Why FG must see to electoral reforms —Aduwo
Femi Aduwo is the national coordinator of Rights Monitoring Group, a coalition of 45 civil society organisations and doubles as the Executive Director of the Centre for Convention of Democratic Integrity (CCDI). He speaks with DARE ADEKANMBI on what should be the focus of the Federal Government in 2020, the budget, electoral reforms, among others.
THERE are many issues about the development of the country carried over into the New Year, particularly issues about the wobbling economy, budget, borrowing plans, electoral reforms and so on. What would you advise the Federal Government to do on these issues?
There are many things that need to be addressed. First is the issue of the 2020 budget. Many Nigerians, maybe out of ignorance of I don’t care attitude, don’t know that passage of budget ad funding it are two different things. The critical question to ask is: is there fund to implement the budget? If the answer is no, then the budget is zero. The budget is N10 trillion. How much of that is available for capital projects? How much of it will go to consumption? The wages, the salaries, emoluments are all consumption. N2.7trillion of the budget will be dedicated to servicing of debt [payment of accrued interest o the debt], not payment of the debt. About N2.5 trillion is for capital projects, out of which corruption will take about 50 per cent. These two come to N5.2trillion and then you ask the question if the Federal Government can actually fund the budget to 60 or even 70 per cent. In the last five years, what has been the performance of yearly budget? I don’t think a particular year’s budget was financed up to 50 per cent. The only items that will get 100 per cent implementation are the salaries ad allowances. And we are not a production-driven economy. Even the type of constitution we operate makes it difficult for states to flourish on their own. Exploitation of mineral resources in states can’t be done without the Federal Government approving same. Why, for instance, should Ondo State have problems exploiting the large deposit of bitumen in its territory and pay only royalties to the Federal Government? This is purely a rent taking economy.
On electoral reform, where do you stand?
Everybody knows that the constitution we are operating with has a lot of loopholes that will make the transformation of the country very difficult. We need a government with massive political will to achieve the level of development we aspire to as a country. The Muhamamdu Buhari administration would have had no choice but to follow through on other aspects of electoral reforms, had the government before his made the card reader which it introduced something that has the force of law. This was the hole Buhari capitalised on by refusing to sign the amended Electoral Act, claiming the amendment was done close too close to election period. It is not healthy for us as a country that Buhari refused to sign the amended act which would have considerably helped in resolving some of the issues that cropped up during the generally flawed 2019 elections.
It is now sacrosanct that we must ensure the card reader is backed by law or we forget it completely. As an election observer myself, the card reader has helped a lot. It should be a permanent part of our electoral system. A situation where people make laws to suit the interest of their parties is not good for democracy and the country. Secondly, INEC’s independence is not in the word ‘independent’ in its name. It is when the commission can do things without interference from the Executive or any external influence. People have talked about the Uwais report about the appointment of INEC chairman and the commissioners from among retired judges, activists and so on. This, for me, does not make any difference. If a judge or a activist is corrupt and he is appointed, he will mess the thing up. The most important thing is how to ensure security during elections. When there is violence during an election, INEC will say it is not in charge of the police and soldiers deployed to police the election.
In 2020, I am not expecting so much from this government because the 2023 election campaign has started and the PDP and APC are jostling to have candidates. This is a distraction from the many challenges facing Nigerians and the economy.
What do you make of the plan by the Federal Government to borrow $30b?
It is dangerous for the future of the country because there has been too much borrowing in the last five years with little or nothing to show for it. What are they borrowing for?
They said they are using it to rejuvenate the economy and provide more infrastructure like roads, railway, power stations and so on.
It is a shame that after about 60 years of independence, we are still borrowing to provide some of these things. How many of these things did they provide in last year’s budget? It is all a hoax. Why should we borrow externally?
Their argument on that is that it is cheaper to borrow from outside because interest is lower and tenor is favourable.
Across the world, serious governments are engaging the private sector in most of the economic activities and here we are in Nigeria looking up to government for almost everything. The in-thing now is that the private sector is allowed to build, operate and then transfer to government. Something is wrong with the leadership in the country. The United States is the leading debtor country in the world. But it borrows from within. How can the Federal Government tell us it is borrowing to build roads? Where are the roads they have been building in the last four years? They are borrowing because they know they are not the ones that are going to pay. They borrow and for 30 years, they keep servicing the accrued interest, leaving a ballooning debt for the future generation. For me, the $30b is too much to borrow. The argument has always been that external loans have cheaper interest, but is it not the same external loan that landed us in problem such that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had to be globetrotting to seek debt forgiveness from London and Paris Clubs? I pray and hope the Buhari government will not drag us back into that era of humongous debt overhang that will warrant seeking forgiveness from debt again. I am not sure Nigeria will be so fortunate again to get another debt relief from these international bodies. Buhari is leaving in about three and a half years, what does he want to do with such huge money? It is dangerous. Nigerians must not keep quiet. Much of the money will be looted and used as take-home package.
The 2019 budget was passed around June of that year ad this means it only ran for six months. Are Nigerians asking question about that, especially now that the 2020 budget has taken effect? What happens to the six months provisions in the last budget? I know of a federal agency that spent N3.4b on seminars and conferences that were not of value to the economy. Could this account for the new federal directive that Ministers can’t travel more than two times in a quarter? Towards the end of last year, there was a mad rush for conferences and seminars because money has been appropriated and so must be spent. This is dubious. The remainder of the 2019 budget which ought to end in June 2020 will see monumental fraud. This is the kind of mess we are going though in the country.
Do you subscribe to the view that the amended Electoral Act should be assented to early enough to test the amendment in the Edo and Ondo governorship elections?
The National Assembly, which will pass the amendment, with due respect, has become a toothless bulldog, especially as it is presently constituted. I am not saying they should confront the Presidency, but they should be on the side of the people. When the Senate President said any proposal from the President [however anti-people], will become a law, what then can we say? This is dangerous for democracy. The current lawmakers don’t have the political stamina to do things that will make Edo and Ondo elections stand out. If they even say card reader is now backed by law, what about the issue of ballot box hijacking? Look at what happened in the governorship election in Kogi State. It is still unresolved as we speak. We should have an electoral law that makes it a punishable offence when a group of thugs disrupt or hijack ballot boxes. Both the thugs and their principal should be prosecuted and jailed if convicted and the politicians banned from taking part in election or getting appointment for up to 40years. Politicians also spend a lot on election, some even spend far less than what they will make there. Thus, it becomes a dangerous investment that they want to protect at all costs because they want to recoup their money.