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Strictly Personal

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, By Jideofor Adibe



The recent Supreme Court judgement which affirmed the ruling of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, was not unexpected. As Abimbola Adelaku, one of my favourite columnists, summed it in The Punch of November 2, 2023, “everyone – and by that I mean people who did not become Nigerians just last night”, did not expect a different outcome.

“Apart from a few who love histrionics and pretended to be pleasantly surprised, I do not know of anyone who imagined that a court that could remove an incumbent president in Nigeria had been composed,” she further wrote.

As the Court of the last resort in the country, the ruling brings to a close the legal challenges to the outcome of the February 25, 2023 presidential election. There are however lasting implications of the election, its aftermath and the ruling of the Supreme Court for the country. These include:

One, some overzealous supporters of the Tinubu government are already pushing the narrative that the ruling of the Supreme Court should be ‘the end of politics’ (to paraphrase Francis Fukuyama’s famous 1989 essay, ‘The End of History’, which he later published as a book in 1992). But this is only triumphalism masked under phrases such as “the time of politicking is over, it is now the time for governance”. Or: “The President should be allowed to concentrate on governance.”

The irony is that the advocates of “the end of politics” are themselves being political. They are either trying to stifle the voices of opposition or blackmail critics of the government, both of which are needed to keep the government on its toes in a democracy, for optimal performance. The self-appointed defenders of the polity would often grudgingly welcome “constructive criticisms” without telling us the metrics for determining the constructiveness of criticisms or who determines what is ‘constructive’ about any criticism.

The truth is that governments want to hear only the echo of their voices or their lap dogs and are usually uncomfortable with criticisms and critics. This constitutes a potential threat to democracy and is one of the reasons why the distrust of government is very high in mature democracies. This in turn is one of the reasons for the high premium placed on freedom of speech in such democracies.

Two, contrary to what many people think, it is not only political parties that could play opposition to the government of the day. Sections of the country could do that – as we saw with the South-West during the Second Republic, the Yar’Adua and Jonathan years (to a less extent). The South-East was also a bastion of opposition to the Buhari presidency. Civil society and labour groups could  equally play the role of an opposition party. In this sense, the fear about the possible emasculation of opposition parties and groups which would imperil our democracy seems unlikely..

Three, it will be difficult for INEC to overcome the sort of  legitimacy crisis that has engulfed the electoral umpire since the last presidential election for as long it is headed by Professor Mahmoud Yakubu.  True, to be chairman of INEC has always been a poisoned chalice and losers always cry foul. However, in the last election, perceptions of incompetence and complicity in perpetrating electoral frauds were so widespread and so well documented by both local and international observers that confidence on the electoral body seems to be at an all-time low since the tenure of Professor Maurice Iwu. In climes where public officials care about honour, Professor Yakubu would have since stepped aside, if not for anything, as a way of taking responsibility for the failings of the electoral umpire despite the humongous sums sunk into it.

Four, the election and the subsequent Supreme Court judgement also underline the need for more electoral reforms. First, there is an urgent need to make it mandatory that all legal disputes are concluded before the inauguration of the President because as Abimbola Adelabu aptly put it in her very compelling column, the court that will have the gravitas to remove an incumbent President from office is yet to be constituted – and may not be constituted in the nearest future. Second,  it may be time to consider having a Presidential Council of six (one from each geo-political zone) where the Council members will take turns in being president for two years while others will serve as Vice President with constitutionally designated powers.

This rotational presidency arrangement, currently practised in Switzerland and the European Union, will not only address fears of being marginalised by various parts of the country, it will also speak to the anarchic nature of our politics. One of the reasons for the Hobbesian nature of our politics is its winner-takes-all character: there is a pervasive fear that the group that wins the presidency will use its enormous powers to privilege its in-group and disadvantage the others.

The Buhari government took this abuse of fairness to a new low (while apparently mocking the rest of us with periodic declarations that his conscience was clear on allegations that he was nepotistic. The Tinubu government seems intent on continuing or even besting that legacy of nepotism, which could mean that by the time he completes his tenure, this may become ‘normalised’, and future leaders will see their tenures as the ‘turn’ of their own ethnic/religious group.

By having representatives of the six geopolitical zones in the Presidential Council, and enshrining in the Constitution that certain decisions or appointments must require the concurrence of all members of the Council) the fear of marginalisation will be attenuated. A single term tenure of 12 years for the Presidential Council will equally give everyone a break from politics which seems to have deepened our fault lines. In any case, it will seem that an increasing number of Nigerians do not even believe that their votes count or that elections are credible vehicles for leadership recruitment. So why waste time and resources on them every four years?

“Ironically, while using presidential powers to privilege a President’s in-groups and disadvantage or weaken others seen as rivals or non-supporters may be the new normal, it actually attracts resentment to the supposed benefitting ethnic group. For instance, it is thought that one of the reasons why it was easy for the rest of the country to unite against the Igbo (who formed the majority in the short-lived Biafran Republic) during the Civil War was the resentment against them arising from their perceived domination of the country during the First Republic.

Similarly, Buhari’s perceived privileging of Hausa/Fulani / Kanuri Muslims during his presidency, led to an unbridled and unfair profiling of the Fulanis during his tenure, with talks of ‘Fulanisation’ morphing into an anti-government mantra. Additionally, quite often some members of the supposed benefitting in-group will be among the most vociferous critics of the act of injustice against others as we saw with Northern Muslims leading the criticisms of Buhari’s nepotism and some Yoruba intellectuals already complaining loudly that cornering the juiciest of appointments does not reflect what the ethnic group stands for.

Five, the election and subsequent Supreme Court judgement once more highlights the fickleness of human loyalty and the transactional character of some politicians, sycophants and influence seekers and peddlers. For instance, shortly after INEC’s declaration of Tinubu as the President-elect, some in the above named category gradually began to adjust their rhetoric to court the attention of the new man in power. One particular character who, prior to the declaration of Tinubu as President carried himself as Atiku’s alter ego, suddenly and shamelessly began to sing a new song.

He sought to ingratiate himself to a man he had openly called all sorts of names, including a baron by tapping into  the government’s perceived proclivities, including praising the Yoruba as the best ethnic group in the world, while berating those he feels are on the black book of the President. We also saw a Senator decamp to the new ruling party, praising the President for his supposed “fairness to all parts of the country”.

The election and the active controversies it triggered also exposed many Nigerians, from across the divides, including some who were previously regarded as national icons, as no more than closet ethnic chauvinists. The reputation of many of these people is unlikely to recover from this. In the end, the election and its aftermath marked the triumph of  politics without principle, and with the Supreme Court judgement, the triumph of the philosophy of the goat follows the man with the palm fronds. Or a triumph of identity politics over politics of principles.


Strictly Personal

As a continent, we must confront the emergency of our failure to learn, By Joachim Buwembo



“As a nation, we must confront the emergency of our failure to learn!” well-circulated news clips showed veteran Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga saying, in reaction to the (lack of) preparedness despite accurate warnings of the floods that by the time he spoke had claimed some 200 lives in the country.

Baba, as Raila is popularly known, must have used the words “as a nation” advisedly for, at the time he was speaking, helicopters were evacuating (wealthy) foreigners from flooded sites as the Kenyan citizens continued drowning.

But Baba might as well have said “as a continent” because of the tendency to watch disaster coming and doing nothing happens in other African countries.

The question then is whether African leaders are doing their best to prevent or contain disasters and, second, the accurately predictable ones occasioned by climate change. The third question is if the best by African leaders is good enough.

If not, then the fourth question is what can be done without alarming the leaders who might become defensive and suspicious of those asking legitimate questions about the protection of life, property and infrastructure. The fifth question is how their capacity to learn can be created by the famous (or notorious) capacity-building workshops.

But, before proceeding, we need to answer a sixth question: Whether failure to learn is an emergency. Failure to learn prevails, otherwise we wouldn’t be acting like the hazards of climate change are unknown phenomena.

I spent a whole year at the beginning of the last decade flying into African capitals from my Nairobi base in service of UNDP and the International Centre for Journalism, training journalists on climate change reporting but, more significantly, lobbying and securing the commitment of chief editors to give priority to the menace threatening humanity.

And there were several senior journalists on the programme, ensuring that the major media in all countries on the continent were reached.

So, even if African leaders were occupied with “more important issues” than climatic threats to lives and livelihoods, if the media had kept highlighting the climate issues beyond reporting about big people periodically meeting in fancy venues to talk about it, the public would be demanding more serious preparedness by their governments. Having to endure senseless but predictable deaths and destruction of infrastructure is, indeed, an emergency.

The seventh question is, who will bell the cat? Who will tell the naked emperors (to be fair some are dressed) that they are naked?

A protocol official who was managing a visiting royal’s schedule once whispered his agonising experience when the foreign monarch overslept after sampling some local somethings, and the mere thought of disturbing the royal sleep was considered sacrilege by the royal entourage, yet the host counterpart was waiting and the clock was ticking away past their meeting time.

The protocol officer had to cause some commotion in the many-star hotel, causing a diplomatic incident to prevent a diplomatic crisis. It takes unusual steps to bell a naked emperor.

Yet the answer to the seventh question already exists: The African Union can, and should, bell the cat. The AU was not created to be a social club for naked emperors; it is meant to make Africa work. But Africa cannot work with the prevailing obstacles to its working: our “Emergency of Failure to Learn!” Don’t abbreviate it, those suffering EFL may think you are talking about a European Football League.

Only last week, Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (Nema) announced to our largely inattentive public and authorities that the pollution over Kampala is approaching crisis level. The Nema boss reeled off some head-reeling data in particulates per million, summarising it by saying the air over Kampala is eight times above WHO’s permissible levels.

The authorities and public continued yawning.But the Nema fellows dutifully put it clearly that air pollution is now the world’s single leading killer, claiming six to seven million lives annually, about the same number Covid killed in two years, and far more than malaria, HIV, road accidents or anything you can think of.

Nema named Uganda’s top polluters that kill 31,000 a year as vehicles, boda boda, and domestic cooking (charcoal and wood).

When we overcome the EFL and start tackling our EFT (not electronic funds transfer but Emergency of Failure to Think), we may direct the huge electricity quantities we generate but don’t consume to free cooking energy for the urban poor and to mass public transport, thus addressing the identified top causes of death in Uganda.

Nema can talk on but, for as long as we don’t handle our EFL and EFT, their alarm bells won’t move us.

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist.

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Strictly Personal

If I were put in charge of a $15m African kitty, I’d first deworm children, By Charles Onyango-Obbo



One of my favourite stories on pan-African action (or in this case inaction), one I will never tire of repeating, comes from 2002, when the discredited Organisation of African Unity, was rebranded into an ambitious, new African Union (AU).

There were many big hitters in African statehouses then. Talking of those who have had the grace to step down or leave honourably after electoral or political defeat, or have departed, in Nigeria we had Olusegun Obasanjo, a force of nature. Cerebral and studious Thabo Mbeki was chief in South Africa. In Ethiopia, the brass-knuckled and searingly intellectual Meles Zenawi ruled the roost.

In Tanzania, there was the personable and thoughtful Ben Mkapa. In Botswana, there was Festus Mogae, a leader who had a way of bringing out the best in people. In Senegal, we had Abdoulaye Wade, fresh in office, and years before he went rogue.

And those are just a few.

This club of men (there were no women at the high table) brought forth the AU. At that time, there was a lot of frustration about the portrayal of Africa in international media, we decided we must “tell our own story” to the world. The AU, therefore, decided to boost the struggling Pan-African New Agency (Pana) network.

The members were asked to write cheques or pledges for it. There were millions of dollars offered by the South Africans and Nigerians of our continent. Then, as at every party, a disruptive guest made a play. Rwanda, then still roiled by the genocide against the Tutsi of 1994, offered the least money; a few tens of thousand dollars.

There were embarrassed looks all around. Some probably thought it should just have kept is mouth shut, and not made a fool of itself with its ka-money. Kigali sat unflustered. Maybe it knew something the rest didn’t.

The meeting ended, and everyone went their merry way. Pana sat and waited for the cheques to come. The big talkers didn’t walk the talk. Hardly any came, and in the sums that were pledged. Except one. The cheque from Rwanda came in the exact amount it was promised. The smallest pledge became Pana’s biggest payday.

The joke is that it was used to pay terminal benefits for Pana staff. They would have gone home empty-pocketed.

We revive this peculiarly African moment (many a deep-pocketed African will happily contribute $300 to your wedding but not 50 cents to build a school or set up a scholarship fund), to campaign for the creation of small and beautiful African things.

It was brought on by the announcement by South Korea that it had joined the African Summit bandwagon, and is shortly hosting a South Korea-Africa Summit — like the US, China, the UK, the European Union, Japan, India, Russia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey do.

Apart from the AU, whose summits are in danger of turning into dubious talk shops, outside of limited regional bloc events, there is no Pan-African platform that brings the continent’s leaders together.

The AU summits are not a solutions enterprise, partly because over 60 percent of its budget is funded by non-African development partners. You can’t seriously say you are going to set up a $500 million African climate crisis fund in the hope that some Europeans will put up the money.

It’s possible to reprise the Rwanda-Pana pledge episode; a convention of African leaders and important institutions on the continent for a “Small Initiatives, Big Impact Compact”. It would be a barebones summit. In the first one, leaders would come to kickstart it by investing seed money.

The rule would be that no country would be allowed to put up more than $100,000 — far, far less than it costs some presidents and their delegations to attend one day of an AU summit.

There would also be no pledges. Everyone would come with a certified cheque that cannot bounce, or hard cash in a bag. After all, some of our leaders are no strangers to travelling around with sacks from which they hand out cash like they were sweets.

If 54 states (we will exempt the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for special circumstances) contribute $75,000 each, that is a good $4.05 million.

If just 200 of the bigger pan-African institutions such as the African Development Bank, Afrexim Bank, the giant companies such as MTN, Safaricom, East African Breweries, Nedbank, De Beers, Dangote, Orascom in Egypt, Attijariwafa Bank in Morocco, to name a few, each ponied up $75,000 each, that’s a cool $15 million just for the first year alone.

There will be a lot of imagination necessary to create magic out of it all, no doubt, but if I were asked to manage the project, I would immediately offer one small, beautiful thing to do.

After putting aside money for reasonable expenses to be paid at the end (a man has to eat) — which would be posted on a public website like all other expenditures — I would set out on a programme to get the most needy African children a dose of deworming tablets. Would do it all over for a couple of years.

Impact? Big. I read that people who received two to three additional years of childhood deworming experience an increase of 14 percent in consumption expenditure, 13 percent in hourly earnings, and nine percent in non-agricultural work hours.

At the next convention, I would report back, and possibly dazzle with the names, and photographs, of all the children who got the treatment. Other than the shopping opportunity, the US-Africa Summit would have nothing on that.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. X@cobbo3

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