Opinion: Where Does Nigeria Go From Here?

General Muhammadu Buhari holding a broom at a campaign rally. Photo credit: By Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (Flickr: Wahlkampf in Nigeria 2015)/CC BY-SA 2.0

General Muhammadu Buhari holding a broom at a campaign rally. Photo credit: By Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (Flickr: Wahlkampf in Nigeria 2015)/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK/ABUJA, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

After several tension-filled months, a majority of Nigerians swept in an opposition leader and former military man, Muhammadu Buhari, to succeed incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, whose failure to contain a terrorist wave in the northern states doomed his re-election chances.

Buhari had previously ruled Nigeria from January 1984 until August 1985 – a period in which there were widespread accusations of human rights abuses – after taking charge following a military coup in December 1983.

The Mar. 28 elections were observed by teams from the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union. Carl LeVan, an assistant professor at the School of International Service, American University in Washington, DC, took part in the National Democratic Institute’s election observation mission from the United States.“[President Muhammadu] Buhari has an unprecedented opportunity to recast the Muslim face of Africa at a time when violent terrorist movements have both perverted Islam and distorted Western foreign policies meant to be more multifaceted” – Carl LeVan, member of a U.S. observation mission for the Mar. 28 presidential election in Nigeria

Speaking with IPS, LeVan, author of Dictators and Democracy in African Development (2015), remarked on the surprise success of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) party that was only formed in February 2013.

“The defeat of Africa’s largest political party, the People’s Democratic Party, will bring the All Progressives Congress (APC) into power after barely two years of organising, mobilising and coalition building. (Muhammadu) Buhari will enter office with a strong mandate from the voters, having won four out of the country’s six geopolitical zones, and the APC will enjoy a comfortable majority in the Senate.

“Though a northern Muslim from Katsina, his support included the predominantly Yoruba southwest, where President Goodluck Jonathan recent delivered bags of cash to traditional rulers according to news reports and where the militant Odudwa Peoples’ Congress launched a wave of thuggery in recent weeks.”

The election upset was especially poignant for Nigerians of the northern states, the area most devastated by Boko Haram terror attacks. While some of the vote counting was impeccable, not all of the voting went smoothly. Observers told of protestors objecting to perceived rigging, harassment, ballot boxes snatched and over-voting.

“Even before the results were announced,” said LeVan, “voters in the north reacted with jubilation, and militant groups, including the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, began surreptitiously re-arming in the creeks of the south. Sources I met with over the weekend in Rivers State say they have seen caches of weapons in camps backed by militants such Ateke Tom and others.

“In addition to such seemingly minor procedural problems, the public was locked out of some collation (vote counting) centres. We also received credible reports of serious harassment. A soldier was killed in some of the violence in Port Harcourt, and a large protest took the state electoral commission by storm on Sunday.”

The opposition victory has been achieved but some are already wondering what the new leader, not known for his adherence to human rights, will prioritise.

According to LeVan, “Buhari has a mandate, and his most urgent challenge is to neither misinterpret nor abuse it.

“According to an Afrobarometer poll released on Mar. 23, 40 percent of Nigerians say the president ‘should be allowed to govern freely without wasting time to justify expenses’, and 25 percent say the president should ‘pass laws without worrying about what the National Assembly thinks’. Sixty-eight percent are not very or not at all satisfied with the way democracy is working.”

Recalling a recent national election won by a former dictator, LeVan said that “the last time Nigeria elected a former dictator, Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, he spent his first term battling the National Assembly and quelling violence in the region that largely voted against him. But he also began building institutions and establishing trust with his sceptics.

“The last time Nigerians had Buhari at the helm, the jubilation quickly gave way to frustration, repression, and economic failure.

“Buhari’s ‘honeymoon’ will therefore be critical, and probably even shorter lived than his memories of 1984. He will need to do more than make grand rhetorical gestures to democracy; he’ll need to practice it and educate his own supporters about the advantages of the justice and fairness it offers, even where the cost may be the kind of efficiency the Afrobarometer respondents appear to be longing for.”

LeVan also urged the new president to “go south” in view of the fact that Nigeria has often been a divided country with loyalties to different regional centres and different religious and ethnic affiliations, because this would send a “valuable message to northerners that he is everyone’s president.”

By “going south”, he said, the newly-elected president “could also include a clear transition plan or policy for the status of the ongoing amnesty programme for the Niger Delta militants, who need reassurance that they do not need an Ijaw president [like President Goodluck Jonathan] in order to have “resource control” taken seriously, or to have environmental clean-up and developmental needs addressed.

“The sooner and more clearly they hear this message, the less likely will be the re-ignition of the Delta rebellions … This is also important because in a country partly divided along religious lines between north and south, Afrobarometer reports that trust in religious leaders at 29 percent is higher than in the National Assembly, governors, local governments, or even traditional rulers (16 percent).

“Christian Igbos in the east (who overwhelmingly rejected the APC) and minorities in the south need to know they can trust Buhari, and he needs their cooperation to govern peacefully and practically.”

LeVan also suggested that Buhari should “reset” national security strategy, perhaps by ”replacing key members of the national security establishment.

“While some continuity may help preserve institutionalised knowledge, particularly with regard to the recent ‘surge’ against Boko Haram, the mishandling of the Chibok girls’ kidnapping reduced confidence in the national security team, and the pressure applied to the electoral commission prior to the election delay has contributed to the perception that some soldiers and many advisers are partisan.”

Boko Haram has been displaced but not defeated, LeVan warned, and this means creating a “credible counter-insurgency strategy”.

Among others, such a strategy would include “sustained high-level interactions with the multinational coalition partners, and a repairing of bridges to the United States, United Kingdom and other allies with a stake in Nigeria’s peaceful prosperity.”

In this context, said LeVan, a visit to the United States and the United Kingdom would be beneficial to reconnect with a disenchanted diaspora. “This will be important in the United States, where leadership in Congress has interpreted Boko Haram as a war against Christians, rather than a complex insurgency with many different victims and deep historical and socio-economic roots.

“Buhari has an unprecedented opportunity to recast the Muslim face of Africa at a time when violent terrorist movements have both perverted Islam and distorted Western foreign policies meant to be more multifaceted.”

LeVan also advised Buhari to pick a “credible, competent and diverse economic team”, noting that “in early 2014, the government of Nigeria (along with the World Bank and others) highlighted trends in economic diversification. The near crisis triggered by the decline in oil prices since then suggests either these claims were overstated or much more work needs to be done.

Buhari could reform the refinery and oil importation mechanisms, commit to publishing all of the federal governments revenue transfers to subnational units each month (like it used to), and pick a combination of experts from academia, the private sector and the bureaucracy to get the economy back on track.”

“A few obvious steps,” concluded LeVan, “would go a long way: reaffirm the independence of the Central Bank (whose governor was replaced last year), stabilise the currency, and consult the National Assembly about budget plans and fiscal crises … The rest is up to the Nigerian people, who spoke on Mar. 28. Voting was just the beginning.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

Any views expressed by persons cited in this article do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

No Rest for the Elderly in India

India is currently home to over 100 million elderly people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

India is currently home to over 100 million elderly people. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

As more and more people in India enter the ‘senior citizen’ category, ugly cracks are beginning to appear in a social structure that claims to value the institution of family but in reality expresses disdain for the bonds of blood.

Recent research by HelpAge India, a leading charity dedicated to the care of seniors, reveals that every second elderly person in India – defined as someone above 60 years of age – suffers abuse within their own family, a malaise that has been found to infect all social strata and all regions of the country.

Every second elderly person in India – defined as someone above 60 years of age – suffers abuse within their own family – HelpAge India
The 12-city study, ‘State of the Elderly in India 2014’, found that one in five elderly persons encounters physical and emotional abuse almost daily, a third around once a week, and a fifth every month. A common reason for the abuse is elderly family members’ economic dependence on their progeny.

According to sociologists, neglect of senior citizens – once revered and idolized in Indian society – is largely attributable to the changing social landscape in Asia’s third largest economy, currently home to over 100 million elderly people.

“Rapidly altering lifestyles and values, demanding jobs, rural-to-urban migration, a shift from joint to nuclear family structures and redefined priorities are all leading to this undesirable situation,” Veena Purohit, visiting professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, tells IPS.

Older, Sicker and Poorer

The world’s second most populous nation hosting 1.25 billion people has experienced a dramatic demographic transition in the past 50 years, witnessing close to a tripling of the population aged 60 and over, according to government statistics.

This pattern is poised to continue, with experts projecting that the number of Indians aged 60 and older will surge from 7.5 percent of the country’s total population in 2010 to 11.1 percent in 2025.

By 2050, according to the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), India will host 48 million seniors over the age of 80 and 324 million citizens above 60, a demographic greater than the total U.S. population in 2012.

As per HelpAge’s estimates, the population of people aged 80 years and older is growing the fastest, at a rate of 700 percent.

The boom is largely being ascribed to improved life expectancy outcomes, which have shot up from 40 years in the 1960s to 68.3 years in 2015.

“The steady increase in elderly citizens’ life expectancy has produced fundamental changes in the age structure of India’s population, which in turn has led to the ageing population,” Aabha Choudhury, chairperson of Anurgraha, a non-profit for elderly citizens, tells IPS.

Choudhury adds that the unmet demand for special care services and facilities for the elderly is worsening the situation.

“The benefits outlined in the government’s policy on older persons – a blueprint for their welfare – is yet to reach target beneficiaries. There is a dearth of adequate geriatric care infrastructure and lack of awareness among the target group as well as the service providers,” she explains.

Ironically, despite longer life spans, and India’s rapid economic growth, the majority of older Indians remain poor. Less than 11 percent of them have a pension of any sort, according to national surveys, and savings – like earnings – are low.

This scenario augurs ill for the country’s grey population, with the coming decades threatening to bring unprecedented challenges of morbidity and mortality across the country, according to a 2012 report entitled ‘Health of the Elderly in India: Challenges of Access and Affordability’.

According to the UNPD, 13 percent of older Indians sampled have some type of disability that affects at least one activity of daily living.

More than one-quarter of this population is underweight and nearly one-third has undiagnosed hyper­tension. Nearly 60 percent live in dwellings lacking access to an improved sewer system.

With little old-age income support and few savings, labour force participation remains high among those aged 60 and older, particularly among rural Indians, household surveys suggest.

Not only do a large share of the elderly earn an income, they even support their adult children who live in homes and work on farms owned by their parents.

While the Indian government invests significantly on the country’s youth, expecting them to contribute to the economy, support for those who are feeble remains abysmal, rue senior citizens.

For instance, the government’s Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme offers a paltry five dollars per month to those above 60 living below the poverty line, which many suggest is an “insult”.

Government failing its most vulnerable citizens

Population-wide mechanisms of social security in India, point out financial experts, are also missing.

“Indians have to work as long as possible in order to support themselves,” explains a senior official at the government-run Life Insurance Corporation. “Employer insurance and pension schemes are available only to as low as nine percent of rural males and 41.9 percent of urban males who are in the formal sector; among females, the figures are lower still.”

Despite India's rapid economic growth, the majority of older Indians remain poor. Less than 11 percent have a pension of any sort, and many continue to work in old age. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Despite India’s rapid economic growth, the majority of older Indians remain poor. Less than 11 percent have a pension of any sort, and many continue to work in old age. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Insurance in India is limited not only by its low coverage of conditions but also by low coverage of populations. National Family Health Surveys indicate that only 10 percent of households in India had at least one member of the family covered by any form of health insurance.

“Good quality healthcare should be urgently made available and accessible to the elderly. Rehabilitation, community or home-based disability support and end-of-life care should also be provided to address failing health issues among the elderly,” says Vinod Kumar, a member of the Core Group for Protection and Welfare of Elderly, constituted by the National Human Rights Commission in 2009.

There’s also a need, suggests Kumar, to expedite the setting up of a National Commission for Senior Citizens.

The draft bill for the Commission, which lists the proposed commission’s responsibilities, is still pending with Parliament.

“The Commission’s mandate involves looking into matters of deprivation of senior citizens’ rights, their human rights violations and making recommendations to relevant authorities to take action. The proposed commission will also inspect old-age homes, prisons and remand homes to see if their rights are being violated,” elaborates Kumar.

Sugan Bhatia, senior vice president of the All-India Senior Citizens’ Confederation, is disappointed that unlike the West, the Indian government offers no medical support to the elderly.

“Even if we buy medical insurance on our own, it only covers emergency hospitalisation costs. There’s no coverage for costs for medicine or doctors’ fees, which have almost tripled in the last three years,” he tells IPS.

As a signatory to the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing and other U.N. declarations, the Indian government has enacted a piece of legislation, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007, which makes it a legal obligation for children and heirs to provide maintenance to senior citizens and parents.

However, most parents acknowledge that the issue is far more nuanced than being a financial or legal matter.

Many elderly citizens confess staying with their abusive children more for emotional reasons. “As an army widow, I get a reasonably good pension after my husband’s death, so I can stay separately,” confesses 68-year-old Savita Devi.

“However, my love for my two grandkids, who absolutely adore me, is preventing me from shifting out. It’s a catch-22,” she tells IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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