IDEAS Radio 3 January 2020

IDEAS issues in President Buhari’s New Year Message

Aghogho Oboh: [Rings bell] Alright!

Ayo Obe: That’s ringing in the New Year!

AgO: Alright, the town crier is in the Public Square now.  Welcome, welcome to the Public Square 99.3 Nigeria Info, we’re discussing all the big political issues happening in the country.  And Happy New Year to everyone on the Public Square.  Today we’re looking at President Buhari’s New Year Letter to Nigerians, and on IDEAS with Ayo Obe, that’s the discussion; Public Square, that’s the discussion.  So all around Public Square today, we’ll be looking at President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter.  Remember, you can join the conversation on Twitter @PublicSquareNG, @NigeriaInfoFM, @ideasradiong, @naijama, @RotimiSankore, @AghoghoOboh.  Any of these handles you can tweet at, questions, comments.   Remember also on WhatsApp, that’s 08095975805 if you have comments and questions.  So, welcome, Rotimi and Ayo.

AO: Thank you Aghogho.

Rotimi Sankore: Well, Happy New Year.

AO: Happy New Year to all IDEAS listeners, and particularly a year full of Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability in 2020.

RS: Happy New Year from the Public Square.

AgO: Happy New Year!

AO: Well!  Don’t sound so happy about it!

AgO: Did you go for any countdown 2020 event at the Marina or where … religious place of worship?

AO: Oh no, I was able to catch it from … because my balcony overlooks Cowrie Creek, and behind Cowrie Creek is Victoria Island, and then you could see the fireworks.  But then I saw what the Chinese did with their drones, I said: “Ah, thing done reach another level o!”  Because I mean, Fireworks are so passé!

RS: I mean the equivalent of what we are doing here is like knockout, knockout and bangers.

AO: No, but we’re with the rest of the world in that, at least we’re with the rest of the world.

RS: Well, because the Chinese invented fireworks, they had to surpass the regular fireworks … 

AO: Especially in these days of global warming and unnecessary carbon footprint.

RS: I mean, they invented this thing centuries ago.

AgO: Yes, so it’s child’s play for them.

RS: Yeah, they’re tired of it.

AgO: Even the ones who had fire right at their back yard still went ahead with the fireworks in Australia.

AO: Well that was astonishing, but what can one say?  We just hope that the people who are suffering from the bush fires in Australia …  it’s just one of the odd things in the world, one part will be suffering from floods, the other will be suffering from these terrible fires.

RS: Well, as one of the prayers said in Nigeria: May the bush fire not come this way.

AgO: Amen!

AO: Well, it’s not … flood has been our own issue.  Flood, soil erosion and so on.  But Rotimi, we … if we’re talking about what we don’t want to come our way in 2020, that’s one thing.  But the President in his New Year message to Nigerians, did tell us about a lot of the things that would be coming, not just in 2020, but in fact, one of the first references that he made, was in his speech, where he talked about what would be coming in 2023: which is to say that he would not be contesting for elections.  Now, in IDEAS we try to look for the IDEAS content, that’s Integrity, Ethics, Accountability; and I thought that that statement was particularly important because he combined it with a promise to seek “valid ethical elections”, and … to assist the Independent National Election … Electoral Commission and our neighbouring countries to strengthen the electoral process in Nigeria and across the region.  And the reason why I thought that … although I know a lot of people have said: Well, he has to go anyway, why is he telling us that?  That the Constitution requires him to go, and so on.  The reason why I felt it’s something that we should perhaps underline I don’t know if I’ve told you, that one of the other hats that I wore for a time, was working with the US National Democratic Institute, in charge of its Abuja Elections Programme.  And that was in 2006, for the 2007 elections.  And ahead of those elections, in 2006, I remember, I had just started working with them, and they sent a high-powered mission consisting of many African heads of state to see how far are we, you know, a pre-election mission, to see what are we doing.  And at that time the whole of the country was buzzing with the ‘Third Term’ agenda of President Obasanjo, or, I should say – because President Obasanjo maintains now, that it was not his agenda, it was the agenda of others.  But it was the ‘Third Term’ agenda for President Obasanjo.  And in the end that failed, but the 2007 elections were actually labelled one of the worst elections that we have had in Nigeria.  In fact the winner of those elections, late President Umaru Yar’Adua, said that it was so bad, that we have to undertake electoral reforms.  Now those reforms have not been implemented, but I think that when the President of that time was not prepared, not really preparing to go and had been re-elected – again in an election that was criticised (that’s the 2003 election) that was severely criticised – when a President is not  preparing to go, then he’s not necessarily going to put into the electoral commission the kind of work that is required for the success … for a successful election.  So I thought that if we are going to talk about Integrity of elections, then the President’s commitment to which we are going to hold him to account as the Nigerian people have done in the past, I thought that that was an important part of the speech, even though as I said, I know that a lot of people are saying: Eh, kini big deal?

RS: Yes, I think … I think cynical people (if that’s the right word or phrase) …

AO: People who have been bitten once, I think we would rather describe them as.

RS: … can be divided into various sections.  I mean, there are those who say it is not necessary to say: “I will be standing down in 2023, and will not be available in any future elections.”  I mean, there are those who just say it’s unnecessary, its stating the obvious and that he shouldn’t get any kudos for it.

AO: I’m not giving him kudos.

RS: No, no, I’m not saying you are, I’m just saying that people can be separated into different sections.  Then, there are those who are saying: But actually, what is more important there, is where he says that the INEC and the judicial process, that he understands that people feel … are feeling frustrated about that …  the INEC and the tribunal process, and that he’s going to strengthen both.

AO: He’s going to help strengthen the electoral process.

RS: Yes.  And people say well, he could have strengthened it by passing the …

AO: Well, I mean, if we’re going to talk about the past.  He says he will, he is determined to help strengthen the electoral process.

RS: Yes, so I’m saying that people are divided into different categories, and one of those categories is that he had an opportunity to strengthen it and did not.  So if he’s promising to strengthen it now, it appears convenient.

AO: Well, I think that one has to be … one has to be a bit specific, because he submitted himself to election, he’s submitted himself to the judicial process.

RS: No, not the election or the judicial process.  There are Electoral amendments.

AO: Yes but I mean, there were issues about the Electoral Amendment … and I think that we … he … certainly he can help strengthen it by passing that legislation now, but I also think that it was a not invalid point to say that to change the rules five minutes to the election, there’s a valid basis for not doing so.  And … there’s a lot in this speech which talks about “We will, we will”, and there’s valid ground for saying: These are things that you ought actually to be doing and ought have done.  But if we are going to say: You didn’t do something in the past, and we’re going to continue dwelling on that, then I don’t think we’re going to get much out of the speech, because it’s not just …  because as I said, it’s not just that people are cynical, it’s that people who have heard these promises, whether …  it’s not so much the saying: I will go in accordance with the Constitutional term limits.  Because as I said, they did see what happened in 2006-2007.  But even when people who are elected say: “I will not seek re-election.  They’ve all, all sought re-election.  Every single one of the Presidents that was in a position to do so, sought re-election.  So there’s a bit of … I mean, it’s not so much cynicism, it’s bitter … or … experience at any rate.

AgO: Do you think in any way it reduces the tension especially around the politics, when a President says: “I will not be standing for election”.  For example, every other President I think from 1999 has faced this bug.  I think Goodluck Jonathan had to face the issue of a single term of six years, and that did take a lot of … credibility around whether or not he would go for a second term, because people began to argue is a six year term single tenure favourable for Nigeria?

AO: Well again, the integrity of that proposal was called into question because it wasn’t clear that … the new 6 year term would not be treated as a clean state from which one would start.

RS: And in the case of Jonathan, it appears … I mean, I wasn’t in the room when he said he will not do two terms, but … there are people who said he said he would not do two terms, and then wanted to do ten years!  And for those people, the way the Nigerian political elite is organised …

AO: As I said it’s a matter of …

RS: … where government is their main source of income.

AO: As I said, it’s an Integrity issue, because people do make those statements and then the trust that ought to accompany those statements is, I mean, I’ve already seen people showing the headline of the President, our current President, saying that that he’s not contesting again in 2019, once he won in 2015, he’s not going to contest again.

But to return to his speech, I think that there were other points that, from an IDEAS point of view we need to look at.  The President talked about the issue of security of the nation and citizens, and he put this in the context of, not just working with our neighbours and state governments, but also in the context of the new Ministry of Police Affairs.  And there’s some sound ground for arguing that …  it is, if you are going to run a government that is Accountable to the people, profligate waste of money on things like … well, if you’re dealing with the States, and the States are seen to be wasting money on new government houses, or you as President are seen to be wasting money on establishing new Ministries; then it becomes a question of how Accountable are you?  When I was on the Police Service Commission, we went to defend our budget once, and the Senators who were … questioning the people, were saying that: Really, now that we have the Police Service Commission, what really is the point of the Police Ministry?  And I wonder too.  The excuses that have been given for establishing it don’t necessarily stack up in terms of delivering security, except that it’s an attempt to emasculate the civilian oversight, in other words, to reduce the civilian accountability or the accountability of the police to a non-police body, even though the Police Service Commission has actually been more or less taken over by the police, because since the time that I was there when we had Ochendo Okeke as our Chair, every other Chair of the Police Service Commission since then has been a former police officer.  And the President, instead of dealing with that problem by removing the tradition of having a police officer, particularly a former police Inspector-General of Police who naturally begins to see himself as … a rival to the Inspector-General, 

RS: A second IG.

AO: … instead of putting a proper non-police so that we can have real non-police, real civilian oversight of the police, instead he’s created a third area of Accountability and in the course of it, has … it’s a whole new bureaucracy and cost that could probably go into better things.  And of course, yes, I know that the Police Service Commission went to court, and the court said: Oh, the Police can recruit, but the Police Service Commission appoints.  But all that sort of legal hair-splitting only underlines the fact that we’re just creating places where we will be spending money where we should not be spending money.  So I feel that in terms of Accountability, we are probably emasculating the Police Service Commission and we’re wasting money on top of it.

RS: Is it notable that in the sixth paragraph where he mentions the new ministry of Police Affairs, that he says in the third sentence: “Our actions at all times will be governed by the Rule of Law”?

AO: Well I think he needs to emphasize that, but I think that the problem that we’re having is that his Attorney-General seems to have a very unique and bizarre interpretation of the Rule of Law.  He’s recently been saying that: Well, we can decide when we will obey court orders.  And no, no, you can’t.

RS: But is it the Attorney-General or the Government?  Or the Presidency?

AO: No, the Attorney-General is the legal adviser to the Government, he gives legal advice to the President.  So … I mean I’m not going to split hairs about whether it’s the Attorney-General, I’m just saying that if they say ‘The Rule of Law’ and I mean obedience to court orders, and the Attorney-General means that: When I’m good and ready after I’ve taken three years to appeal or not, and while I’m appealing … deciding that I’m not going to obey the order, I’m going to treat it as … I’m going to award myself a Stay of Execution, then we are not necessarily talking about the same thing.  So it is a problem.  It’s good that he wants to, he underlines that he will … that in protecting security, the government will be bound by the Rule of Law, because there had been some suggestion that security trumped the Rule of Law.

AgO: Alright, let’s take a quick break we’ll come back to IDEAS on 99.3 on Nigeria Info, please keep listening.

AgO: Alright, welcome back, it’s half past four, and it’s a hot harmattan in Lagos.  I don’t know hot and dry it is, but it’s good.

AO: Oh, it’s good, I was driving here, I saw that all the cars are covered in a thin layer of dust.

RS: Well, the car wash people … it’s like Christmas for them.

AO: No, because I mean you can’t keep on washing …  Look, I just wanted to, before we wrap up, because honestly, as they say: Time flies when you’re having fun, so I didn’t realise that we’d almost used up … not quite used up our 15 minutes.  But before we close Rotimi, I did want to look at a couple of other areas where … of the President’s speech, that I think have an IDEAS-related perspective.  One of them is on the issue of Humanitarian Affairs Disaster Management and Social Development and the other of course is the President’s “unshakeable commitment to tackle corruption as we create an environment that allows initiative, enterprise and hard work to thrive, it’s more important than ever to call out those who find Rule of Law an inconvenience or independent regulation an irritation” So I think these are the President and/or his speech writers really trying to underline that the Rule of Law is something that ought to bind all of us, and also perhaps making the link between failure to abide by the Rule of Law and to tackle corruption, and the impact that it has on initiative, particularly genuine initiative and enterprise that … which is what Nigeria is going to depend on if we are to grow our economy and provide for the increasing millions that are coming downstream.

RS: But does it look like those speechwriters are living in another country?

AO: Well, I used the word ‘speech’, but of course the fact is that this was a letter that was signed by the President.  

RS: Ah well, he said …

AO: No I don’t think so, because when you’re talking about the … as I said, I did the Communications Workshop and you create your relationship in every second: you forget about the past and you create something … let me explain … you create something that will carry you forward into the future.  So if the President from now is making that link between the Rule of Law, tackling corruption and the fact that we need to grow our economy, then I think that that is something that, rather than this usual cynical response that you are giving, my response is always to …  

RS: It’s a question.

AO: … is always to say Good!  I’m glad you are coming over to this side and we now need you to stick to it.  It’s …  On the other hand I should say that when I see that he’s appointed, to take over not just Social Development, which is going to take over the Social Investment Programmes, but is also combining that with Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, I’m a little bit concerned, particularly since the Minister of course, is a political actor, and the politicians …

RS: The thing is, as he’s making this New Year statement, making these links you are talking about, the same Attorney-General is the very next day saying: We’re justified in holding people, and they can decide when to obey or not.

AO: That is why one has to keep on reinforcing the point, and saying that the Attorney-General needs to check himself.  And of course, every time he says it, quite frankly, I do believe that the Attorney-General is …  when you’re in a hole, you need to stop digging.  He should have just …

RS: Or we should send the Attorney-General this letter, if he hasn’t seen it.

AO: Perhaps the Attorney-General hasn’t seen it!

So I think there’s a … the Nigerian people would probably be a bit concerned when he talks about working in close harmony with the National … the legislature, because whilst people don’t want as … them to be at war, unnecessary war, at the same time, there’s a distance between working … being so close that nobody can tell you anything, and on the other hand working … 

RS: Are they wrongly assuming …

AO: … and on the other hand, just scoring cheap points.  There’s a gap that you still have a duty to do as a legislature.

RS: Are they wrongly assuming that the National Assembly playing its oversight function is a quarrel or a fight?

AO: No, the point that the President’s speech makes is that they were …  the National Assembly in the Senate kept the budget for seven months and he saw that as scoring cheap points not because they had anything to so.  And so that’s not … that’s why I say there’s a gap There’s a difference between on the other hand scoring what he sees as cheap points, and working in such close harmony that nobody asks anything any …

RS: I’m not talking of the previous people, I’m talking of …

AO: Any Government

RS: No, the current National Assembly leadership, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Reps have in different ways said: on the one hand …

AO: We’re not here to quarrel.

RS: Yes, that they weren’t sent there to fight the Executive, and then in other instances, said we’re not rubber stamp.

AO: Well when we get the National Assembly they’ll be able to … but the President also needs to understand that the fact that somebody challenges you, questions you, raises issues about the things that you are proposing, is not the same thing as … is not necessarily always scoring cheap points.

RS: That isn’t a fight: they’re just doing their job,

AO: Well no, sometimes they are doing their job and sometimes they are just scoring cheap points and having a fight, and he needs to understand that the …

RS: I’m just saying that general oversight of the executive is not a fight.  That’s the separation of powers.

Ok.

AO: .  No, I’ve said my …  I think I … I don’t want to keep on repeating myself because I know that I’m short of time.  So I think that a speech …  The President had listed many things that  he talks about “will” be being done, and many people would think that by now, even though you’re with a fresh term, you’ve actually been in office for five years, that any correction that you were correcting, ought to have been completed and we should now be seeing the new direction, and … 

RS: In fact, some commentary on …

AO: … and so we don’t want to be seeing “will, will, will”, things that are going to be finished in the first quarter (he didn’t list by the way, the Enugu Airport that the Minister of Aviation has been promising) but, the things that are going to be finished, there really is going to be no excuse, particularly, as we see, that the price of oil has reason to rise again.

RS: Some commentary has underlined that “we will” and “I will” appears over a dozen times, for those that are counting

AO: Yes, people are bound to count, and in, because he’s mentioned some of these things as happening in the first quarter and … by the way … I mean, my daughter’s birthday is in March, and she was saying: Gosh, I need to get ready because it’s practically upon us!  The President and his government too, need to get ready: March is almost upon us, and there’s no time to delay. 

But I want to say Rotimi, we are always going to be looking for the IDEAS content in the things that our governments do, because we do believe that it is by that measure rather than just by political measures, or … which one is a strategy and so on and so forth.  In the end, what the Nigerian people will be best served by, is by that IDEAS content, particularly where, if it leads to Accountability and Integrity, it does in fact fight corruption.

So that is all I would say in wishing my listeners a very Happy New Year.

And handing back to you and Aghogho for your further discussions on the politics of the President’s speech, which I know you are itching, itching … champing at the bit to get at!