta allegedly reneged on a 2013 pledge to back his deputy, William Ruto, as his successor when Kenyatta is forced to retire at the end of his second term.

Such a political bust-up is of grave concern to Kenyans, given its chilling echoes to the events that led up to the 2007-08 post-election violence, during which more than 1,500 Kenyans were murdered and 600,000 were forced from their homes.

That bloody poll followed a similarly trashed agreement between former president Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, who had come together five years earlier to dislodge the ruling party, Kanu, from power.

The pair had agreed in 2002 that Kibaki’s National Alliance Party of Kenya would share ministerial positions equally with Odinga’s Liberal Democratic Party, while Odinga would serve as Kibaki’s prime minister.

However, the agreement was never kept, and it sparked a bitter rivalry between the parties that erupted into violence at the subsequent 2007 ballot.

If the historical parallels weren’t worrying enough for Kenyans, of even greater concern is that President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto not only served under the 2007 rivals but were both accused of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their roles in the ethnic cleansing that followed the poll.

Dubbed the ‘Coalition of the Accused’, the former rivals teamed up during their trial at the Hague and went on to win the 2013 election against all odds.

However, talk of a Kenyatta-Ruto reckoning have been circulating ever since charges were dropped against the politicians.

In 2016, senior Jubilee Party officials, led by vice-chairman David Murathe, started issuing strong statements against Ruto’s likelihood of succeeding President Kenyatta when he is forced to retire at the end of his second term.

They have since vowed that Ruto would not receive the backing of the president, given his alleged involvement in corruption.

‘We don’t have [an agreement] with anyone to support them in 2022,’ said Murathe at a cultural festival in western Kenya.

‘If they negotiated that with President Kenyatta, that is their problem. Let us meet at the ballot.’

The president also told leaders from his central Kenya heartlands that his choice for 2022 would shock them, a clear indication that Ruto was not his preferred successor.

Ever since the advent of multi-party politics in 1991, all but one presidential election in Kenya has resulted in violence.

In the run-up to the 1992 elections, for instance, the state instigated ethnic clashes that saw the killing and displacement of non-Kalenjin communities from the Rift Valley region.

The same scenario was replicated in 1997.

Bloodshed was also witnessed in 2017, when the Supreme Court, in an unprecedented ruling, nullified Kenyatta’s election win and ordered a repeat of the presidential poll.

The court said that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had failed to provide the requested information on its IT system’s firewall configuration, leaving them with no choice but to accept opposition leader Raila Odinga’s petition.

IEBC’s IT manager Chris Msando was brutally murdered only three days before the vote. Police also killed several people in Odinga’s strongholds, including a six-month-old baby, Samantha Pendo.

The second poll, boycotted by Odinga, resulted in yet more deaths still.

This cycle of electoral violence is affecting foreign investment in the East African powerhouse, according to Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu.

‘Every five years when we have an election, investors remain jittery, not knowing whether the country would be stable or not after the election,’ said the close ally of President Kenyatta.

‘We should end this, and those sounding drums of war as we approach an election should be put behind bars.’

Kenyans struggling to make a living also dread every election year as violence either disrupts their businesses or results in loss of property.

‘In the 2017 post-poll chaos, my shop was looted only a week after I had restocked it with a bank loan,’ said Winnie Owino, who runs a beauty salon.

‘It pains me that I continue to repay the loan whose benefits I did not see.’

Despite the poll being nearly two years away, election-related violence is already claiming lives.

In October, two young men were killed in clashes pitting Kenyatta’s supporters against those of Ruto, who had been campaigning in the President’s backyard of Muranga County.

Electoral violence in Kenya usually begins during the party primaries.

In Odinga’s strongholds, getting nominated for his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) ticket almost guarantees a win at the main elections.

This means that the battle for the nominations is fierce and would-be candidates often resort to violence against their opponents.

Observers claim that the violence during and around election time is an indicator of underlying socioeconomic and political issues such as land injustices, marginalisation and disenfranchisement.

These issues were raised in the 2013 ‘Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Report’, which was compiled in response to the post-election violence of 2007-2008, however the recommendations have never been implemented.

The political scientist Paul Okongo, speaking in a 2017 article published in The Elephant, said the lack of electoral credibility was a major reason for the violence.

He said: ‘Until Kenya holds free and fair elections that adhere to the rule of law, Kenyans who rise up against injustice will continue to bleed.’

Three years on and fears abound that the IEBC will not be able to conduct a free and credible poll.

Of the seven IEBC commissioners in post at the 2017 elections, four have resigned, leaving only three. Roseleen Akombe, one of those who resigned, fled to the US, citing threats to her life and those of her family members.

Akombe, who fled shortly before the repeat presidential poll in October 2017, said that political interference had rendered IEBC so dysfunctional that it could not carry out credible elections as scheduled.

Various leaders have also declared their interest in the presidency besides Ruto.

They include former vice-presidents Musalia Mudavadi and Kalonzo Musyoka, Baringo senator Gideon Moi, and a number of governors.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga has not openly declared his interest, but those close to the politician say he will be on the ballot.

It is Deputy President Ruto, though, who has hit the campaign trail and cast the 2022 election as a contest between so-called ‘hustlers’ and ‘dynasties’.

Ruto, the son of a peasant, considers himself to have come from a poor background - in stark opposition to Kenyatta, whose father Jomo was Kenya’s first president, and his allies, Odinga and Moi, whose fathers also once occupied the country’s top leadership.

Though critics have warned him against introducing class dynamics to Kenya’s elections, the deputy president remains defiant, insisting that he is fighting for the poor who have suffered for so long.

The deputy president has been going around the country giving out wheelbarrows, sewing machines, water tanks and motor bikes to various youth and women’s groups – such vote buying is common in Kenya.

Ruto has also been hard-pressed to explain the origin of the millions of shillings he has donated to churches since campaigning began.

Critics accuse him of using his official residence for campaigns and vote buying while others, such as Raila Odinga, question his ‘hustler’ narrative, given Ruto’s unexplained wealth.

‘Ruto should not call us ‘dynasties’ because [Jomo] Kenyatta and my father Jaramogi also came from poor backgrounds and only got to their positions by virtue of hard work,’ said Odinga, whose father was once vice-president. ‘Let him first explain the source of his wealth before calling us dynasties.’

Class wars aside, there are fears the power vacuum created by Kenyatta’s departure could lead to trouble in the president’s Mt Kenya base, as various politicians jostle to inherit his rich vote block.

The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that the president is barred by the constitution from standing after 2022.

Another reason for heightened electioneering is the impending referendum on a raft of proposed new constitutional changes.

These include the introduction of a Prime Minister’s position, as well as two deputies and an official leader of the opposition role, like the UK parliament.

However, Ruto and his allies have already vowed to shoot down the changes to the constitution, setting the stage for another confrontation.

‘We will not allow the creation of more positions to benefit the dynasties,’ Ruto told a rally in the western county of Nyamira.

‘Instead, we will continue fighting for the poor Kenyans.’

With violence already overshadowing the primaries, though, Kenyans are worried such fighting talk might not just be all words.

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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.

 

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Nigerians prepare for the polls

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari is gearing to contest for another term in office but it is unclear who is opponent will be. Peterclaver Egbochue in Abuja surveys the emerging polictical landscape

As campaigning for the 2019 general election enters its unofficial but limbering up phase, President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) are beginning to make frantic efforts to ensure they retain power for next four years just as their rivals are jostling equally to unseat them.
Buhari came into office in 2015 after defeating the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), following three unsuccessful attempts at the presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
His pledge to fight corruption and turn around the economy were a key part of his ‘change’ mantra and this proved a hit with the electorate. Although shortlived, his abrasive but no nonsense record as military leader during the early ‘80s, rested favourably with an older generation.
For APC stalwarts, the president has given a very good account of himself in the last three and half years in the critical sectors, particularly in the implementation of the treasury single account (TSA) through which millions of naira has been saved.

The minister of information, Lai Mohammed, has taken every opportunity at his disposal to tell Nigerians that the coming of President Buhari is the best thing that has happened to Nigeria at this point in its history given the magnitude of the problems it has been saddled with. In his view, the entire economy would have collapsed but for Buhari’s Midas touch. Whether Mohammed is speaking from his heart or merely doing his job of defending his leader is a matter of conjecture.
But a number of political pundits argue that the gains of the APC in nearly one term speak more loudly than all the noise made by the PDP in its 15 consecutive years of government. Among the ruling party’s much vaunted list of achievements is reduction in the importation of rice thanks to increased local production, the new rice processing factory in Kebbi State, the state of the art poultry factory in Kaduna State, and the gum arabic plantation in Borno despite the Boko Haram insurgency there.

But many ordinary Nigerians remain unconvinced. They continue to feel the pinch from the economic downturn and have been dismayed by a string of corruption scandals involving top government officials. Often, Buhari appears to have dithered when it comes to taking swift action against them.
For instance, many believe there was no justification for the delay in Babachir Lawal’s pending corruption investigation. Lawal, who as secretary to the government of the federation was Nigeria’s highest ranking civil servant, was sacked in November last year for diverting aid funds intended for the humanitarian crisis in the northeast. By now, Abdulrasheed Maina ought to be facing trial for alleged theft of public funds; instead he was reappointed to the civil service. To date, Buhari has yet to secure a high-profile conviction for corruption, with the PDP accusing him of mounting a political witch-hunt while favouring APC loyalists.
Political watchers argue the Attorney General of the Federation should have been publicly queried about the apparently selective graft prosecutions to avoid suspicions of favouritism that are gradually building up.
Buhari’s frail health is also a worry. The president has spent long periods in the UK for medical treatment – despite his one time pledge to crack down on ‘medical tourism’ among officials – leaving the country in the hands of his deputy Yemi Osinbajo. Aged 75, people wonder how fit he is to be an effective leader of Africa’s most populous nation.
So far the president has not openly declared his interest to try for a second term in 2019 but he has not said that he is not going to either. Be that as it may, his close lieutenants have suggested that he will indeed run again.
In the event that he puts his name forward, it is likely that he will get his party’s ticket without too much opposition given his cordial relationship with the party’s national chair, John Odigie Oyegun.
However, there are rumours that the Northern Elders Forum has set up a committee to look for an alternative candidate. Their objection is that they did not have enough of a hand in choosing Buhari as the 2015 candidate, or the previous president, Umaru Yar’Adua. Both Buhari and Yar’Adua hail from the Katsina in the northwest of the country but are seen by northern die-hards as being put in power by other powerful forces in the country.
According to Bello Muhammed, a former PDP chair, the northern elite is looking for someone younger but still able to easily win votes in the northern heartlands.“The choice of the northern elders will include how the candidate can secure enough votes from Kano, Kaduna and Katsina states, which were the states the incumbent president won massively in the 2015 election,” he explained.
Should President Buhari get his party’s nomination, his main rival will be veteran politician Atiku Abubakar who at present is odds-on to win the PDP primaries. Abubakar, from Adamawa state in the northeast, served as vice-president under Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007. A civil servant turned businessman, Abubakar’s vast wealth and political machinations have continued to stand him out.
His second term as vice-president was marked by a stormy relationship with Obasanjo, whom he prevented from changing the constitution in order to run for a third term. In the 2007 election, representing the defunct Action Party, he came third. Never far from controversy, his name was initially missing from the ballot because he had been indicted for corruption. Abubakar went to the courts and overturned the disqualification.
In 2011, he lost the PDP’s presidential ticket to Goodluck Jonathan. He later decamped to the APC, hoping to try for the presidency under its colours in 2015 but lost out to Buhari. He remained in the APC where he used his vast influence and resources to help the party end the PDP’s long rule.
Abubakar, a one time deputy director of the customs service and co-founder of Intels, an oil servicing company, announced via Facebook at the end of last year that he was “returning home” to the PDP, accusing the APC of not consulting him sufficiently. He had been with the APC since 2014.
Aged 71, Abubakar’s presidential ambitions date back to 1992 and 2019 is likely to be his final bid. He has made youth the focus of his nomination campaign and boasts not only experience in government but powerful contacts and plenty of money. However, his opponents accuse of him of corruptly enriching himself during his time as a customs officer at Apapa Ports and they disapprove of his political bed hopping. Ultimately, to win the ticket he needs the support of PDP governors.
Another PDP hopeful is one of its most prominent figures, Sule Lamido, who served as foreign minister during Obasanjo’s first term. He was the leader of the G7 governors who boycotted the PDP convention before the 2015 elections.
Lamido entered politics just before Nigeria’s Second Republic in the late 1970s as a member of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP). In 1979, he won election to the federal house of representatives where he served on a number of committees. In 2007, he was voted governor of Jigawa State, and was re-elected in 2011.
His strength is his steadfast support for the PDP, which has earned him the respect among the party rank and file. Going against him is his ongoing corruption trial by anti-graft agency the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The PDP will want to avoid fielding a candidate facing trial and having a possible jail sentence hanging over him in the run up to the election.
Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso, representing Kano Central District in the upper chamber of the National Assembly, has also put his name forward for the PDP ticket. Twice governor of Kano State, in 1999-2003 and 2011-2015, he was appointed minister of defence by Obasanjo in 2003. In 2007, after losing his bid to contest the election, he was appointed presidential special envoy to Somalia and Darfur as a consolation prize.
He served as a member of the PDP’s board of trustees under President Yar’adua in 2009 and was also a member of the Niger Delta Development Commission board. In 2014 Kwankwanso defected to the APC where he unsuccessfully contested the presidential primaries. However, he fell out with the APC leadership, who had attempted to suspend him for what it called anti-party activities and in March last year he was back in the arms of the PDP again.
In 2015 he was investigated for alleged misappropriation of pension funds while serving as Kano State governor. Despite this, with his vast political experience, Kwankwanso continues to attract positive attention as a potential presidential candidate.
Another is Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, arguably one of the most influential politicians in the current political dispensation. Born in 1962, he studied for a medical degree at the University of London but after a brief period working in a UK hospital he returned to Nigeria and soon entered the world of politics.
In 2000 he was appointed special assistant to President Obasanjo on budgetary matters and is credited with initiating the fiscal responsibility bill. He was also a member of the influential economic policy coordination committee.
Senate president since 2015 and the chair of the National Assembly, he served as governor of Kwara State from 2003-2011, coming as he does from the influential Saraki family that has shaped politics in the state for more than three decades. He was first elected to the Nigerian Senate in 2011 and won a second-term to serve as a senator in 2015.
Viewed as a as a charismatic and strategic leader, pundits believe he has the capacity to build consensus in the political process. His previous chairmanship of the Nigeria Governors Forum is likely to work in his favour.
For many observers, former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida remain factors no politician should ignore given their clout and connections. In 2014, Obasanjo wrote an open letter to President Jonathan brutally highlighting his failures and suggesting that he should not make a return bid. He went on to publicly declare his preference for Sule Lamido, then governor of Jigawa State.
This time round the object of his wrath is Buhari whom he blames for letting down the country with his lacklustre leadership. In a letter titled ‘The way out: a clarion call for coalition for Nigeria movement’ , he fumes: “The lice of poor performance in government – poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condonation of misdeed – if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality – are very much with us today. With such lice of general and specific poor performance and crying poverty with us, our fingers will not be dry of ‘blood’.”
He suggests that the reason Nigerians voted Jonathan out of office is the same reason they will boot Buhari out, too. “First, I thought I knew the point where President Buhari is weak and I spoke and wrote about it even before Nigerians voted for him, and I also voted for him because at that time it was a matter of ‘any option but Jonathan’,” he continues.
“I knew President Buhari before he became president and said that he is weak in the knowledge and understanding of the economy. But I thought that he could make use of good Nigerians in that area. Although, I know that you cannot give what you don’t have and that the economy does not obey military order, you have to give it what it takes in the short-, medium- and long-term.”
Although he says that the president should be given “some credit” for fighting corruption and tackling the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, he feels there is still much more to be done in these areas.
Ex-military leader Babangida also appears to have withdrawn his support for the APC. In a letter titled ‘Towards a national rebirth’, he gets straight to be point and calls for a change of leadership. “In 2019 and beyond, we should come to a national consensus that we need new breed of leadership with requisite capacity to manage our diversities and jump-start a process of launching the country on the super highway of technology-driven leadership in line with the dynamics of modern governance. It is short of saying, enough of this analogue system.”
He adds that everyone should have a role to play in the process of “enthroning accountability and transparency in governance”.
For his part, the former PDP minister of aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, said Nigeria needed to be freed from the shackles of what he calls the “Fulani ruling class”.
Referring to recent attacks committed by Fulani herdsmen, he blasted: “The struggle is not against Buhari but against what he represents: the hegemony and impunity of the Fulani ruling class and the barbarity of their murderous foot soldiers known as the herdsmen. It is not a struggle between political parties but a quest for liberation from the Fulani.”
The seemingly endless clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Benue, Taraba, Plateau and other states in Nigeria, which have claimed thousands of lives and the destruction of millions of dollars worth of property have remained a great source of concern and many feel that the president has not intervened effectively enough.
However, despite the current hue and cry against the APC, many believe the PDP as presently constituted is a shadow of its former self and cannot mount a credible challenge against the ruling party. To do so it would have to re-brand itself completely. Many believe that the re-emerging Social Democratic Party (SDP), created during Babangida’s days as military ruler, poses a bigger threat to the APC.
There is speculation in some quarters that Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the main Igbo political grouping, is planning to throw its support behind the president so that he can complete his second tenure. Under Nigeria’s zoning arrangements, the 2023 president should hail from the south, thus paving the way for an Igbo presidency. But the notion was flatly dismissed by Sylvan Ebigwei, a prominent member of Ohanaeze.
“That is not true and cannot be true,” he said. “I can authoritatively tell you that there is no such plan by Ohanaeze.”
Charles Anike, the head of the Eastern Union, was also dismissive, saying that Buhari did not deserve Igbo backing. “No reasonable political leader from the southeast who has the collective interest of the people at heart will support the current government to return in 2019. We cannot support Buhari because he does not have the interest of the Igbo at heart.”
He added: “In fact, there is non-performance in virtually every aspect of governance, no respect for the constitution he swore to protect, and insecurity. My organisation is already mobilising against him. We are holding conferences where we sensitise people to ensure they register and vote out this government in 2019.”
The winner of the next election is due to be inaugurated in May 2019. It is early days yet and anything can happen between now and the ballot box, but expect there to be the usual jockeying for position by those with their eye firmly on the prize.

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