Archive for March 2008

Public servants and Christmas bonus loot

March 31, 2008
By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 30 Mar 2008
HERE is a story that perfectly illustrates the rot in the entity called Nigeria. It is the story of four men, who own a cat each. A friend e-mailed it to me recently. The men all brag about how smart their cats are. The first man, an engineer, calls on his cat named T-square to demonstrate his smartness first. The cat jumps onto the desk and circles a square and a triangle on a piece of paper.

The second man, an accountant, says his cat can do better. To demonstrate this, his cat, called Spreadsheet, goes to the kitchen and brings a dozen cookies. He divides them into four equal piles of three cookies. The third man is a chemist. His own cat, named Measure, walks to the fridge, takes out a quart of milk, and pours eight ounces into a 10-ounce glass without spilling a drop. Everybody acknowledges the brilliant performances of the cats.

But when it comes to the turn of Coffee-break (for that is the name of the cat belonging to the fourth man, a government employee), he springs up, eats the cookies, drinks the milk, and defecates on the paper. He not only screws the other three cats, but also claims he injured his back in the process. For this, he files a report against unsafe working conditions, asks for compensation, and proceeds on sick leave for the rest of the day.

This is the type of greed that defines public service in Nigeria. Government is the biggest industry in the country today. And for doing little or nothing, some government employees can take home in a day what a private company executive earns in a year.

Civil servants are said to be the engine room of government. But some of them have become the engine room of corruption as well. Without the active support and connivance of some civil servants, the looting of Nigeria‘s resources will not have been possible.

Take the N300m scam in the Health Ministry for instance. That money was supposed to be an unspent 2007 budget of the ministry. President Umaru Yar‘Adua had ordered that such money should be returned to the treasury. But some officials of the ministry thought it would still be business as usual. They allegedly shared the money as Christmas bonus. It is very likely that that was not the first time such a thing would happen. Nigerians only got to know about this because somebody felt aggrieved that he was not given what was due him. He then decided to spill the beans.

This type of scandal is not the exclusive preserve of the Ministry of Health. Recall that a few years ago, a former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara, and an ex-Minister of Education, Prof. Fabian Osuji, were involved in a bribe-for-budget scandal. The allegation was that the Senate leadership then demanded N50m in order to pass the budget for the ministry.

Earlier this month, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission arrested a Deputy Director in the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation for corruption. The man was accused of using his position to award a contract worth over N22m for the rehabilitation of rural feeder roads to a company he has substantial interest in. Again, this blew open because somebody who felt short-changed that he was not given the contract, petitioned the ICPC.

The same ICPC is on the trail of some government officials, who diverted over N3bn Universal Basic Education funds in 20 states. The commission noted that some state governments diverted about N3.3bn out of N54.7bn mapped out for the development of primary education in the country. Irregular payments were reportedly made to contractors with fictitious names. In Kebbi State, for instance, about N526m was allegedly paid to 114 fictitious contractors on a Saturday and a Sunday!

In the case of the Health Ministry’s scam, the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Health also partook in the sharing of the loot. They reportedly collected N10m each. And the money was supposed to be for a capacity building trip to Ghana and for the committees’ oversight functions. But pray, why will a committee of the National Assembly collect money from a ministry it is supposed to oversee? Was about N47bn not voted for the recurrent expenditure of the House in the 2008 budget?

The name of the game is greed. And the strategy is simple: bribe the legislators; rope in the accountants, the auditors, and all those who should act as a check on the corrupt tendencies in the system to cover the tracks. When such people are compromised and weakened, they will not have the moral right to question any fraud in the polity. And so the looting can continue ad infinitum.

We may not be the only corrupt country in the world. But while other nations see it as cardinal sin and have institutionalised checks to control the problem, we pay lip service to it. Last month, for instance, Tanzanian Prime Minister, Edward Lowassa, and two ministers resigned after being implicated in a corruption scandal. In a deal reminiscent of Nigeria’s power sector scandal, Lowassa and Co. were alleged to have improperly awarded a contract to a US-based electricity company called Richmond Development in 2006. In January, the governor of that country’s central bank was sacked because public funds grew wings and disappeared from the bank.

In the United Kingdom, a new rule to ensure greater transparency among Members of Parliament is in the offing. From April 1, the amount of expenses MPs can claim without a receipt will be cut from £250 to £25. The amount of petty cash MPs can use for office expenses will also be reduced from £250 to £50 per month. Some MPs even reportedly suggested random spot-checks to ensure the money had been spent on the purpose intended.

Here, our own MPs are not satisfied with their jumbo salaries and allowances. Some of them still engage in illegal deals to grab more money. Happily, this administration seems to be waking up to the challenge posed to this nation by corruption. Our own Minister of Health, Prof. Adenike Grange, and the Minister of State in the ministry, Mr Gabriel Aduku, have since resigned over the N300m scam. I suspect the Presidency might have forced them to take that action. The President also ordered the suspension of 11 top civil servants in the ministry. Since Grange said she was not to blame for the scam, she and others should be given an opportunity to clear their names at a court of competent jurisdiction. Those found guilty should be made to face the law.

As the ICPC Chairman, Emmanuel Ayoola, reportedly noted recently, the war on corruption must be total if we are to achieve any desirable result. Nigerians must continue to hold their leaders at various levels to account. They must be able to access asset declaration forms of public office holders. This is to find out those who are stealing our money and banking it abroad when it is against the law for public officers to operate foreign accounts. A prompt passage of the Freedom of Information Bill will go a long way to empower whistleblowers.

There is also the need to strengthen the auditing process of public accounts and overhaul the public service. We cannot continue to suffer the sins of a few public servants who have continued to eat our cookies, drink our milk and then take sick leave to go and enjoy the loot.

Missing plane, aviation herdsmen and rescue hunters

March 25, 2008

Casmir Igbokwe

Hunting is associated with village life. Any mention of it brings fond memories of those days when boys and girls engaged in moonlight plays with little or no fear of unwanted pregnancy. With a bag on his shoulder, a local gun and a dog in tow, a hunter could traverse the bush the whole day hunting for those rabbit-like animals popularly called grass-cutters. Granted that urbanisation has changed all that now, recent happenings in the country show that a hunter still has his relevance after all.

Last week, media reports indicated that the authorities of the National Emergency Management Agency engaged the services of Fulani herdsmen, farmers and hunters to track a missing aircraft belonging to Wings Aviation. The plane, which had three crewmembers on board, got missing since Saturday, 15 March. It was headed for Obudu in Cross River State.

Recall that Bauchi, Katsina, and Kebbi States had also engaged the services of a local hunter to flush out bandits from their states. The hunter, Ali Kwara, reportedly got endorsement from the police high command. Reputed for their prowess in African magic, herdsmen and hunters may well be the ones to solve the riddle surrounding the missing aircraft.

Nigeria is never short of high-profile drama. Or how else does one situate the fact that a day after the crash, the Minister of State for Air Transportation, Felix Hyat, said the wreckage of the plane had been found. The following day, the minister said his statement was a lie. According to him, he was misled into believing that people had sighted the plane at a village in Cross River State. As usual, most Nigerians prayed and hoped for a miracle to locate the aircraft and, perhaps, find the occupants alive.

This same problem surfaced in October 2005 when a Bellview aircraft crashed soon after take-off. Initial report from aviation authorities then was that the plane had been located in a community called Kishi, which is between Oyo and Kwara States. They raced to that area to see things for themselves. While they treated Nigerians to this tomfoolery, Africa Independent Television beamed the wreckage of the aircraft live at Lissa in Ogun State. For daring to tell Nigerians the truth, AIT was temporarily shut down by the powers that be.

Not only are the emergency services in our airports comatose, the infrastructure generally is rotten. In December 2005, a DC-9 aircraft belonging to Sosoliso Airline crashed in Port Harcourt. The problem here was not that over 100 passengers perished, but that people saw their children burning. And the fire fighters could not rescue the victims, as they had no water to work with.

Penultimate Wednesday, I was at the local wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos, for a trip to Owerri. I had cause to use the toilet at the departure lounge. Afterwards, I turned on the tap to wash my hands. There was no water. I opened the second tap. Still no water. I approached the lady manning the place and complained. “Sorry,” she said, “the taps are not working.”

I later found water at the Muslims’ ablution area in the toilet, stooped down and washed my hands. But when I got up to dry my hands, I found no functional hand dryer or tissue. Fuming, I joined the queue to board the waiting aircraft. As we were waiting to board, a car pulled up at the tarmac. Champion publisher, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, emerged from the car and moved his massive frame into the aircraft. I felt like confronting him and telling him, “See how your People’s Democratic Party is ruling us!” 

Nigeria has variously been described as fragile, weak and a failing state. And this is a country blessed with enormous resources. People embezzle money mapped out for projects without batting an eyelid. It is not as if funds were not released for the general development of the aviation sector. There was N19.5bn aviation intervention fund. What happened to the money may never be known. Already, the Senate Committee on Aviation has begun some form of probe into the spending of that money. The committee is reportedly dissatisfied over the non-utilisation of the funds to improve facilities at the airport. Even with the money, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria and the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency are said to be weighed down by debts.

In other public sectors, it is the same story of graft and negligence. For instance, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Power and Steel has treated Nigerians to mind-boggling revelations at the public hearing on $16bn power sector probe. Nigerians have heard how the immediate past regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo awarded contracts to 34 firms that were not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission. They have heard how about N10bn worth of contract was inflated. And they have heard that these contractors collected mobilisation fees and did nothing.

These perfidies have continued because our leaders are not sincere in tackling the issue of corruption. Electoral and political systems bring to power, questionable characters who owe their allegiance not to the electorate but to party thugs and godfathers. They reward these goons with huge contracts.

Those who could do something fail to do so either because they partake in the sharing of the booty or they are afraid to speak out. I was amused when I read a statement credited to the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, over the victory of Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala at the elections petitions tribunal. Traditional rulers in Oyo State, Alaafin reportedly said, would have sunk if Alao-Akala had lost at the tribunal. Kabiyeesi, please do not sink.

The problems in our hands are enormous. But happily, some of our leaders appear to be getting upset at the way we do things. Senate President, David Mark, was angry at the incompetence that trailed the missing of the Beechcraft airplane. He wondered why nobody had resigned as a result of that. Mark and his colleagues should go beyond mere rhetoric. They should do something fundamental to change our culture of incompetence.

In saner countries, all aviation agencies responsible for the certification of airplanes, radar facilities, emergency management etc would have been answering questions by now. People would have received adequate punishment for negligence. The worrying thing is that in almost all the crashes we have experienced, nobody has been able to find any clue as regards the real cause of such incidents. President Umaru Yar’Adua should do something to sanitise our aviation sector. So far, he has not said anything regarding the current crash. Why he has remained taciturn in this national tragedy is uncertain. It is as if there is no government in place.  

That, perhaps, is why our heroes today are hunters and herdsmen. What remains is for us to revert to tying loincloths, building thatch houses and calling on Britain to come and continue from where it was forced to stop in 1960.

Happy Easter!

Fight for women’s lives

March 17, 2008
By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 16 Mar 2008
FIDELIA (not real name) was rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, Imo State, with a referral from another hospital. The 23-year-old girl, who was the second in a family of seven, was presented with abdominal pain and some other ailments. Seventeen days earlier, she had terminated an unwanted eight-week-old pregnancy by unsafe means. During the procedure at a chemist shop in Rivers State, Fidelia reportedly bled profusely.

At the FMC Owerri, doctors noticed that her vulva was smeared with blood; she was very pale, feverish and dehydrated. They made a provisional diagnosis of septic abortion, severe anaemia and renal compromise. They later performed surgery for the girl and drained out 700mls or one big bottle of pus from her peritoneal cavity.

Even after the surgery, the girl’s condition did not improve. At a point, she reportedly developed fits, hallucinations and became irrational. Thirty days later, Fidelia died. Cause of death? Renal or kidney failure, secondary to septic abortion.

This story, as narrated by a consultant gynaecologist at the FMC Owerri, Dr Emily Nzeribe, points to a disturbing reality in our world today. That reality, according to Nzeribe, is that of the 210 million pregnancies that occur yearly in the world, an estimated 46 million or 22 per cent end in induced abortions. Out of this number, 20 million are unsafe and eventually lead to about 13 per cent of pregnancy-related deaths.

Even with restrictive laws on abortion, Nigeria reportedly records about 760, 000 abortions every year. Official statistics indicate that the maternal mortality ratio in the country is about 1,000 deaths per 100, 000 live births. Unsafe abortions, according to experts, account for a greater number of this figure. The reason is because the Nigerian society, as Nzeribe put it, “is hypocritical; the laws are restrictive; there is low use of contraceptive and family planning services.”

Here lies the crux of the matter. Most citizens abhor any overt or covert attempt to legalise abortion. Senator Daisy Danjuma, for instance, introduced a bill on National Institute of Reproductive Health in the last political dispensation. That bill was at the instance of the Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria. And it was aimed at reducing maternal mortality in Nigeria and hence attaining one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of achieving a 75 per cent reduction in maternal mortality by 2015. No sooner had Danjuma proposed that bill than severe criticisms followed. Some people labelled it an abortion bill. They almost went for the woman’s jugular.

One major reason for this is that Nigeria is a deeply religious society. The Catholic Church, for instance, does not support any form of artificial family planning methods. Not even the use of condom is permitted. It preaches total abstinence from sexual acts for unmarried people and the Billings ovulation method of family planning for married couples. Ovulation method partly involves some calculation whereby a woman must know when it is safe to have sex that will not result in pregnancy.

Ideally, total abstinence and ovulation method are desirable. They are against promiscuity. They check unwanted pregnancy. And they make for a better and healthier society. I support these wholeheartedly.

However, the reality is that this ideal situation is practically unrealistic and socially unrealisable. Sex is one of the physiological needs of man. At 14, most girls are already sexually active. Last week, I was in Owerri for a workshop on increasing community awareness on sexual and reproductive health and rights of women. An international non-profit organisation called IPAS organised the workshop.

According to the Country Director of the organisation in Nigeria, Dr Ejike Oji, the average age of first sexual intercourse for all women is 15.9 years. And one fifth of world population or 1.2 billion people are adolescents. These adolescents, he notes, make up 13-40 per cent of maternal mortality. Sixty to 80 per cent of unsafe abortions occur among them. An estimated 10,000-15,000 women, Oji stresses, die in the country yearly from unsafe abortion. This situation has been worsening over the years and it places Nigeria atop the countries with the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

In Western Europe and some other advanced societies, the reverse is the case. In Italy, for instance, maternal mortality rate is said to be five per 100, 000 live births and the lifetime risk of maternal death is said to be one per 13, 900. In some countries like Norway, it is near zero.

The point is that while developed countries tackle their problems dispassionately, developing countries tend to play the ostrich; while developed countries treat issues scientifically without much recourse to religion, Nigeria and some other developing countries present a façade of religion but do exactly the opposite of their religious doctrines.

The questions are: if you are a woman and your husband impregnates your 14-year-old sister, who is living with you, will you support the girl to have the baby and keep him in the family? Or will you ask for the termination of the pregnancy? Or will you allow the girl to choose what to do with the pregnancy?

And if you are a man, who witnesses the raping of your wife by four armed robbers, will you allow her to have the baby and keep him in the family or force her to terminate the pregnancy? At the said workshop, the majority of the participants supported the termination of pregnancy for the two scenarios. The near consensus was that having the baby would be a permanent stigma and the child might grow to also become an armed robber.

This is partly why societies like IPAS are advocating a change of attitude. They want women to be given a choice on how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. In Nigeria, abortion is illegal. Sections 228 to 230 of the Criminal Code prescribe severe punishment for any person, including the pregnant woman herself, who contravenes that law. The law gives room for abortion only when it is done to preserve the mother’s life.

A lawyer and policy consultant to IPAS, Mrs Sarafina Ojimaduka, says Nigeria’s Criminal and Penal Codes are based on a colonial law, which was passed almost 150 years ago. There is need, she concludes, for a review of our restrictive abortion laws especially for the interest of women and girls who are victims of sexual violence, rape and incest.

This seems to be the way forward. A 1998-2001 study by the Medical Research Council indicated that the introduction of the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act in South Africa some 11 years ago brought a reduction in the maternal mortality rate of unsafe abortions in that country to 91 per cent. For the moralists and the religious, who will definitely cast the first stone, the question remains, will you prefer your daughter visiting a quack to procure an unsafe abortion that may lead to her death or to qualified personnel empowered to carry out the function? Will you want a child that is a product of incest or rape by armed robbers? This, definitely, is an issue for serious debate.

Note: In my piece last Sunday entitled “Between Obasanjo’s birthday and PDP’s convention,” I noted that it was mainly Oyo and Ogun State governments that placed 71st birthday adverts for former President Olusegun Obasanjo in an Ibadan based newspaper, Nigerian Tribune. I meant to say Osun and not Ogun, as Ogun never placed any advert for him in any newspaper. The same printer’s devil I blamed for the mix-up in the one-page birthday advert for the man in The Guardian decided to revenge. The error is regretted.

Between Obasanjo’s birthday and PDP’s convention

March 10, 2008

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 9 Mar 2008
It is unfortunate that the printer’s devil decided to play the devil’s claw on former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Wednesday, March 5. The Guardian I read that day had a full-page advert congratulating Obasanjo on his birthday. It read: “Happy 60th Birthday. My great political leader and mentor, Baba, as you mark yet another birthday today, one cannot but appreciate God’s mercies, blessing and divine protection on you…” Below the photograph of the former President (who actually clocked 71 that day), was the picture of the Managing Director of Soraya International Limited, Chief Joe Ogbebor, who marked his 60th birthday. There was confusion as to whether the congratulatory message, signed by the Oyo State Governor, Adebayo Alao-Akala, was for Baba or for Ogbebor.
Be that as it may, the only other advert Obasanjo got on his birthday in the same newspaper was a half-page advert from a group that calls itself the Obasanjo Collective. In the other major national newspapers, I saw no adverts for Baba Iyabo, except for the ones placed mainly by the Oyo and Osun state governments in an Ibadan based newspaper, Nigerian Tribune. This was in sharp contrast to what happened the same time last year. In THE PUNCH of March 5, 2007, for instance, I counted not less than 20 full-page birthday adverts for the Balogun of Owu.

Some questions have been agitating my mind since that Wednesday. Could it be that many people now hate Obasanjo in this country? Is it that the man’s perceived sins in office are after him? Or could it be that Nigerians are displaying their selfish and hypocritical nature to praise-sing and profess friendship with any man in power but behave otherwise when the person is out of relevance?

Whatever, it is symbolic that the Peoples Democratic Party held its zonal congresses the same week its Board of Trustees Chairman, Obasanjo, clocked 71 years. It is also metaphorical that the confusion that trailed his birthday advert tended to foreshadow the national convention of his party held yesterday in Abuja. The zonal congresses that took place on the eve of his birthday were to elect party leaders at the six geo-political zones in the country. The sign that there is no love lost between the former President and some of his party members showed in the outcome of the congress in the North Central zone. The BOT Chairman reportedly supported Senator Tunde Ogbeha against Alhaji Kawu Baraje for the secretary of the party. Kwara State Governor, Bukola Saraki, supported Baraje who eventually won the contest. In the chairmanship position, Obasanjo stood solidly behind the former governor of Ebonyi State, Dr Sam Egwu; some governors and party stalwarts backed former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim.

As if to nail the Balogun of Owu and his candidate, his former Minister of Defence, Lt.-Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), came out the same week to condemn his administration openly. He was quoted to have asked President Umaru Yar’Adua to unleash the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Obasanjo and all those allegedly involved in the sale of the nation’s major steel companies to a man he called an economic terrorist.

Danjuma’s outbursts only confirmed that Obasanjo courted more enemies than friends both in and out of office. His alleged third term ambition, for instance, brought him on a collision course with his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, and some others. When the plot failed, he purportedly engineered an amendment in his party’s constitution that made it possible for him to emerge as the Chairman of the BOT of the party.

Apparently, this was to ensure that he still remains relevant in the scheme of things. But it did not go down well with some party faithful who felt that the man unduly imposed himself on them. Hence, a group called G21 emerged to push for the amendment of the party’s constitution. Thus, yesterday’s convention became a battle between forces loyal to Obasanjo and those against him.

Generally, the impression one gets about the self-styled largest party in Africa is that of a union populated by strange bedfellows – large in confusion and lawlessness but small in developmental programmes. For instance, Chief Ifeanyi Araraume won the gubernatorial primaries of the party in Imo State last year. But the party fronted Chief Charles Ugwu instead as its candidate in that state. It took the intervention of the judiciary for Araraume to regain his mandate. Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State suffered the same fate. He won the primaries but the party elders changed him with Celestine Omehia. The Supreme Court restored Amaechi’s mandate even when Omehia had governed the state for some months.

Before Saturday’s convention, three chieftains of the party made moves in the Abuja High Court to stop it. They later withdrew their case. In the South-West, the garrison commander, Lamidi Adedibu, led other stalwarts like Bode George and Governor Alao-Akala to endorse consensus candidates in the zonal congress. In the South-East, Andy Uba and co ensured the emergence of their own consensus candidates. In the South-South, the consensus candidates emerged out of some intrigues by powerful vested interests.

Even the plans to screen candidates ahead of the convention became a contentious issue between the outgoing Chairman, Ahmadu Ali, and the Chairman of Electoral Committee, Adamu Ciroma. They had flexed muscles over who should handle the exercise until Yar’Adua stopped the shame by declaring the field open to all PDP aspirants. As Egwu himself reportedly put it, “We have no internal democracy. We are still far from it. We do not apply the rule of law. For the PDP to lead Nigeria, it has to observe the rule of law.”

The problems in the PDP epitomise the ambition of Nigerian politicians to seize power by all means. This is why rigging and other electoral frauds may continue until we are able to reform the entire political and electoral systems. The new national Chairman of the ruling party emerged on Saturday in the person of Chief Vincent Ogbulafor. I congratulate him and wish him well.

As the leader of the ruling party, all eyes will be on him to see how he tackles the garrison mentality of his party’s politics. This is why he must ensure that he stamps out violence from his party. He must rally round his party faithful to root out desperation of people to acquire political office. It is this desperation, perhaps, that led to the assassination of former PDP chieftains such as Marshal Harry, Aminasoari Dikibo, Funsho Williams and many others. It is that desperation that leads to rigging and manipulation of election results.

The new chairman must also impress it on his people in government that governance is not about personal aggrandisement. It is about service. He must push for a reorientation of Nigeria’s political culture – a culture that sees being in government as an opportunity to become wealthy; a culture of political patronage; and a culture that sees winning elections as a do-or-die affair.

Beyond election manipulations and nullifications

March 3, 2008
Published: Sunday, 2 Mar 2008
Of all the victims of the recent spate of election nullifications, the person I pity most is Murtala Nyako. Shortly after his inauguration as the Governor of Adamawa State mid last year, his four wives started fighting over who should be rightfully addressed as the First Lady of the state.

To appease his wives and maintain the peace, the man reportedly shared the position among them. One was said to be in charge of Abuja affairs. Another took charge of health matters while the other handled political affairs and mobilisation. The fourth one took care of the home front. Nyako and his women had hardly settled down to enjoy the fruits of governance when the Court of Appeal in Jos upheld the nullification of his election by the state’s election petition tribunal. The court, which gave its verdict last week, ordered a fresh election within 90 days.

The same fate had befallen Ibrahim Idris of Kogi, Theodore Orji of Abia, Sullivan Chime of Enugu and the Senate President, David Mark. With the exception of Idris, who is already waiting for a fresh election, the rest still have their appeal pending at the Appeal Courts.

Also last week, the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal in Abuja upheld the election of President Umaru Yar’Adua as it dismissed the petitions filed by the opposition presidential candidates, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. As soon as the five-man panel gave its judgement, lawyers in the court chorused, “As the court pleases,” even when it was obvious that the ruling didn’t please the counsel for the defeated candidates.

To Yar’Adua and his friends, cronies, subordinates and hangers-on, it’s been celebration galore. In Abuja, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Katsina and some other friendly states, people have popped champagnes and clinked glasses. Some have placed congratulatory adverts in the media. And some have toasted to the President’s more victories against his “enemies”. It was as if the people were saying, “This is our beloved President in whom we are well pleased.”

But beyond the backslapping of Yar’Adua’s acolytes and the teeth gnashing of Buhari/Atiku’s supporters lie a fundamental truth and fundamental problems. The truth is that power is sweet. It intoxicates. And whoever holds it does not want to easily let go. That is why Mrs. Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are fighting, though legitimately, to be the next president of the United States. That is why President Robert Mugabe (83) of Zimbabwe does not tolerate any opposition to his desire to win another landslide victory on 29 March. And that is why President Paul Biya of Cameroon is itching to change the constitution to extend his rule beyond 30 years from 2011.

As for the fundamental problems, some are universal; some are local. Universally, the desire of man to acquire power often comes with some altercations. That, perhaps, is why Europe’s main election watchdog, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, accused Russian authorities of imposing restrictions to make it difficult for the body to monitor the country’s presidential election holding today, March 2. In Kenya, over 1,000 people have died over electoral violence that engulfed the nation a few months ago. The violence was sequel to the alleged rigging of the Presidential election by the incumbent President, Nwai Kibaki.

Locally, Nigeria has unique problems that have stalled its political cum economic growth since it gained independence in 1960. From the First Republic to the present dispensation, the country has tried to hold free and fair elections without success. The April 2007 elections that threw up the incumbent characters parading the corridors of power as leaders were also marred by irregularities.

Nigerians variously described the polls as a sham, a charade, an imposition, a do-or-die affair and so on. Many have called for the sack or resignation of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Maurice Iwu. Some have suggested an outright disbandment of INEC. These outbursts only show the level of anger and discontentment among Nigerians that at over 47 years as an independent nation, we are yet to get it right with our electoral system.

Where then did we go wrong? Some Nigerians have come to realise that the root cause of the problems lies with the country’s entire electoral and political system. For instance, the Chairman of the electoral commission and the Inspector-General of Police on whose shoulders a free and fair election stand are appointees of the President, and invariably, the ruling party. No matter what, these people will remain loyal to the man who appointed and exercises control over them.

Besides, our system makes public office so rewarding that people consider getting in there a do-or-die affair. With huge resources at their disposal, rich politicians bribe returning officers to ignore any rigging going on before them. They compel law enforcement agents to provide protection to those who manipulate election results. They hire thugs to inflict violence and injuries on opponents. And they tell judges, who also witness massive irregularities, to rule that all is well with the system. This, perhaps, was why past electoral umpires – Ovie Whiskey, Humphrey Nwosu, Eme Awa et al failed. This is why Iwu also failed. And even if Archbishop John Onaiyekan or Alhaji Lateef Adegbite is put there tomorrow without serious reforms of the electoral system, the cookie will still crumble.

As the Nigerian Bar Association put it in its memo to the Electoral Reform Committee, “The political environment is defective by design, the legal framework is inadequate and electoral process neither guarantees nor respects the will of the people. The basic indices for a democratic system are both absent and lacking.”

The NBA made a number of recommendations. Among them is a suggestion for a review of the Electoral Act. The body also recommends conduct of elections not later than six months before the expiration of the incumbent’s tenure. The idea here, the association says, is to ensure that the judicial certification processes are concluded well before the inauguration of a new government. It recommends the reform of INEC to ensure its independence. One issue that must feature in the reform is a review of the sole appointing authority of the President. On the nation’s corruption infested political culture, the NBA suggests a reform to re-orientate the electoral values and beliefs of the people right from primary schools.

I agree with the NBA. It is my sincere hope that the Electoral Reform Committee will do justice to the task of reforming our electoral system. The beauty of our democracy is that it has not gone the way of Kenya in spite of inherent problems. If Governor Peter Obi could win the case to regain his governorship seat in Anambra at the Supreme Court despite losing the same case at the Appeal Court; if Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State could retrieve his mandate from Celestine Omehia only after an appeal to the Supreme Court; and if former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar could only be allowed to participate in the presidential poll by the apex court after losing the case against his disqualification in the Appeal Court, then nothing says that the dismissal of Buhari and Atiku’s petitions by the tribunal will not be upturned by the Supreme Court.

There is also no guarantee that Nyako, with the help of his wives, cannot win back his coveted governorship seat in the upcoming fresh gubernatorial election in the state. At all times, the rule of law must be our guiding principle. One day, we will get it right.