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The choice we make about democracy, by Adams Oshiomhole

The 2011 Election

I believe that the last election reflected the qualities of two main characters, that of the President and Commander-in-Chief, President Goodluck Jonathan and that of Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega.

I believe that these two personalities can jolly well claim the credit for the substantial improvement in the conduct of the last election compared to the ones before them.

So I’ll like to use this opportunity to remind Prof. Jega that we still do have a lot of crooks, in the INEC system and they are still at work and so he must watch and continue to identify them and take steps where he cannot fire them on the account of law but to expose them for the public to know who they are.

I think we have started the process of democratisation but there is a lot we still all need to do not only to deepen it but also to internalize the core values of democracy and to ensure that it grows from strength to strength.

Meaning of Democracy

I think first, in talking about democracy, it seems to me that in the real world this seemingly simple word, democracy when you break it down you’ll find that it has different meanings to different people.  There are people in Nigeria who believe that democracy means one man can fix election result and announce them and if you protest, he locks you up, for him that is democracy, and everyday he sharpens his tools of rigging.

He identifies the thugs to be deployed and assembles a few sums of money to service the process.  When he has succeeded in fixing his people he talks about democracy dividends when he should be talking about rigging dividends.

But I think it seems to me that around the world, the most common definition that everybody, seems to use from the lowest to the professor, they all talk about democracy as “the government of the people by the people, for the people”.

But then on the surface, it seems clear it’s all about the people. Again I believe that at the level of definition, what some people regard as people may be different from some other persons, because if we all accept that we have a common definition of the word “people”, then some of the contradictions we see will be avoided.

So I ask the question “whose people, which people”?   For many, if a government is elected for example and you define the people as meaning himself, his wife and his children and he proceeds to use his instrument of power to deliver to these members of his household, in his opinion, the government has delivered to the people.

The problem is that his own idea of the people, are those within his own household, that is why sometimes we do need to be sure that when we say people, that we all have the same appreciation of the word “people”.

De-emphasising the trappings of power

I think the President of Nigeria, who some prefer to emphasise and to always remind us that he is the “Commander-in-Chief” with the emphasis on “of the Armed Forces” the forces that are armed.  I think that when any Nigerian stands to talk about the President and he proceeds to also add all the other ones as “Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces”, there is a veiled threat that we should be warned that this man commands all the men that are legally armed.

This might look straight forward, but I think that it is not for nothing that in Nigeria that this is often emphasized, and even when you get to the gate, in the visitors’ register, some simply put President, but you’ll find that some put C-in-C.

You should know those who prefer to use C-in-C and those who prefer President.  It would reveal the character of those who use these words.  But for me they are important, because in the rest of democracy around the world, from the most powerful President on the planet, the President of the United States of America, I have never heard, whatever describing any of their Presidents as Commander-in-Chief.

But in Nigeria, we want to remind everybody that this man is the “Commander-in-Chief” of the Armed Forces.  So I think that we must begin to ask questions about even those little details.  This is already explicitly clear, they hardly need to remind us, or even remind him, that he is in charge of the Armed Forces.

Adams Oshiomhole

So, I think for me we have the non state institutions like the civil society and you have on the other hand the President, INEC and the security agencies.  Why do I classify them together”?

As it is today, the President appoints both the INEC chairman and all the INEC functionaries including Resident Electoral Commissioners and even the Non-Resident and so the character of INEC must substantially reflects the character of the appointing authority.

Attitude of two Presidents

I believe that on reflection, the attitude to his job reflected the character of the man who gave him the job.  I still do believe now, that whether we have free and fair election in the first place depends on the character and the attitude of the President.

If we have a president who sees himself simply as a party man, whose business is to ensure that his party governs forever, of course I read from the newspapers that PDP intends to govern forever and ever.  It used to be fifty years and now they say it’s forever and ever until death do us part.

Now, if you are the President that buys into that logic, then it would be do-or-die.  But on the other hand, if you have a President who appreciates that whereas he’s a President but for the purpose of the election, he is a candidate and that the people have a right to choose him and that they also have a right to reject him, and he accordingly gives the proper signals to the men and women under arms, the character of the election will reflect those values.

Jonathan’s Disposition

In 2011, we saw a President who said my election is not worth anybody’s blood in other words, don’t go and die for me, it’s not worth it.  That was President Goodluck Jonathan.  I believe therefore that, that statement, in many ways, affected the character and the conduct of many in the system.

In my view, it also implied the recognition that the President may win or lose an election, it does not mean the end of the world.

So, if as the world seems to have agreed including international observers, that the last elections were substantially better than the previous one, it is because President Goodluck Jonathan is far more civil both in his language, his conduct and the opportunity he provided since I wasn’t present, in the kind of briefing he gave to the head of the Police, the Army and the State Security Services.

I have it on good authority that in 2007, the then IG had clear orders on states that must be won and how he must get specific Commissioners of  Police that must be deployed to those states and they were told, if you don’t deliver the state, remove the uniform before you return back to your station.

And in Lagos, you saw how many Commissioners were posted in and out.  How many Resident Commissioners were moved at the last minute, how Electoral Officers were redeployed in their game of searching for the man who could deliver and I think the Lagos Area Boys proved that they were stronger and of course the rest is history.

It is just to say that on occasions like this, we need to acknowledge that President Goodluck Jonathan demonstrated that we don’t have to do a do-or-die politics and he chose Prof. Jega to head INEC which was for me also an act of courage.

Experience in Edo State

I also believed, talking from experience in Edo State, my impression is that, unlike what happened in 2007 neither the Army nor the Police, were directed to go and rig elections but this is not to say that some of them did not participate in rigging in some places.  Where they did, they did it on their own and probably due to corrupt practices.

I also believe that INEC, determined not to have party functionaries as agents also decided to use members of the National Youth Service Corps; because they come from various places, no one influences who becomes a corper and so on and so forth, and by the time they were posted, the posting authority didn’t quite, know what roles they would be used for in the contest of the election.

I thought that was a major innovation compared to 2007 where party leaders nominated their own party members and deployed them as returning officers at various poling units.

Democracy is About Choices

So let me stop here by simply saying that the starting point in a democracy is that the people should chose who they want.  If we cannot chose who we want, then there is no basis to advance the conversation, because as I argued elsewhere, I think it was at the conference of the Nigerian Bar Association that when people commission toilets, they commission refurbished 504 cars and put it on the road, they will announce that this is dividend of democracy.

My argument is that this is not because even dictatorship delivered on development to some extent. After all, the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos wasn’t a dividend of democracy.

I think what substantially distinguishes democracy from dictatorship is not just on the deliverables, it’s the way in which decisions are taken and the role of the people in that process, because at some point in life, men and even women don’t want to be spoon fed, we want to chose what we want to eat, we want to partake in the preparation and we want to eat it because we want to eat it.

So I think it is more about processes.  How do we deepen democracy therefore, once we are done with the formalities of elections and managing the process, the real challenge for me begins after the election in the context of deepening democracy, because first you must appreciate that elections is a means to an end, it’s not an end in itself. What is the end?

Democracy dividend

The end is development, delivering to the people, addressing the welfare of the people.  That is what all of that is about.

I think the key issue here is that what again makes democracy superior to any other form is that, if the people elect a thief or even someone who is not a thief but simply not a performer, by reasons of the fact that he is not able to deliver on the development agenda or improve the reality of life of the people, then the people at regular intervals can review his activities and decide to recall when they are not satisfied, they can decide to re-elect someone else.

Whereas in other way, good or bad, you are there, you have no choice.

But what is the role of the media in all of that?  I have never worked in the newspapers, so I do not know how you formulate your policies, what drives your editorial comments and what influences your editorial policy.   But I think that the media sets its course of action as to who will get what in true politics.

I think that is where the media is critical. It now defines the issues, identifies political outcome and maybe who the criminals are likely to be and who the courses are likely to be.  So that the people can understand whether those involved and what informed the politics that they put forward.  The media now has a huge role in helping to identify those factors.

Exculpating the Media

I am sure you know more than myself that there are many people in government who unable to respond to the challenges that they face often blame the media for the problems in the country.  The people blame the media for the fact that we are not attracting as much foreign investment into Nigeria as much as we need.

Even in electoral process sometimes they blame the media, quote and unquote for misrepresentation of facts.  I have been present in couples of official meetings where this argument and other issues have been raised by various people.

I was happy I had the opportunity to be there, my reaction was we cannot define for the media what their role should be.  The media have to define for itself, what it thinks its roles should be.  Again when I was at the NLC, one that was my familiar argument, that when people say, “are strikes our only weapon”?

“Is it the only solution”?  How often should we use it or measure it?  My argument is those who oppress me cannot dictate to me how to resist the fact of my oppression.  The tools I choose to use, how often I use the tool and the strategy I deploy to using the tools should be the prerogative of the oppressed.

The media simply write what it hears.  If you say stupid things, the media write stupid things, if you say the right things the media writes the right things.  The effect of the society depends on who you are.  So writing to understand the source of tension, we must be looking at what was written.

The issue is whether the person was misquoted.  I think therefore that there are also others who say that as soon as you flip through Nigerian newspapers, you hear so, so person kidnapped, so so numbers of people traveling on Lagos-Benin road so so number killed in road accidents.

So the impression of the writer is that I am walking into a very dangerous country.  But the issue is, was there an accident on Benin Lagos road?  Did people die or not?  So I think the media is like a mirror.  The media simply try to relay what is.

However I do believe that when it comes to national security, it is a very problematic concept. “Whose security”?

The security of tenure of the President has nothing to do with the security of the nation.  How we distinguish that for me is important.  But where the security of the nation, note the security of tenure is at stake, then there must be a point at which the media must say, now it is about our country, we must pick and choose what would help the course of stability and what would not.

When American national interest is at stake and you are watching CNN, in these days of democracy movements here and there, where it has to do with issues where the West, not just Western government, but even people, particularly when you remember the issues of the airline (Lockerbie) that was shot down where 200 people were killed, you will see that the media will go to any length but when it gets to somewhere  else, some national writers, you will see an attempt to manage the language us to what can be exposed and how far they can go.

I think that in Nigeria we do also have our own national interest.  Just as I said, we must di
stinguish national interest from the interest of security of tenure of a Governor or President.  Those are areas I’m not sure how we will resolve.

But I assume that those who have the privilege to edit papers, who have vested interests in Nigeria, they must in their own interest take a decision which in their judgment not to undermine the security and collective peace of the country.

I believe we have made substantial progress in this direction and as very senior editors, I write you to send your representatives out. They will tell you that there a lot of people in Edo State who will tell you that since 1999 until sometime in 2008, 2009, they never ever saw ballot papers.  No INEC man visited their communities.

They have no means of complaining.  They were locally disconnected.  But today let me say not all, but a substantial number of our people know what a ballot paper looks like and some of them are now able to vote for the first time during the last election.

Sustaining the People’s Trust

So we must begin to address, in the context of deepening democracy how to ensure that it delivers the promise, which is improving on our human welfare index.  As they are today, the evidence on ground by official statistics, we can see how many new private jets we could find in all our airports and those who have the information can tell you.

The number is growing and at some individual levels we know a couple of things that have changed.  In Edo State, we know people who have this 504, but today they have several bullet-proof cars and estates home and abroad.

So democracy is delivering to those people, but to the ordinary man on the streets, official statistics is that more and more people are unemployed and because they do not have social security, to be unemployed is to be absolutely poor.

Because the word poverty is relative, but when you don’t have at all you are absolutely poor. Because the word poverty is relative, but when you don’t have at all, you are absolutely poor, and that this number has grown from about 35% in the late 70s to about 75% by last year or the year before.

But even when you take 1999 as a base year, so that we don’t carry the sin of the military on board, the UN and all the other world organizations that are gathering statistics on various human welfare index again are unanimous that we are posting negative statistics on the human welfare index.

What is the reason for that by the same period, statistics also show that we are earning more from oil, from volume, higher prices and therefore more resources, and yet the people are getting poorer and poorer.  So what explains the contradiction?

People say democracy is expensive, others say no, it’s not democracy, that is expensive it is the Presidential System that is expensive.  My argument is, there is no price tag on any of the system.  What you pay is what you wish to pay.

There is no law, in fact, if you look at Nigeria’s official remuneration table, Nigerian Public Officers in fact are probably poorer paid compared so some other countries.

The Huge Recurrent Expenditure

The actual official salary is not the problem but the level of abuse in the system and internal transfers have been such that for every one naira that is budgeted, 80 kobo is consumed on recurrent expenditure. This huge recurrent expenditure arises from cost of so many other things that transpire in government including the cost of doing workshops, symposia, conferences, etc.

By the way, the workshop industry in Nigeria, if you compare the total against the cost in Ghana, in South Africa, and in many other parts of the continent, I think Nigeria will be spending 20, 30 times more.  We have such seminars each time we have new Assembly men, even the old members go for refresher courses.

Relocate them to Ghana so that we can pay smaller cost.  We can go on and on.  The result is that a lot of expenditure seems to go into the maintenance of public office holders, and it’s a fact of our economic life that there is opportunity cost.

The more you spend for the few, the less that is available for the rest.  So if you spend 80% on recurrent expenditure, and you have 20% for capital projects, there is no way poverty will not remain endemic.

In Edo State, this was the situation we met and we were determined to reverse. I’m happy to say that under two years, we have cut our recurrent expenditure to 40% and beefed up our capital to about 60%.  In the first year, we saved about N5 billion in terms of the cost of running government.

How did this come about?  I refused to host conferences on tourism, and all sorts of conferences, national workshops, etc.  When I am travelling, I believe I travel with the least delegation.  The last trip I went I travel with one person, some other times, I travel with two.

Within Nigeria, I travel with about three, my ADC, my Orderly, Chief Detail, because the SSS must be there and one Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) man and that’s it.  But I also know that when one officer is traveling, before he comes they tell you about fifty people are coming as advance party.

They spend four days, supposedly to sniff around, and the day the big man is coming himself, another group arrives, a day before and the day the man comes.  When you add all of that together and you repeat that process everyday, the cost of running government is colossal.

When Obasanjo made a broadcast that I was behaving as if I was running a parallel government that was my finest hour.  Because, that statement, coming from a very annoying President on NTA, the more he abused me, the more the people realized that I was working for them.

The only time I fear was when he says, oh you are so nice.  By the way, there is no personal quarrel between me and Obasanjo, but I’m like a goalkeeper, and if you are my brother and you play for the opposition team, my business is to stop you from scoring goals and it doesn’t matter whether you break your hand or your leg in the process, that is the job I was assigned to do.

I think the media must stand constantly on the side of the people and define the people in terms of the most vulnerable group; those who have no voice, who can’t even address a Press Conference.  We must insist that our resources must apply to our people.

Reversing the Revenue Formular

Today, I will say and I’ve said so elsewhere, the Revenue Allocation formula is not pro-development.  In fact, it encourages abuses.  Let me just amplify with the points.  The Federal Government collects 52.6% of every one naira that is brought to the table.

But even the one naira that arrives the table, they take 52.6 kobo you heard what happened in the last week over the federation account, NNPC spending at source which is totally illegal, in clear breach of the constitution.  There are several of such abuses.  All the State Governments, plus FCT share about 28%.  Just about half of what the Federal Government spends.

So I submitted in a forum, that if every governor stops paying salaries.  No battery to power the siren.  The siren consumes a lot of battery, I am told and apply the 28% in full, we would achieve 28% development. Can that give us a pass mark?

Which university will give you pass mark if you score 28%?  On the other hand if Abuja manages their 52% judiciously and we attain 52.6% pass mark, even by Oxford Standard it would be seen as a good pass mark.

And so, what this tells you is that the fight for Abuja is that once you capture it, you can determine the character of Nigeria and from what we now know, the bitterness arising from zoning or no zoning; rotation or no rotation, the long-term interest of Nigeria, also in terms of the politics of even development so that I don’t have to lobby, if I don’t have representation in Abuja.

If you took more resources to the states, in the hands of 36 men and women and half of them perform at least half of Nigeria will grow.   On the other hand, if you put more in one hand, if that one hand fails, the whole of Nigeria fails.  So there are issues to be revisited in terms of the politics of revenue allocation.

When I read some editorial comments about abuse of power by some state governors, yes there are abuses, but in terms of the weight, if Abuja doesn’t deliver, the governors alone can’t make all the changes because Abuja account for about 52.6%, which is why the current debate about minimum wage is very interesting.

For workers who fought for democracy, there is no doubt that workers fought for democracy, and they are asking, what is our own benefit now.  Even to give us N18,000, they say they cannot, and we know that a plate of food and a bottle of wine at Hilton cost more than N18,000.

Just one meal.  But this problem is not just there in part because it reflects the imbalances in revenue allocation but also there is a substantial element of class bias.

The Minimum Wage

In Edo State, I’m happy to say we have paid, we are not the richest state and the figures are there, we are not one of the first 10, but I believe that the labourer deserves his wages and some of the states that are refusing to pay they are those that can afford to pay and so it’s also a kind of class bias.

And then we have the argument about those who say labour accounts for 3% of the population and they are consuming so much.  How about the remaining ones?  My argument is this is a very dangerous argument to pursue because if you pursue the argument further, we will then argue that the governor is one person out of three million, or four or five million depending on the population of the state.

What do tax payers spend to maintain just one person?  So we do need to be careful to realise that for Nigerians to be ready and willing to defend democracy, there must be something in it for the people, beyond the formalities of election, beyond the formalities of debate and beyond the formalities of voting, and I hold the view that we must revisit taxation and we must get those who are to pay and when I say this, I am not talking about those who earn wages.

Wages are easy to tax but the few rich in Nigeria are under taxed, electioneering is about taxation.  Who’s going to pay for what?

The challenge with us today, in terms of national security, whether it is kidnapping, as we are experiencing here, not by our people but by those who take advantage of our hospitality and some of the violent crimes, we could debate about the motives of those who are leading those protests – religious, non-religious, ethnic or whatever, but what is clear to me is that the ease with which they recruit followers and get people to buy into what we consider to be a selfish agenda can only be explained by indifference to a level of greed.

A Valiant Media

I trust that as editors, more than anyone else, you have paid your dues in the struggle for democracy.  You wanted not just the right to vote and be voted for but the right of the votes to count; you were convinced that when the people choose their leaders, that development could be faster.

That is the basis for our collective struggle.  Some of your men were jailed, in fact, if my memory is correct, some, were sentenced to death for planning coups or allegedly plotting coups with their pen just with their columns.

I remember Niran Malaolu and a few others went to jail, a couple of people in The Guardian and a few other places, many of the newspapers were shut down for publishing a newspaper rather than a Government Gazette, so you have contributed individually and institutionally and you’ve made your sacrifices so that Nigeria may become democratic because the concern is how do we ensure that this democracy works for the majority of our people.

In Edo State we do not claim we have found the answers, but we consciously make efforts everyday and I noticed that in your programme, I will have the opportunity along that some other Governors to speak to specific things that we have tried to do.

Just so that the people of Edo State can see the difference between dictatorship and democracy and that we truly can put the people first, do that at the end of the day, when they own up to democracy, no forces on the planet can undermine them.  I wish you a very fruitful deliberation.

And now that I have seen a former Governor in the house, Mr. Donald Duke, who sometimes to my annoyance people describe him as the most handsome Governor and each time they do so in my presence, I think it’s an indirect reference to my person.

In the state we do not have kidnappers. However, we have had some cases of kidnapping perpetrated by migrant kidnappers.

That in itself is a fact that we have created such a liberal environment that even kidnappers think that they can come and take advantage of our hospitality, but we are dealing with it and we are making some progress.  So I really cannot thank you enough for coming to Edo State and I’m sure you will enjoy your stay while you are here.

Being speech of Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole during the opening of the 7th Annual Editors Conference (ANEC) of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) which held in Benin City


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