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Nigerian banks should embrace Islamic finance

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Say you are approached by a banker, who then makes you a home acquisition proposal that converts your rent payments into equity, and thus enable you own your home after a predetermined period. Naturally, you would be excited. How likely is it then that as a non-Muslim, you would balk at the proposal when it comes to light that what you were just now giddy about is actually Islamic finance? Very little; not if you were rational, at least. Of course, it could be more palatable to your sensibilities if it is called “non-interest banking”; which is just as well. Try imagining, though, how many homeowners there could have been by now if Nigerian banks adopted such an approach to financing home ownership. If Islamic finance is to thrive and become attractive to all and sundry in Nigeria, however, conventional commercial banks would have to embrace it. At the moment, only one – Stanbic IBTC Bank (2016 total assets of 1.1 trillion naira) – has an Islamic banking window or subsidiary. There is one fully-fledged Islamic bank, though; that is Jaiz Bank (2016 total assets of 68 billion naira). Clearly, the former would have unmatched scale and network advantages that could be easily transferred to its non-interest banking arm; efficiency, for instance. Hence why Islamic finance stands a better chance in Nigeria (and elsewhere, for that matter) if other conventional banks open their own Islamic windows.

CBN steps up
In late August 2017, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) introduced two liquidity management instruments for non-interest financial institutions (NIFIs); a “Funding for Liquidity Facility (FfLF)” and “Intra-day Facility (IDF)”. Hitherto, there were three discretionary liquidity management instruments for NIFIs; namely a “CBN Safe-Custody Account (CSCA)”, “CBN Non-Interest Note (CNIN)”, and “CBN Non-Interest Asset Backed Securities (CNI-ABS)”. So how are the recently introduced ones any different or useful? Well, conventional banks are typically able to place their surplus with each other during the course of a business day or overnight and vice versa when short. This enables them manage their clearing operations, for instance. Depending on the circumstances, like when the interbank market is tight, banks could go to the CBN for such transactions. In both cases, Islamic banks and windows are excluded because they are barred from earning or paying interest. So hitherto, all an Islamic bank or window could do was to place its surplus funds with the CBN either as a CSCA or CNIN. But these are discretionary. These new instruments would thus provide tremendous relief for NIFIs. To access them, the CBN requires they either are in clearing with a temporary debit balance and/or have a liquidity problem. This is the primary distinguishing criteria; aside placing collateral with the CBN that is at least 1.1 times the transaction value. In a February 2017 report, the IMF mentioned the lack of such sharp liquidity instruments as a key risk to the financial systems of countries where there are Islamic banks. Needless to say, the CBN’s recent move is a welcome development.

Keep your customer
More Nigerian banks would be wise to have Islamic banking windows. That way, they are able to keep all the business of their sometimes affluent Muslim customers, while still availing them of conventional banking services. Global banks already do this for their Middle Eastern customers. Of course, there is the oft-cited refrain about technical capacity. This does not necessarily apply to traditional Islamic finance products. Problems have mostly arisen with so-called hybrid and exotic products for which compliance with the strict Islamic law criteria can sometimes be fuzzy or inconclusive because of their sheer complexity. Such is the complication that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them from conventional banking products. It does not help of course that the evolutionary nature of Islamic finance also means legal clarity and certainty have been somewhat elusive. There is some level of standardization with traditional or so-called plain-vanilla products, however. Take the standard savings account from an Islamic bank. Instead of the quite meagre fixed interest rate a customer currently gets from a conventional bank, there is an opportunity to partake in a potentially higher return. How so? An Islamic bank pools its customers’ deposits and invests them in Shariah-compliant investments (like shares of companies that are involved in ethical businesses; so a brewer or tobacco producer would not qualify, for instance). There is a downside, though. The customer also shares in potential losses. This is in accordance with the Islamic finance principles of risk sharing and that investments be in real economic activities. In both instances, the CBN-approved sharing formula is a 70:30 ratio, with the bank getting the larger share. Statutorily, returns are shared monthly.

Potential challenges
A conventional bank looking to open an Islamic window must be mindful of some potential pitfalls, though. Customers might be sceptical about whether it is truly able to separate its Islamic banking arm from its interest-earning entities. A commingling of funds would be antithetical to the whole scheme. There is also the possibility of regulatory arbitrage, where the bank potentially transfers risk between the two arms, depending on which is favourable. The CBN seems well-geared to handle such potential abuses.

Also published in my Premium Times Nigeria column. See link viz.

Rebooting Nigerian universities

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

University lecturers say the Nigerian government owes them at least N128 billion in unpaid allowances. They wonder why a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2013 promising to fund a revitalization programme for Nigerian universities with a sum of N1.3 trillion in 2013-18 has not been implemented. In protest, they embarked on a labour action in August. Their penultimate one almost four years ago lasted for 6 months. The authorities agree they have been remiss. Short of promises, there is probably not much they can do, however. The government’s finances are strained. Of course, it has asked the lecturers’ union to account for the little that was remitted in the past, before giving more. Say the government is able to fulfill its obligations under the 2013 MoU, would that be enough to prevent another disagreement in the future, though? This is doubtful. With the outlook on crude oil prices bearish, it is increasingly unlikely the government would be able to sustain even the level of funding it has managed to provide thus far. Parents are not waiting to find out. Most gave up a long time ago, sending their wards abroad, as far as the United States and United Kingdom. And for those not as endowed, neighbouring Ghana and Benin have become attractive destinations. This is ironic. Nigeria is supposedly the regional giant. So it is a shame really that its citizens have begun to see the education facilities in its poorer neighbours as more robust. Incidentally, this practice has continued despite the establishment of relatively better private universities in the country. The costs to the economy are enormous. It is estimated Nigerians spend at least US$2 billion annually on education abroad. Also, private universities have not been short of students despite their steep fees. This is evidence a significant portion of the population can afford to pay for a high quality education.

Quality costs money and more
The authorities’ concern has always been that university education, in public institutions at least, should not be priced in a way that excludes the poor. Unfortunately, it has not met this desire with action. Quality has suffered consequently. Were the government to make education a priority, it would apportion more to education in the budget than it currently does. It does not even come close to the recommended UNESCO standard of 26 percent. Historically, the education ministry’s budget is below 10 percent of the total; more than 70 percent of which is usually slated for recurrent expenditure. There are ways, though, that the poor could still afford higher education in tandem with universities charging commercially viable fees. In South Africa, for instance, universities use price discrimination. Foreigners get charged almost twice the fees for locals, for instance. Had the quality of their degrees been less than ideal, however, they would not be able to attract foreign students. The government also manages a fund that provides loans to students at decent rates. There are also scholarship funds that target certain types of students. The private sector also does good but mutually beneficial business in the sector; students get loans and the firms not only make money but get positive branding benefits. It begs the question then: can Nigeria not be similarly creative? At this point, it is important to point out that charging higher fees (or increasing funding) is not a guarantee of better quality education. A good case in this regard is the United Kingdom where despite high fees, some universities have nonetheless performed below par, a point made in a recent feature by The Economist. What is the point? Even when the funding problems of Nigerian universities are resolved, standards may still improve little. What is required then is a robust approach that ensures that Nigeria’s public universities are not only self-sustaining but also able to measure up to their supposed peers in other climes.

Raise the bar
Rankings are supposed to motivate universities to do better. In the UK, US and elsewhere, a university’s ranking is a major determinant of the quality of students it attracts. It is not unlikely that having a centralized university admission board is perhaps a major part of the problem. Recently, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) lowered the bar for passing its entry exams for Nigerian universities to a score of 120 (from 180 hitherto) out of a potential total of 400, an embarassingly paltry 30 percent. Surely, there is no jurisdiction anywhere in the world where a score below 50 percent is considered decent. To go even lower is simply scandalous. The matriculation board says this is only a guide and that universities are free to set entry criteria above the benchmark. The difference this time, though, is that universities are now required to publish and submit their criteria aforehand to enable JAMB audit their actual admissions. Despite this argument, many wonder why the score should be set so low at a time when there is an urgent need to raise standards. There are other initiatives begging for action. Some of the requirements set by the authorities for admission into Nigerian universities are not fit for purpose. Someone looking to study for a law degree should not be made to labour with mathematics, for instance. Thus, there are myriad reasons why parents send their wards abroad. Many a 3-year undergraduate degree programme in the UK are officially five years in Nigeria, with students sometimes spending seven years or more, owing to strike actions and so on. In that period, their contemporaries abroad would have, if they chose to, completed their advance degrees.

An additional year of compulsory national service before joining the workforce is increasingly seeming like a gross waste of time as well. Frustratingly, afterwards, jobs are scarce. Employers assert jobs are available for those who are qualified. They are often disappointed by the quality of graduates from Nigerian universities, however. Inevitably, they are forced to retrain their entry-level hires at great expense just so their fit for the job is not in doubt. A potential fix for the Nigerian education system would thus require starting from the employers themselves. Their inputs are not currently sought as much as they should in the design of curricula at the moment. Yes, firms take in undergraduate students on compulsory internships. These tend to be perfunctory, however, with students learning little. Even so, should employers be assured that the university system would train potential employees to the standard they require, they might not be averse to spending more of their training budgets on Nigerian universities. Some already do this as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives, though, albeit relatively meagre. Should the education system be given the attention it deserves, there is much that can be done to make it better.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

The philosophy in Buhari’s recovery

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

It was a beautiful Saturday morning. The feeling of freshness (or languor if you had a late Friday night) is like no other, in my experience. After a long and often tiring work week, you awake with the usual jolt at the thought that another busy day beckoned, only to be reminded with good cheer that today is not one of those. The relaxed feeling afterwards is often most exhilarating. Of course, I am not going to go into detail about how people spend that time after this realization. Let us just say, it tends to be most satisfying. So yes, I had a feeling the day was going to be a bright one on the fateful Saturday morning just past. But what was it? The answer would come through soon enough. Muhammadu Buhari was returning home. The ailing Nigerian president had been in England for medical treatment for more than 100 days. Anyone who has been sick knows that what is ordinarily challenging becomes even more so when third parties begin to feign concern. If you are experienced enough, you know most are hypocrites and do not wish you well. If you are wealthy, most are really just wishing you would go kaput so that they can commandeer whatever spoils there are. If you are a political leader, especially one that wields the enormous powers of a Nigerian president, the so-called “hyenas and jackals” just wish you would kick the bucket so they can replace you. And if it looks like God does not seem to be in a hurry, they seek to hasten the process.

Highly spiritual
Only President Buhari would be able to say what myriad spiritual battles he has had to face since he assumed office two years ago. Not that we should care; afterall he asked for the job. Still, his recent recovery (and victory) is as much a physical one as it is a spiritual one. When Reuben Abati, the former media aide to former president, Goodluck Jonathan, revealed his suspicions about demonic forces at the presidential residence, he was derided. Thankfully, Mr Abati stuck to his guns. Incidentally, the loudest of his critics then are also those who know very intimately well what he was talking about. Muslims are taught about the many creatures of Almighty God and the many dimensions and forms they take. They are also taught that God created man superior to all beings. All, except Him. This is why those who lose their way in search of temporal greatness are first made to degrade themselves before these inferior beings, before the help they seek is provided them. Knee deep into those treacherous waters, they find out too late that whatever supposed good they had hoped for, pales in comparison to what they are forced to give up. Let us just say a significant portion of the Nigerian elite is beholden not to God but to these nefarious forces. And people like Mr Buhari are outliers in the Nigerian context. To these forces, his kind should not be allowed to prevail; lest their own brethren might begin to think there are other ways to glory. (But of course, there are; albeit steep, difficult but ultimately attainable and sustainable.)

In the Islamic understanding, a man for whom God desires a comfortable hereafter, would almost certainly live a life of trials. These come in various forms: sickness, loss, and so on. Short of such tribulations, man is bound to engage in excesses. And since man is almost always sinful, he is bound to suffer some punishment from time to time. A higher understanding makes obvious how this can also be one of the greatest blessings God can bestow on a man. When a man is sick, he is ever aware of his humanity. He is more considerate. He is more empathetic. And more importantly, restraint is forced on him. To the extent that what strength would ordinarily allow him, he is forced to forego, he is not likely to be as erring in his ways as he would typically be. He is less sinful. Mr Buhari is a good man; in the Nigerian context, at least. But he is entrenched in his ways. And so were he to be of full strength, he would likely engage in excesses that could be detrimental to the people he has been ordained to rule for a brief while. He may not have relied on his capable deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, as much as he has now been forced to, for instance. Hopefully, he would allow Prof Osinbajo even more leeway now that the man has proved not only to be diligent but religiously loyal. Incidentally, many of the Muslims and northerners that Mr Buhari put much store in are precisely the ones who betrayed him the most.

Do justice
Nigeria is a country of many tribes and religions. The nepotism, tribalism and wanton violence (by Fulani herdsmen, for instance) that have characterized his rule thus far are great injustices. There is no justification for any section of the country to be made to feel like this is not their land. Everyone should be free to practice his religion and interact with whoever, insofar as they obey the laws of the land. When Mr Buhari was not as feeble, his posture (or so-called body language) did not suggest that he understood that he was the president of almost 200 million people. It was a great injustice to have used his office to seemingly punish a section of the country because they did not vote for him. Two years on, after much damage within the polity and personal troubles of his own, Mr Buhari now offers some accommodation; albeit with a stick still. No matter. Mr Buhari must do more to correct the injustices under his rule thus far. Otherwise, his recent relief may be fleeting.

Also published in Premium Times Nigeria column. See link viz.

On the African prospects of Islamic finance

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

I attended an Islamic finance roundtable event in Lagos recently. It was organised by S&P Global Ratings, one of the three leading global credit rating agencies. There is increasing interest in Islamic finance in African countries, whether in the form of a sukuk (Islamic bond which makes returns from an underlying revenue-generating asset as opposed to scheduled and fixed interest payments in conventional bonds) or commercial banking products that avoid the payment of interest, which Muslims are barred from earning. African sukuk issuances have yet to impress, though; about US$2 billion (since 2014 mostly), according to S&P Global Ratings. (17 African sovereigns issued US$46 billion in conventional debt in 2015.) Over the past two years, annual global sukuk issuance was about US$65 billion on average and end-2016 Islamic finance industry assets are estimated at about US$2.1 trillion. There has been a decline in the volume of global issuances lately, though; low crude oil prices are one reason why. Even so, there are significant prospects for more sukuk issuances by African sovereigns and sub-sovereigns. A sign that Islamic finance may eventually become mainstream is that corporate entities are beginning to seriously consider it as a source of financing. The Lagos-based Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) issued a 3-year US$150 million sukuk in early 2017, for instance.

Entrenched ways
Curiously, Muslims have not warmed up to Islamic banking as was probably envisaged, though. Most have gotten used to conventional banking, especially as they have over time devised personalized mechanisms for abiding by their religious principles while still availing themselves of conventional commercial banking services: For example, when paid interest on their savings account deposits, they would either ask that the interest portion be removed or alternatively, they maintain it as a permanent balance in their accounts. The motivation is rational. To forgo conventional banks for the few Islamic ones that have only recently begun to spring up in a few African countries could be costly. Conventional commercial banks have more heft to provide a more diversified bouquet of banking services than the still budding Islamic ones. To become more commonplace, Islamic banking professionals have to find ways to make their services appealing to non-Muslims. Patronage of an Islamic bank does not require that you believe in Islam. It is simply a type of banking that insists that if you must earn a return, it should be from actual assets and not just financial transactions. Call it ethical banking, if that is more palatable to your religious sensibilities. Such sentiments seem to have been overcome in the Islamic capital market sector, however. Non-Islamic entities and countries have issued sukuk, for instance. Still, Islamic law does underpin the industry.

Standardize now
A lack of standardization is becoming a problem, though. To be clear, Islam is clear on what the rules are or should be. Varied and unusually dynamic interpretations of sharia (Islamic law) on what is compliant or not have been problematic, however. The controversial case of Dana Gas, an Abu Dhabi-listed gas company, may be the crisis the industry needs to finally put things in order. To avoid parting with more cash than it agreed to, Dana Gas is seeking to restructure two sukuk issues worth US$700 million into more supposedly Islamic-compliant ones. The reason is obviously not religious but financial. It is the classic case of trying to use religion to escape fulfilling an obligation. Still, Dana Gas is simply latching on to what seems like a “dynamic” Sharia interpretation culture in Islamic finance. To be fair, prominent Islamic finance sharia advisors have been forceful about what a dangerous precedent the Dana Gas case would set if it wins the case it filed with an English court, which may not be heard before December 2017 (according to The Economist, a British newspaper), two months after the sukuk issues would have matured. Put simply, the problem is human, not religious. It is a classic case of an attempt to breach a contract after agreeing to its terms. Bear in mind the sukuk issues in question were issued some 10 years ago. That is a long time for anyone or entity to suddenly develop a phony sense of religiosity. There could not be a greater need for standardization. A global authority on Islamic finance needs to be instituted without delay, a point made at the S&P Global Ratings Lagos event (and in recent features by The Economist and African Banker magazine). The Malaysian model, which is more liberal and advanced than the Middle Eastern variants, is touted as befitting. The current artificial ambiguity is a needless constraint.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

Nigerian youths need to get their act together

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

It was International Youth Day (12 August) in the weekend just past. Marking the day was endorsed and adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 2015. This year’s celebration was dedicated to “highlighting the contributions of young people to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace.” Well, I think that in coming years, the accolades should also include leadership and good governance; at least in the African case. Because elsewhere, in the developed world for instance, young people have begun to take over the reins of power. Wait a minute, it has started to happen on the continent as well. In the just concluded Kenyan elections, a 23-year old student won a seat in parliament. How did he campaign? On foot, from homestead to homestead. His hardwork began to pay off when “boda boda” (“okada” in Nigerian parlance) riders decided to support him. It would have been impossible, though, if the law did not allow for independent candidacy. MP-elect John Paul Mwirigi beat seasoned politicians with deep pockets in a keenly contested vote in Igembe South constituency of Kenya. Mr Mwirigi is an undergraduate at Mt Kenya University, where he is studying for a degree in education. He garnered 18,867 votes to beat the ruling Jubilee party’s candidate Rufus Miriti, who secured 15,411 votes. Mr Mwirigi should inspire African youths everywhere.

More crucially, young people could begin to coalesce into power blocs that determine who their country’s leaders would be. Uhuru Kenyatta (age 55), who beat Raila Odinga (age 72) to win re-election last week, probably owes a great deal to Kenyan youths. Even more astonishing, at least 25 governors were voted out in the recent Kenyan polls. I would be hugely surprised if the youth vote was not differential. 9.9 million youths (aged 18-35 years) registered to vote, 51 percent of the 2017 register, based on Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) data. And television reports of the various long queues of voters patiently waiting to cast their votes showed a significant youth participation. Incidentally, the likely leading contenders in the next presidential elections five years from now, are relatively young: Deputy president William Ruto (age 51) and Baringo County Senator, Gideon Moi (age 54), son of former longserving president Daniel arap Moi. They could be younger, of course.

Old man, do not tell me nonsense
Young Africans are making great strides elsewhere. Julius Malema (age 36) and Mmusi Maimane (age 37) of South Africa are in their thirties. Together, the pair, though with divergent political ideologies – the former a socialist firebrand and the latter a capitalist orator – have quite successfully put the elderly country’s president, Jacob Zuma, on his toes. Incidentally, Mr Malema used to be an ally of President Zuma, helping him to unseat his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, another old man. Africans’ reverence of age has meant that their mostly incompetent, arrogant and dishonest old leaders, some who have been at the helm since their countries were granted independence by their erstwhile colonial masters, have been able to do whatever they like with impunity. Unsurprisingly, a bold Mr Malema began overtime to be an irritation to Mr Zuma, who deftly kicked him out of the party. In this regard, Mr Zuma took a painstaking step-by-step approach to ensure that Mr Malema would leave permanently. What Mr Zuma likely did not anticipate was the possibility that Mr Malema could on his own, constitute a formidable force outside of the ANC. It was assumed much of his influence stemmed from being a youth leader within the ANC. With the benefit of hindsight, this proved to be a mistake. Mr Malema went on to form the ultra-nationalist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, now a perennial thorn in the flesh of Mr Zuma and indeed the ANC. What is remarkable is that Mr Malema through it all displayed unusual maturity, determination, and leadership. Under his leadership, the EFF now has seats in parliament: such is its astonishing effect that ANC MPs dare not take a snooze anymore. Mr Malema has also displayed commonsense in seeing the utility of partnering with the white-backed Democratic Alliance (DA) party when the need arose. Incidentally, Mr Malema’s accession also coincided with the DA’s surprise move to elect Mmusi Maimane, a black person, to the leadership of what is still largely a party of white people. Mr Maimane is also remarkable in many ways: He grew up in Soweto, a “black peoples’ town” in the outskirts of Johannesburg, became a lawyer and is now the official leader of the opposition in parliament. Still, despite their divergent backgrounds and evolution, Mr Malema and Mr Maimane have managed to work remarkably well together.

Wield your power
This should be a challenge to young Nigerians who harp about how difficult and ‘dirty’ the political terrain is. Instead of being tools for frivolous protests, they could spend their time securing a voter’s card, registering with a political party or setting up their own, and so on. Were they to coalesce their interests, every politician who aspires to success in the land would have no choice but to court them. So even though a constitutional amendment is afoot to ensure that more young people can run for public office, they can still do much under the current laws. To be fair, politics is very difficult in Nigeria. The financial hurdle alone is enough to discourage anyone. These are just excuses, however. Crowdfunding is a veritable tool that youngsters can use to finance their political ambitions, used only recently to compensate the family of a cop who died in the line of duty. And if party structures were hitherto constraining, since their gatekeepers are old men, independent candidature, once allowed, should free those who worry about being soiled in “dirty” party politics.

For this to happen however, young people must unshackle themselves from their so-called “home-training” that has cultured them to respect age even when the elderly person is clearly wrong or being unabashedly selfish. Wisdom, unlike the popular adage, does not come from how old a person is but how experienced. A young person can be wiser than many an old man if he or she has experienced more challenging life events. And if the person is an avid reader, he or she could easily learn many of the things that a lifetime of experience may not provide. Besides, no one can really say how much of a leader they are until they are faced with the responsibility. Thus, until young people begin to engage their older colleagues without fear, they would remain subjugated and relegated. Breaking out of this backward psyche would be difficult, however. But if Nigerian youths hope to kick out the old men who think that leading us is their birth right, they would need to summon the courage to act. I need to get a voter’s card.

Also published in my Premium Times column. See link viz.

Why are most African airlines floundering?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

The state-owned airline of Africa’s most advanced economy, South African Airways, is about to be bailed out by the state with about US$1 billion. Again. In July, not only did the state provide cash support to the almost bankrupt airline after an international bank insisted that its loan be serviced, it had to provide about 20 billion rand in guarantees. It would probably not be the last time. Even more saddening is the proposal that the pension fund of public workers may be used to pay almost half of the proposed US$1 billion bailout. Almost everytime credit rating agencies issue a review on the sovereign now, the deplorable state of the airline’s finances is mentioned. Only breath of fresh air is perhaps, finally, it has new management that probably knows its onions. Time will tell. Up north to the east, Kenyan Airways, another state-owned airline (partially though, as the Kenyan government only has a 29.8 percent stake), which incidentally has an international airline of repute, Air France KLM, as a shareholder (26.73 percent stake), would restructure its finances imminently, after failing to recover from a souring of the Kenyan tourism sector by terrorist attacks some five years ago. The restructuring plan seeks primarily to convert the debt it owes 11 local banks into equity via a special purpose vehicle, which would make them the largest shareholder afterwards (according to Reuters).

Bright spot
Some African countries have simply given up on the idea of a national airline, after earlier initiatives either went bankrupt or simply collapsed out of sheer incompetence. But there is a bright spot. Ethiopian Airlines made more money (US$273m net profit) than all African airlines combined (US$800m net loss) in 2016; a point happily made by African Business, a prestigious African publication, and BBC, the premier British broadcaster, in recent features. It begs the question, though: what makes it possible for Ethiopian Airlines to do so well at the same time that its supposed contemporaries are floundering? Tewolde Gebremariam, chief executive of the Ethiopian national carrier puts it rather well in a recent BBC interview: lack of government interference, private sector expertise and cost management. They seem simple, not so? Not really. Even when private sector experts are allowed to run a state-owned enterprise, African governments loathe being ignored.

The discipline of the Ethiopian government provides many lessons. It does not fund its airline in anyway. Ethiopian Airlines is completely run from its own finances. It does get support from where it matters though: America. The US Exim Bank guarantees most of its aircraft purchases, Mr Gebremariam tells the BBC. With that kind of backing, top global banks like JP Morgan Chase, Citi, Barclays and HSBC are all too eager to offer it accommodative financing. Today, a lot of Africans increasingly do not mind a stop at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa en route their final international destinations and indeed on the return journey back home. Mr Gebremariam made sure to point out to the BBC that at least 2,000 Chinese pass through Bole en route various African countries in the morning and vice versa in the evenings, every blessed day. And anyone who has travelled on the airline would attest to their efficiency. The quality is mid-range, though.

Hands off
Amidst the many floundering African airlines, Nigerian authorities desire to establish a national carrier. The motivation is nostalgic, in part. National pride is also a factor. Many agree that unless the motive is profit, it would suffer the unflattering fate of its predecessors. Thankfully, the authorities plan for it to be private-sector driven. The government has also appointed Lufthansa, a highly-regarded German airline, to advise it. But would the authorities be able to hands off like the Ethiopians seem to be able to do rather well? History suggests this is doubtful. It certainly does not help that Nigeria has a bad reputation when it comes to contracts. The experience of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group in the mid- to late-2000s with its Nigerian airline venture, Virgin Nigeria, in which it had a 49 percent stake, is instructive. Mr Branson was left dumbfounded when a new administration began to question the validity of Virgin’s contracts with the preceding one. What was the gripe? The authorities did not think it was appropriate for Virgin Nigeria to operate from the international terminal of the country’s main airport. To Mr Branson’s dismay, “heavies” were sent to “smash up” his airline’s lounge “with sledgehammers” to ensure compliance. The African aviation sector is not for the faint-hearted.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

Ethnic politics and the 2017 Kenyan elections

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Two tight opinion polls on the frontrunners of the 2017 Kenyan presidential election just weeks to the 8 August vote made writ large how potentially contentious the outcome could be. [1] For the first time since campaigns began, one poll had the leading opposition candidate, Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA), ahead of incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee Party. The Infotrak Harris opinion poll conducted on 16-22 July put Mr Odinga ahead of Mr Kenyatta by one point, with the former rising in popularity to 47 percent, a 3-point gain from about 2 weeks before.[2]Mr Odinga’s improved chances stemmed from holding on to his key support base, as well as securing new supporters from what used to be the Rift Valley and North Eastern provinces (now a couple of counties), strongholds of the ruling Jubilee Party. Another poll, that by Ipsos, taken on 2-12 July, put both leading contenders at a tie at 45 percent. The Ipsos survey was probably behind the curve in light of its earlier date. Judging from how the media initially under-reported Mr Odinga’s gains, the establishment was clearly shocked.[3]

Not long thereafter, Mr Odinga made a surprise appearance at a televised presidential debate that he and Mr Kenyatta had earlier indicated they would not attend.[4] There was much concern about the reluctance of the candidates to debate each other ahead of the elections. In the vice-presidential debate for instance, only one candidate showed up. Independent deputy presidential candidate Eliud Muthiora Kariara debated himself in mid-July as his rivals found excuses ranging from disagreement with the format to not being formally invited for staying away.[5] Mr Kenyatta’s no-show at the debate was a little surprising considering his campaign cancelled an earlier scheduled trip to Samburu and Marsabit districts in the former Rift Valley and Eastern provinces respectively on the day of the debate.[6] His decision might prove costly: Mr Odinga had the stage entirely to himself.[7] In his defense, Mr Kenyatta asserted the debate would have been a waste of his time, preferring as he put it, to be commissioning projects.[8] NASA stalwarts think he simply fell for their trick: Kalonzo Musyoka, Mr Odinga’s running mate, said he deliberately stayed away from the deputy-presidential debate in a calculated scheme to snare the Jubilee camp into thinking the head of the NASA ticket would similarly not attend the presidential one. They probably have a point, because it is highly unlikely Mr Kenyatta would have ceded 90 minutes of primetime television and radio to his opponent otherwise.

Whether Mr Kenyatta’s debate miss would have an impact on the election results remains to be seen, however. But should Mr Kenyatta lose the election, one of the reasons would almost certainly be because he allowed Mr Odinga to have the undivided attention of the country for more than an hour without the chance to make his own case.[9] Such is the level of uncertainty now that there is talk of a likely second round vote. And even before the debate upset, an objective assessment would have revealed Mr Odinga was probably in a far stronger position than the media, or in fact the opinion polls, suggested. Mr Odinga’s coalition of popular politicians from the major ethnic groups, his populist rhetoric, and the electoral reforms he successfully pushed for, could sufficiently tilt the balance in his favour. That is, barring any major adverse events, of which there are already a few. An ongoing cholera outbreak and the perennial terrorist threat from Somali Al-Shabaab militants are examples of threats that could instigate measures by the authorities with potentially dampening effects on voter turnout on election day.

Ethnic arithmetic favours opposition coalition
Although the 2017 elections would be the second since the new 2010 constitution, which allowed for the devolution of powers to the counties, was adopted, it would also be the first since citizens got a taste of how much power the counties now wield. And it is increasingly obvious a couple of counties might decide the election, judging from the amount of time the two leading candidates dedicated to them during the campaigns. They are Narok, Kajiado, Kisii, Baringo, and those in the former Coast and Western provinces.[10] Even so, a lot of voters are expected to decide along ethnic lines.[11] Mr Kenyatta, who is Kikuyu, the country’s largest tribe and 17 percent of the population (2009 census), and his deputy, William Ruto, who is Kalenjin (13 percent of the population), could easily secure 30 percent of the vote, based on their joint ethnicity alone.[12] Mr Odinga, who is of the Luo ethnic group (10 percent of the population) and the other 4 principals of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition namely; former vice-president and deputy prime minister Musalia Mudavadi of Luhya ethnicity (14 percent of the population), former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka of Kamba ethnicity (10 percent of the population), former Senate minority leader Moses Wetangula of Luhya ethnicity and Isaac Ruto, who is a Kalenjin, could together easily secure 47 percent of the vote if their ethnicity is a reliable proxy; albeit only Mr Musyoka is on the presidential ticket with Mr Odinga.

Even as tribal loyalities do run deep, however, voting choices may not necessarily be tribally homogenous. Considering deputy president William Ruto is a more influential Kalenjin, Mr Isaac Ruto, who has boasted of bringing at least 1 million Kalenjin votes to the table, cannot be so confident, for instance. And the voters’ register does not necessarily reflect the exact tribal configuration of the population. That is, some tribes might have a greater representation in the register than their share of the population and vice versa. Besides, voter turnout on election day might not be similarly structured. And the loyalties of tribes like the Kenyan Somali (6 percent of population) might go either way, although they may not forgot too soon the court-botched closure of the Dadaab refugee camp by the ruling Jubilee government.[13]

Past election results could also be an indicator of how the candidates might fare this time around. Mr Mudavadi, who is not contesting for elective office in the upcoming polls, secured 3.96 percent of the 2013 presidential election votes. If summed with Mr Odinga’s 43.7 percent, their joint tally of about 48 percent, though impressive, would still fall short of the minimum 50 percent and one vote needed to secure a victory, however. That is in addition to having more than 25 percent of votes cast from at least half of the country’s 47 counties. But add those that could potentially come on the back of the other NASA prinicipals, an extra 2 percent might not be that difficult. In contrast, Mr Kenyatta cannot be assured he would get as much as the 50.5 percent of the vote that he got in 2013. Myriad allegations of corruption, a drought-induced grain shortage (albeit now ameliorated with government-subsidized imports) and so on, have likely eroded some of his support. It is also probable Mr Odinga’s populist and socialist rhetoric resonates more with voters than Mr Kenyatta’s capitalist drift.

Kenya Elections 1

Key Politicians & tribal affilliations
Name Political Party Ethnicity
Uhuru Kenyatta Jubilee Kikuyu
William Ruto Jubilee Kalenjin
Raila Odinga NASA Luo
Musaila Mudavadi NASA Luhya
Kalonzo Musyoka NASA Kamba
Moses Wetangula NASA Luhya
Isaac Ruto NASA Kalenjin

Source: Author’s research

Kenya Elections 2

IEBC must be beyond reproach
With such a tight race, much would depend on whether voters trust the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). What is significantly different this time around though, is that the election results declared at polling stations would have finality, as opposed to the past practice of making them provisional to final certification by the IEBC in Nairobi. That much the courts have affirmed: the IEBC failed in its appeal of the April 2017 court ruling which ordered that results declared at polling stations must not be subject to change at the national collation centre. [14]Such a decentralized system makes it more difficult to cheat, as all stakeholders would be able to do their own collation based on the same constitutency-level results. The increased transparency consequently is also why fears of violence may be overblown. Credit for these laudable changes must go to Mr Odinga and his coalition partners.

From April 2016 onwards, Mr Odinga and his supporters staged several protests demanding changes at the IEBC that would ensure the umpire is not in a position to fraudulently tilt the elections in favour of the incumbent. After a few deaths, the ruling Jubilee government agreed in August 2016 to replace the IEBC commissioners, which the opposition called biased.[15] One month later, Mr Kenyatta signed into law amendments to the electoral act that included new criteria for recruiting IEBC commissioners.[16]

Despite these gains, Mr Odinga and his coalition partners did not relent in their scrutiny of the IEBC. When the ruling Jubilee government would not budge on an issue, the opposition simply went to the judiciary for redress. Mr Kenyatta did not hide his irritation, as the courts seemed to be ruling more often in the opposition’s favour at some point, forcing a word of caution from Chief Justice David Maraga.[17] Jubilee tried to cast doubts on the credibility of at least one judgement unfavourable to it, citing conflict of interest.[18]Court of Appeal judge William Ouko, who was one of the five-member bench that ruled on the finality of election results at the constituency level, is related to Mr Odinga’s wife, for instance. [19] The niece of one of the NASA lawyers turned out to be married to one of the judges in another case that NASA won. [20] Were that to be a yardstick, however, then almost all the top judges could be conflicted. It is typical of the elite in the private and public sectors to inter-marry; after all, they often belong to the same social circles. Unsurprisingly, when the courts have been unfavourable to Mr Odinga, he has similarly accused Mr Kenyatta of intimidating the judiciary. The key point here is how deliberative combative both sides have been and how determined they are to win.

Procurement activities at the IEBC have also been marred by one controversy after another. It cancelled the tender for poll equipment in March 2017, for instance, amid accusations of corruption from the opposition.[21] [22] The awarding of the contract to print ballot papers to Dubai-based Al Ghurair, a company NASA claims has ties to Mr Kenyatta, is another[23], a charge the firm denies in a sworn affidavit.[24] A high court ordered Al Ghurair to stop the printing of presidential ballot papers regardless, but was later overturned on appeal as the IEBC expressed fears the elections could be delayed.[25] The controversy could have been avoided in the first place if proper tendering processes were followed. Because even before the Al Ghurair saga, the tender had been cancelled at least twice over irregularities, forcing the IEBC to send erstwhile procurement director Lawy Aura on compulsory leave in June 2017.[26] Information Technology director, James Muhati, received a similar treatment at about the same time when it emerged he was not being helpful with a systems audit. His replacement, Chris Msando, was found tortured and murdered in late July, a little over a week to the polls and just before a systems audit was scheduled.[27] Although, the IEBC has since discountenanced suggestions of a disruption consequently, it would be difficult to put in place another senior staff with the same level of competence, preparedness and, as was found, high integrity, within such a short period. Besides, it is highly improbable that Mr Msando’s assailants would have taken such a drastic step if they were not convinced that his replacement would either be less competent or prepared or more pliable. Regardless, they likely succeeded in getting enough information on the so-called Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS) through torturing him. Thus, unless there is a re-configuration, KIEMS has likely been compromised. The proximity of the killing to the poll date also means a new ICT manager would not have enough time to gain the trust of the public like Mr Msando was able to. In fact, NASA has expressed fears the transmission of the election results may be hacked. To forestall this, it has asked that an independent international firm be tasked with overseeing KIEMS. IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati disagrees, insisting the commission’s systems are secure and a competent team remains in place to ensure hitch-free elections.[28] Mr Chebukati could not be so sure that early on before the conclusion of substantive investigations. For an election considered to be Kenya’s most expensive yet, these negative events are quite concerning.

There is currently more than 300 cases at the courts against the IEBC.[29] The major ones, that is, those that could have delayed the elections, have been addressed, however. The one that relates to the printing of presidential ballots was earlier highlighted. Another suit by NASA asking the courts to stop the IEBC from using a manual voting system as back-up, has also been quashed. The worry of NASA of course, was that a manual system would be open to fraud. It had hoped voting would be exclusively electronic. But in light of the Nigerian experience where electronic voting kits failed on election day, it is probably wise to have a manual back-up. That is even as Jubilee may likely want the manual system backup for sinister reasons. What NASA had wanted was for the IEBC to postpone the elections should the electronic kits fail. This it hoped would demotivate any shenanigans like the electronic kits being made to deliberately fail just so the elections would be largely manual. Still, the myriad litigations even before an actual vote point to a potentially contentious election aftermath. It is a positive that at least the key questions that hitherto put a cloud over the elections, have been answered by the courts.[30]

Potential turnout holdups
A spreading cholera outbreak is not helpful either.[31] From the beginning of the year to 17 July, there were already 1,216 registered cases and 14 deaths. [32] The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified it as high risk nationally and regionally. Should it deteriorate further, necessary quarantine measures would disenfranchise a swathe of voters. The authorities have already shut down venues where cases have been recorded and ordered the testing of about half a million people in July.[33] More stringent measures are probable. Furthermore, elections are being held this year amid a still challenging food supply environment. Government-sponsored imports to ameliorate the problem have been largely effective, though. But the arrangements have tended to run into problems from time to time. In July for instance, wheat prices rose on higher demurrage charges to ships carrying imported supplies, but were delayed at the ports. [34] A 2kg packet rose as much as 11 percent to 133 shillings from 120 shillings two months earlier. The food crisis came in handy for Mr Odinga, who harped on past warnings about the country’s dwindling grain reserves. A refusal to lift trade barriers with neighbouring Ethiopia to favour Jubilee acolytes’ maize import arrangements with Mexico, was fingered.[35]

Economic costs not likely as high despite fears
Historically, Kenyan economic growth suffers in election years.[36] There have been exceptions. In years when electoral reforms preceded the polls, there was no material negative economic impact that could be attributed. Typically, however, there is a 60 percent chance of a growth slump in an election year, if analysis based on World Bank and Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics data from 1990 is anything to go by. [37] So it is not too surprising that expectations are rife that this might also be the case for the 2017 polls. And the recovery has tended to range from 18-26 months, depending on whether the elections were single-party or multi-party based. [38] But the election-related slumps theory has not proved to be robust post-2002. True, growth was -1.1 percent in 1992 from 1.3 percent the year before. Similarly, growth slowed to 0.4 percent in 1997, another election year, from 4.2 percent in 1996. Growth also slowed to 0.5 percent in 2002 from 4 percent in 2001.

Interestingly, even with the violence that characterised the 2007 elections, growth actually rose higher to 6.9 percent that year from 5.9 percent the year before. This was also the case for the 2013 election year, which saw growth up to 5.7 percent from 4.6 percent in 2012. So, there is room to contend that growth might actually not suffer as much in the current election year. Most economic growth forecasts for 2017 remained around the 5 percent area a month to the elections despite these concerns. In its July 2017 update, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) put its forecast for 2017 at 5.3 percent; albeit lower than the 6 percent estimate for 2016.

Besides, if the IEBC succeeds in being as transparent as it has promised to be, earlier anxiety ahead of the polls might quickly translate into an aggressive push to regain lost economic ground afterwards. And what was largely city-centred violence in the aftermath of the bloody 2007 elections, could supposedly not be the case this time around. This is because as more power has been devolved to the counties since then, what is probable could be no more than small pockets of violence here and there at the local level, and not the type of co-ordinated anarchy in 2007.

Regardless, some remain convinced that there could be even more troubles this time around. One theory revolves around the intergenerational family rivalry between the Kenyattas and Odingas. Mr Odinga would be contesting for the fourth and likely last time, but second time against Mr Kenyatta. After a remarkably strife-filled political life ranging from imprisonment to exile, Mr Odinga is putting everything into this election. There is a family history that Mr Kenyatta is seeking to guard as well. Mr Kenyatta would likely be heartbroken if it turns out he lost to Mr Odinga, the son of his father’s arch-rival and who, like his father, he has managed to prevail over thus far.

Kenya Elections 3.png

Currency speculators, who are almost convinced the shilling would suffer losses over worries of a violent vote, have been having a field day. The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) governor Patrick Njoroge has warned they would get their fingers burnt, pointing to ample foreign exchange reserves boosted by an IMF standing facility precisely for such potential shocks.[39]

Still, economic activity has slowed owing to the upcoming polls.[40]Manufacturers have been reducing their throughput and investors have not been investing as much. [41] International trade has also recorded dampened activity, as landlocked neighbours, who usually pass their cargoes primarily through the Mombasa port, have been diverting them to the Dar es Salaam port in Tanzania. [42] There is historical precedence for these actions. In the aftermath of the 2007 election violence, Ugandan and Rwandese traders reportedly lost 158 billion shillings, compensation for which the Kenyan authorities had no choice but to oblige. [43] This time around, it does not seem like they are taking any chances.

Travel advisories have also been issued by foreign governments, with multinationals reportedly giving their staff leave to move to neighbouring countries a week before and stay until a week after the polls. [44]

In general, most companies have suspended capital allocation decisions till after the elections. Businesses have also organised emergency drills for those staff that have little choice but to stay back during the election period. Tourism would suffer most definitely. Countries that have asked their citizens to take precautions, include the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Canada, Australia and Russia. Some companies have simply asked their staff to take their annual leave in August. These are just precautions of course. The polls may prove to be largely peaceful.

The author, Dr Rafiq Raji, is an adjunct researcher of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, a trilateral platform for government, business and academia to promote knowledge and expertise on Africa, established by Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Business Federation. This article was by the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies on 4 August 2017. It was also published by

Links viz.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

[1] Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga in dead heat – Infotrak poll (Daily Nation 24 Jul 2017)

[2] Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga in dead heat – Infotrak poll (Daily Nation 24 Jul 2017)

[3] Why did media ignore poll showing Raila ahead of Uhuru? (Daily Nation 23 Jul 2017)–/1064-4027776-u3xb9tz/index.html

[4] Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odingsa to skip presidential debate(Standard, 5 Jul 2017)

[5] Kenyan vice president candidate debates himself after rivals’s no-show (Reuters 18 Jul 2017)

[6] Presidential debate: Uhuru cancels Samburu tour (Daily Nation 24 Jul 2017)

[7] Kenyan president fails to show up for election debate (Reuters 24 Jul 2017)

[8] Uhuru: Why I snubbed debate (Daily Nation 25 Jul 2017)

[9] Kalonzo: How we tricked Uhuru and Jubilee to miss debate (Daily Nation 25 Jul 2017)

[10] Why Jubilee, Nasa have focused campaigns on 5 zones (Daily Nation 13 Jul 2017)–Nasa-have-focused-poll-campaigns-on-five-regions–/1064-4012734-n4biohz/index.html

[11] The role of ethnicity in Kenyan politics (DW 8 Feb 2017)

[12] Census: Here are the numbers (Standard 1 Sep 2010)

[13] Rights groups welcome court ruling to block Kenya refugee camp closure (Guardian 9 Feb 2017)

[14] Kenyan court rules vote results declared at station are final (Bloomberg 23 Jun 2017)

[15] Kenya clears out electoral officials after deadly protests (Reuters 17 Aug 2016)

[16] Kenya enacts law to replace electoral agency ahead of vote (Bloomberg 15 Sep 2016)

[17] Kenya president, chief justice clash as elections approach (Reuters 9 Jul 2017)

[18] Jubilee alleges conflict of interest in Al Ghurair ballot papers case (The Star 10 Jul 2017)

[19] Jubilee alleges conflict of interest in Al Ghurair ballot papers case (The Star 10 Jul 2017)

[20] Jubilee alleges conflict of interest in Al Ghurair ballot papers case (The Star 10 Jul 2017)

[21] IEBC cancels tender for poll equipment, seeks lease (The Star 23 Mar 2017)

[22] Probe ‘corrupt’ IEBC for cancelling poll equipment tender, says Mudavadi (The Star 23 Mar 2017)

[23] NASA links Jubilee officials to Al Ghurair tender, wants Chiloba sacked (The Star 14 Jun 2017)

[24] We have never met Uhuru, Al Ghurair now claims in affidavit (The Star 27 Jun 2017)

[25] NASA loses cross-appeal on Uhuru links to Al Ghurair (The Star 20 Jul 2017)

[26] IEBC fires procurement director over ballot tender (The Star 7 Jun 2017)

[27] Kenya election official tortured, murdered before vote, officials say (Reuters 31 Jul 2017)

[28] IEBC systems secure, Wafula Chebukati says (Daily Nation 1 Aug 2017)

[29] Kenyan election body fighting over 300 lawsuits as vote looms (Reuters 20 Jul 2017)

[30] Court declares IEBC can use manual system (Daily Nation 21 Jul 2017)

[31] WHO sees high risk from Kenya cholera outbreak (Reuters 21 Jul 2017)

[32] WHO sees high risk from Kenya cholera outbreak (Reuters 21 Jul 2017)

[33] Cholera kills four in Kenyan capital since May, government shuts hotels (Reuters 19 Jul 2017)

[34] Wheat prices rise again as imports delay at port (BusinessDaily 20 Jul 2017)

[35] Raila wants Kiunjuri, Bett and Lesiyampe sacked for failing to end food shortage (The Star 8 Jun 2017)

[36] Why economy slows in election years (Daily Nation 23 Apr 2016)

[37] Why economy slows in election years (Daily Nation 23 Apr 2016)

[38] Why economy slows in election years (Daily Nation 23 Apr 2016)

[39]‘Chill’, Kenya central bank tells shilling speculators as election nears (Reuters 18 Jul 2017)

[40] Economic activity slows down ahead of General Election (The East African 26 Jul 2017)

[41] Economic activity slows down ahead of General Election (The East African 26 Jul 2017)

[42] Economic activity slows down ahead of General Election (The East African 26 Jul 2017)

[43] Economic activity slows down ahead of General Election (The East African 26 Jul 2017)

[44] Economic activity slows down ahead of General Election (The East African 26 Jul 2017)

Let Buhari be

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Surprise, surprise
A gaunt-looking but lively Muhammadu Buhari, who will be taking a huge risk if he is not back in Nigeria from London on or before 4 August – 90 days from 7 May when he left for his most recent medical leave – was probably horrifying to merchants of falsehood hitherto touting exclusive knowledge of the ailing Nigerian president’s fragile health. The picture they painted was far worse than that which emerged on 23 July. It is not unlikely that President Buhari was probably in a more vulnerable position before then, as he underwent treatments that likely required anaesthesia and so on. But this would not be unusual. He is after all unwell. Some suggest Nigerians would be more sympathetic to Mr Buhari’s predicament if he were more transparent about what ails him. I doubt that very much. At least, not this late in the game. Truth is, no matter how loved you are and how many the multitude in your company, a man ultimately bears his burden alone. All the empathy in the world would not transfer the pain Mr Buhari feels to the many hypocrites who claim to love and care for him. It is actually pathetic listening to some of the commentary. Most of our political leaders are suffering from one ailment or the other. That compulsory vacation they all take to England or America (and lately to Singapore) is often motivated by the need to check their health status. It is the ultimate hypocrisy that while they keep their own conditions under wraps, they advocate otherwise for Mr Buhari. Some say he should resign. Another group has gone further to seek a court order to force his cabinet to declare him unfit to govern. Their efforts would end in futility.

Justice and dignity
Why does he have a presidential jet waiting on him at a London airport, some ask with feigned exasperation. Why shouldn’t he? Is it not too expensive, they wonder. Well, our republican-type presidency is very expensive. Could the money not be better used to alleviate the poverty that plagues millions of Nigerians, it is mused. Why start there though, I wonder. We could aver that the State House with the many mansions that sometimes never get occupied is too expensive to cater for just one man and his staff. Yes, let us put the head of state in a place where he could be a danger to his neighbours. Maybe we should also ask that his motorcade switch off their engines when he is not in the car. After all, his security should not matter. Wait a minute, Nigeria is not a sovereign country. Is it? It cannot be. Because if it is, we would not ask that our president be going cap in hand begging for a plane in case of an emergency. What is wrong with us? Advanced democracies that we are always quick to cite as examples of excellence would not dare suggest that their sick president should leave office. At least, not until all medical options are exhausted. They would instead do as Mr Buhari has done. Immediately swear in an acting president while the substantive man ails. There are numerous examples of presidents who having survived assasination attempts go on to seek additional terms in office even more popular. Were that the case, would anyone dare suggest Mr Buhari should resign from office? In any case, no good deed goes unpunished. Mr Buhari has been transparent as much as his temperament can allow. When analysing issues such as these, the fundamental question to ask is thus: Has Mr Buhari broken the law? No, he has not. Is the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, adequately empowered to do the job in his stead? Technically, yes. Politically, no. But he has certainly been able to do the part that matters.

There is a reason it is the politicians that occupy high office and not bureaucrats. A popular leader comes to office with the mandate of the people. That legitimacy comes handy when difficult decisions are to be made. Prof Osinbajo has had it easy thus far not so much because of his intellectual acumen or political prowess but more due to the goodwill his principal enjoys. Those who are scheming to have Mr Buhari declared unfit for office whether via the courts or the cabinet should be very careful. If there is even the slightest perception of an unceremonious exit plan for the man, even the acting president may find the seat too hot to handle. It is unfortunate, of course, that what is motivating some of those who wish Prof Osinbajo should rise faster to the throne have religious and ethnic underpinnings. And of course, the north would need to do some soul-searching around why for the second consecutive time, their choice to rule Nigeria has come up with ailments that have hampered his capacity to rule. I have in the past asserted that until whoever their choice is does away with the injustice that has become typical of the stewardship of their brethren, even the next person may not succed. So yes, Mr Buhari is sick. He would probably remain so for the remainder of his first term. And yes, he should not even contemplate contesting for a second term. And I doubt very much that he does. But the country does owe him some dignity. Never mind that how we treat our leaders does ultimately reflect on us. And yes, how they treat us does reflect on them as well, hence their suffering.

Also published in my Premium Times Nigeria column (2 Aug 2017). See link viz.

Constitution review is a farce without devolution of powers

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Power belongs to the people
Admittedly, the recent constitution review votes at the Nigerian Senate and House of Representatives caught me a little by surprise. Yes, I did see the occasional news showing deputy Senate president Ike Ekweremadu going to a couple of states on the matter. But I did not take it seriously. Until that fateful day in late July when they voted. Bizarrely, most of the commentary on restructuring the Nigerian federation, loud and impassioned as they were, rarely made prescriptions to the lawmakers who it turned out, were not only in a position to do something about it, but would imminently vote on proposals in this regard. It suddenly dawned on me that all those vociferous agitations could have been more effectively channelled towards pressuring the lawmakers. Devolution of powers, affirmative action for women, greater control of resources, revision of the archaic land law that puts all land in the hands of the government by fiat and so on, have long been thorny issues. The legislators had the power to get them all done. And instead of putting relentless pressure on them, we were mostly pointing fingers at the executive arm of government. Absent the pressure, they simply did what they liked on voting day.

What is the point of reviewing the constitution at this time if some of the federal government’s powers are not going to be devolved to the states? True, there were a couple of amendments they passed that had one excited; like reducing the age of eligibility for high office, the so-called “not too young to run” bill, independent candidacy for elections and making it compulsory for the president to address a joint session of the national assembly in a “state of the nation address”. Still, restructuring our dysfunctional federal system should have been the raison d’etre of that exercise. Should that be the one thing they choose to reject? And judging from those who were shouting down these crucial issues before they were even voted on, the lawmakers most opposed to them come from the north. This is unfortunate. With increasing likelihood of finding crude oil and other mineral resources, a reformed land use act might actually be more beneficial to the north now more than ever.

Perhaps the legislature’s greatest fear at the moment is the potential convocation of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution or amend the current one. It probably motivated the current and rather unusually quick recent amendment process. You would think the legislators would see how passing the devolution of powers amendment would be key to shutting up such suggestions and thus preserve the status quo. Because should they fail to do so, as they have done now, no one can say what a likely constitutional conference in the aftermath would propose. It could include scrapping the Senate, for instance. It is not a secret that our bicameral legislature is taking its toll on our finances. They have simply failed to act in their own self-interest by refusing to deal with the restructuring question now once and for all. Senate president Bukola Saraki says hate speech evolving from the regions, like the secessionist quest by some in the southeast and evacuation notice issued to Igbos in the north, stoked fears that led to a misunderstanding of the devolution of powers proposal amongst senators. I am not convinced. It should instead have been the primary motivation for doing something about the issue. The states have registered their displeasure at the betrayal: they were assured the amendment would pass. Well, they should not stop there. They should refuse to pass any constitutional amendment at their respective legislatures until the devolution of powers bill is part of the package.

Smiles, hugs and scoffs
Women were also definitely disappointed over how most of their issues were rejected. There were two key proposals. One was to ensure that at least 35 percent of cabinet positions are assigned to women. The other was to allow women have almost the same citizenship and indigeneship rights as men via marriage. The former was rejected in the Senate but approved in the lower legislature. The latter was rejected in both houses. One popular female commentator wondered aloud if they might not have to resort to the Aba women “naked” protest of lore to ensure they get heard. Quite frankly, I blame the women. When women want to get concessions from men, and often on issues that require men to cede power, whether from their husbands at home, male siblings or male bosses at work, and so on, they are never short of ways to ensure they get what they want. They do not rely on hugs and kisses for these. And on the issues that really matter, they know not what to do? Personally, I think any type of affirmative action, talk less that for women, is condescending. But it has become a global practice, in business especially, with company boards not having a decent representation of women largely frowned upon. High-achieving women no doubt chafe at the notion that way needs to made for them to succeed. Not that the same women hesitate to use the allowances to advance their interests when they suit them. But if the increasing number of women who are or have been prime ministers, presidents, chief executives and so on by dint of hardwork, drive and diligence is anything to go by, women do not need anyone to open the gates for them. Besides in politics, people rarely do stuff for altruistic reasons. Female lawmakers who simply focused on just lobbying for their causes need to up their game. What leverage did they have? Did they care to find out first what political issues or goals were uppermost on the minds of their male counterparts and present a trade that they would not be able to refuse? That is the type of hard bargaining that would get women what they want. Not smiles and hugs.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.