Nigeria Decides 2019: Pre-election note

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Concerns about potential heavy-handedness by the security services have likely been doused by the speech of President Muhammadu Buhari on the eve of the delayed 2019 elections now scheduled for the 23rd of February, a week later than initially planned.

Mr Buhari had remarked that he had ordered the police and the army to be “ruthless” with ballot-box snatchers and the like. There was tremendous outrage in the aftermath.

While he did not exactly say security personnel should shoot-to-kill electoral offenders, it was implied as such. The major concern was that the president might have inadvertently given the police and the army a long leash or no leash at all.

Irrespective of whether that was indeed the president’s intent, it is abundantly clear now he took note of the feedback. How so? His election-eve speech was designed to convey a softening of the pedal of sorts. He did not wear the full traditional attire, for instance, choosing to forgo the robe (similar to not wearing a jacket).

He also started his speech in an endearing manner. Typically, presidential speeches in these parts start with the phrase “Fellow Nigerians”. This time around, the president started his speech with the phrase “Dear Nigerians”. The drafters must have hoped these subtle changes would be noted. And on time, too. Well, they were.

Of course, the president’s true intent cannot be totally deemed to be objective. Since he is seeking re-election, he has little choice but to try to win over as many voters as possible. Still, the move was a welcome one. And it is likely to have the intended effect of putting voters at ease.

I followed the presidential campaigns closely. Based on my observations, the presidential election would likely be close. No one can say for sure which of the two leading candidates, Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), would win.

One esteemed analyst I asked says the winner between the pair would likely be determined by the courts in the end. There are those who probably reckon this conclusion has been reached by the leading candidates as well.

Most analysts, the ones I have discussed with, at least, are not particular about which of the two leading candidates wins. They see them as more of the same. And that is true to some extent. But they do care that the process be credible.

So, what is the probability that the elections would be free and fair? I think they will be. The presidential election, at least. The ones that concern one are for a number of states. Ogun state bears watching. Imo state too. Kano state as well.

macroafricaintel | Nigeria – Views of foreign investors ahead of polls

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Crucial presidential election in February has elicited mixed reactions about the economic and political outlook of Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second four-year term. His main challenger, Atiku Abubakar, is the country’s former vice-president.

Mr Buhari’s strong points are his anti-corruption war and the strides his administration is recording in building much-needed infrastructure. Mr Atiku has presented himself as a genial pro-business candidate. Because both candidates have a huge followership and strong political structures, the election is widely expected to be hard-fought and results likely tight.

Concerns grow
Thus, there are concerns that the polls might not be free and fair. These are not unfounded. The opposition complains about harassment and intimidation by the state. This sentiment is probably not unconnected to the corruption charges some of their members are currently fighting in the courts.

Mr Buhari insists there is nothing to be worried about, vowing the elections would be free and fair. And that he would accept the results, even if he does not win. Still, recent actions by his government have heightened fears about whether that would really be the case.

A familial connection has been established between the president and Amina Zakari, a commissioner at the electoral commission, for instance. And in January, Walter Onnoghen, Nigeria’s chief justice, was slammed with corruption charges. Coming just one month to the polls, especially as the judiciary could determine who is declared winner of the likely tight presidential poll, quite a number of people are wary.

Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, an Abuja-based thinktank, says she has “doubts [about whether the] two dominant political parties involved and [the] security [agencies] are interested in credible elections [as] the political actors are demonstrating unrestrained desperation to win…at all cost.” She believes “there is a high likelihood that the elections will end up in court…as both parties believe they will emerge winners”.

Not worried
In light of these developments, there is the perception that foreign investors are concerned about whether the polls would be free and fair as well. And what that could mean for the country’s markets and economy this year. But instead of assuming, why not simply ask those who should know?

New African asked Charles Robertson, global chief economist and head of macro strategy at Renaissance Capital, an investment bank focused on emerging markets, about what investors were telling him. “They are relaxed about the election,” says Robertson. His feedback is corroborated by Malte Liewerscheidt, vice president at Teneo, a global risk consultancy. “Investor sentiment is somewhat indifferent”, says Liewerscheidt.

These views are surprising. So why is the election not a key concern for foreign investors like would ordinarily be assumed? Teneo’s Liewerscheidt says “overall, few investors expect much to change, regardless of who wins the general election, [hence why] interest in the polls is muted.”

If foreign investors are not worried about the elections, why are they not putting their money where their mouths are then? Some foreign portfolio investors have reportedly been doing some quick trades in the markets as late as January. But flows have not nearly been as much as they used to be.

That is, even before the elections became increasingly imminent. Returns from local equities have not been encouraging, though; albeit this has also been the case globally. In response, Renaissance Capital’s Robertson says “[they] are deterred from investing in Nigeria due to the low oil price and uncertainty on FX [foreign exchange] policy after the election.”

Growth expected to pick up
In its 2019 economic outlook, the African Development Bank (AfDB) says “the slide in oil prices from late 2018 coupled with an output cut imposed by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) poses a downside risk to [Nigeria’s] economic outlook.” It also sees the “parliament’s approval of the 8.83 trillion naira 2019 ‘budget of continuity’ [being] delayed due to [the] presidential elections”.

In any case, economic growth projections for the year are quite decent. From the World Bank, International Monetary Fund to the AfDB, the expectation is that Nigeria would grow by at least 2 percent in 2019, from likely lower than that level in the previous year. So, what could be responsible for the improvement?

Mark Bohlund, Africa economist at Bloomberg Economics, tells New African that “Nigeria’s economy will probably accelerate in 1H19 [January-June, 2019], fueled by increased spending connnected to parliamentary and presidential elections in February.” In other words, he sees the upcoming elections driving growth to some extent. However, Bloomberg’s Bohlund sees “that acceleration [likely tapering] off over the year as the new government aims to improve longer-term fiscal sustainability.”

An edited version was published by New African magazine in February 2019

macroafricaintel | South Africa: What is Malema’s game?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

In November, South Africa’s public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan filed a complaint with the police against Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), an ultra-leftist political party increasingly gaining ground amongst poor black South Africans. Shortly afterwards, Mr Malema filed his own charges against Mr Gordhan, calling him corrupt. Hitherto, Mr Malema had largely not been challenged quite so strongly by those at the receiving end of his sharp rhetoric.

That Mr Gordhan chose to go through the legal route could also be interpreted to mean he is confident no skeletons would be found in his cupboard. Mr Malema and his party do not believe that for a second. Still, there are not many cadres of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party that would be willing to take Mr Malema on that determinedly.

The EFF alleges Mr Gordhan has a foreign bank account – which ministers are not allowed to have – with the Royal Bank of Canada, for instance, a claim he denies. An investigation by News24, a South African newpaper, shows the bank account details were probably made up, however. It reports Mr Gordhan does not have Canadian citizenship nor is he in the process of acquiring one. So, he could not have been able to open the said account. It remains to be seen what the legal process would reveal.

Rising stature
But Mr Malema and his EFF party are having other effects on South African politics. Without a doubt, the ANC has tilted more to the left than would ordinarily be the case were the EFF not gaining popularity. For instance, the ANC argues the expropriation of land without compensation being championed by the EFF was ANC policy from the outset.

Most would agree, however, that had the EFF not made it a major issue, the ANC would probably not have been too eager to follow through on it so quickly. In early December, the South African parliament adopted the report of its constitutional review committee that recommended the amendment of the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. A clear win for the EFF.

The EFF could also rightly claim credit for now free tertiary education. Although former president Jacob Zuma probably did it self-servedly, having little else to show for a legacy, he was nudged along by the EFF’s rhetoric. And there have been quite a number of other political wins for the EFF. Mr Malema did mention before the fact that former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was not as honest as was perceived; on the extent of his association with notorious acolytes of Mr Zuma, the Guptas, for instance.

Truth is, Mr Malema has been proved right more times than he has been proved wrong. Lately, however, he has been going off script. If his accusations against Mr Gordhan are proved to be wrong and malicious, it would hurt his credibility greatly. Maybe on Mr Gordhan, he is simply shaking the tree in the hope a fruit would fall down.

Not so different
Evidence is beginning to emerge that Mr Malema enjoys an expensive lifestyle. His residence in a posh area of Johannesburg is believed to have been acquired via the patronage of a wealthy cigarrete tycoon. His increasingly vociferous verbal attacks and not so subtle threats against some journalists are also disturbing. There is also the issue of the failed VBS Bank which allegedly implicates EFF’s deputy president Floyd Shivambu and the party itself.

More disturbingly, Mr Malema’s rhetoric has recently begun to border on the violent. True, he often qualifies his remarks afterwards to suggest he did not mean that at all. Still, those at the receiving end are no longer taking his attacks lying down. His public spat with a female journalist of Indian descent is well-known, for instance.

Amid all these, it begs the question about whether the EFF can be taken seriously. And whether Mr Malema, should he get the chance, would make a good president for South Africa. To his credit, were he not of stronger stuff, he would long have been in oblivion by now, after Mr Zuma kicked him out of the ANC. So, he is certainly presidential material. But for a complex country like South Africa, is his makeup complicated enough to manage the many nuances of the job? More importantly, what is the EFF’s strategy? New African sought the views of Darias Jonker, director for Southern Africa at Eurasia Group, a global political risk consultancy.

“The strategy of the EFF is to come to power as soon as possible, and to merge with the ANC in the medium- to long-term to consolidate power and rule the country for as long as possible. Given this objective, their tactics change regularly as the political situation – and particularly the situation in the ANC – changes.”

Since Mr Zuma’s departure, the EFF has been struggling to find a new narrative. And since the ANC has been pre-empting it on some of its trademark policies, and even joining it to champion some, there is increasingly little difference between them.

Eurasia’s Jonker provides some background: “The party was created following Zuma’s ANC kicking them out, and thus an anti-Zuma narrative was pushed due in equal parts resentment towards Zuma and political opportunism that benefitted from voter dissatisfaction with Zuma.”

The EFF initially sought to work with Cyril Ramaphosa, Mr Zuma’s successor. So they did not boo him in parliament like they did Mr Zuma and largely went along with his policies. And until recently, there has not been much the EFF could whip the ANC president with. The Marikana massacre no longer has as much bite since Mr Ramaphosa promised he would visit the widows there with none other than Mr Malema himself; having been accused of insensitivity for not doing so hitherto.

A recent revelation that the president’s son donated a huge sum of money towards his father’s campaign for the ANC presidency and Mr Ramaphosa’s less than convincing forgetfulness in his explanation to parliament about the matter, suggests there might be something to fight him with at last. That is, if he continues on his dogged anti-corruption path.

On the defensive
“Although the EFF is willing to work with Ramaphosa if that brings them to power, they are being threatened by Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption campaign and overall reform agenda”, opines Eurasia’s Jonker. “In particular, two issues are at stake here: investigations by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) into Malema’s tax affairs and investigations by the South African Reserve Bank and law enforcement agencies into the collapse of VBS Bank. With VBS, the EFF allegedly benefited when funds went to companies linked to close relatives of Malema and Shivambu, and then were used to pay for services procured by the EFF or by properties occupied by Malema and his family.”

“Malema’s tax affairs have been a persistent problem for him: initially SARS was scrutinizing benefits he received from companies that won tenders in Limpopo province while he had lots of influence there as leader of the ANC Youth League, but then SARS also started looking at the illegal cigarette industry and in particular Adriano Mazzotti – an alleged manufacturer of illegal cigarettes and patron to both the EFF and Malema.” Consequently, Jonker believes “the EFF has been doing whatever it can to deflect these issues. Thus the attack on Gordhan, Treasury and the SARB [South African Reserve Bank]. They have also moulded these attacks into propaganda that feeds into resentment towards White Monopoly Capital.”

“Ironically, the EFF now has a shared interest with the Zuma faction in weakening and removing Ramaphosa. The two sides are thus working towards the same objective and are likely to be sharing and leaking information that could incriminate Ramaphosa and his allies. We saw this with the leak of information concerning Nhlanhla Nene’s meetings with the Guptas, and probably also Ramaphosa and his son’s links to Bosasa and the Watson family. These dirty tricks will continue, and indeed the fightback against Ramaphosa will continue, for as long as the Malema and Shivambu are threatened with potential legal action. Thus, we expect this to continue through to the 2024 election.”

An edited version was published by New African magazine in January 2019

macroafricaintel | Ghana – Assessing the ‘one district, one factory’ policy

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

Nana Akufo-Addo, the president of Ghana, is a great speaker. English audiences listen in awe to his speeches, marvelling at his mastery of their mother tongue. His fellow citizens did not stand a chance against his charm. He defeated an incumbent to the coveted position he now occupies with relative ease. His oratory was not all that won the votes of the majority of his compatriots. He sold a dream of an industrialised Ghana that would look beyond aid to development. At the time, during the campaigns and almost momentarily after he was sworn into office, analysts wondered about the realism of pursuing such adjudged follies as his “One district, One factory”, “One village, One dam” proposals. Still, as highfalutin as they sounded, the citizenry drank the Kool-Aid with relish. And to his credit, he was not just selling a dream. He meant to realise it. Bear in mind, this is not the first time such an experiment would be attempted in Ghana. And even for planned economies in the East like China, which underpinned the failed first trial, the authorities there have since learnt the wisdom of allowing market forces to determine certain things. Clearly aware of the scepticism, Yofi Grant, chief executive of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, told the Financial Times, a British newspaper, in September 2017, that “this time around it’s going to be private-sector driven, with government only playing a facilitatory role.”

Slow progress
Has this been the case more than a year afterwards? There has not been as much progress as envisaged by the authorities. Speaking to the Financial Times in October 2018, Joyce Awuku-Darko Osei, head of the transformation unit at the finance ministry, which prepared the current government’s “Ghana Beyond Aid” development framework, avers poor co-ordination is one reason why progress has been slow. “Only 600 of more than 1,000 factory proposals have been evaluated,” she tells the Financial Times. And she refutes the populist garb put on her prinicipal’s intentions. “The idea…is that private businesses can request government assistance (feeder roads, power supply, access to credit, etc) to make factories viable”, she adds. Still, how likely is it that there would be an industrial venture worthy of investors’ capital in every district? What do analysts think? Malte Liewerscheidt, Vice-president for West Africa at Teneo Intelligence in London tells New African that “at about half-time of Akufo-Addo’s first term, the ‘1 district 1 factory’ policy has still to get off the ground. As of October 2018, a mere 18 factories of varying size have been built in the 216 districts. The sluggish progress on one of the government’s flagship policies makes it rather unlikely that the stated target will be achieved by 2020. Teneo’s Liewerscheidt actually questions “whether [this] ‘shotgun approach’ to industrialization will yield sustainable results”. In the view of Verner Ayukegba, principal analyst for sub-saharan Africa at IHS Markit in London, the desirability of industrialisation to tackle such social challenges like high youth unemployment is not the subject of contestation but rather the somewhat impracticable approach. For instance, “factories need support infrastructure and other support services which is impossible to have in all districts”, says IHS Markit’s Ayukegba, reckoning “the concentration in Accra, Tema, [and] Takoradi is likely to continue.

There is also the issue of affordability. With public debt at more than 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), can Ghana afford more indebtedness in pursuit of these ambitions? Mr Ayukegba is unequivocal: “No! They’ve had to display immense creativity to get the Chinese to finance key projects with strong IMF [International Monetary Fund] opposition.” China has agreed to fund various infrastructure projects to the tune of $19 billion, in a deal signed during a state visit by President Akufo-Addo in early September, ahead of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting in Beijing. More significant for the Chinese, though, is the estimated 960 million metric tonnes of bauxite reserves worth about half a trillion dollars when processed into aluminium that they hope to exploit in the 26,000 hectare Atiwa forest in southeastern Ghana. In a first phase, Sinohydro Corp Ltd paid the authorities $2 billion in November as part of a barter deal to fund road projects in exchange for refined bauxite. The authorities also plan to tap the eurobond markets for as much as $5 billion to $10 billion before end-2018; being the first tranche of its proposed century bonds of $50 billion, an amount almost equal to the current size of the economy. The government is probably banking on crude oil revenues to meet its debt obligations. But at an expected production level of 250,000 barrels per day by 2020, that is even as twice as much could be added soon after, it is unrealistic for the administration to bank its hopes on oil in this regard. That said, there are early indications of interests by foreign manufacturing capital allocators. In early September, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with Sinotruck International, a Chinese maker of heavy-duty vehicles, to build an assembly plant, which would initially produce about 1,500 trucks annually, with room for further expansion. The deal was struck not too long after Volkswagen, the German automaker, announced it was in talks with the government to build an assembly plant in the country as well.

Refine policy, set realistic targets
Without a doubt, there is a strong imperative to grow the manufacturing base. That is, even as crude oil production is expected to boost growth for a while, with the IMF projecting an average growth rate of about 6 percent in 2018-22; after an average acceleration of about 7 percent over the past decade. And even after the review of the base year of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) data to 2013 from 2006 in September, which increased the size of the economy by about 25 percent in 2017, industry is still about a third of output; despite growing the highest at about 16 percent. Services, which is not as labour-intensive, takes the lion share at about 40 percent. As industry creates more jobs, the issue is not so much about the need for boosting the sector as it is about the approach. But what is the alternative, especially as the country’s increasing oil wealth may weigh on progress before too long if momentum towards an industrialised Ghana is not built right now. “There is no alternative than for government to keep that narrative at least from an aspirational standpoint”, IHS Markit’s Ayukegba opines. But the authorities could also “focus more on regionally-focused clusters to create economies of scale, which countries such as China have pursued with sometimes remarkable success,” avers Teneo’s Liewerscheidt. In any case, “automation in agriculture and industry [would erode] the benefits of such policies for employment [over time]”, adds Ayukegba. What can the government do then to make the policy better so that it achieves the objectives of industrialisation? “Power and other infrastructure investment to make the cost of production and doing business cheap”, is one way, according to Ayukegba, and a boost of the services sector is another. The authorities’ 5-pillar “Ghana Beyond Aid” development framework of wealth creation, inclusivity, sustainability, empowered Ghana, and resilient Ghana (WISER) already incorporates these considerations. So the issue is not so much about policy objectives as it is about a practicable, optimal and sustainable approach.

An edited version was published by New African magazine in January 2019

macroafricaintel | Nigeria – Assessing the Abubakar & Buhari policy documents

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

It is election season in Nigeria. Elections for the presidency and federal legislature are slated for mid-February. In early March, those for the governorship of each of the country’s thirty-six states and others would follow. Naturally, the greatest focus is on the presidential race. And while there are more than fifty contestants for the job, including a few internationally recognised technocrats, all eyes are on the two leading presidential candidates.

Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is seeking a second four-year term. His main opponent is former vice-president Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Both candidates hail from northern Nigeria, but from different parts. President Buhari is from the northwestern part of the country while Mr Abubakar is from the northeastern part. Whereas the northwestern geopolitical zone is quite peaceful, the northeastern part suffers from insecurity, with terrorists attacking key cities and towns now and then.

Incidentally, the insecurity in that part of the country is why Mr Buhari beat former president Goodluck Jonathan some four years ago. It also helped his chances that Mr Jonathan was a southerner. Northern voters did not have a difficult choice to make. Things are not so straightforward this time around. That is even as Mr Buhari still enjoys a cult following in the north. Inevitably, a significant portion of northern voters are likely to pitch their tents with Mr Abubakar; in the northeast especially.

Mr Buhari is thus likely to secure most of the votes in Western Nigeria and Mr Abubakar the East. Understandably, most forecasts point to a likely close tally. To change the dynamics and perhaps win comfortably, each of the candidates must demonstrate the superiority of their ideas. And in this age of social media, the voting public is able to easily assess them very quickly.

In view of this, the leading candidates have made a big show of their policy documents. Mr Buhari calls his the “Next Level” while Mr Abubakar’s is “Let’s Get Nigeria Working Again”. Nigerians are quite used to these well-packaged plans now. There have been many in the past. But since the problems they were meant to solve continue to endure, they would not be blamed if they are somewhat sceptical about these new ones. Still, what is probably uppermost on their minds is prosperity. Put simply: jobs. Both candidates promise as much.

Of course, the incumbent is probably best judged by his administration’s policy document: the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). In doing so, it is realised some gains have been made. And quite a lot remains to be done. In any case, renewed terrorist attacks in the northeast has yet again put security on the front burner. Even so, it is widely believed poverty is the root cause of insecurity in different parts of the country.

Clashes between cattle herders and farmers in the middle belt of the country have an economic rationale, for instance. Drought effects, like the drying of the Lake Chad, is believed to be one of the factors behind the relatively high poverty levels and consequent insecurity in the northeast. Thus, it is their economic visions that should matter the most. Does Mr Buhari plan to do anything differently to improve the economy? And what is Mr Abubakar proposing to do differently? New African asked three leading analysts for their views.

Amaka Anku, Africa director & practice head, Eurasia Group
“So I think what’s really at stake for Nigeria is revenue growth and infrastructure investments – so that’s the paradigm through which I’m analyzing their policy documents.”

“My main criticism is that both documents are extremely ambitious (unrealistic perhaps) in their spending plans without much focus on generating revenue to implement those plans. Politically, I can understand why that is the case – talking about collecting or raising taxes isn’t exactly compelling for the general public.”

“I was surprised that Buhari’s document is completely silent on the oil & gas sector – does this mean his administration will not push any reforms in this area? Quite strange to simply ignore such an important sector of the economy.”

“For Atiku, I’m concerned about the grand plans for infrastructure spending ($90bn a year) with zero discussion of revenue growth or even foundational work that needs to be done to formalize the economy and move Nigeria towards better tax collection (like the national ID scheme).”

Omotola Abimbola, Fixed income and currency research specialist, Ecobank
“We believe Nigeria could have its first presidential election campaign fought on ideological grounds in 2019, with the two major parties campaigning on ideologically opposed sets of policies and programmes.”

“At first glance, President Muhammadu Buhari’s “Next Level” plan appears to be a continuation of his administration’s existing policies and programmes such as social investment schemes, welfare spending on the vulnerable, deficit-financed infrastructure investment and public sector job creation.”

“On the other hand, candidate Atiku promises reforms and policies to increase private sector participation in the economy, particularly privatization of underperforming government assets in the oil & gas and transport sectors, liberalization of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, reduction in corporate tax rates, lower regulation, PPP funded infrastructure investments and promotion of investment friendly policies.”

“In American political parlance, the PDP appears to be more conservative – smaller state, big business and low corporate taxes – while the APC’s plans bear close resemblance to the democratic-party agenda – big state and welfare spending to support the vulnerability. Ultimately, both candidates’ promises are ambitious vis-a-vis current fiscal realities and their policy documents are conspicuously light on revenue generating strategies to create more fiscal space.”

“President Buhari wants to continue current approach to creating jobs using government subventions and direct employment, a position at odds with increasing revenue pressures, already-high recurrent spending and a bloated CBN balance sheet. Candidate Atiku promised to create 3m jobs a year and double Nigeria’s GDP to USD900bn in four years, which is tall order with little consideration for age-long structural challenges limiting short term growth potential.”

“On the ERGP, we think the implementation is still standing on its first pillar of reforms (restoring macroeconomic stability), and implementation of the other four strategic areas (Economic Diversification and Growth Drivers, Competitiveness, Social Inclusion and Jobs, Governance and Other Enablers) will be further out due to administrative inertia in pushing through important structural reforms.”

Malte Liewerscheidt, Vice-president, Teneo
“Atiku’s stated aim to double the size of the economy by 2025 would require annual GDP growth rates to jump to 12%. This is highly unrealistic as double-digit growth rates over longer periods are historically unprecedented. While the plan is almost guaranteed to fall short of target, the liberal reform measures suggested are still likely to inject desperately needed new momentum into the economy.”

“Buhari’s re-election manifesto, on the other hand, essentially features more of the same. The state-centric approach to economic development has been preserved, while higher targets have been set. Yet given the weak economic performance, rising unemployment and a mounting debt pile over the past four years, there is nothing to suggest the old recipes would produce different results in a potential second Buhari term.”

An edited version was published by New African magazine in January 2019

macroafricaintel | Nigeria – Deal with Onnoghen matter after the polls

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

In January, Walter Onnoghen, Nigeria’s chief justice, was served with charges for failing to declare certain domestic foreign currency accounts. Ordinarily, such matters would be handled by the National Judicial Council, the watchdog for judges, before further steps are taken, if at all. At least, so it was thought. Arguments have been raised since then suggesting that may not necessarily be the case when the allegations are criminal or in the judge’s personal capacity. In any case, that is a matter for the legal system to resolve.

Considering how crucial the upcoming elections are, and the important role the judiciary would likely play in them, many wonder if the beleaguered judge is not being hounded out of office to make way for someone more acceptable to the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Like the president, the next in line to the embattled chief justice is a Northern Muslim. Mr Onnoghen is a Christian southerner.

There is precedence for these concerns. The chiefs of the army, airforce, intelligence, police, customs, immigration, electoral commission, to mention a few, are Northern Muslims.

President Buhari was not quick to appoint Mr Onnoghen to the top of the judicial profession. He did so only after tremendous pressure. Recent events suggest the matter was likely never put to rest. That is even as Mr Buhari was reportedly caught unawares by the development.

To be clear, no one is above the law. The chief justice can be petitioned, charged and prosecuted. And there is an abundance of laws and process to ensure he faces the music should he be found culpable. But a development that could potentially lead to the resignation of the chief justice or his removal just a month to the polls is very suspicious indeed.

Still, it must be borne in mind that senior judges have been prosecuted in other jurisdictions. A more recent and perhaps most relevant example is the case of Philomena Mwilu, the deputy chief justice of Kenya, who is currently under prosecution for corruption. In her case, she appeared in court as scheduled in the full glare of cameras before later securing reprieve over the jurisdiction of the lower court which docked her.

Thus, there is nothing wrong with the chief justice appearing before the Code of Conduct Tribunal or any other legal venue. For the avoidance of doubt, the complications in respect of this matter relate to the timing and due-process of the law.

It is hard to justify any benefit to the polity from clearly attempting to remove the most senior judicial officer in the land, who would be a key adjudicator in election disputes, just a month to the polls. In fact, the action has the potential of heightening regional tensions.

Incidentally, the president might have been done a great disservice. The outcry by the main opposition party that he desires a dictatorship and a return of northern hegemony has been given greater credence by this recent event.

Now that the legal due-process has been put back on track, the advocacy now is that whatever action is to be taken be deferred till after the polls.

macroafricaintel | INEC has a trust problem

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

There is a raging controversy about the familial relationship between Amina Bala Zakari, a commissioner at Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and President Muhammadu Buhari. The main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) alleges she is a niece to Mr Buhari. Quite swiftly, the administration refuted the claim forcefully. Amidst the back and forth, INEC chief Mahmood Yakubu also waded in. In response to a question by a journalist, he wondered how the embattled commissioner could be considered a blood relation of the president if their states of origin are different. Her family also came out to declare that their daughter is not related to the president. They did not lie. But they also did not say the entire truth.

She is family
A thorough investigation by Premium Times, an online newspaper, reveals there is some affinity between Mrs Zakari and Mr Buhari. True, there is no blood relationship like the PDP alleges. And clearly in this regard, the PDP exaggerated a great deal. Still, it has been established, even by the admission of the presidency, that Mrs Zakari and Mr Buhari are related by virtue of inter-marriage between their extended families. And at some point during Mr Buhari’s younger years, he reportedly resided with the family of the electoral commissioner. It has also been reported that Mrs Zakari and Mr Buhari worked together in the past. In the African context, and especially in the Northern tradition, Mrs Zakari would be considered family in Mr Buhari’s home and vice versa.

That said, it has also been revealed that the president had little or nothing to do with Mrs Zakari’s appointment to the electoral commissionership. Contrary to popular discourse, she was not recommended to the position by Mr Buhari. A respectable member of civil society revealed to a reputable television station that he was privy to the proceedings that led to her appointment. According to him, it was Kaduna state governor Nasir El-Rufai who recommended Mrs Zakari for the commissionership and in fact personally handed her resume to him for submission to former president Goodluck Jonathan, who was head of state at the time. The same civil society luminary also insists that as far as he understood the meaning of the word “niece”, Mrs Zakari was indeed a niece to Mr Buhari via the marriage bond. In any case, the close association between Mr El-Rufai and Mr Buhari, and the history both gentlemen share with the unassuming Mrs Zakari, makes her conflicted.

But what was the cause of the initial uproar? And why now? After all, Mrs Zakari was appointed by Mr Jonathan of the then ruling PDP, which is now in opposition. Eyebrows are raised now because Mrs Zakari was recently appointed to the headship of a “collation centre committee”, supposedly tasked with ensuring that all the logistical needs of the “collation centre” for the upcoming elections are adequately taken care of. My view on hearing the news of the appointment was that it was a brazen and insensitive move. And even after the revelations and investigations that ensued, my view remains unchanged. Mrs Zakari is a controversial choice for such a potentially influential role. It is also highly unlikely that the INEC chief was caught unawares by the controversy the move generated.

Mr Yakubu, a professor of history, likely knew the implications of appointing her to what ordinarily would be a logistics function but could be misconstrued to mean more; and could in fact be more. Besides, as the commission already has a proper organisational structure which covers operations and the like, there was really no need for the creation of an adhoc “collation centre committee”. True, as the INEC chief insists, Mrs Zakari would not be involved in the process of collation itself. That job is exclusively his as the chief returning officer. But this is Nigeria. And since the experienced Nigerian academic rose through the complicated Nigerian system, he is certainly not naïve to the point of not knowing the potential interpretation and consequences of the controversial appointment.

No guarantees
It is important to point out at this point that this controversy is raging against the backdrop of Mr Buhari’s refusal to sign what has been adjudged a superb amendment to the current electoral law that would make our elections better. And while the Zakari controversy was still raging, INEC’s Yakubu revealed there would not be a full electronic transmission of results. Why? A backing in law is required. A pilot electronic collation would be done, however. As it stands right now, so much flexibility has been built into the electoral process that incumbents, should they choose to, would be able to steer the process in their favour.

Do the needful
In light of the foregoing, can INEC be trusted to deliver free and fair elections? No one can say for sure. There are a couple of things the electoral body could do to reduce fears of potential bias, however. There should probably not be a collation centre committee in the first place. It should be disbanded. As Mrs Zakari is clearly conflicted albeit largely adjudged to be competent, she should be assigned to a commissionership that would not involve direct participation in the electoral process or put her in a position to affect the outcome, if she chooses to, in a material way. Should she resign? No. And considering the commission has decided the transmission of results would not be electronic, it should do its utmost to ensure that the collation of results at each stage of the electoral process is done in the presence of all relevant stakeholders such that a parallel collation of results by non-INEC bodies would be no different from its own.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://businessday.ng/columnist/rafiq-raji/article/inec-has-a-trust-problem/