Last Wednesday, June 12, President Muhammadu Buhari honoured a former African Pillar of Sports, the late Bashorun MKO Abiola by renaming the Abuja National Stadium as Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja. This has set the tone for series of probe into what happened during the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election. As culled from thenewsnigeria.com.ng, a former chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), , who conducted the annulled election, in this no-holds-barred interview, earlier published by The News Magazine (online and print editions), gave an insight into what transpired during the polls won by the late Abiola, but annulled by former military president, Ibrahim Babangida. Here are excerpts of the abridged interview.
You’ve been silent since the annulment of the 1993 election. Why?
You know that the annulment and the dissolution of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), generated a lot of controversy. There were sentiments, prejudices, people protested. There was even loss of lives in some cities in the country. We all are Nigerians and we want this country to be great. I just felt it was so necessary to keep off and allow sentiments to die down and then come out at the appropriate time for all the parts to be known and made public. Besides, when you are given any national assignment, especially a sensitive one like the boss of the election management board, one must be careful, knowing that none who had ever occupied that position had come out without his personality smeared by one controversy or another since 1964. Eyo Esua had a distinguished career before coming to the seat. I thought I could conduct a free and fair election and break away from that jinx. But somehow along the line, even though it came after the election had been conducted, I just felt that I had to keep off and allow other people to manage the body and since I left office, I think there have been Professor Okon Uya, thereafter late Dagogo Jack, who worked under me as national commissioner, and then, Chief Ephraim Akpata, Dr. Abel Guobadia and later Professor Maurice Iwu. Yet, in spite of all these people and what they did, people are still asking: how do we reform our electoral process? And the then President himself has set up an electoral reform committee, meaning that something is wrong with the system!
Aren’t there reforms before then?
People started talking about the reforms I instituted between 1989 and 1983. People started talking about modified open balloting system, Option A4, meaning it worked and you will also recall that I didn’t score myself; it was the national and international observers that adjudged the elections we conducted as the freest, most credible and peaceful in Nigeria’s political history. And I said it is now time to talk to help reform the electoral process. It is time to revisit those reforms and for Nigerians to know exactly what happened in the past and how it could be revisited. And those things that worked could help us reform the system. And so I thought the time is appropriate for me to break my silence.
But some people felt you were afraid to speak up. People expected you to come up with the facts to help with the revalidation of that election. What happened?
In my book, you will find step by step approach, what the commission under my leadership did. You will recall the court order, given by Justice Bassey Ikpeme on the night of June 10, 1993. She said: ‘don’t conduct elections, I was alone in the commission. All the national commissioners had gone into the field to supervise and monitor the elections. I was alone with the secretary of the commission, Alhaji Umar, and the Director of Legal Services, Buhari Bello. It was quite a problem what to do, we couldn’t summon the commissioners. But you will find out from this book the initiatives and courageous steps taken to make sure that the expectations of Nigerians were met. Nigerians wanted the election. I wanted the election and you will now see in that book who didn’t want the election and who helped to make the election possible. There may be surprises; people you think didn’t want the elections actually wanted it, but who did everything to prevent the elections? So, the elections were conducted and we were just collating the results when there was another bombshell: stop announcing the results of the elections. There were also counter injunctions; some said ‘announce’ some said ‘don’t’.
Which of the orders did you rely upon?
We felt that the most important task had been done, what was left was to release the results and that we should challenge the order of the Abuja High Court because we felt it had no business stopping us. We went to the Kaduna Court of Appeal for that order to be vacated. And perhaps it would have been vacated. NEC’s Director of Legal Services challenged the order on behalf of the commission and the court directed that there should be accelerated hearing on 25 June. Chief Moshood Abiola, presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was there. His lawyer was represented. Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) was represented. The hearing was scheduled for June 25, 1993, unfortunately, NEC was dissolved on June23. It was not a question that one was afraid. What the Appeal Court would have done was to allow NEC conclude its job because no court had the right to stop us. It was after the results perhaps were released that there are procedures of tribunals for challenging the results. But the high court intruded. So the commission and I did what we considered appropriate at that point in time.
There was the allegations that part of the pressure you were under was not just from the judiciary, but that you were slapped and that a gun was pointed at you. How true is that?
I wasn’t slapped or beaten, but there was a lot of controversy and we thank God the nation didn’t break into anarchy. It was a very trying period for all of us in the country, especially the principal participants in the drama. Any untoward behaviour would have escalated the conflict and it might have resulted in a total war. So, there was a lot of responsibility on those who took part in the drama to hold themselves and behave appropriately to calm down the tension and feelings, especially when my commission was dissolved and I had no more official capacity to talk.
What is your view on May 29 as Democracy Day?
I know that June 12 is a kind of movement and that date, in my view, was the Democracy Day. Because it was at this particular point in time that Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic or religious divide, all came together in a very high spirit of national consciousness. They didn’t mind a Muslim-Muslim ticket and all indicated that Nigerians wanted a stable democratic order, a government that would meet their basic necessities. Many people do not really care about the ethnic group of any good leader. They just want a good leader. You could recall when Murtala Muhammed was on the scene, people s u p – ported him, especially when he cancelled the controversial 1973 Census that would have favoured people from his own area. He became an instant hero. He was one of the charismatic leaders this nation has produced. So you’ll find that June 12 as a movement was indeed the day Nigerians opted for a democratic political order. They didn’t care and the parties cut across ethnic, state and regional boundaries. And Nigerians were highly mobilised and they expressed their choices freely without interference. There was no stuffing of ballot boxes and there was no manipulation, intimidation or harassment. Nigerians came out as a body, just like people in the United States and Britain, and voted freely. No intimidation, no one lost his life anywhere, it was God-ordained. And so in my own view, June 12 was the day Nigerians decided freely for a democratic political order without any hindrance. That day should be Democracy Day. I don’t see anything that makes May 29, 1999 superior to June 12, 1993. Without June 12, there wouldn’t have been May 29. In my view, it was an offshoot of June 12.
Do you regret taking up the job?
I have no regrets whatsoever. You see, it is important when you are given a national assignment, you do it well. No one consulted me and I had come to that job with a lot of experience. I never anticipated or hoped or lobbied to be made chairman because there are other distinguished intelligent Nigerians. It is a privilege, not a right that General Babangida, of all political scientists in some states and in the public service, decide to make me NEC chairman. I don’t know what made him do so, the only time I met him was when I was the Commissioner for Rural Development. I felt I had to do my best to this nation to also convince the person who appointed me that I could do my best for Nigeria and satisfy my conscience and my constituency, the university community. You know when members of the academic community are given a public assignment; people say they’re just talking theory and that you have to blend theory with practice. Before the dissolution of NEC, national and international observers had covered more than 23 states, as you’ll read in the book, and they came out with a verdict of free election. I have attached letters written to me and Professor Omo Omoruyi, the then Director-General of the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS), stating that from what they saw on ground, it was a wonderful logistic ar-rangements and that there was cooperation with election and security officials. They thanked me and said everything was free and fair. That had given me a lot of joy. So there is nothing to regret.
What would you say about those responsible for the annulment?
The annulment is a different thing and it is unfortunate it happened. But the fact is that the deed had been done, election was conducted and could be conducted again if there is positive political will on the part of all Nigerians, including the Presidency and the National Assembly. If you ask me the way forward I would come to it. I have my views as to what could be done to repeat the success, we can do it again.
There were allegations that you were actually induced to declare Abiola the winner of the election. How true is that?
That’s absolute nonsense and a lie. No one gave me anything, I challenge any person to come out with proof. There were dud cheques circulating and all that kind of nonsense. I never flirted with either of the contestants because it was an open, transparent election. Then, right there on the spot, during any elections, accreditation is done and you know the number of people who are likely to vote and you have a copy of the voters register. I’m not sure that’s the case in spite of the ‘electronic’ voting system. You know rigging of elections and free and fair elections start with the voters register. In my book, you will find the number of registered voters throughout the federation. I think it was about 39,942,000 at that point, divide them into then 30 states (because Abacha added six more states) and the Federal Capital, the number of local governments, wards and 110,000 voting centres. Each voting centre had a register, so even before election took place, SDP and NRC had copies of the register, so you could verify in each voting centre throughout the federation those who were entitled to vote. And usually, you might not have more than 500 in a particular voting centre.
How can we improve the system?
Before the election took place, there was a period of accreditation. If you allow staggered voting that is when all the atrocities are usually committed. But there is nothing wrong. I must say, with secret ballot system per se, but it has been thoroughly abused in this country, starting from the federal elections in 1964, October 1965 Western House of Assembly elections, 1979 and 1983. Why should we continue to use what didn’t work? It works for Britain. No one would go and stop elections in Britain; no one would go and write results before it is released. Nigerians should begin to ask questions about systems that work, not mentioning theories- transparent this and electronic that. Nigerians want something that is real; that can restore confidence and that their choice is respected. So if you don’t have valid voters register, the rigging starts. And if the ballot papers are not serialized, then what are you talking about? So that with accreditation, you know the number of people who have assembled to vote if you are really serious out of a voting centre where you have 500 voters, only 300 might appear because some may have died and some may not want to vote. Out of the 300, all those who have assembled to vote should know that it is 300 because it is a peculiar problem facing us in Nigeria. It is not a question of coming, voting and going, because if you vote, when you’re gone, people will continue to manipulate the figures. That’s part of the problem and sometimes, the press does not hammer on this aspect. And that’s what the open ballot system was conceived to solve -first restore confidence, that it is their choices reflected. People said it is primitive. But is it not primitive to fake ballot papers, write the figures or have the election result before voting? It is primitive. It is not done in any civilized society; thumb printing and so many things. It’s better to queue up behind the candidate of your choice. But we even modified it after the conduct of the local government elections of December 8, 1990 and governorship and state houses of assembly elections of December 14, 1991. People wanted their choices to be protected, because it is your right to vote for a candidate of your choice. And what did we do? You still had to register and still had accreditation. It is during voting that you are issued with ballot paper, you go and mark secretly the candidate of your choice because, as you’ll find in my book, Nigerians tried to do away because they might have liked the platform of SDP in Kano at that point in time than NRC. So they voted freely, marked secretly and came out in the open to vote. And people were advised to wait for the result on the spot; you don’t carry the box away. And that is immediately after voting. It is when you allow staggered voting that all these happen. Do you know that most people would rush to the voting centres between 8am and noon, and from then to 2pm, nothing happens? It is between 2pm and 6pm that people can tamper, thumbprint, substitute, do multiple voting and fake anything. And if any result has been written before, it could now find its place. But in my own experience, staggered voting has not led us anywhere over the past 60 years. Why should we continue? Any reform that does not address this aspect the problem will still be there. People have been criticizing the elections of 2003 and 2007 and I believe it’s between the afternoon and evening that most atrocities were committed. Even those who man the voting stations could be induced, especially if you have a dominant party and other parties do not have resources. I mean you can see how democracy can be constrained. And people should really attack the problem where it is and that’s why I’m talking. That’s why we had the modified open ballot system. Why should it be thrown away for something else? You bring a transparent box. Is it the transparent box that makes the voting transparent? No. what happens after 12’O’clock when they rush and people begin to come one by one?
But some of the transparent boxes were also snatched. Weren’t they?
The press has a lot of responsibility because they supported me. You could recall between 1989 and 1993, I was always tagged loquacious. But I was explaining to Nigerians to get involved in the voting process, and they were involved. The Babalakin Report said elections are the civic responsibility of all Nigerians, they should know what is going on and they should monitor. Otherwise, you will have no democracy. I challenge people to address the issue of what happened in our electoral system between noon and 6pm and that is why I said we limited the time of accreditation to between 8am and 11am and elections are usually on Saturdays. Any person who wants to vote in a voting centre that has only 500 people, three hours are enough to identify those whose names are on the register-that is accreditation. You tick and public announcement is made. And that is why it is good to have two parties. When you have these so-called 50 parties that have no resources to know what is happening elsewhere, it is no democracy. They don’t have resources to monitor, do they? They don’t even have membership. They don’t have structures, why should we deceive ourselves? And people said democracy; how? When you cannot finance your goals, when that party cannot be a national movement and cannot cross-check, it cannot constitute an alternative to the government. You can see the problem. I have said it openly that we are moving towards one party system. It is dangerous.
For the sake of the book you’ve written and for the sake of readers, we want you to name the collaborators in the annulment of the election.
The book tries to identify what happened on the night of 10 June 1993. I did mention names; I mean those who did want the election. I think Nigerians ought to know and should rather wait. When people buy the book, they will like to know the conduct of the June 12 election and there is a chapter on that and its details, apart from other preparations by political parties, NEC and so on, including what happened state by state. I know people will also be interested in looking at the section on annulment, stages involved, including the commission and myself, who played what role. Wait to get a copy of the book; you will know what led to the annulment.
Do you think Babangida was truly interested in annulling the election or influenced?
We had a big board and we were writing and international observes, journalists and Nigerians were happy at what they were seeing. There was transparency. We even allowed the British Deputy High Commissioners and other foreigners to be in the collation group, and we were looking forward to announcing the winner. But suddenly, there was a court injunction saying don’t announce. I felt and I think the commission felt, too, because it was a lawful body that, I ignore the other court injunction because Decree 13 of 1993 that authorized us to conduct presidential elections (because elections are based on law), there was a provision that stated that once a date and time had been fixed for national elections, no court can stop us. And this particular provision was, in fact, inserted in all the decrees that enabled us to conduct previous elections, especially the of 1991 governorship election, when there was a spate of court injunctions and counter injunctions. The then Attorney General, Bola Ajibola and NEC were directed by the president to find a provision whereby his transition programme will not be derailed by court injunctions. But also that we should not ask the jurisdiction of the court but reconciles it. We came out with this ingenious provision that once a date and time has been fixed, no court can stop us. And this particular provision was challenged and it went to Court of Appeal, Ibadan. I cited the case in my book. And the Court of Appeal sustained our petition that this is right, but that doesn’t mean that after the election if it was not properly conducted or a candidate wasn’t properly nominated, it can’t be cancelled. This implied that the Abuja High Court should not have overruled the Federal Appeal Court. We followed the law. Another court said: ‘don’t release the results.’ All you could do, because you’ve already conducted elections and the whole thing could have ended June 25, we as a commission met and agreed we should quickly challenge the Abuja High Court order by a superior court injunction. Because we felt the Abuja Court didn’t have the authority or power to set aside the results of the election and there was a tribunal provided in that decree. That’s why we went and the court saw the urgency in it and gave an order. I was even surprised and we submitted all the results and we were just praying the court: Please, Abuja High Court didn’t have power to stop us. Allow us to conclude the announcement of the result in keeping with the law that set up NEC and that enabled us to conduct the election. It was a simple prayer. I think Abiola’s lawyer, GOK Ajayi, was there and the rest of them and the hearing would have been on June 25, but on 23rd June, NEC was dissolved. So, you couldn’t have gone ahead with the court order to conclude the results when we have a legal procedure. We were advised by our Director of Legal Service to seek redress and challenge that order. And we were almost getting there.
So what’s your view of Chief Arthur Nzeribe and what he did?
We would like not to conclude what he started. We thought it was a big joke when ABN went to court. We never took him seriously. We never thought that any court will give judgment in favour of ABN and you will see it happened in the night. And if the elections hadn’t been conducted, it would have been said that the military gave me money or that I was bribed not to do so. So my concern with that judgment is that the election must take place. Nigerians looked forward to it. Christians, Muslims had prayed for peaceful transition and I believe God heard our prayers. And that was why there was no loss of lives and Nigerians voted as one nation and integrated. And that’s why June 12 is a movement, a date that no person can wish away. You may have a different view. I’m talking freely. People may say May 29 and they are entitled to that, but I made it clear in the book that I think those who hail June 12 are right considering how collectively Nigerians acted as a single nation in a way that had never been experienced in this country. In this particular instance, we had a two-party structure and national integrative movements. Some people say it’s not democratic, but democracy is not an entity. Human beings steer it towards ends and that’s why when people say you’re bringing two-party structure by fiat, yes, remember there was a political bureau. Military rule is not an aberration, but they are nationalists. They are Nigerians; they are not from Ghana or Senegal. Their children are here. They have their moments, who are civilians. So they want to make sure that things are all done properly. My commission, in May 1989, released guidelines for formation of political associates, out of which two were recommended. Remember there was even a movement during the First Republic –NNA and UPGA – showing a tendency to court a two-party structure. These 50 or so party structures are not natural. There was a tendency and the parties came together during the First Republic and even when the Action Group broke up, there were elements that joined each group. There were two broad movements and that was the tendency in 1989. Two parties were to emerge out of the 13 political associations. None of them had national spread, the way SDP and NRC had. We verified their claims throughout Nigeria and the press was part of it. Some copied our voters register to make up the membership of their party, some claimed to have structures where there was none. We told government that those who rule should be able to steer the nation towards the right direction. What the Babangida administration did in 1989 was just to help Nigerians realise their own intentions. They wanted two parties. I think Nigerians still want two parties. What are we doing with over 50 parties? I think what we now have is one party, in my own view. Others are weak. They don’t have the resources the spread or capable of constituting an alternative government, so government steered NRC and SDP and they cut across.
Bayelsa decides: Declare me winner, Diri urges INEC
The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)in the just concluded Bayelsa State governorship electin, Senator Douye Diri on Monday called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to declare him winner of the election.
He said since INEC could not produced the Appeal Court’s stay of execution order that All Progressives Congress (APC) claimed allowed them to partake in the election, he authomatically becomes the winner of the election.
Speaking in Yenagoa during a press conference to express his displeasure on the outcome of the electionl, he said: “PDP contested with other political parties and not with APC because they were not supposed to be on the ballot paper by law based on the judgement of a high court in Yenagoa”.
Hear him: “INEC should declare me winner of the election. It is a shameful and laughable act by INEC to declare 83,041 votes in favour of the APC in Nembe where they had driven away almost everybody out of town. I have the results from our monitoring room.
“Based on the results from our monitoring room, APC scored 55,903 while PDP scored 98,582. Based on this result, PDP is the winner of that election .
“The PDP agent at the collation center, Odiyovwi Osusu wanted them to provide a stay of execution judgement but they couldn’t provide it.
“Ogbolomabiri materials were hijacked by Gabriel Jonah. I see those figures that were used to declare David Lyon winner as a charade and rouse. No PDP supporter should mourn that we lost. We won the election. INEC will surely announce PDP winner whether today or tommorow.
‘”Democracy is under threat, raped and anarchy is looming because soldiers have become thugs working for the APC as they militarialised the electoral process in Bayelsa State.”
Group tackles call to cancel Kogi election
A coalition of 16 governorship candidates in Kogi State Monday, condemned the call by some civil society groups for the cancelation of Saturday’s gubernatorial election election in the state.
Some civil society groups, who monitored the election, have been calling for the cancelation of the already declared poll, claiming the insincerity of the entire exercise.
But the group, at a press conference in Lokoja, the state capital, said the idea of calling for rerun, might lead to more loss of lives.
Addressing journalists at the conference, the governorship candidate of the Young Democratic Party, Dr. Sanni Shaibu Teidi, said the 16 candidates have since accepted the the result of the election, urging the losers to work with the winner of the election towards achieving accelerated development in the state.
“We congratulate His Excellency, Alhaji Yahaya Bello for the overwhelming victory at the poll and all others that participated in the election.”
While appealing to the winner of the election to be magnanimous in victory and prepare to mend fences for an all-inclusive governance, Teidi urged all Kogi stakeholders to accept the winner for participatory governance.
Governor Yahaya Bello, was on Monday declared winner of the November 16 gubernatorial election in Kogi State, a victory that has been rejected by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Kogi guber election, a declaration of war – Wada
*Heads to tribunal
Governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kogi State, Egnr. Musa Wada has described last Saturday’s election in the state as declaration and execution of war against Kogi people.
Wada, who addressed press conference in Abuja Monday alongside his running mate, Bamidele Aroh, said he would challenge the outcome of the election at the tribunal.
He said what happened in Kogi State on Saturday was an organised ‘war against democracy’; “coup against the people and seizure of power through brigandage and the barrel of the gun with members of the police and other security agencies coordinating the stealing of the people’s votes.”
The PDP candidate accused the police of aiding alleged armed thugs of All Progressives Congress (APC) to invade polling units with impunity, shoot and kill voters and carted away ballot boxes to government facilities where results were written in favour of APC and handed over to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to announce against the will of the people.
“Police helicopters were used to attack polling units, fire tear gas on voters and provide cover to APC hoodlums and policemen who brutalized the people of Kogi State and stole their mandate.
“The APC turned our state into a theatre of war. No fewer than nine innocent Nigerians were killed. Many more were maimed and injured by the APC in their desperation to seize power at all cost.
“It is therefore distressing that INEC went ahead with a shameful collation and declaration of fabricated results despite the glaring disruptions that characterized the shambolic exercise.
“In order to achieve this ignoble goal, INEC cancelled our votes in areas of our stronghold, subtracted from our votes in many other areas and padded the votes of APC to give a semblance of victory for APC,” Wada Stated.
He said people of Kogi were horrified, brutalized and dehumanized, adding that there have been weeping across the state since the announcement of another four years of Yahaya Bello was made.
Gov Bello dedicates victory to his mother, Kogi people
* Appreciates Buhari, Osinbajo, Tinubu, Oshiomhole, others
Kogi State Governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello has dedicated his victory in the last Saturday’s governorship election to his mother, Hawawu Bello.
He said the people of Kogi State are the winners of the election for breaking ethnic, class and age difference in the state by re-electing him during the poll.
Governor Bello while giving his acceptance speech during a press conference at Government House in Lokoja, shortly after he was declared winner on Monday, assured the people of the state that they will all benefit from the state resources.
The governor, who condemned the violence and killings in different parts of the state during the last poll, consoled with those who lost their love ones.
He therefore called on Inspector General of Police and other security agents to go after those behind the violence and killings, and bring them to book.
He also appreciated President Muhammadu Buhari and his wife, Aisha; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; APC National Leader, Asiwaju Tinubu; the party’s National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole; the Chairman of APC Kogi State Governorship Campaign Council, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State and other governors and party leaders for the role they played and contribution to his victory.
Kogi poll: Join hands with Bello to attain next level, APC tells PDP
The Kogi State Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Abdulahi Bello, has called on the opposition especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to join hands with the party and Governor Yahaya Bello to move the state to the next level.
Bello made the call on Monday shortly after the Independent National Electoral Commission returned Governor Bello as the winner of the Saturday election.
The APC chairman told our correspondent on telephone that the victory was “well deserved.”
“Considering the efforts put in place by APC during electioneering campaigns, we are not surprised that victory is achieved today.”
He said that Bello’s victory was not only for all Kogi citizens but for lovers of democracy all over Nigeria.
Reacting to PDP’s refusal to sign the final collated result, the chairman said that it does not in any way take the shine away from the victory as PDP did not campaign anywhere near the home ground of the governor.
“It shows that they are good politicians who know their areas of strength and weakness and decided to restrict themselves to his area of strength.”
JUST IN: Court of Appeal begins hearing Ganduje/Abba’s case
Muhammad Kabir, Kano
The Court of Appeal sitting in Kaduna on Monday commenced hearing of the suit filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate for Kano State, Abba Kabir Yusuf challenging the electoral victory of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje.
In an earlier judgement, the Kano Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, headed by Justice Halima Shamaki, had on October 2 upheld the electoral victory of Ganduje.
But the PDP and its governorship candidate, Abba Kabiru Yusuf, not comfortable with the judgment appealed the ruling.
Barrister Ma’aruf Yakasai is representing one of the defendants, Abdullahi Ganduje, Barrister Bashir Yusuf Tudun Wuzirci is representing one of the petitioners, Abba Kabir Yusuf and Abdulkarim Maude Minjibir is standing for INEC, another defendant in the suit.
Kogi decides: Yahaya Bello sweeps 12 LGAs
Based on results from the 21 local governments of Kogi State so far declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Governor Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has won in 12 local governments while Engr. Musa Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has so far won in nine local governments.
Revenue shortfall: Govs at a crossroads
Onyekachi Eze reports on the challenges being faced by state governors as a result of the dwindling revenue in the face of increasing wage bill and infrastructure need
t is really not the best of time for Nigerian governors. In the face of dwindling revenue, the state chief executives are grappling with increasing wage bills. This is also affecting socio-economic development in most of the states.
Of recent, some policies of the Federal Government and its agencies have taken huge tolls on the finances of state governments. A mention of this could suffice.
On June this year, commercial banks across the country began the implementation of the Nigeria Financial Intelligent Unit (NFIU) directive, barring state governors from tampering with funds meant for local government councils.
Three months later (September), deductions for the repayment of N614 billion bailout fund granted to the states by the Federal Government began. Also, organized labour has given directive for the implementation of N30,000 minimum wage to workers by state governors by December 31 this year.
All these were happening at a time Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) accruing to the states is less than 40 per cent.
The N614 billion bailout fund was given to the governors in 2015 by the Federal Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to pay salary and pension arrears of workers. The repayment process generated a lot of concern when the Federal Government announced plans to begin the deductions from the monthly allocations to states from the federation account.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said the governors did not object to the deduction, but the repayment plan during last month’s National Economic Council (NEC) meeting. The meeting was presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
The minister said the governors unanimously opposed the two repayment plans proposed by the Federal Government.
She said: “The budget support facility was initially for a 20-year repayment period. And when we made the first deduction in September, the states had complained that the amount deducted, which was N252 million, was too harsh.
“So, since then, the Central Bank of Nigeria has revised the condition to make the repayment period longer. And so the new repayment period is 30 years. This means that the states will be paying N162 million monthly. But again today, the states still were not satisfied with the condition.”
The deduction is expected to remove a huge chunk of money from monthly allocations to the states from the federation account, and so means a big revenue loss to the states.
NFIU, an arm of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on May 6, issued what it called “Guidelines to Reduce Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawals from Local Government Funds throughout Nigeria.”
This guideline, which came into effect on June 1, directed that state and local government joint accounts should be operated solely as transit accounts from which funds will be distributed directly to the accounts of the local governments.
In other words, state governors have been removed from the management of the allocations accruing to the local government councils from the federation account. Attempts by the governors to reverse this directive failed.
In a letter sent to President Muhammadu Buhari on May 15, shortly after the directive was issued, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), the umbrella body of the 36 state governors in the country, accused the NFIU of mischief and deliberately seeking to cause disaffection in the polity.
The letter, which was signed by the then chairman of the forum, Abdul’aziz Yari (then governor of Zamfara State0, described the guideline as illegal and total disregard for the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
Yari argued that Section 7 (6) (a) and (b) of the constitution confers on the national and state Houses of Assembly the powers to make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to the local councils.
His words: “Similarly, Section 162 (6) of the Constitution expressly provides for the creation of the State Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA) into which shall be paid all allocations to the local government councils of the state from the federation account and from the government of the state.
“Section 162 (7) of the Constitution goes on to canter on the National Assembly the power to prescribe the terms and manners in which funds from the SJLGA may be disbursed, and in sub-section (8), the Constitution empowers the state House of Assembly to prescribe the manner in which the amount standing to the credit of the local councils in the state shall be distributed.”
He further argued that local governments are creation of the constitution and not a financial institution nor a reporting entity, which could be brought under the NFIU in the manner contemplated by the guidelines.
“We appeal to Mr. President to direct that the said guidelines be disregarded in view of its unconstitutionality and total disregard for due process.”
The President, however, refused to act, and on June 1, commercial banks in the country compiled with the directive, and the governors lost the battle and also a major source of revenue.
They equally fought against the N30,000 increase in workers’ salaries and lost. During the negotiations, the state chief executives said payment of N30,000 minimum wage was impracticable unless labour would agree to a downsizing of the workforce “or Federal Government accedes to the review of the national revenue allocation formula.”
Yari who led the NGF during the negotiations, argued: “We still said that we want to pay, but the issue is the ability to pay. If we say no, just pay, I don’t know how this formula will work and I don’t know how we can get solution to the issue.
“Today it is N18,000. In 2015 when the President assumed office, 27 states were not able to pay, not that they chose not to pay. Now you say N30,000, how many of us can pay? We will be bankrupt.”
The governors proposed a N4,500 increment, which amounted to N22,500, but said the tripartite committee on the minimum wage set up by the presidency on the review of the minimum wage did not include their submission on the claim that it came late.
At the moment, the battle has shifted to the implementation. Although the governors agreed there would be “consequential adjustment,” which “will be determined on what happened on the state-by-state basis because there are different number of workers at state level and there are different issues at the state level,” organised labour has already set the template for negotiations by its members.
Despite the financial challenges facing the states, IGR is still a big problem. Before last month’s NEC meeting, commissioners of Finance from the 36 states of the country converged on Abuja, for a peer-learning workshop, which was the fifth in the series. The purpose was how to generate more revenue for the states in order to meet increasing demands.
World Bank Country Director in Nigeria, Shubham Chaudhuri and a representative of the Department for International Development (DFID), a United Kingdom government department responsible for administering overseas aid in Nigeria, Chris Okeke, were among experts invited to tutor the commissioners on revenue generation.
Minister of Finance, Ahmed, who addressed the commissioners before they went into a technical session, said Nigeria needs fiscal sufficiency and buoyancy, which must come through domestic revenues, to be sustainable.
Her words: “We currently have a pervasive revenue generation problem that must change to successfully finance our development plans. Our current revenue to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of eight per cent is sub-optimal and a comparison of oil revenue to oil GDP and non-oil revenue to non-oil GDP performance reveals the significant area that requires immediate and dire intervention as the non-oil sector.”
On his part, the incumbent chairman of the NGF, Governor Kayode Fayemi, called for expansion of the revenue base, so that governors can provide to citizens, quality health care, education and world class infrastructure.
“We must work towards closing the wide revenue gap in order to position the country to meet the growing development needs. This responsibility lies in the capacity of our revenue authorities to improve tax administration capacity and governance especially in the non-oil sectors of the economy,” the Ekiti State governor said.
The general believe is that the country’s IGR is hampered by over reliance on oil revenue. This explains the consequent effect on the economy whenever there is a fall in the price of oil in the international market.
Both the World Bank and DFID agreed that low revenue mobilisation in Nigeria is as a result of over reliance on oil revenues and the absence of a social contract between the government and citizens.
World Bank’s Country Director, Chaudhuri, said he had always argued that the best measure of development of a country is not per capita GDP, but the quality of the services that the sub-national government could provide.
He advised the Nigerian government to invest in the people – the youth, children, health care, education and social protection – as well invest in infrastructure which requires revenue.
He, however, noted that right now “Nigeria does not have enough of it, most of the investments will come at the state level.”
For Okeke of DFID, the low level of domestic revenue mobilisation of the states is inadequate to support growth and development of key sectors of the economy, including health and education.
He sees the current fiscal crisis as good opportunity for both the federal and state governments to take difficult decisions to reform the oil sector, reduce dependency on oil revenue, diversifying the economy, tackle corruption and vested interests, and improve IGR.
He said: “We must resist the temptation to focus on raising IGR without understanding that taxation is a core component of the social contract. For people to willingly pay tax, they have to be convinced that the government will provide them with quality services.
“Global evidence on domestic revenue mobilisation shows that government can optimise IGR by focusing on equitable, diversified and sustainable sources, securing better links between taxes and public services, encouraging civil society support, educating citizens on tax, strengthening taxpayer’s rights and improving the capacity of revenue agencies.”
No doubt, this is food for thought for the governors in their quest to improve the revenue base of their respective states. They should also guard against leakages in revenue, which is a common trend at both federal and state levels.
Humiliation of Ndigbo, now a state policy – Ukoh
The founder of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM), Evang. Elliot Ukoh, in this interview with KENNETH OFOMA, bares his mind on so many national issues in Nigeria including the need to restructure Nigeria, among others
The 20th anniversary of your group was quite interesting, what actually has been the driving force of IYM?
IYM was founded and established by God for a particular purpose and He has been directing the affairs of the group since 1999. What started as a youth organisation designed to promote Igbo language and good behaviour amongst Igbo youths gradually began to accommodate questions on the precarious Igbo condition in Nigeria. Slowly, IYM began to enlarge the discussion from the importance of education and other issues to the need for Nigeria to ensure justice for Ndigbo.
IYM is not only fearlessly defending the rights of Ndigbo, but has metamorphosed to the authentic and trusted voice of the oppressed and voiceless Ndigbo. Because the Igbo elite can meander their way to survive in Nigeria, they do not care about the plight of the downtrodden. So, IYM initially wasn’t created to inspire the younger generation of Ndigbo, to wake them up from slumber, to make them understand that if they do nothing about their condition in Nigeria, they will only be shifting that job and responsibility to their progeny. But that is exactly what IYM became with time.
How far has the group been able to go in this set goal of sensitizing Igbo youths?
Nobody seemed to care about the younger generation of Ndigbo. So I took up the gauntlet. My target was purely the younger generation; to prepare them for the task ahead. I travelled across the country, preaching to Igbo youths to organise themselves and fight for their rights. I told them that nobody would fight for them if they don’t fight for their rights. I showed them glaring instances of clear oppression and subjugation of Ndigbo in Nigeria. I moved from school to school, compiled details of brazen suppression of our rights and denial of our dues as part of Nigeria. It was only a matter of time before they woke up from their slumber. I was fortunate, respected elders honoured my invitation to speak to the youth at every of my seminars. We had questions and answer sessions. It was those questions and answers sessions that opened my eyes to the depth of the frustration of the Igbo younger generation and I became alarmed.
Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu, who generously and kindly attended dozens of IYM seminars, confided in me that he wasn’t shocked at the bitterness in the hearts of the youth. He told me that he knew the younger generation will be very angry at the treatment they are receiving from Nigeria. He said the rest of Nigeria do not care about the frustration of Igbo youths because Nigeria is still busy celebrating the defeat of Biafra but that the younger generation will not accept the suppression of Ndigbo much longer. He knew that something was bound to happen. He posited that the envy and fear of Ndigbo was largely responsible for the conspiracy to hold Ndigbo down perpetually.
So, by the late 1980s, I had known that the younger generation will reject and resist the position of servitude designed for Ndigbo by the victors of the civil war. I happened to know this not because I am a very smart person. I found out simply because I organised seminars for Igbo youths and during question and answer sessions, young Igbo men would lament that they are tired of Nigeria and wished for a separate state, where they would be treated like human beings. Students will say the same thing traders at Aba and Lagos as well as civil servants would say and these people do not know each other.
Why do you think the lamentations of Igbo youths are not heeded to by successive Nigerian governments?
The Nigerian state was clearly deceived by the “desperate hustling” of the Igbo elite club, who are desperate for anything that they are willing to execute a contract through subletting, even crawling from office to office licking boots for crumbs. Nigeria’s leadership erroneously concluded that Ndigbo have finally accepted the humiliating position designed for them as their proper place in Nigeria. Accordingly, the humiliation of Ndigbo became state policy but they forgot that Igbo elite represent only one per cent of Ndigbo. They also forgot that Igbo are republican in nature; that every Igbo reacts according to how the shoe pinches him and the Igbo are never controlled by the announcement from somebody somewhere.
They also did not realise that the elite accepted the continuous humiliation in Nigeria because of two reasons. One, they are educated and therefore can always find a way to survive in Nigeria known globally as a very corrupt playground for Asian and Middle East scammers, masquerading as business men and who boast all over the world, how Nigerian officials are the easiest to compromise their positions to the detriment of their own citizens. Secondly, the trauma of the civil war created two different classes of Ndigbo – those who are willing to accept the continuous humiliation of Ndigbo and those who are willing to do anything to restore their lost dignity. This fact, sadly, remains lost on the Nigerian state, which regrettably believes that force and intimidation will subdue the angry Igbo younger generation to accept the continuous humiliation Ndigbo have been facing since 1970.
Could that be why the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) are agitating for Biafra and is that the way out for Ndigbo?
I have repeatedly screamed the way out for decades. I have been screaming long before Ralph Uwazurike established MASSOB. If I had joined my friends and classmates to hustle for political accommodation in Nigeria, I would not have known the shocking discovery I found out during the seminars organized for Igbo youths by IYM. If those friends parading as themselves successful politicians had found time to organise seminars for Igbo youths like I did in the 1980s and 1990s, they too would have discovered the degree of anger burning in the hearts of the younger generation. They also would have known that even their sycophants are not happy with Nigeria. They would have known that the only people happy with Nigeria are those benefiting from the misery in the land. They would have known that these agitations were inevitable. It was bound to happen. Nigeria was bound to come to this.
In all these, what is the way out?
I would only be repeating myself. 25 years ago, Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu asked Bob Onyema to bring me to Villaska lodge, Ikoyi for a meeting. At that time, I was leading a coalition of Ndigbo Youth groups in Lagos. What came out from that very important gathering of very important leaders was actually packaged for the General Sani Abacha constitutional conference of 1994/1995. What some people at that time called Afenifere agenda simply because the Senator Abraham Adesanya-led National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) amplified it at that time. I am yet to see any superior argument till date.
Nigerians have no better choice. Nigeria is not working. There are reports of past conferences, many sections are bitter and angry with the current structure, some even want to opt out of Nigeria. The system that worked from the mid 1950s to mid 1960s gave everyone a sense of belonging. Those lying to themselves that they can hold Nigeria together under this unitary structure are the problem. Why they choose to deceive themselves beats me. Nigeria cannot grow under this military constitution. If the political structure is not reconstructed to true federalism by devolving powers to the federating units, Nigeria will collapse. Going back to the 1963 Republican Constitution is the way out.
Former minister, Prof Chinedu Nebo said recently that Igbo political leaders are responsible for the woes of Ndigbo. Do you agree with him?
Prof. Nebo is a highly respected intellectual and leader of men. It depends on what context he spoke. Everybody knows the Igbo political leadership has not done well. Just look at the zone. No seaport, no airport, no rail services, no motorable road. That’s not all; there is no clear political direction. Add this to the popular narrative all over the country that a certain influential politician from the South-West drafted President Muhammadu Buhari for the top job six years ago due to what they termed, the unbridled arrogance of Igbo politicians who encircled then President Goodluck Jonathan at the time, fending off everybody else, so the story goes. This politician from the South-West was very bitter with the Igbo politicians who surrounded Jonathan at the time.
He lamented how he abandoned his own presidential candidate, Nuhu Ribadu, and entered into a deal to return Jonathan in 2011, only to be dealt a bad card. He is said to be willing to forgive Jonathan, but remains unforgiving to the Igbo politicians who he believed misled Jonathan. Out of anger and frustration, he entered into alliance with Buhari, to get back at Ndigbo. Now if this narrative is true, it then throws up the question: What did Ndigbo benefit from Jonathan for which we are presently suffering so much isolation over the conduct of Igbo political class over which some people do not wish to forgive Ndigbo?
It could only mean, that those Igbo politicians who shepherded Jonathan and allegedly blocked this angry South-West leader from receiving any patronage whatsoever from Jonathan hijacked Jonathan for their personal benefit as there is nothing to show for Igbo unalloyed support for Jonathan. Absolutely nothing! It is even said that Igbo sons and daughters in that government mindlessly helped themselves with funds meant for infrastructural development in Igbo land. Pathetic! In that case, Prof. Nebo is absolutely correct. He must know what he is talking about as he was an insider as minister in Jonathan’s government.
Kogi: Wada rejects result, heads for court
he Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate in Saturday’s governorship election in Kogi State, Engr. Musa Wada, yesterday, rejected results so far announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Wada, at a press conference in Lokoja, described the election as not only a scam, but a replica of war orchestrated by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and security agents deployed to the state.
He decried a situation, where armed policemen led APC thugs to snatch ballot boxes and materials at areas where the APC was losing.
He, however, noted that he and his party have rejected the results and outcome of the election in its entirety.
His words: “As far as my party and I are concerned, this election is not only a scam, but more like a war because there was connivance between the ruling party and security agents to perpetuate widespread malpractices through intimidation of voters, snatching of ballot boxes, thereby subverting the will of the people.
“If this kind of election continues, I think there should be no need for election as just allowing people to come out to vote is a mere formality. What they did at the collation centres is not the true reflection of the electorate’s choice.”
Wada accused the Commissioner of Police in the state doing government’s bidding throughout the exercise.
“A situation where the Commissioner of Police in Kogi State had to go to a collation centre at Dekina and stayed there from 11p.m. of Saturday till morning of Sunday, going in and out, with mission unknown, I think he was there to carry out the APC’s directive,” he said.
Raising alarm on the result from Okene Local Government Area, where Governor Yahaya Bello hails from, the PDP candidate said the council has never produced the kind of figure it recorded during the poll.
His words: “Look at a place like Okene, with less than 50,000 accredited voters turning out 120,000 accredited voters. Never in the history of Okene has the place turned out 40,000 or 50,000 votes. There are lots cases they will answer at the tribunal and we are getting set to ensure that justice is done. Elections have been controversial since the coming of the APC in the country. They have taken us back to the dark days of 1999.”
Wada insisted that the entire results from the 21 local government areas of the state were not the true reflection of the people’s choice, adding that the results were written by the APC and accepted by INEC.
According to him, true results from polling units across the state shows that he is the winner of the election.
“I, Engr. Musa Wada, won the November 16 gubernatorial election in Kogi State and I have all it takes to prove my case when the time comes.
“If they take away the fake results from Okene, Adavi and Okehi, of course the APC will not have come close to the votes I genuinely polled. They rigged the election with the votes of the Central Senatorial district,” he claimed.
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