June 6, 2011

Transitions in Democratic Nigeria

From 1999 to 2011 making 12 years; Nigeria has seen the longest stretch of democracy in its history. With marginal improvements in the conduct of elections from 1999, 2003, 2007 and now the more successful run in 2011, Nigeria as a nation has come to the point were it needs to institutionalize transitions into a recognizable Act of law or official government regulation. Government officials, political appointees and elected candidates must understand that official accolades, gifts, souvenirs, residencies, finances, properties etc. are only held in custody by them and are not their sole reserves. It takes only a short four years and they should be ready to vacate their respective offices. They can only be remembered by what their acts have been while in office. And that will be the boost they need to mount any challenge for any other office both elected or not. The day you were sworn in is the day you start looking forward to handing over to another official.

From my observation, interaction and discussions with colleagues, friends and outgoing representatives, senators and governors it is clear that many of them were not prepared for the handover part. There is also no officially structured protocol or regulation for the process of transiting from an incumbent to another. Substantial public funds are wasted, pilfered or out rightly looted during transitions. Recently the sixth senate voted to buy over their official cars at reduced rates. See The Guardian news    Things like this needs to be applied across the board to all offices. The sell must be made based on an appropriate independent valuation and payment made within approved time limits. Transitions are going to be even much more of a challenge when an opposing candidate wins the Presidential election in 2015. At present Presidential transitions have been smoothened by the fact that handovers were done willingly and contained within the same party. I call to mind two stark events that have happened in recent times. The case of incoming opposition governors suspiciously freezing state accounts and attempting to govern even before they are constitutionally mandated to. The second is the subtle case of outgoing officials trying to loot, sign last minute cheques, cart away official property, furniture and equipment as if they belonged to them. And this leading to new governors etc. requesting additional funding for furnishing even without properly accounting for and retiring the furnishings procured for same offices and residencies just four years ago. I decline to mention specific names. The purpose of my writing is not to report a criminal matter. I would rather hand such information over to the police. The purpose of my writing is to encourage the current governors and other elected officials to create a proper regulation and official protocol for facilitating a smooth transition each and every time. As a democracy we are wont to have more of it. And defeat at the polls should not be the end of an political life. If an official has done his job well any governor, for example, would be an invaluable asset to any corporate organization (media, public speaking or public relations lobby of any firm).

A good transitional protocol/Act should include such aspects as:

  • During the transitional period what actions can the incumbent perform without the express knowledge/approval of the incoming official?
  • When and how shall a meeting be held between them
  • Who is responsible for calling for this meeting
  • What should be the agenda for a meeting between the officials
  • How should the transition be run, as a project or as an arm of government reporting to the elected official and liaising ever closely with the incumbent or how?
  • What office should house the transition team including the elected official (in particular) for security purposes. Must the transition team continue to meet in the incoming officials campaign office or his home while performing what could be passed as state business.
  • Can the transition accept private sector funding and to what limits is this allowed.
  • How should inauguration, the ball and etc. be funded. How much funds and from who can they accept funding for the inauguration. Presently, the inauguration of President Jonathan has cost so much. where did this money come from? If Jonathan was handing over to Buhari, for argument sake, would the Federal Government pop out N1billion for the inauguration as well? So how did he decide to spend so much without a standard approved budget or funding regulation for inaugurations.
  • What are the tax implications for inaugural funds
  • What funding should be available for the transitional team of the elected official and from where should the funding come from. When must it be released and in what manner.
  • After the transition who and how long must it take before transition accounts are closed. A report of funds used, how used and what is left. Freedom of Information is one thing but Government is making zilch effort to account to the public on how they spend our money.
  • What must be disclosed/what documents, briefs etc. must be handed over and when during the transition.
  • What classified state information must begin to be delivered to the incoming official and when

Some international example is in other here. Even the US struggles with transition from incumbent to opposition President-elect. Former President Clinton is still being accused of pilfering gifts made for the Whitehouse as personal gifts. An accusation which he denies and instead opted to pay money back to the Whitehouse to cover for whatever excesses that might have occurred while he was handing over to George Bush. Clinton was also accused of playing pranks to deliberately ill equip Bush to handle security issues from the first day of office. however, since 9/11 as part of the handover the President is mandated to deliver security reports to the President-elect. In Nigeria an asset register of all office equipment must be part of the handover. And that should start with a proper recording, management/maintenance and physical labelling of all physical fixed and movable assets. That includes computers, furniture, building, cars etc. It is not unlikely that some incumbents have ex-appropriated state lands, building, other infrastructure to be theirs. Today the former speaker is being investigated for using his office for personal profit. His brother an accomplice in running a visa racket in the speaker’s office (Thisdaylive). How many more officials are doing this? So much is expected from our democracy. Now is the time to establish standards and protocols on which the system would be regularized and officials held accountable to the public especially during a transition to avoid running in circles.

inurguralballA thought for the outcry even in twitter about the cost of the Presidential inauguration. I have no qualms about that amount of money being spent. We must celebrate democratic transitions and elevate them to traditional events. But an account, following general accepted practices, of all monies spent and for what it is spent is vital to sustain the system. The invitation of the youth to a dinner was both novel and welcome. A plan to start exposing our youth to leadership is something we cannot underestimate. Our youths need role models, heroes and heroines to emulate and aspire to. It is a vital aspect of national pride and confidence building and would grow respect and honour for public office. The national problem is not spending money but the problem is not accounting for it and having it end up in someone's purse and often into some foreign economy directly or indirectly.

Now is the time for elected officials to prepare for a transition to a new elected official in 2015. this is the only way to make sure that all his current acts are such that he will not be ashamed to disclose to another. It will free him from the persistent accusations of looting, EFCC threats and free him for a more exalted position in society, in the corporate world and in the world. President Jonathan must set one more precedence here. We require it of him.

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