IDEAs Radio Show On Nigeria Info Fm with Ayo Obe & Rotimi Sankore
Rotimi Sankore: If you’ve been listening to the Friday edition you will know that Countdown 2019 is where we feature all the big and significant issues on the road to the 2019 elections. Remember, you can follow the programme on Twitter @Countdown2019ng, and myself Rotimi Sankore on Twitter, and also the station’s twitter handle @NigeriaInfoFM
We have a special guest today, and she will be a regular guest. In the studio with us today is Mrs. Ayo Obe who will be presenting the IDEAS programme. Ayo is a legal practitioner based in Lagos and for many years she’s been involved in civil society both in Nigeria, where she was involved in the struggle to end military rule, and for human rights. She’s done this in Nigeria and abroad. Welcome Ayo.
Ayo Obe: Hello
RS: We’ll be talking about the IDEAS project, so please tell us what is the IDEAS project and how did it come about?
AO: Thank you Rotimi. The IDEAS programme is something that I’ve been asked to do by the CITAD which is a Nigerian NGO, and they are being supported by the MacArthur Foundation, to get Nigerians thinking in a more critical way about issues relating to integrity, their democracy, ethics, accountability. Obviously that includes things like anti-corruption, issues of corruption or corruption news but the emphasis is on how we can build these things so that our democracy becomes stronger
RS: In Nigeria we always talk about corruption we always talk about “the fight against corruption”. Why is it IDEAS, rather than “anti-corruption?
AO” I think Rotimi that I’m just a little bit tired of, every time you say the word ‘Nigeria’, you’re automatically expected to say the word ‘corruption’.
RS: Fantastically or otherwise.
AO: Yes, fantastically or otherwise. I mean, I opened my Twitter account this morning, and I saw somebody was asking, in relation to the money that had been voted for flood relief or emergency or disaster emergency relief in the areas of Nigeria that are under threat from flooding, and the question was: What percentage of this do you think will go to the actual victims and what percentage will go to the officials, local government chairs and so on and so forth? And I thought ok, but I can’t imagine how often that question gets asked about other countries. We saw what happened in the United States with disaster relief. We saw what happened in countries like Italy with earthquake relief. And even the humanitarian agencies, they are always being asked to explain how much of the money that they collect is spent on administration and so on. But for us it becomes a matter of corruption and so on.
So, it’s not that I don’t think … that we’re not going to deal with corruption issues, but I wouldn’t want the title of the programme to reinforce that link.
RS: Ok. Specifically related to corruption in Nigerian politics, which is what we are focussing on, how will the programme avoid ending up discussing what is described as “theoretical irrelevancies”.
AO: Well, I don’t think that Integrity is an irrelevancy. I don’t think that having Ethics in government is an irrelevancy, and I don’t think that the people calling for accountability is an irrelevancy. You’ll be aware of organisations like Tracka, asking various government bodies to account for the amount of money that they collect, or that they claim to have spent, whether it’s on constituency projects, whether it’s on alleged road building and so on. Now that’s about accountability, and what they are trying to do is get the people involved in monitoring those claims, so that there will be accountability, because if people monitor, or feedback what is actually happening with regard to the money said to have been spent, then they will know whether they have got roads, whether they’ve got hospitals, whether they’ve got schools where the teachers are being paid and so on and so forth, so accountability is very important.
RS: Now, you mentioned Tracka. One of the interesting things about Tracka is that they are looking at accountability at different levels of government, not just the Executive, but National Assembly as well, specifically the constituency projects that all the National Assembly Members take home.
AO: They don’t take it home, according to them, they only have it directed, and according to many of them, the ones who have bothered to reply, they only say: Put into X, Y or Z. And one of the things Tracka has pointed out is that: OK, you don’t bother to find out whether the money has in fact gone into X, Y or Z, even if we take you at face value, but the following year, you say put it into W, S T. What is that about? Without bothering to find out whether money that you directed last year is good, you’re still putting more things into the budget. And that’s just if we take it at face value as I said, because many Nigerians are suspicious that the people who are called upon to execute the contracts are the ones who are nominated by the lawmakers, and who, some time later, might be found making contributions to lawmakers’ election funds or in other ways.
RS: Talking about elections there’s a lot of talk about party financing and whether it’s being done the right way or not. Take for instance, the issue of the cost of the nomination forms for the various parties, expression of interest and nomination forms. If we talk about the presidential level, the presidential ticket that people are aspiring for. In APC it’s N45 million and in PDP it’s N12 million. This amount of money, is it appropriate, and what’s the issue there?
AO: I know there’s a sort of knee-jerk reaction of people saying “I don’t have that kind of money, and therefore I’m being excluded from contesting”, and I appreciate that very much, particularly when the sums are so huge as to, that when people say they have been assisted in the purchase of those forms, then the inevitable question is: In return for what?
But I think that it’s a good – the purpose of the IDEAS programme is for us to look at things critically rather than just with a knee jerk approach – and for me, I would say that in the first place, you should expect a political party to make hay while the sun is shining. If they think they are a hot ticket, they want to raise money, so you’re going to find that a party that everybody thinks, or that thinks it’s going to win is going to set itself a high price.
Now that could end up being counter-productive. Somebody may struggle and find his N45 million or whatever other money he needs or she needs to contest at different levels, and they may find that the political momentum has just drained away from their party. And some of the things that could cause it to drain away could be that very perception that: People who have invested that money in getting elected, maybe we think they should recoup their money somewhere else, not from being in charge of our government. So it could be counter-productive.
One of the things we would like to suggest to voters, is that: Is there an empirical basis for making this determination? For example, if I’m a young person and they tell me that to contest for the House of Assembly or Reps – I don’t know – and they tell me that it’s N12 million
RS: It’s N800,000
AO: N800,000, and I say: I don’t have N800,000. And I think we’re approaching it in a wrong way, because the idea that if you’re running for election in a political contest, that you have to bring money out of your own pocket, then what is the guarantee for the political party that fields you that you actually have any real appeal, to anybody?
RS: So you should be able to raise the money from supporters?
AO: You should be able to raise the money from supporters, but, the level at which – if I’m a young person of maybe 25, and I want to run for the State House of Assembly, maybe my friends will say: We can each contribute N5,000 for your, and you can get a reasonable number of people – they may not be my age, they may be different people who believe in me, but it’s against that basis that you can say: Now, if I can get 50 people like that, I should be good enough to run for office.
But I don’t think that there’s any empirical or objective assessment of parties when they fix these amounts, I think they just look at ‘What will the market bear?’ and of course, in some ways they want to drive off some contestants, but as I said, in some ways it could end up being counterproductive, and you fight your way to the top of the greasy pole and emerge as the candidate among so many aspirants only to find that you lose the election!
RS: The point you are making, if you look at the elections in the UK for instance where a party that doesn’t score a certain percentage loses what is described as their deposit. That’s an example. So, the party has to contribute something, and if they don’t win a certain percentage, they lose …
AO: The fact is that an aspirant has to come with a certain amount of realistic expectation. And, as I said, of course it means that if you are just one rich person, you can bring the money out of your pocket, but the party itself might also look and say: Is this the kind of person? Somebody who is just buying his or her way into …
RS: So it’s not that there’s something wrong with the concept, it’s the amount. So N45 million is certainly too high.
AO: Oh, it seems to me to be very much too high, but then, as I said, it’s a seller’s market. Although I must confess that in the case of the APC, it seems particularly strange since almost everybody knows that there’s really only one serious candidate, or aspirant, who’s likely to emerge as the candidate, so maybe it’s a way of trying to dissuade others from wasting their time. But one would have thought that there’s a limit.
Parties definitely have to raise money. I know of one party which says: You buy the form, or express your interest with N500,000 but when you return it, you must return it with an additional N4,500,000 so that we know that you are a serious person and that you have some support somewhere.
RS: Talking about incumbency, the issue of advantage of incumbency and politics and corruption in the Nigerian political system, how will the IDEAS project address this?
AO: I think that it will be very interesting in this current cycle of elections, because as you know, the incumbent government at the federal level has had what it calls its ‘Social Inclusion Policy’, and that has been going on – school feeding, all sorts of things.
But when the ‘Trader Moni’ was launched …
RS: The N10,000 …
AO: You start with N10,000. And then, it was … one of the places where it was launched was Osun State, where there was going to be an election, or at the time when it was launched, the election was about two or three weeks away. Now of course, the government said: Oh, it just happened to be on our itinerary, nothing special about that!
But I think it’s one of the examples in which, in a way, you could say that our politics is becoming a little bit more sophisticated. Definitely one is entitled to say that there is something very fishy about launching this here. It may not be direct vote buying but it is certainly a way of influencing the election.