Liberia’s Weah pledges to take a pay cut in a dire economy

 

PRESIDENT George Weah of Liberia on Monday said he would seek to remove a “racist” clause in the country’s constitution that restricts citizenship to black people, and pledged to take a pay cut in a dire economy.

Liberia was founded by freed slaves from the United States in 1847, who inserted the requirement into the constitution to create “a refuge and a haven for freed men of colour”.

Weah said in his first state of the nation address that he believed this restriction was “unnecessary, racist, and inappropriate for the place that Liberia occupies today in the comity of nations,” as well as holding back business.

Calling for that provision to be removed, Weah also called for the ban on foreign ownership on property to also be struck from the constitution via referendum.

“No foreign investor… will be willing to make significant direct investments in our country if they cannot own property,” he noted. Weah’s wife, Clar, has faced intense criticism for her Jamaican roots in Liberia.

She was denied a passport on the grounds she was not a Liberian citizen, and the president called for restrictions on dual citizenship to also be lifted.

– Salary cut –

The new president, who joked he had only had a week to get his head around the job, also announced he would take a 25 percent pay cut in view of the state of the economy and the suffering of his people, who are some the world’s poorest.

“I am informing you today, with immediate effect, that I will reduce my salary and benefits by 25 percent,” he said to a huge cheer from the audience.

He urged lawmakers to follow his lead in a nation where deputies and senators make six-figure salaries despite a straightened budget, following an announcement of a $3,000 (2,425 euros) spending cap on government agencies’ expenses.

“Our economy is broken; our government is broke. Our policy is in freefall, inflation is rising, unemployment is at an unprecedented high and our foreign reserves are at an all-time low,”

Weah noted. The only way to address this was through a nationwide road building programme to increase trade and stimulate jobs, and to invest in education, he said. Schools and universities were the “constant and major priority during my administration,” he added.

Weah was sworn in last week after a contentious election with former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s deputy, Joseph Boakai.

Sirleaf was present at the ceremony, which Weah said “shows how far we have come as people” after the bitter political divisions of Liberia’s horrific 1989-2003 civil war.

He has given cabinet posts to a mixture of inexperienced but loyal figures from his Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party, along with some key members held over from the former government. – Vanguard

 

– Jan.  30, 2018 @ 10:26 GMT /

 

Liberia: For ‘Mr Football’, a daunting task

 

 

Former World Footballer of the Year, George Opong Weah, 51 takes over as Liberian President in a historic and seamless transition never witnessed in 74 years, with so much expectations that he may turn around the fortune of Africa’s oldest independent country, writes Tony Iyare 

 

EVEN as he savours the revelry of his colourful swearing-in ceremony as the country’s 25th President, at the capacity filled stadium in Monrovia, George Opong Weah was apparently transfixed on the seemingly overwhelming challenges confronting his new administration.

Dispelling the idea of offering “quick fixes”, the football legend promised to revolutionise education in a country where half of school age children are out of school, rebuild decrepit healthcare facilities, tackle corruption and create thousands of jobs to bring succour to majority of the citizenry who perceive him as one of them. Also crucial is the need to douse the prevailing gloom and despair, underscoring part of the reasons that drove the people to war, which the out gone government did little about.

His daunting tasks for now will be to fight corruption which Transparency International say is “endemic and permeating most sectors of society”, pay civil servants a “living wage” and make Liberia “open for business” in order to boost its economy particularly to respond to the aspirations of an estimated 63 per cent of the country’s population who live below the poverty line.

Like a new sheriff, Weah is already singing a new song. “As officials of government, it is time to put the interest of our people above our own selfish interests. It is time to be honest with our people”.  “For those who do not refrain from enriching themselves at the expense of the people, the law will take its course”, he said. But beyond what in Liberia is called “floor show”, there’s a need for a more coordinated and aggressive anti-corruption drive to elicit the genuine support of the people. Importantly, Weah needs to lift the anti-corruption campaign outside the bubble gum and Russian roulette that his predecessor confined it.

“There’s a lot of expectation but we will meet the expectation…because this a global world we want to create…where you will come to help our people”, Weah who grew up in the slummy Clara Town, just ear shots to the plum Executive Mansion in Monrovia told the BBC.

There was hardly a space to swing a cat as Weah, the only African to have won the prestigious FIFA World Footballer of the Year took the oath by 1300hrs on Monday, January 22nd before an estimated 35,000 people at the Samuel Doe Stadium in the country’s first transition since 1944. The feeling of ecstasy saw many on the queue for hours before getting access to the arena.

While effusively thanking his predecessor, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 78, Africa’s first elected President for bringing peace to Liberia and stabilising the polity after 14 years of civil war, Weah conveyed the feelings of his country men and women that this undoubtedly has been her major achievement. “Thank you for laying the foundations on which we can now stand in peace”, he says as he poured encomiums on Sirleaf.

Prominent amongst those who watched the historic event was Cameroonian football star, Samuel Eto’o and former Chelsea star, Didier Drogba. The Presidents of Ghana, Nana Akufo Addo,  Gabon, Ali Bongo Ondimba and Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma were also at the event. Nigeria also graced the handing over ceremony with former President Olusegun Obasanjo leading the delegation that included the Senate President, Dr Olusola Saraki and Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha.

Weah who grew up in the slums of Liberia, won fame as a star of European football moving from Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Olympic Marseilles. His path to fame and riches began when he was signed by Arsene Wenger to Monaco from his Camerounian club, Tonnerre Yaounde.

Many however say it is a different kettle of fish being an international football star and running a country. How will Weah wean a new Liberia that can address the rising poverty? How can his government put food on the table for majority of the citizenry whose hope of making a living is dimming daily? How does he thread on the political minefield to re-engineer Liberia from the grips of former war lords who seem to lurk every where?

There are fears that Weah may be a minder of the interests of the incarcerated former President, Charles Taylor whose former wife, Jewel Howard Taylor is his deputy. Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) took its roots from the Taylor led National Patriotic Party (NPP). “The CDC was created out of the NPP and so the alliance with the CDD is a natural alliance”, says Howard Taylor.  Weah is also closely linked to another former war lord, Prince Yormie Johnson, now a king maker.

But it’s pretty difficult to really shred off any links to the war lords who plunged Liberia into civil strife for close to 15 years. Apart from Weah and his now Vice President, Howard Taylor who before now were elected Senators, Prince Yormie Johnson, whose Independent National Patriotic front of Liberia was culpable in cutting former Military Strongman, Samuel Kanyon Doe into pieces is also a Senator.

Even out gone President Sirleaf cannot be exculpated from links to the war lords. She was accused of giving the Charles Taylor led National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPLF) $10,000 at its founding stage. And that’s why the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) resolved in its recommendations in 2009 to ban Sirleaf and 50 others for their sordid roles in the war that rendered the country ungovernable.

For now the new President appears to have taken the gauntlet, concerned with immediately putting his trusted officials in charge. In a change of musical chairs, the former Senate pro-tempore Gbezohngar Findley, a close ally of Sirleaf has been named Minister of Foreign Affairs. The former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), Major Gen Daniel Ziankahn has been appointed Minister of National Defence while Brig Gen Prince Johnson takes over from Ziankahn as the new Chief of Staff of AFL.

Five things George Weah promised Liberians

 

FORMER football star George Weah promised to tackle Liberia’s economic and social problems as he was sworn in on Monday in the first democratic transfer of power for more than 70 years.

Here are five things he has pledged to do since his election:

– Tackle corruption –

Failing to tackle endemic corruption among public officials was a key criticism of the outgoing administration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Weah said in his inaugural speech that voters had specifically tasked him with rooting out graft.

“I believe the overwhelming mandate that I received from the Liberian people is a mandate to end corruption in public service. I promise to deliver on this mandate,” he said.

“As officials of government it is time to put the interests of our people above our own selfish interest. It is time to be honest with our people. Though corruption is a habit among our people, we must end it.”

– Help the private sector –

Weah said he would remove “unnecessary restraints” on business in a country that ranks near bottom as a place of doing business rankings despite abundant natural resources.

“To the private sector, I say to you, Liberia is open for business,” he said in his address.

“We will do all that is within our power to provide an environment that will be conducive for the conduct of honest and transparent business.”

However, he said he no longer wanted Liberians to be “spectators” in their economy, as Indian and Lebanese immigrants dominate retail and services while Western and Asian firms own the vast majority of rubber, palm oil and iron ore operations.

– Youth training –

Many Liberians missed out on a formal education during the 1989-2003 civil war, and lack the literacy or skills to get jobs outside the informal sector.

Weah said in a speech last week he believed vocational training was the answer to helping this lost generation.

“We need more and better-trained teachers not only for our vocational institutions but equally so for our schools and universities,” said.

“Vocational institutions are the best way forward to enable young adults to enter the job market sooner, as most of them have already assumed family responsibilities.”

A bigger funding commitment to schools and training “will be submitted to the National Legislature later this year,” he promised.

– Transparency –

The opaque nature of political deal making, especially over the use of public land, has led to frequent disputes between the local population and private companies in Liberia.

Weah said freedom of speech had strengthened under Sirleaf and promised a more “co-operative” government that was more direct with voters.

“Together we owe our citizens clarity on fundamental issues such as the land beneath their feet, freedom of speech and how national resources and responsibilities are going to be shared,” he said after being sworn in.

– Respect for rights and democracy –

Weah paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people who died during back-to-back civil wars and said the “immeasurable cost of the lesson” was the value of equality and freedom.

“These are the fundamental human rights that our people deserve, and that must be held up and measured against our actions, policies and laws,” he said.

He also urged the population to look beyond tribal and regional affiliation and to consider themselves “Liberians first”.

AFP

 

– Jan. 23 2018 @ 08:12 GMT

ECONEC salutes Liberia Elections Commission for Successful Poll

 

THE ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions, ECONEC, the umbrella body of Electoral Management Bodies, EMBs, in West Africa has congratulated the National Elections Commission, NEC, Liberia,  for delivering successful and credible elections and paving way for the peaceful transfer of political power in the country.

The elections marked the first time since the end of Liberia’s civil war that Liberian authorities were wholly in charge of the electoral process, without the support of the UN Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, which has been maintaining peace in the country for the past 14 years.

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, President of ECONEC governing board and Chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Nigeria, said in Abuja, on Monday, January 22, that: “There are no easy elections, and for NEC Liberia, the October/December 2017 elections were a critical moment in the country’s political history.”

He noted that there were useful lessons for EMBs from the electoral success in Liberia and urged NEC Liberia and other stakeholders to consolidate the gains of the elections.

Senator George Weah, who emerged victorious in the polls, was inaugurated as Liberia’s 25th President in Monrovia on Monday.

Prof. Yakubu had led an ECONEC delegation on Needs Assessment and Solidarity Missions to Sierra Leone and Liberia in July 2017, in line with the mandate of the Network to assist members with capacity building, peer-review and experience sharing, towards delivering elections with integrity and strengthening of democracy in the region. He also led a delegation of ECONEC and INEC officials as part of international observation groups that observed the 10 October elections in Liberia.

Following the disputation over the register of voters in the aftermath of the first round elections, the ECONEC President facilitated the deployment of INEC personnel for the ECOWAS Technical Team that assisted NEC Liberia in cleaning up the voter’s Register. The Technical Team made crucial recommendations, the implementation of which enabled the conduct of the presidential run-off vote of 26 December 2017.

Prof Yakubu stressed that EMBs require the support and cooperation of all stakeholders to succeed, adding that the Network will continue to work with stakeholders to promote credible elections in the ECOWAS region. Accordingly, ECONEC will continue to encourage its members to share information and experiences on best practices, pool resources and build their capacities.

He also reiterated the commitment of the Network to its members in delivering on their mandate towards advancing democratic governance in the ECOWAS region.

 

 

– Jan. 22 2018 @ 18:31 GMT

 

 

Ellen Sirleaf: Bye to Fish Market (2)

 

THOSE who packaged Harvard trained technocrat, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 78 for the presidency in Liberia, Africa’s oldest independent country and nudged her candidacy for the enviable Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, may strenuously be pushing her for the prestigious Mo Ibrahim Prize for Leadership in Africa. But will they be justified, queries TONY IYARE, in this concluding discourse of her unbroken 12-year tenure.

As they dust her apparently intimidating credentials to angle for the Mo Ibrahim Prize, the boots of her avowed campaigners may be heavily laced with bile. Their cudgels also must be wielded through the arsenals of cynics who think she’s not deserving of the award.

Expectedly, the out-going Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will elicit accolades in stabilising the hitherto broken down country tucked in the labyrinth of gloom, death, disease and despair. Her deft brinkmanship has infused order to a war torn country virtually walking on its head and where AK-47 was cheaper than bread.

She’s restored decrepit infrastructure during her 12-year rule and embarked on the building of new ones across the country. She’s also thrust Liberia from her pariah status to international acceptance, making the country swell on donor funds. Her sagacity to muster massive resources not only saw the cancelling of the country’s debt but a bloating annual budget from a paltry $80 million in 2006 to close to $1 billion now.

After the initial poor handling of the Ebola epidemic which ravaged the country  in 2014, blamed on little premium on healthcare, leading many investors to flee, she later rose to the occasion, garnering lots of financial and material support. President Barack Obama deployed 4000 American troops, to build 18 Ebola treatment units in Liberia as parts of bold efforts to end the scourge which was also prevalent in the neighbouring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Sirleaf’s highly moving letter which started with “Dear World” pricked the conscience of many. The fight against Ebola “requires a commitment from every nation that has the capacity to help-whether that is with emergency funds, medical supplies or clinical expertise”. “It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves”, she wrote in the emotion laden letter.

The support came in torrents for Liberia whose 3000 qualified doctors at the inception of the civil war in the late 80s had depleted to just three dozen by the end of hostilities in 2003. The United Nations separately mobilised donations to a $1 billion Ebola Trust Fund muted as a flexible source of back up money to combat the disease.

But the Sirleaf administration, largely enmeshed in charges of nepotism became prostrate on corruption, which she treated with kid gloves as senior officials of her government oiled their pockets. She virtually looked away as these officials funnel public resources including funds to private accounts.

Her former Justice Minister, Christiana Tar pointedly accused Sirleaf, a former World Bank staff of blocking a corruption investigation into the Liberian National Security Agency headed by one of her sons, Fumbah Sirleaf.

Her embrace of a neo-liberal socio-economic policy which castrated government funding on welfare programmes held little for the Liberian people majority of who live less than two dollars a day. Rising unemployment and grinding poverty stoke the people’s growing frustration.

Grimaced looks of the largely poverty stricken people, particularly women who played significant role not only in ending the conflict but also ensuring her emergence as President, is commonplace.

Sirleaf, a Harvard trained technocrat who worked with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), was accused of paying scant attention to genuinely improving the living conditions of her people at home. This occasioned the dithering on the Ebola epidemic which killed many Liberians in 2014.

“She spends all her time pleasing the West and not enough building things at home”, reels Elizabeth Dickinson, a journalist who was quoted in an article by Max Fisher in The Atlantic. Titled “Did Nobel Committee Award Liberia’s Sirleaf to Help Her Win Re-election?”, the article written on October7th, 2011 also quoted Chris Blattman, professor at Yale University who says, “I can’t shake the feeling that she spent more time getting feted internationally, and running a US book tour, than on the big issues at home”

Liberia and its people are suffering from historical cum socio-economic haemorrhage for which Sirleaf and her backers cannot be extricated.

Apart from the prevailing euro-centric conception of its history weaved around the work of the American Colonisation Society, which has conspired to wrack the gains of its indigenous population, the economic bedrock fashioned under the Government and Economic Management Assistance Programme, GEMAP, and foisted on Liberia by those who contrive her election, has virtually reined in a policy that further demonise its people.

Perhaps more tragic is the largely gullible African media that still parrots the euro-centric narration about Liberia in most of its reports.

In spite of strident attempt to obfuscate her role from the skirmishes that engulfed Liberia, only a thin line separates Sirleaf, a renowned critic of her predecessors, William Tolbert and Samuel Doe from the different militia lords who rendered the country into shreds during the 15-year civil strife.

Though she confirmed her donation of $10,000 to the Charles Taylor led National Patriotic Front of Liberia, NPFL, at its formative stage but said in what amounted to some cock and bull story that her perception of the militia group was different at the time. Little wonder the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009 recommended banning her and 50 others for 30 years for abetting the militia groups that threw the country into turmoil.

Were those recommendations implemented, it would have long driven a nail into her political coffin as she would not have been eligible to contest for a second term in 2011. But Sirleaf and her international backers who also stage managed her Nobel Prize for Peace along with fellow compatriot, Leyman Roberta Gbowee, a social worker and Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni democracy activist, plotted to ensure that the TRCs recommendations were implemented only in the breach.

Weah Presidency: The Challenge of High Expectations

 

By Paul Ejime

 

APART from not playing in the World Cup finals, the dream of every football player, George Manneh Oppong Weah, has won virtually all there is to win in world football. In a career that spanned almost two decades, across six countries in three continents (Africa, Europe and the Middle-East), Weah demonstrated that personal focus and determination can break barriers of small beginnings in life.

One of 13 children of William Weah, a mechanic and his petty trader wife Anna from Liberia’s south-eastern Grand Kru County, young Weah was raised by his paternal grandmother in Monrovia’s Clara Town slum. He and his siblings had to endure the separation of their parents, and later circumstances led to him dropping out of High School. But with the dogged determination of a world class striker always aiming to score goals, Weah would not let his life’s game plan to be derailed. Prophetically starting his football career with the local Survivors Youth club at the age of 15, he soon moved to Cameroon after working briefly for Liberia’s Telecommunications Corporation as a switchboard technician.

From that humble beginning, Weah rose to become arguably one of Africa’s greatest players of all time.  In 1995, he was named World Player of the Year by the sport’s governing body FIFA, the first non-European to clinch that award, and he also won the coveted Ballon d’Or the same year, becoming the first and to date only African player to win those awards. Before then, Weah was the African Footballer of the Year for 1989, 1994 and 1995, and in 1996, he was named African Player of the Century.

In recognition of his phenomenal speed, dribbling, goal scoring and finishing abilities, netting 84 goals in 218 matches between 1988 and 2001, Weah has been described by FIFA as “the precursor of the multi-functional strikers of today.” Apart from excelling at clubs and country, Weah is also a philanthropist, supporting young players in his country and the Football Association of Liberia, sometimes paying for the national teams’ participation in international engagements.

The rest they say might be history, but Weah’s football career involving about 10 different clubs such as Monaco, Paris-Saint-Germain and Marseille in France, Milan in Italy, Chelsea and Manchester City in England and Al-Jazira in the United Arab Emirates towards the end of his career, is a classic success story.

To his credit, it was Frenchman Claude LeRoy, the self-professed “White witch doctor” of African football, who introduced Weah to his compatriot Arsene Wenger, then Manager of Monaco in 1988. Before then Weah was with Tonnerre Kalara Club (TKC) of Cameroon, and fearful of the political crisis in his home country, had actually applied for Cameroonian nationality, but was denied. Perhaps, to underscore the saying that success has many relatives, the same TKC recently on its website celebrated Weah, as the “player it trained,” who won many accolades and went ahead to become the President-elect of Liberia.

How can Weah replicate his football success on the national political stage? Before winning the presidency in Liberia’s 26 December 2017 run-off vote under the platform of the opposition Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), Weah might have discovered by himself that the rules of engagement on both theatres differ drastically, not just in content and context but also in complexities.

While football, the world’s most popular game continues to entertain and thrill players, managers and fans alike, and is even considered a unifying sport full of emotion, excitement and disappointment in equal measure, politics on the other hand remains a divisive and enigmatic enterprise, which continues to defy the understanding of both actors and spectators.

With all his contributions to football one would expect Weah to claim a bragging right to the leadership of Liberia’s Football Association. But because of the politics involved, all his efforts to secure the chairmanship position of the FA never materialised. Weah had also vied for Liberia’s presidency in 2005 under the Congress for Democratic Change but lost to out-going President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the second round balloting after leading the pack in the inconclusive first round. He tried again in 2011, then as a presidential running mate to Winston Tubman but that venture also fell through. Still undeterred, Weah changed focus to the Senate and won the Senatorial seat in Monrovia’s Montserrado County in 2014. Now at 51, Senator Weah has clinched the highest office in his country, defeating out-going Vice President Joseph Boakai by 61.5% to 38.5% vote.

Weah’s patriotic zeal and determination to contribute and lift his country from the ashes of a decade-long devastating civil war, has never been in doubt. But from the lonely Executive Mansion after his inauguration on 22ndJanuary, it would dawn on him that political governance and the task of national reconstruction is a different ball game, compared to soccer.

The road to the delivery of democratic benefits in post-conflict Liberia is strewn with landmines in the form of human capital deficiency, a weak economy compounded by high youth unemployment, run-down infrastructure and a socio-political environment characterised by ethnicity and inequality from a history of dichotomy between Settlers and Native Liberians. The inequality was so bad at a point in the country’s history that Natives resorted to changing their names to American-sounding ones in order to enjoy benefits of citizenship.

Like Weah, Liberia is a country of several firsts. It is the oldest African Republic founded by freed slaves from America and the Caribbean in 1847. President Charles D.B. King of Liberia is also in the Guinness Book of World Records for having won an election in 1927 with more votes than the actual number of registered voters. But still on the positive side, Liberia in 2005 produced the first democratically-elected woman president in Africa in the person of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Nobel Laureate.

In some senses, Liberia’s two-stanza civil war provided the opportunity for the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to earn its reputation as a trail blazer in conflict resolution and regional integration. What started in December 1989 as a rebellion against President Samuel Doe’s regime, by former war-lord Charles Taylor, later escalated into a bloody civil war. It took the intervention of the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), deployed in August 1990, to bring an end to that war. Taylor who won the presidential election in 1997 is now serving terms in England for war crimes committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone. By the time ECOMOG was replaced by the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in 2003, the Liberian civil war had killed more than 250,000 people and rendered more than two million others refugees in the country of some 4.5 million inhabitants.

What does it mean “to serve Nigeria with all your strength?”

 

AS a schoolboy in the 1990s, I made that vow every day when I recited the national pledge. Our teachers taught us the pledge to instill in us the virtues of patriotism and good citizenship. Even television stations would start and end with the national anthem and pledge—and it was a big part of our motivation for watching.

Twenty years later, I am still struck by those words and their muscular concept of citizenship. They conjure an image of a person toiling for his country and preparing to risk life and limb for his countrymen.

How far Nigerians have strayed from that ideal. A staggering number of us have given up hope of having leaders with moral strength. We can barely find public servants who know the pledge, let alone are willing to serve their country with integrity. Day after day, hope for Nigeria’s future diminishes and the ranks of the unemployed grow. Many young people are fleeing the country however they can, while others are turning to crime as a means of survival.

In place of an ethos of duty and service, we now have widespread cynicism. Few public servants truly wish to improve this country. They want job security, a pension and, too often, the opportunity to take bribes. Nigerians pay an estimated $4.6 billion in bribes each year.

Money wasted on bribes isn’t the only cost of corruption. When government officials serve their own interests, they neglect the public interest. Roads and bridges don’t get built and the population doesn’t get educated. Before long, businesses decide Nigeria isn’t worth their investment dollars, further stagnating the economy. If not confronted, corruption could swallow up to 37% of Nigeria’s output by 2030, a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, concluded.

Corruption not only saps our economic strength, it is killing us. Despite our vast oil wealth, 112 million Nigerians–more than two-thirds of the population—remain mired in poverty. And with poverty, we see lives cut short—often barely after they have begun. Every day, Nigeria loses 2,300 children under the age of six. One million Nigerian children die of preventable diseases each year.

It’s a dire picture—and one that has led many Nigerians to despair. But we mustn’t lose hope. When defeatism sets in and people feel powerless to change the situation, they don’t act and they don’t even recognize signs of progress around them. In fact, there are honest government workers fighting corruption every day in Nigeria. We at Accountability Lab Nigeria believe it is time to shine a spotlight on these heroes of public service and inspire the country with their stories. That’s why we launched Integrity Idol in Nigeria this year. It’s a national campaign to celebrate upstanding government officials that began in Nepal in 2014 and spread to Liberia, Mali, and Pakistan. Rather than “naming and shaming” the wrongdoers, we’re “naming and faming” do-gooders.

Over the past few months, Nigerians have nominated hundreds of state workers from around the country and are sharing their stories on social media. A panel of judges has selected the top five “Idols”, who will be featured in a national television program. Nigerians can vote for their favorite Idol through the website and by SMS using the short code 30812. At the end of the campaign, one of the public servants will be crowned Nigeria’s “2017 Integrity Idol” at an awards show in Abuja.

Nigeria’s first batch of finalists are inspiring bunch.

Dr. Yemi Kale, the head statistician at the National Bureau of Statistics, works diligently to provide timely and accurate statistics to the public. He knows Nigerians rely on solid information about their country, and has stood firm against pressure from above to massage the numbers. Another Idol, Dr. Magdalene Igbolo, is a sociology lecturer at the University of Abuja who strives to teach her students to be ethical. Then there’s Tubokenimi David, a physiotherapist at Abuja’s State House Medical Centre who has become a powerful advocate for girls. Justina Ogumelen has devoted her career to serving Nigerian farmers. And Dr. Nuzo Eziechi has earned a sterling reputation in her job at the Bureau of Public Enterprise.

By celebrating these officials, we hope to spread their ethos of integrity. Already, we’ve sparked conversations in cafes, schools, offices, and places of worship about what it means to live with integrity and to serve the public. The idea is to change how Nigerians view state workers as the gatekeepers of governance in this country. Bit by bit, we can shift expectations and inspire a younger generation to hold their government to account and to serve the public with courage and honesty.

The bonds of trust between the citizens and their government are clearly broken. But there’s a path forward for all Nigerians to repair civic trust and begin to work together to solve the country’s problems. We invite all Nigerians to think about how they can serve Nigeria with all their strength. Please join the conversation at #IntegrityIdol.

– Jan. 16, 2018 @ 15:04 GMT

ECONEC moves to Reduce Cost of Elections in West Africa

 

THE ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions, ECONEC, is taking steps to encourage reduction of the cost of elections, and professional reporting of electoral processes through regional media training to improve the coverage of elections with integrity in the region.

“Elections are not only very expensive to run, but have also become a source of avoidable political conflicts in our region, so ECONEC is taking steps to address these challenges in a proactive manner,” said Prof Mahmood Yakubu, president of ECONEC governing board and chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Nigeria.

He spoke while presiding over a meeting of ECONEC secretariat staff in Abuja on 13th December 2017, which was also attended by other senior INEC officials.

The ECONEC strategy, discussed during the meeting, includes a planned launch of a Study on the Cost of Elections in West Africa. The findings would be used to sensitise and mobilise stakeholders on the need to scale down the spiralling cost of election administration; encourage pooling of resources by Election Management Bodies, EMBs, and strengthening transparency and prudent use of available resources.

ECONEC also plans a series of regional training workshops for the media to build a critical mass of journalists equipped with the requisite knowledge and skills for reporting elections according to internationally accepted standards. This is with a view to establishing guidelines for reporting elections to maximize the contributions of the media to democracy; eliminating hate speech and violence-inciting reporting, which are major triggers of conflict in the region.

The Abuja meeting also reviewed ECONEC’s activities in the out-going year, which included the establishment of the Network’s permanent Secretariat in Nigeria, with the support of INEC, and Needs Assessment and Solidarity missions to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, among others.

The ECOWAS Election Observation Mission to Liberia for the country’s first round presidential and legislative elections on 10th October included officials from the ECONEC secretariat, while Prof. Yakubu led the INEC observation team to that country. The presidential run-off is now scheduled for 26 December.

In the coming year, ECONEC plans more Needs Assessment and Solidarity missions to other member countries planning elections, and follow-up missions for the implementation of ECOWAS Election Observation missions’ reports/recommendations.

These activities are consistent with ECONEC’s mandate of providing support and advocacy for its members, promotion of credible elections and good governance, and the encouragement of gradual harmonisation of electoral laws and best practices through experience-sharing, and peer-learning of good practices in electoral matters in the region.

 

– Dec.  15, 2017 @ 08:43 GMT

 

Liberian Ruling Party accepts Supreme Court Judgement

 

 

THE ruling Unity Party of the Republic of Liberia has accepted the Supreme Court final ruling on the run-off of the 2017 presidential and legislative elections. The Unity Party through Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai,  its standard bearer, urged the Liberian National Elections Commission to make public the voters’ roll and address other irregularities to ensure a transparent run-off election.

In a press statement made available to Realnews, Boakai said the Supreme Court being the highest court in the land and the final arbiter of the dispute, had ruled and should be obeyed. “We would, therefore, like to state without equivocation that the Unity Party accepts the ruling of the High Court. This decision, and the road we took with collaborating parties, are unprecedented and should give all of us hope that the future of our democracy and country is bright. Liberians can now celebrate the triumph of the rule of law! Liberians can now celebrate their resolved to pursue non-violent means of solving problems,” he said.

Boakai said in the light of the deliberate and mischievous attempts by detractors to distort the intervention by the UP and collaborating parties to ensure a transparent and clean electoral process, void of manipulation of any kind, he was constrained to set the record straight for the benefit of the Liberian people. “The UP’s intervening action in support of Liberty Party’s challenge was not a selfish or opportunistic one, nor was it in any way a strategy to unnecessarily cause delay and prolong the electoral process, as alleged by  detractors,” he said.

According to him, on October 10 this year, Liberians trooped to the polls to fulfill their constitutional mandate, symbolising a determination to consolidate the gains of peace and ensure that the democratic and inalienable rights were duly exercised. He called on the National Elections Commission to adhere to the request made by the Supreme Court, especially in addressing the publication of the voters roll and other key issues to ensure a free, fair and transparent run-off election.

Boakai also called on Liberians to address their concerns and problems through the court of law and avoid every means of violence in the country, and recounted that in 1927, Liberia made history that earned her an unenviable place in the Guinness Book of Record with the most fraudulent elections in the world.

 

– Dec 8, 2017 @ 15:40 GMT |

 

ACBF, AUST produce 12 More Innovative Scientists, Engineers to Leverage Africa’s Transformation

 

TWELVE female students sponsored by the African Capacity Building Foundation, ACBF, to study for postgraduate degrees in science and technology at the African University of Science and Technology, Abuja, AUST, are expected to give a shot in the arm of Africa’s drive towards transformation as they join 86 others to graduate on Saturday, December 9, during AUST’s seventh commemencement ceremony to be held in Abuja.

The students, from Republic of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, who enjoyed full scholarships provided by ACBF in the 2016/2017 academic year, have successfully completed the Master of Science degrees in Computer Science, Materials Science and Engineering, Petroleum Engineering, Pure and Applied Mathematics, and Theoretical and Applied Physics. Upon graduation, they would bring to 69, the number of post-graduates rigorously trainied as some of Africa’s most innovative scientists and engineers, with scholarships from ACBF mounting to over US$1 milllion since 2013. Fifteen of those have graduated with PhDs.

All 12 ACBF beneficiaries graduating on Saturday were selected under the The Foundation’s scholarship programme for young African women to propel Africa to actively support skills building in the critical fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, in order to enable the continent achieve its own development.

And to attest to the quality of the programme, one of this year’s scholars supported by ACBF has won a prestigious “Debut in Research: Young talents from Africa Prize” instituted by the Italian energy and engineering giant Eni to promote and reward research and technological innovation in the fields of energy and environment. The winner is Blessing Onyeche Ugwoke who just completed her M.Sc. in Petroleum Engineering. She was formally presented with the prize by the Italian President on October 5.

Ugwoke credited her success in winning the Eni Award to ACBF’s scholarship which enabled her to benefit from a world class program offered at AUST. “The ACBF study grant paved the way for me with respect to advancing my academic career. It is a wonderful initiative from ACBF and it is forever changing lives,” she said.

“With the research skills I have now gained that helped me get the ENI award and a PhD scholarship in Italy, I hope to further my research to proffer modern solutions to energy deficiencies especially in the rural parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

ACBF believes “Ms. Ugwoke’s success is a clear testimony to what ACBF-supported skills building programs can do for Africa’s transformation. It shows that now is the time for partners to support the Foundation to do more in this regard at a time when the continent is in dire need of the right people with the right skills and innovative drive in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, to join forces with those in development management to leverage continental plans such as Agenda 2063 as well as country development plans.” Africa would require 4.3 million engineers to implement all its flagship projects necessary to achieve its development goals by 2063.

 

– Dec 7, 2017 @ 18:52 GMT |

 

 

 

$6m For Combating Ebola Stolen, Wasted – Red Cross

 

THE International Federation of the Red Cross, IFRC, has revealed that its staff and others wasted more than $6 million earmarked for the fight against deadly Ebola outbreak in West African states of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

The organisation also said in a report an internal investigation of how money was handled during the 2014-2016 epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

According to the Red Cross report, about $2 million disappeared due to “likely collusion” between Red Cross staff and employees at a Sierra Leonean bank, adding that there was evidence of fraud in the two other hardest-hit countries during the Ebola crisis, Liberia and Guinea.

In Liberia, investigators found that there was “evidence of fraud related to inflated prices of relief items, payroll and payment of volunteer incentives.”

The IFRC estimated the loss at $2.7m.

In Guinea, at least $1 million reportedly went missing because of fraudulent billing practices by a customs clearance service provider. Two other investigations there are pending, according to the Red Cross.

Ebola erupted in Guinea and spread rapidly to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The international aid response was initially slow, and once money arrived it was often disbursed quickly in the rush to purchase supplies and get aid workers into the field.

“I feel disappointed and concerned by the reaction of a few individuals, that their actions detract from the amazing work of the Red Cross staff and volunteers during the Ebola outbreak,” said Paul Jenkins, head of the delegation for the IFRC and Red Crescent Societies in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.

“Their actions saved thousands of lives and the IFRC will continue to ensure that its funds are used for the purpose for which they are given,” he said.

The IFRC said it was strengthening its efforts to fight corruption, including introducing cash spending limits in “high-risk settings.”

It also plans to send trained auditors along with emergency operations teams.

Other measures will include additional staff training and the establishment of a dedicated and independent internal investigation function.

The IFRC said it was working with Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission to “investigate and legally pursue any persons involved.” – Independent

 

–  Nov 6, 2017 @ 15:35 GMT |

 

Africa Finance Corporation signs Zambia as a Member Country

 

ZAMBIA becomes the first Southern African member country of Africa Finance Corporation, AFC, a leading development finance institution for infrastructure in Africa.

The accession of Zambia to AFC membership marks a significant milestone in the Corporation’s mission to address Africa’s infrastructure needs and build the foundation for robust economic development across the continent.

To date the Corporation has invested US$4.5 billion in projects across 28 African countries and in a wide range of sectors including power, telecommunications, transport and logistics, natural resources, and heavy industries.

Zambia’s membership accession supports AFC’s membership expansion strategy and the continued alignment of its country membership with its operational footprint. Zambia, which signed its letter of adherence on October 11, 2017 becomes the 16th member country of AFC. AFC’s other members are: Nigeria, Guinea Bissau, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Liberia, Guinea, Chad, Cape Verde, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Uganda, Djibouti and Kenya.

Andrew Alli, CEO of AFC, commented on the announcement: “We are excited to welcome Zambia as the first Southern African member country of AFC. We believe that investment in, and sustainable delivery of infrastructure in “land-linked” Zambia, will accelerate intraregional trade and lead to stronger economic development and growth in Southern Africa in particular and Africa in general. This goal can only be achieved if adequate transport, power, telecommunications, and industrial infrastructure are available and are functional. This is where AFC steps in, and we are excited by the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”

AFC already has a large presence in Zambia. To date, the corporation has invested over US$150 Million in various projects in the power and downstream oil sectors. The corporation has also provided trade finance to the Ministry of Finance for the importation of co-mingled oil products for refining into refined petroleum products.

Speaking on the announcement, Felix Mutati, the minister of Finance, noted that “Over the years, AFC has shown its strong commitment towards infrastructure and economic development in Zambia. Today, we are happy to formally accept the invitation to join the membership of AFC. We look forward to greater engagement with the Corporation and their continued support in the delivery of signature infrastructure projects in Zambia.”

Given Lubinda, minister of Justice also commented that “Zambia is pleased to join the membership of AFC and we look forward to a fruitful partnership.”

– Oct 25, 2017 @ 16:14 GMT |

 

Nigeria ranks among countries with least powerful passports

 

NIGERIA has one of the least powerful passports in the world, a new ranking showed on Wednesday.

The Passport Index, done by Canada-based global consultancy Arton Capital, showed Nigerians can travel to 44 countries either without a visa at all or can have one issued on arrival.

According to the Index, Djibouti and Congo with visa-free to 45 countries; Algeria (46); Liberia, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and Burundi and Cameroon (47) are African countries with a stronger passport than Nigeria.

Others are Central Africa Republic (48); Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Egypt (50); Comoros, Gabon, Mali, Madagascar (52); Togo, Niger, Mozambique (53); Rwanda (54); Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso (55); Guinea, Ivory Coast (56); Sao Tome, Benin, Morocco (58); and Ghana, Sierra Leone (60).

Uganda and Zimbabwe rank higher with 61 and 62 visa-free countries respectively, while Cape Verde, Tunisia and Zambia are on 63; followed by Tanzania (65); Gambia (66); Namibia (67); and Kenya, Malawi (68).

Tiny Singapore now has the world’s most powerful passport, according to a new ranking, with its citizens able to travel to the greatest number of countries visa-free.

Passport Index, which keeps track of how usable such documents are, said the city-state grabbed the top spot after Paraguay removed restrictions for Singaporeans.

That means the approximately 3.4 million holders of Singaporean passports can now travel to 159 countries either without a visa at all, or can have one issued on arrival.

Germany came in second place, with its citizens able to visit 158 countries without a visa, while Sweden and South Korea tied for third.

The US passport was in sixth place, alongside Malaysia, Ireland and Canada.

Afghanistan came bottom of the list with visa-free access to just 22 countries.

Passport Index said the US passport’s usefulness has fallen since President Donald Trump took office, with Turkey and the Central African Republic becoming the most recent countries to revoke their visa-free entry for holders.

Passport Index ranks passports worldwide based on the cross-border access a holder has. It was developed by Canada-based global consultancy Arton Capital.

“For the first time ever, an Asian country has the most powerful passport in the world,” Philippe May, managing director of Arton Capital’s Singapore office, said in a statement.

“It is a testament of Singapore’s inclusive diplomatic relations and effective foreign policy.”    –    Punch

 

– Oct 25, 2017 @ 14:20 GMT |

 

ECOWAS Observer Mission commends Liberians for Peaceful October 10 Vote

 

JOHN Mahama, head of the ECOWAS 71-member Election Observation Mission to Liberia,  has commended Liberians for seizing the opportunity of the October 10, crucial elections to “exercise their sovereign right to decide who leads them.”

“This Mission believes thus far, that with the environment in the lead up to the elections, voting day activities, sorting and counting of the ballots, Liberia is on track to achieve a credible poll,” Mahama, Ghana’s immediate-past President said in Monrovia on Wednesday while reading the Mission’s Preliminary Declaration on Tuesday’s presidential and legislative elections.

By Thursday, results of the polls were being expected from across Liberia’s 15 administrative Counties, where some 2.18 million registered voters cast their ballots in a generally peaceful environment.

The ECOWAS Mission urged Liberia’s National Elections Commission, NEC, “to approach the concluding phases of the process with fairness and transparency until the proclamation of the results.”

It also called “on the political leaders, the candidates, their followers and the media to maintain the same posture of restraint, serenity and patriotism until the collation and announcement of the results.”

“The ECOWAS Observation Mission urges NEC to expedite action on the proclamation of the provisional results to prevent further anxiety with the polity,” Mahama urged.

“In light of the few challenges identified by the ECOWAS Observers in the field,” the Mission made seven recommendations, including the need for relevant and early training of electoral officials, and provision of adequate financial resources to NEC in a timely manner to facilitate its operations.

The ECOWAS Mission also recommended timely voter verification exercise to be conducted by NEC in accordance with the law, to enhance voter identification; improvement in the Final Registration Roll, FRR, by arranging names in alphabetical order and ensuring that photos match serial numbers of voters.

There should also improvement in the provision for vulnerable groups, including pregnant women, nursing mothers, persons with disability and the aged, by giving them priority to cast their votes, the Declaration said.

The Mission “noted with concern the isolated cases of violence during the electoral process in some parts of the country,” and commended the security forces, especially the Liberia National Police for arresting the situation.

It specifically congratulated the NEC leadership and officials for the “professionalism demonstrated throughout the electoral process,” and also lauded the UN Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, for its support to NEC, particularly with the airlift of electoral material to Counties that are inaccessible by road.

The Mission equally “congratulated the candidates, their parties, supporters and the electorate for their maturity during the campaign and the voting process.”

It appealed to all candidates to put Liberia first by maintaining peace, and “to gracefully accept the will of the people and in the event of genuine grievances to resort exclusively to legal means to seek redress.”

Among dignitaries at the event, were the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Liberia Farid Sarif, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Office in West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Head of the African Union Observation Mission to Liberia Erastus Mwencha, and Prof. Mahmood Yakubu President of the governing board of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions, ECONEC, and chair of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

There were also representatives of other International Observer Groups, including the European Union (EU), Carter Center, Open Society Initiative for West Africa, OSIWA, U.S. National Democratic Institute, NDI, International Foundation for Electoral Systems, IFES, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, EISA, West Africa Network for Peacebuilding, WANEP, Mano River Union, MRU, and the Women’s Situation Room, working for peace and non-violent elections in Africa.

Twenty candidates – 17 sponsored by political parties including the only female, and three independent flag bearers, are seeking to replace out-going Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, while more than 980 candidates are contesting for the 73 parliamentary seats at stake through the October 10 elections.

Liberia has an estimated population of 4.5 million with 2.18 million registered voters and the elections were held in 2,080 Polling Precincts (Centres) with 5,390 Polling Places (Stations) nationwide.

– Oct 12, 2017 @ 14:17  GMT /

 

 

 

 

ECOWAS Election Observers in Liberia charged on Professional, Impartiality

 

MEMBERS of the ECOWAS 71-member Election Observation Mission to Liberia have been charged to demonstrate the highest level professionalism and impartiality in discharging their responsibility as Liberians go to the polls on October 10 to elect their country’s 25th president and 73 parliamentarians.

“The attention of the whole world is on Liberia…, and you are aware that our 15 member countries are all under democratically governments,” the head of Mission and Ghana’s immediate-past President John Dramani Mahama told the regional Short-term observers at their pre-deployment briefing in Monrovia, October 7.

He acknowledged that the elections were taking place at a difficult time in the national life of Liberia, which is recovering from the effects of a devastating civil war, the Ebola epidemic, a weak economy with degraded infrastructure and high youth unemployment.

However, he expressed the hope that Liberians will live up to expectation, and deliver credible and acceptable elections for the consolidation of democracy in the country and the ECOWAS region.

Mahama, who also led the Commonwealth’s election observation mission to Kenya’s August polls, therefore urged the ECOWAS observers to learn from the experience of Kenya by respecting their code of conduct and the international best principles governing poll observation.

“Your presence here is a demonstration of our collective resolve, as a Community, to consolidate the democratic credentials that have positioned the West African region as an example to emulate on the African continent,” he affirmed.

The Head of Mission also appealed to all contesting candidates and political parties to respect their commitment to peaceful elections, as contained in the “Farmington Declaration,” they signed in Monrovia in the presence of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government.

Similarly, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Mrs Halima Ahmed said Liberia was “at the cross-roads” on its march to democratic consolidation and required the support of the international community.

She enjoined the observers to be diligent and professional because their conduct could impact the electoral process.

In his remarks, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, president of the governing board of ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions, ECONEC, expressed the hope that the elections would be successful going by the assurances of key stakeholders, especially the National Electoral Commission of Liberia, NEC.

He reiterated ECONEC’s commitment and determination to support its members to deliver credible and peaceful elections in the region.

The ECOWAS Special Representative to Liberia, Ambassador Babatunde Ajisomo, gave the observers a detailed background of Liberia’s political and electoral contexts, noting that this would be the first time in some 70 years that an elected government would be transferring political to another.

“If all goes well, you (observers) will be part of this history,” he said.

The 50 short-term observers, who join 21 Long-term observers already deployed in the field, were taken through presentations on the political situation and stakes, observation methodology and the deployment man.

The ECOWAS Observation Mission is made up of election, constitutional and conflict prevention experts, representatives of civil society, including gender and the media, ECOWAS Ambassadors, representatives of the Community Court and Parliament, Electoral Commissions in member States and ECONEC Secretariat staff. The Mission is supported by an ECOWAS Technical team.

 

 

– Oct 9, 2017 @ 08:09 GMT /