The murmuring against committing the huge sum of N242 Billion to conducting the 2019 General Elections in Nigeria has, at last, gotten the ears of the civil society in the country. A coalition of thirteen civil society organisations is now on the warpath, decrying how N242 Billion would be needed to conduct the elections, a figure it considers not only to be curiously high but also “coming from a government that professes prudence in spending and cutting the cost of governance”. The coalition came through in an August 16th, 2018 statement in Abuja titled “Leadership Crisis and the Imperative of the Return to Good Governance Issues: Civil Society Concerns”.
The coalition is resting its expectation on the National Assembly to scrutinise and prioritize the proposal to ensure that duplications and wastages are addressed. But it is at a loss that the source of funding for the 2019 elections is being delayed by what it calls political gimmicks. Calling it alarming that it took Executive arm so long to send the request for approval of the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), it reserves the term disappointing that “it took pleadings and public outcry for the National Assembly to consider this as a matter of national importance, thereby creating avoidable heating up the polity”.
Not only is the coalition upset with the size of the budget for next elections, it is also expressing shock that the 2016 audit report by the Auditor-General of the Federation has not elicited the attention of The Presidency as well as the National Assembly. While it blames The Presidency for doing nothing to sanction erring MDAs indicted in the report in spite of its discourse of zero-tolerance and the disregard of due process, it chastises the National Assembly for equally not doing so through her Committee on Public Accounts.
According to the coalition, the report made damning revelations depicting what it calls gross violations of the Constitution and financial regulations by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Citing an example of a progressive surge in the number of MDAs that failed to submit their report from 146 in 2014 to 323 in 2016, the coalition is insisting that the report had shown that many MDAs are non-compliant with the financial regulations. “Considering that these infractions provide avenues for corruption and financial leakages, the undersigned Civil Society Organisations believe that the report should have been used as an important instrument in the fight against corruption”, it declared.
Taking a step further, the coalition is hinting that the fight against corruption in Nigeria is at risk of being submerged by the escalation of conflict between the Executive and the legislature. Although it reckons with progress in the fight against corruption, the overall fight has taken a back seat in recent months, it said. “The failure of the National Assembly to confirm appointees to head strategic anti-corruption agencies in the last three years is a sign that they have been positioning themselves on the side of corruption fighting back”, says the coalition which is also asserting that that lawmakers have been sitting on the request to pass key anti-corruption legislation.
Although it commends the House of Representatives for passing the Proceeds of Crime Bill but says other bills such as the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill which will further enhance the fight against corruption need to be urgently passed by the National Assembly.
Expressing worry over what it calls immense cost to tax payers’ to conduct several audits in the Extractive sector, the coalition notes how the Executive has not shown enough commitment to implement the recommendations of the auditors in the case of the annual audits conducted by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, (NEITI) just as the Legislature has, in its view, done virtually nothing to ensure that the Executive acts decisively on those recommendations which it believes to have far reaching implications for fighting corruption
Meanwhile, it is attacking The Presidency for not having assented to the Petroleum Industries Governance Bill (PIGB) which has been sent by the National Assembly while at the same time reminding the Legislature for not having concluded work on three outstanding components of the Petroleum Industry Bill, (PIB) as both sides have been distracted by their nomadic party behaviour.
Other good governance issues causing members of the coalition loss of sleep are the non-inauguration of the National Procurement Council; worrying contrary to the promise to do so by the ruling political party, All Progressive Congress (APC); non-compliance with the Freedom of Information Requests, calling on the National Assembly to, in compliance with its oversight function, take legislative action to ensure that the agencies of government and the National Assembly itself comply with readily availing information to the public when requests are made according to the law or they would be compromising making real the struggle against corruption, transparency; appointing a board for the National Human rights Commission which the president is yet to but at a time violation of human rights, especially by security agencies has, according to the coalition, been escalating.
Commenting on the crisis around the Senate and the Presidency, the CSOs noted how it is causing alarm among democratic forces in Nigeria, speaking of multiple signs that the political class is even more self-serving than it has been in the past and that the civil society believes the time has come to clearly define the national interest and work towards edifying it. “The lingering and recurrent leadership crisis that has characterized the upper Legislative Chamber since the return to democracy in 1999 has developed into a threat to the democratic system”, said the coalition which is recalling how a combination of internal and external crises have resulted in the removal of three Senate Presidents and the Speaker of the House of Representatives by 2014. Adding how there have been crises between the Executive and the Legislature since 2015 and they had affected the effectiveness of both arms of government in performing their statutory functions, the coalition notes how, as civil society activists, all they could see “is reckless self-serving behaviour of politicians whose only concern is their determination to continue exercising power without responsibility”. It expresses its determination to draw attention to the primary purpose of democratic politics, which is the pursuit of the common good in the midst of growing political tensions and the risk of system failure.
While condemning what it calls continuous emasculation, harassment and intimidation of the institutions of the legislature by the security agencies signalled by the attack on the Senate last week, it is commending “the prompt action by the Presidency to restore sanity and constitutional order by curbing the excesses of security personnel of the Department of State Security (DSS) engaged in the abuse of power in relation to the key democratic institution, that is the legislature”.
It is nevertheless worried about rising cases of attack on press freedom as observed in the recent arrest and detention of journalists, calling on the President to call his security agencies to order and put a definite end to Constitutional breaches and violations of human rights by security agencies that have been acting with impunity. The CSOs equally call on the National Assembly to adopt open legislative framework of governance as an institutional process and not a one-off activity by making its budget spending and procurement public, an action it says would restore public confidence to the legislative process in Nigeria.
The civil society organisations which signed the statement include the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy centre (CISLAC); Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD); Centre for Information Technology and Democracy (CITAD); State of the Union (SOTU); Partners for Electoral Reforms (PER); Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC); Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA); Accountability Mechanism for Maternal New Born and Child Health in Nigeria (AMHiN). Others are Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED); Centre for Democratic Research and Training (CRDDERT); National Procurement Watch Platform (NPWP); African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) and Borno Coalition for Democracy and Progress (BOCODEP).