By Ejeviome Eloho Otobo
As Nigeria prepares to hold its 2015 elections, national attention and international interest have riveted mainly on the presidential elections, which was originally scheduled for 14 February — marked as Valentine’s day ( a day dedicated to celebrating and honouring loving relationships in some countries,) — and now postponed to 28 March. It is a shame
that the postponement has robbed Nigerians the opportunity to hold their presidential elections under the spell of love, at a time when they need much love in their inter-personal and inter-communal relations as well as peace and fairness in the upcoming elections.
Three major issues have pre-occupied Nigerians, as well as foreign governments and commentators in regard to the presidential elections. The first is whether violence will erupt in the aftermath of elections, regardless of the outcome. The second is whether the elections will lead to the rupture of Nigeria, as we know it. And the third is, when the elections are over, what issues should pre-occupy the next federal government? So high is the interest in the outcome of the presidential elections that a prestigious British newspaper has taken a stand. The Economist editorialised that ”the two [presidential] candidates stand as symbols of a broken political system that makes all Nigeria’s problems more intractable…but were we offered a [vote] we would –with a heavy heart — choose Mr. Buhari” (‘The least awful–A former dictator is better than a failed President’, The Economist 7 February 2015 page 12-13).
Let’s now address the three questions posed at the beginning: Will violence erupt in the aftermath of the elections? Much effort has been exerted in ensuring that post-elections violence is averted, regardless of the outcome. The presidential candidates adopted an inter-party agreement on non-violence on 15 January 2015, symbolically on the 45th anniversary of the end of the Nigerian civil war, in the presence of Kofi Annan, a former Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Emeka Anyaoku, a former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. Separately, a Council of The Wise for Peaceful and Credible 2015 Elections was inaugurated on 22nd January. While the inter-party agreement sets the norms for avoiding violence, the Council of The Wise aims “to engage with critical stakeholders across the country as mediators and interlocutors in order to foster consensus and peaceful resolution of issues likely to drive violence around the planning, conduct and outcome of the elections.” Thus, if violence erupts in the aftermath of the elections it will not be for lack of efforts to anticipate or prevent such an eventuality.
But some foreign commentators appear to have taken the eruption of post-election violence for granted. The Financial Times published an analysis titled ‘Power Struggle’, in which it concluded that “the potential for unrest in the north ….is probably greater and more dangerous, given the opportunity that would provide for the insurgents of Boko Haram”, if Buhari loses, than in the Niger delta, if Jonathan loses the presidential elections (‘Power Struggle’, The Financial Times, 13 February, 2015, page 7). The Financial Times did not define what more dangerous meant. If by more dangerous it means the probability of more people being killed, the Financial Times may well be right: Boko Haram has killed an estimated 13,000 people (some sources put the figure at about 18,000 as at end of January 2015) and displaced about 1.5 million people, since 2009. If, however, more dangerous is viewed from the perspective of the damage that could be inflicted on the national economy, then renewed militancy in Niger delta would be deadly because the federal government, as the Financial Times noted in that article, still depends on oil and gas from Niger delta for 70 percent of government revenue. If oil production in the Niger Delta were to be interrupted at a time of falling oil prices, the economic consequences for Nigeria would be dire. But the fact that the presidential elections in Nigeria are being described in terms of balance of terror depending on which presidential candidate wins, shows how fledgling Nigeria’s democracy is and how much work remains to be done to build and consolidate its democratic processes.
The eruption of violence is not inevitable, but is highly likely given that there are many issues on which the political parties already harbour suspicions about the conduct of the electoral process, including its outcome.
Will the elections lead to the rupture of Nigeria, as we know it? The prognostications about the unravelling of Nigeria, especially in 2015, have taken different forms. There are three well known foreign sources that play to the narrative of Nigeria’s unravelling in the popular imagination and policy discourse on Nigeria. A very close review, however, reveals that all three sources are more nuanced and tentative than they appear at first glance or that people have been made to believe. Writing in 2000, soon after the 1999 elections that marked the transition from military regime to civilian rule, Karl Maier saw Nigeria as virtually broken, titling his book as This House Has Fallen.
The second foreign source is the United States National Intelligence Council (NIC) which released its Mapping Sub-Saharan Africa’s Future 2020, as part of its global trends 2020, in March 2005. Two sentences from that report have attracted the most attention. One is the observation that “Nigeria as a failed state, [would] drag down a large part of the West Africa region” (page 2). The second and the most controversial is placed in the section of the report sub-titled Downside Risks which stated that “The most important (downside risk) would be the outright collapse of Nigeria” in 2015 (page 16). Many political leaders and public commentators in Nigeria have seized on that observation to say that the US government has predicted the collapse of Nigeria in 2015. This prediction, if it is to be called as such, was made neither by the U.S. Government nor by the U.S. intelligence community but by a group of experts convened under the auspices of the NIC.
The third source of not-so-favourable observation on Nigeria is found in the title of the 2010 book Nigeria: Dancing on The Brink by John Campbell, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria. Anyone who has taken the time to read that book very carefully would realise that in the concluding part of that book, the author offered some suggestions concerning what Nigeria could do to pull back from the brink. Much as Nigerian elites would protest the notion of dancing on the brink, Nigeria has historically experienced brinksmanship in its electoral processes. Consider the 1964/65 elections in then Western Nigeria, the 1993 elections, and the current 2015 elections. The cumulative effects of these episodes of national political brinksmanship are analogous to a person who has suffered from a series of strokes or heart attacks: the physical health is never steady or normal thereafter. Nigeria’s political leaders in their moments of exuberance are wont to say that Nigeria will emerge stronger from every crisis. The history of Nigeria has not borne out that affirmation. Instead, Nigeria’s experience is much closer to a serial sufferer of strokes and heart attacks, which is why Nigeria looks weaker today than it would have been without those periodic bouts of crises.
Even though the outcome of the elections will likely generate much controversy; Nigeria will not rupture as a consequence of, or after, the 2015 elections. That is why the title of this paper is Nigeria After the 2015 Elections.
What issues should pre-occupy the next federal government after the elections? Regardless of who wins the presidential elections, the competence, credibility, and popularity of the next government will be judged by how it grapples with seven major challenges.
Economic policy and management. The next federal government will be confronted with a perfect storm of economic conditions. The foreign exchange reserve is on a downward trend, having declined from $37.8 billion in mid-November 2014 to $32.66 billion in mid-February 2015. The excess crude account has dwindled from $17 billion in 2009 to $6 billion in mid-November 2014 to $2 billion in mid-February 2015. Nigeria is witnessing a rising debt profile — its total debt now stands at N11.4 trillion, approximately $16.2 billion, consisting of federal and state government domestic and external debts. Almost a decade after the huge debt reduction deal, Nigeria’s debt is almost half of the level of the old huge debt, even if the composition is different this time. The price of oil has fallen sharply, from $148 in July 2008; to $115 in June 2014; to $71.50 a day after the 27 November 2014 OPEC meeting, where a decision was taken not to cut oil output in OPEC nations; to around $60 currently, having fallen to as low as $45 in late January 2015.
Yet, most of the other major problems, which are outlined below, will require significant financial resources to address them. The mis-match between financial resources and programme needs, some of which have been promised during the political campaigns, will present a major conundrum for the federal government. Before proffering a few ideas for mobilising additional financial resources, it bears emphasis that the current round of oil price decline is a powerful reminder that Nigeria needs to reduce its dependence on oil as the major source of government revenue. The 2015 Federal government budget is based on the assumption that oil will account for 53 percent of government revenue, while non-oil resources will account for 47 per cent. If that happens, it will represent some progress. But the fact that oil would still account for over 50 percent of government revenue in the current context of declining oil prices shows how dependent the country remains on oil.
There are three avenues that the government would have to exploit to garner more revenue. The first is a more sustained effort in reducing or eliminating customs duty waivers, and in improving tax collection, both corporate and personal income taxes. Government’s efforts in collecting revenue from these sources fall far short of what is needed. Nigeria has a tax to gross domestic product ratio of 2 percent compared to an African average of 17 percent. If Nigeria were collecting taxes at the African average, it would garner about US$86.7bn worth of taxes in its US$510 billion economy. Making progress in corporate sector tax collection may be stiffly resisted by vested interest, so the government will have to show more resolve.
The second source is to ensure that local and foreign firms operating in the oil sector pay all their dues — royalties, profit taxes, duties and bonus signature commitments that are still outstanding. This effort should be coupled with renewed effort to curb oil theft, which has robbed the treasury of huge sums of money.
The third measure is intensifying efforts at combating corruption, as considerable leakage still occurs through that source. The government will benefit greatly by taking steps to implement some of the recommendations of the Mbeki-led High Level Panel Report on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa which was released in January 2015. Combating corruption should focus more on ‘recovery of assets’ rather than ‘sentencing of individuals’. Ill-gotten wealth enables beneficiaries to climb the rungs of the ladder of wealth faster and higher. Vigorous ‘recovery’ efforts would help to bring such beneficiaries back to the rung of the ladder they would have been without the ill-gotten wealth.
The need for action in these three areas has been obvious for some time. But intensified efforts in tackling these issues are made more urgent both because of the deteriorating fiscal situation and because of the need to increase revenue in order for the successful candidate to deliver on his promises to the people.
Boko Haram. Boko Haram presents a mufti-prong challenge; as such the fight against Boko Haram ineluctably has to be multi-tiered. The response should, thus, include continuing the military action to recover territory under its control and protect lives of Nigerians endangered by Boko Haram, rescuing the women and children held as hostages, launching a sensitisation and awareness campaign aimed at de-radicalising youth that may be tempted to join the group, and undertaking a major effort for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the areas that have been worse affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. The last of these proposals generated a lot of controversy at the 2014 National Political Conference, when it was recommended that the federal government should make financial allocation for that purpose. Yet we cannot deplore the heinous activities of Boko Haram, on the one hand, and resist helping its victims, on the other. Five percent of the federal government allocation, not of the consolidated revenue, was proposed at the 2014 National Political Conference to address this matter. The proposal failed to command consensus. But the states that have been devastated by the activities of Boko Haram will surely need federal assistance.
Niger Delta. There is a false popular notion that the Niger Delta crisis has been overcome because of the 2009 amnesty deal negotiated under the late President Yar’Adua. If anyone needed reminding about the potency of the agitation in Niger Delta for a fairer economic and environmental deal, one need go no further than the deliberations of the 2014 National Political Conference. The 2014 National Political Conference barely avoided the fate of the 2005 National conference. At the 2005 conference South-South delegates argued for 25 percent derivation share. Instead, the conference recommended 17 percent and this was also rejected, prompting the South-South delegation to walk out of that conference. At the 2014 conference, 18 percent derivation was recommended not only for the oil producing areas but everywhere mineral resources are produced or to be produced. There was no agreement on this recommendation and the matter was transmitted to the president for further review.
The huge environmental damage to the Niger delta remains essentially unresolved. For example, the UNEP Environmental Report on Ogoniland in 2011 recommended the creation of an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, with an initial capital injection of US$1billion to cover the first five years of the clean-up of contaminated land areas in Ogoniland, with the restoration of heavily-impacted mangrove stands and swamplands of Niger Delta expected to take up to 30 years. Yet the environmental devastation in Ogoniland is a tip of the ice-berg and a metaphor for the larger environmental damage in Niger Delta. Tackling the environmental damage in the Niger Delta has been made potentially worse by the fact that most of the international oil companies that created the environmental damage have sold their on-shore holdings to Nigerian firms apparently with weak or no clauses in the sales transactions on the responsibility for legacy problems. All this means that there can be no complacency on addressing the challenges of the Niger Delta. The next government has to overcome lethargy and take needed policy actions on the derivation and environmental repair issues.
Security Sector Reforms. In a piece entitled The Crisis in Our National Security Policy published in THISDAY on 15 June 2014, Ambassador Omoregie and I argued for addressing “the underfunding of the security forces, noting the remark by the President at the World Economic Forum, in Abuja in May 2014 that the military has been underfunded for the past 20 years. Although efforts have been made in the last three years to increase allocation to the security forces; yet at annual average of about a trillion Naira a year, the allocation is relatively inadequate both in relation to the needs of the military establishment, and in comparison to other African countries.” We also noted that “the over commitment of the military for domestic purposes with the establishment of the Joint Task Forces ( JTFs) in various parts of the country [Niger-Delta, Middle Belt and Northeast] and wondered whether deploying the military for internal domestic purposes represents an appropriate use of the military whose primary function is defense of the country against external aggression.” We further observed that “the use of the military for domestic purposes has created a fresh problem: our armed forces are increasingly being accused by segments of the international community, including NGOs, of human rights violations in their own country.”
Successive governments have used military force unnecessarily in the Niger Delta and applied military force against Boko Haram non-strategically leading to resentment in the Niger Delta and very poor initial results in the North East. The Niger Delta struggle was always about improving the economic, social and environmental conditions of Niger Delta. Yet because successive governments failed to grasp this fact and allowed the problems to fester, the resort to the use of force became the default position. Successive federal government’s approach to the Niger Delta provides a striking illustration of using a wrong instrument to address a wrong problem. After Boko Haram would have been militarily defeated, the time would be ripe to re-examine the use of the military in managing domestic crisis, including in the electoral process.
The often repeated assertion that the police force is not up to the task of maintaining domestic law and order has lost its potency. The police will only rise to the challenge, if it is adequately funded and equipped for the task. The renewed effort at the reform of Nigeria’s security sector has to be anchored on three central premises. The military’s role should be strengthened to deter external aggression and defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity. The police should be reinforced to serve as the primary agent for maintaining domestic law and order in the country. And the intelligence agencies should support the police’s efforts to detect, prevent and punish perpetrators of crimes. A country that aspires to build and consolidate its democratic processes must be very wary of using military forces for the management of domestic crises. Frequent resort to military forces in domestic contexts raises serious doubt about the ability and commitment of a civilian government to peaceful resolution of disputes, tarnishes the reputation of the military and, quite often, makes the military ill-prepared for its principal tasks of deterring and defeating foreign aggressors.
Power Supply. Nigeria, a country of 173 million people and a national economy of $510 billion, produces about 5,000MW in its national grid. This amount of power supply is far less than is produced for some of the biggest and busiest airports around the world. Reliable and efficient power holds the key to increased agricultural, industrial and commercial production, in addition to improved supply for domestic use. Years of inadequate public investment and public ownership of electric production have hindered the growth in the power sector. With the privatisation of the power sector and the establishment of several power generation and power distribution companies; the government needs to strengthen its roles as a regulator of the power sector and promoter of public partnerships in support of increased electricity production. The ambition to grow the economy will critically depend on progress in the power sector.
Unemployment. High unemployment is the bane of Nigeria’s economic situation and remains central to the paradox of a growing economy with high poverty rate. Nigeria’s overall unemployment is estimated at 24 percent with youth unemployment rate of 37 percent and an extreme poverty rate of 54 percent. Reflecting the need to create more jobs, the federal government has implemented such programmes as the National Action Plan on Employment Creation with a target of creating 5 million new jobs annually within 3 years; the Skills Acquisition Centres; the YOUWIN programme to support thousands of youth entrepreneurs to grow their businesses; and the Graduate Internship Programme to enhance the employability skills of new graduates. In addition to expanding these programmes, consideration has to be given to a range of public works programmes that would employ more youth. In the short term and with variations as may needed in each state or geo-political zone, the public work programmes should be designed around getting secondary school graduates to undertake tasks related to greening the environment by planting trees and flowers by street pavements as well as building flower beds in cities and towns; writing street names and town/village sign posts; numbering houses in towns and villages; and training as Health Extension workers or Public Health Assistants to improve public health delivery in the rural communities. The public work programmes for university graduates should build on YOUWIN by providing workshop spaces for those in the technical fields and office spaces for those in the service sector. In the long term, however, more employment opportunities will have to be generated by establishing manufacturing and agro-allied industrial clusters in various parts of the country. Also in the medium term, the cost of borrowing (lending rates) would have to be drastically reduced to enable both small and medium enterprises as well as large firms to thrive. High interest rate is constraining the growth of the private sector in Nigeria, and hence job creation.
Improving the Social Services. Significant improvement in the delivery of social services is usually one of the main avenues that people feel the dividends of democracy. The social contract between the elected and the electorate is manifested, on one hand, by the extent that government provides safety and security and, on the other hand, by its ability to improve the quality and quantity of education, health and housing. These three main components of social sector are in the concurrent rather than the exclusive list of the national constitution. Over the years, the federal government has assumed too many responsibilities for secondary education, done too little to promote public health regulation and advance research in public and curative health, and fallen far short in its efforts to tackle the huge unmet needs in housing. The Federal government must launch comprehensive initiatives to redress these problems and delineate clear roles for itself, in relation to the state governments, at a time of limited financial resources.
The 2015 elections will be a watershed event in Nigeria not because the country will rupture but because citizens of the country are now more politically aware of their civic rights, are growing impatient for results, and are more determined to hold all tiers of government responsible for their actions or inactions. Slowly but steadily the scope for electoral manipulations and economic malfeasance will decrease. That will make the political process less prone to outbreak of violence but it will not make governance less challenging not least because of the accumulated challenges that the government-of-the-day will have to cope with. Those who will be (re)elected to power during the 2015 elections will need to summon an uncommon courage, commitment, patriotism and political will to lead. Provided they show a sincerity of purpose and take policy measures to improve the safety and security of Nigerians as well as their economic and social conditions, they will earn the respect and enjoy the support and goodwill of all Nigerians.
Ejeviome Eloho Otobo was Director and Deputy Head of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office at UN Headquarters New York and is currently Non-Resident Senior Expert in Peacebuilding and Global Economic Policy at the Global Governance Institute, Brussels.