Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Is politics really not for the poor?

“Politics is not a game to be played by the poor. A poor person has no role in politics. A poor man cannot win election in Nigeria, how will you campaign. If you are poor, stay in your house.”  – Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, former Minister of Works and Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe is a political juggernaut. A former senator and minister as well as governorship aspirant in Lagos State. I watched him on Politics Today, a political programme of Channels Television anchored by Seun Okinbaloye on Friday, December 1, 2017. The topic was the chairmanship tussle of the Peoples Democratic Party. The party’s elective convention is due next Saturday in Abuja. The political tactician answered the questions posed to him deftly. He revealed that he was backing Chief Olabode George for the chairmanship position because the man has sacrificed a lot for the party. He described a move for a consensus candidate from Lagos or the south-west as undemocratic. In his opinion Jimi Agbaje who is from Lagos State as George should not be persuaded to step down neither should any of the other four other aspirants from the south-west. He said if the chief loses, he will congratulate the winner because it is about service. Then he was asked about the rumored plan by some aspirants to bribe the delegates. To this he said though Chief Bode George’s camp is not planning to bribe delegates, however, politics is not for poor people.  He said “they will not buy (delegates) but it is not going to be on empty hand. Politics is not played on empty stomach.”
I have had a lot of people make that assertion which I consider fallacious or what my philosophy professor in the university will call fallacy of overgeneralisation. Do you need money in politics, yes! Whether as a party or as an aspirant cum candidate, one needs money among several other resources. Money qua money will however not deliver electoral victory. Nigeria’s political history is replete with stories of men and women of little means who end up being ‘giant-killers’ in politics. How much did Senator Osita Izunaso have before he defeated the maverick billionaire businessman cum politician,  Senator Francis Authur Nzeribe in Imo West senatorial election of 2007? Nzeribe then was a two time senator while Izunaso was a member of House of Representatives.
How much did Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau has in his bank account before he defeated the then incumbent, Governor Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso in the 2003 governorship election in Kano State?  History tells us that Shekarau was a retired civil servant, a former teacher. How much was his salary to have been able to defeat an incumbent? Was Alhaji Lam Adesina a moneybag when he defeated other candidates to win the governorship seat of Oyo State in April 1999? This was a retired school principal whom many knew of his poor status to the extent that he was said to be a distinguished member of ‘free readers association’, a name given to those who gathered at newsstand to plead with vendors to read newspapers free.
Was Mallam Aminu Kano not poor when he won the Kano East federal seat as a candidate of Northern Elements Progressives Union in 1959?,  Was Alhaji Balarabe Musa a millionaire when he won the governorship election of 1979? If money and plenty of it is all you need to win elections in Nigeria as asserted by Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe, why did the Anambra people not vote for business mogul Ifeanyi Ubah as their governor in 2013? Why was he defeated in the PDP primary in 2017? Owelle Rochas Okorocha is a billionaire who wanted to be president of Nigeria and had vied on several occasions to realise that ambition but never did. He eventually had to go to his home state of Imo to contest gubernatorial election in 2011 and got lucky and won. He is currently serving out his second and final term as a governor.
Ahead of 2015 general election, no political party had the humongous cash at the disposal of Peoples Democratic Party. It would be recalled that on December 20, 2014 ahead of the 2015 General Elections, PDP organised a fundraising dinner where a princely sum of N21.3bn was garnered. This huge sum, we are told, are to be expended on the election campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan as well as party administration. This is aside the supposed N12bn allegedly realised from sales of expression of interest and nomination forms from aspirants wanting to contest on the platform of the party  in 2015. On top of this is the $2.1bn arms procurement fund part of which was reportedly diverted for electioneering purpose by the immediate past National Security Adviser and the $115m raised by former Minister of Petroleum Resources part of which was allegedly used to bribe election officials.
Despite the financial ‘war chest’ deployed into the last general elections; PDP suffered its worst defeat in 16 years. The party not only  lost the presidential seat to the hitherto opposition All Progressives Congress, it also lost its majority in the Senate, House of Representatives, governorship and the State Houses of Assembly. The misfortune of PDP in spite of the financial muscle it deployed to prosecuting the 2015 elections is a pointer to the fact that there are other variables beyond money that guaranteed electoral success.

Some of them include the aspirants courage,  social capital that is, his or her antecedents, political experience, activities within the party, political platform under which he or she is contesting, religion, ethnicity, tribal affiliation, power rotation agreement, political network and of course money. Many people are in political office today because they read the signs rights. They joined the political party most popular in their area. Senators Ibikunle Amosun and Abiola Ajimobi both contested for governorship seat under All Nigeria Peoples Party in Ogun and Oyo State in 2007 but fail to realise their ambition because the party was not well known in the south west.   But the duo got lucky in 2011 when they decamped to Action Congress of Nigeria ahead of 2011 elections.  Courage was what paid off for Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. He contested for APC primary in 2015 with a more popular aspirant and former governor of the state, Prince Abubakar Audu. He came second, lost all hopes of becoming governor until Audu died midway into the election. The party pushed his name forward as runner up in the primary and pronto, he became elected governor of the confluence state. To me, a poor but courageous man can win elections, if the odds favour him or her. It is a game for all those who dare to believe in the power of their dream.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Will Buhari deliver on new national minimum wage?

Last Monday, November 27, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated a 30-member tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee for the negotiation of a new National Minimum Wage for Nigerian workers. The inauguration held inside the council chamber of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, has in attendance governors and senior government officials. All Progressives Congress governors, Rochas Okorocha of Imo, Rauf  Aregbesola of Osun, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi and Simon Lalong of Plateau as well as Peoples Democratic Party governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers and Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe, are  members of the committee.
The president said the inauguration of the committee followed the recommendation of a technical committee put in place after the increase in the price of petrol in 2016. He also said the current minimum wage being used in the country has already expired. (It was supposed to be reviewed every five years). After the completion of the work of the committee, an executive bill would be sent to the National Assembly “to undergo scrutiny before being passed into law”.
By its tripartite nature, the committee is made up of persons from the public sector, (federal and state governments) and the private sector made up of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture and Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises. The committee has a former Head of Service and Minister of Housing, Ama Pepple, as chairperson, while the current Minister of Labour and employment, Chris Ngige, will serve as deputy chairman. The chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, Richard Egbule, will serve as the secretary of the committee.
Other members of the committee are Udoma Udo Udoma, Minister, Budget and Planning; Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Finance; Winifred Oyo-Ita, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation; and Roy Ugo, the Permanent Secretary, General Services, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The Director General of Nigeria Governors Forum, Asishana Okauru, will serve as an observer. On the Trade Union side are the President, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, who leads a team comprising Peters Adeyemi, Kiri Mohammed, Amechi Asugwuni and Peter Ozo-Eson. The Trade Union Congress is led by its President, Bobboi Kaigama, and other members including Sunday Salako and Alade Lawal. The President, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Igwe Achese, is also a member. On the employers’ side are Olusegun Oshinowo, Director General, Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, as well as Timothy Olawale and Chuma Nwankwo. The Director General, Federation of Construction Industry, Olubunmi Adekoje; Chairman, Kaduna East Branch, Manufacturers Association, Ahmed Gobir; and Francis Oluwagbenro also from MAN are members.
It is important to understand how the issue of the national minimum wage came about.  Nigeria joined the league of International Labour Organisation member countries that set minimum wage for their workers in 1981. The last time a minimum wage was set before the current one being reviewed was in 2000 with effect from May 1, 2001. Then, the wage was set at a paltry N5,500. It took 10 years to have this benchmark reviewed through a collective bargaining mechanism. Nigeria Labour Congress said the Union made a demand for wage increase in 2009 after a thorough study of the salary of political office holders’ pre and post consolidation, as well as careful examination of the minimum annual wage levels in African countries. The study showed that Nigerian worker is among the least remunerated in the world. In the NLC estimated cost of meeting basic needs for a representative family done in February 2009, a sum total of N58,500 was arrived at. NLC however decided to demand for a new national minimum wage of N52,200 which the Union considered approximate least Minimum Annual Wage Levels in African Countries, the minimum cost of providing basic needs for the worker and his/her immediate family and the cost of living data.
In order to negotiate this request from NLC and TUC, federal government set up a tripartite committee made up of representatives from the government, labour and the organised private sector. On the part of the government were four cabinet ministers, three state governors and representative of the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission. Labour drew its representatives from the NLC and TUC, while representatives of the organised private sector include Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association and those of Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture. The committee was chaired by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Alfa Belgore (Retd.).
Information has it that this committee met for over one year, dialoguing and negotiating with different stakeholders. It was reliably gathered that all the 36 state governors as well as the Nigeria Governors Forum were formally written to make input into the negotiation. While some of the governors were said to have recommended a minimum wage of about N20,000 and above, the Committee decided to propose N18,000 in order to make it easy for all concerned employer of labour to implement. It was also proposed that the new wage will apply to only organisation with a minimum of 50 workers in its employment. It was after this consensual agreement that the proposal was drafted into a bill and presented to the National Assembly for legislation. This bill was passed and signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan on March 23, 2011.
That was the update from the last exercise. Now, Nigerian workers are demanding for N56, 000 new minimum wage. Is that realisable given the current comatose economy where the extant N18, 000 minimum wage are not paid as and when due? The last exercise took about two years to conclude. How long will the current effort take before a new minimum wage comes into force? Is there a genuine intention on the part of the current administration to upwardly review the workers minimum wage? If yes, why did it take the Federal Government almost two years after the astronomic increment in the pump price of petroleum products as well as expiration of the last minimum wage before the new review committee was inaugurated? Is wage increase the solution to workers plight in Nigeria?
There is no gainsaying that with the astronomic rise in the cost of living, Nigerian workers are right to demand for wage increase. However, this may ultimately be counterproductive. If not carefully handled, it will lead to spiral inflation and low purchasing power. Even without increase in workers’ pay, the cost of food, housing, education and other essential services are increasing. This will worsen with a publicised wage increase. Furthermore, with about two-thirds of states and most of the Local Governments  not being able to pay the current N18,000 minimum wage what assurances are there that they will honour a new wage increase agreement? In July 2011, the governors gave two preconditions for them to pay the new wage increase. These are: review of the current revenue allocation formula in favour of the state and the removal of subsidy on petroleum products. Only one out of these two conditions was met. Even at that, since 2015 they have collected bailouts and Paris Club refunds in excess of N2tn, yet many of them are still unable to pay the N18,000 minimum wage.

Can the Federal Government initiate move to review the revenue allocation formula in favour of states to enable them pay the proposed new minimum wage? If the government at all levels will fix the infrastructural gap through the provision of low cost housing, good road network, quality and affordable education and health services, agrarian revolution that will bring down the cost of foods, improved and affordable electricity supply and other essential social amenities, these will help reduce the cost of living and improve the standard of living of Nigerians generally and workers in particular. Thus, irrespective of their small wage, the purchasing power will be high and they will be able to live decent lives. Will Buhari deliver on the new minimum wage before 2019? Doubtful, very unlikely!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Are Nigerian food vendors merchants of deaths?

Every living thing – human beings, animals and indeed plants - need food and water to live. They are one of the basic necessities of life, the other two being clothing and shelter. Ironically, many Nigerians are being fed with poisons in the name of food. A visit to our foodstuff markets will reveal to discerning minds that many of the raw food offered for sale are not fit for human consumption. They are either adulterated or contaminated.
Nutrition experts said many of the chemicals used to preserve most of the foods on sale in Nigeria are dangerous to human health. Some of the poultry products on sale in our markets are preserved with poisonous chemicals. An April 29, 2016 report in Thisday newspaper entitled “Imported Frozen Poultry Product as a Silent Killer” stated that “Medical experts have noted that these imported products are poisonous because smugglers use formalin, to preserve and keep them fresh from neighboring countries till it gets to Nigeria. Formalin is a cancer causing chemical capable of initiating liver and kidney diseases.” Even local butchers have been accused of using formalin to drive away flies from their meat while some fruit sellers used it as well to preserve their fruits from going bad quickly. I have also watched a clip where some frozen chickens were being injected with steroids to increase their sizes.
In order to reduce or totally prevent post-harvest loses, many commercial farmers use all manner of toxic pesticides and insecticides to preserve their grains. Some of the chemicals applied are supposed to be for six months or a year but in situations where there are huge demands for such grains, they are prematurely brought to the market for sale. With the toxicity levels of these products still high, they end up posing health challenges to consumers.     
Some  plantain and banana sellers are alleged to be using ashes and carbide to forcefully ripen their products. This is a dangerous practice as it constitutes health hazards to consumers. Many women who go shopping at the local markets will bear me witness of the many adulterated products being offered for sale. It ranges from rice, to beans, garri, yam flour, cassava flour, grinded pepper, egusi, groundnut oil, palm oil to honey and all sorts. Only experienced women and men know how to spot the difference between the fake and the original.
Some canned foods are not left out. They are either fake or expired; yet they are offered for sale to unsuspecting members of the public. Same goes for many of the bottled drinks. There is a raging controversy that many of the soft drinks contain certain amount of pesticides. Early this year, a Lagos High Court ruled that high levels of benzoic acid and additives in some soft drinks could pose a health risk to consumers when mixed with ascorbic acid, commonly known as Vitamin C. There is also the fear that the sugar contents of many of the soft drinks produced for consumption in Nigeria is too high and makes consumers prone to obesity and diabetes.
Due to epileptic power supply, many of the restaurants, cafeteria and bukataria (some call them cholera joints) operating in Nigeria are said to use all manner of preservatives whose chemical compositions may not be health friendly. That’s why some of the meals offered for sale there have funny taste.  As I write this, despite the warning by Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh for Nigerians to stop the habit of cooking moimoi (beans paste) with cellophane (nylon) bags, the practice is still sustained in many households.
It will be recalled that Ogbeh made the disclosure on June 2, 2016 when he spoke at the public hearing on Food Security Bill, organised by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development in Abuja. According to him, cellophane bags contain a large dosage of dioxins that are harmful to health. He advised lovers of the delicacy to make use of leaves in the preparation rather than cellophane, adding that leaves do not contain such poisonous substance.
 Ogbeh, a farmer with decades of experience, said beans and grains preserved with over dosage of pesticides by farmers and sellers had killed many unsuspecting Nigerians. He also said the consumption of (pure) water in sachets exposed to sun at over 28 degree Celsius was poisonous and its consumption responsible for many cases of kidney and liver failure among Nigerians. The minister said poorly boiled meat could cause tuberculosis. He warned further that the wrong application of fertiliser by farmers has also led to consumption of poisonous foods. “Unknown to many farmers, there is specific fertiliser for specific crops in specific states in line with soil texture’’, he said. Despite this timely warning more than a year ago, Nigerians still carry on with scant regards for food safety.
Food safety is very important but our people cared less about it. Often times, I see women using road sides to dry cassava flour and grains such as guinea corn, maize, rice and the likes. This is a dangerous practice. It is the mishandling of our food that led to many instances of families dying or having running stomach after meal. It would be recalled that in June 2015, the local gin, popularly known as ogogoro reportedly killed 70 people in Woji and Gokana communities of Rivers State. Nnanna Onyekwere, the Director Public Health Services, Rivers Ministry of Health, while confirming the deaths told the News Agency of Nigeria in Port Harcourt that two of the survivors had visual impairment. The deaths were recorded as a result of contamination of the locally brewed drink.  It is most disheartening that our government is trying to promote genetically modified organism better known as GMO food consumption. It is widely believed that they are unsafe.
It is imperative for Nigerian health officials responsible for food safety and security to redouble their efforts to educate Nigerians about the dangers of some of the foods and drinks being consumed in this country. National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Ministry of Health, especially Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Environmental Health Officers or Sanitary Inspectors, National Orientation Agency and Nigerian media among others have a big role to play in sensitizing, the public and confiscating as well as arresting  anyone who imports or locally manufactures dangerous foods and drinks. There is no gainsaying that many of the itemised unwholesome practices in the handling of Nigerian foods are what is responsible for the rise in incidences of cancer, kidney, heart and liver failures, hypertension, diabetes and indeed premature deaths. A stich in time saves nine!

Follow me on twitter @jideojong 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Why Ndi-Anambra should ignore IPOB

Anambra, the Light of the Nation, is set to witness the election of a new governor come next Saturday, November 18, 2017. The Independent National Electoral Commission had on February 23 this year published the timetable for this looming election. The 10 months advance notice is now down to 72 hours before the D-Day. Such is life; it’s a day that is not set that does not come.
What will happen on Saturday? Will the over two million Anambra registered voters heed the call of Indigenous People of Biafra and boycott the election or will they turn out en-masse? Will the incumbent Governor Willie Obiano retain his coveted seat as the number one citizen in the state or will he be dethroned? Will the election be concluded on the first ballot or will it be inconclusive? Will the poll be peaceful and credible or will there be violence and electoral heist? I am not Nostradamus, the man who saw tomorrow. However, I will appeal to the good people of Anambra to allow for peaceful, credible and successful election that will be exemplary.
Anambra is allegedly the state with the highest number of Billionaires. A state renowned for its commerce and industry is also the home state of political heavyweights like the first President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, First Senate President of Nigeria Nwafor Orizu. Leader of Biafra, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the home state of literary icons like Prof. Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi ,  Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Philip Emegwali, Prof. Dora Akunyili and Prof. Chike Obi;   the home of former Secretary General  of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the state of business mogul, Sir  Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu  who was the first Nigerian millionaire and first president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. It is also the state of  ace highlife musician, Chief Osita Osadebe.
According to INEC,  Anambra State is made up of  21 Local Government Areas, 326 Registration Areas (Wards), 4,608 Polling Units,  while 2, 158, 171 registered voters are expected to participate in the election. About 23,000 ad-hoc staff will be deployed to conduct the election while the Nigerian Police is deploying about 26,000 personnel to maintain law and order during the poll.  Since the announcement of the election date on February 23, a lot of activities have been undertaken by different stakeholders.
On the part of INEC, the commission has conducted  voter education, recruitment and training of poll workers, monitoring of the conduct of political party primaries, conduct of Continuous Voter Registration Exercise, spearheading the meeting of Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, accreditation of election observers, party agents, and  journalists, meeting with different stakeholders like the political parties, civil society organisations and the media as well as procurement of both sensitive and non-sensitive election materials. The CSOs working on election have observed the CVR exercise including distribution of Permanent Voters Card and transfer of voters registration details on request by voters. CSOs have also been grossly involved in the conduct of Security Threat Assessment, Voter Education as well as recruitment and registration of election observers with INEC.  They have also partnered with the media to conduct debate for some of the frontline candidates in the election. On the part of security agencies, they have been doing mapping of flashpoints and hotspots, profiling and deployment of personnel for election security.
Now, all seems set for a hitch free gubernatorial election in Anambra State come next Saturday. Unfortunately, IPOB over the weekend has been issuing conflicting orders to the people of Anambra State. The first was to threaten anyone who comes out to vote on Saturday with death. This initial hardline stance was later moderated to call for total boycott by the voters. This development is very disheartening. It is heart-rending because in the last two gubernatorial elections in the state, voters turnout had not been impressive. In 2010, the turnout was a mere 17 per cent of the total registered voters while in 2013 when the last governorship poll was held, the voters turnout was 24  per cent. That happened when there was no subtle threat by IPOB. What will now happen with the IPOB’s order of mass boycott?
It is important for Ndi-Anambra to know that, in as much as voting is not compulsory in Nigeria; it is their inalienable right to exercise their franchise. They should stop being arm-chair critics. This is the time to either reward the incumbent governor with a second term in office, if he had governed well or vote him out of power, if he has misruled them. Interestingly, Anambra is making history next Saturday by fielding the highest number of candidates in any election since Nigeria started electoral democracy in 1922. There are 37 candidates vying for the governorship position. Of that number, five political parties are fielding female governorship candidates while eight other political parties are having female deputy governorship candidates.  In truth, these 37 candidates are made up of contenders and pretenders. In actual fact, going by popularity, visibility and campaign expenditure,  there are just about five serious contenders in the election and these were the ones that featured in the CSO led  political debate moderated by Channels Television last Sunday, November 12. They are the candidates of All Progressives Grand Alliance, All Progressives Congress, United Progressive Party, Peoples Democratic Party, and the Progressives Peoples Alliance.
As the Election Day approaches and campaign ends tomorrow, political parties and candidates contesting the election should eschew malicious and unfounded rumor peddling. The fake news peddled by one of the party chairmen last week that two lorry loads of sensitive election materials were moved to a hotel in Awka should be disregarded and withdrawn by the person who made the unsubstantiated allegation.   INEC needs the support of all the election stakeholders to guarantee and deliver peaceful and credible election. Poll workers must resist the temptation of being financially induced to perpetrate electoral fraud by politicians. Contestants and their supporters must also eschew violence before, during and after the elections. Security agents on election duty must be very professional. They should stick to their duty of providing election security. Political parties must join INEC and CSOs to mobilise voters to come out and vote. The electorate too must conduct themselves in orderly manner at the Polling Units. Those who have no PVC or not willing to vote should not bother coming to the precinct of the PU. Party agents too must ensure orderly behavior at their Polling Units while accredited journalists should be factual and embrace conflict sensitive reportage. May the best candidate win!

Follow me on twitter @jideojong 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dry season and the need for safety precautions

As the rainfall recedes and dry season takes over in Nigeria, a mixed grill of emotion is palpable. Those whose houses are prone to flood and have therefore gone to take refuge elsewhere are joyful to return home with the cessation of rain. Also gone is the blowing off of rooftops by windstorms, the marshy roads, the excessive wetness and other negative things associated with the rainy season. Now we are effectively in dry season. Should we rejoice?
Well, yes. We should be happy that the dry season is here. The harvest season for the farmers is here. Time of plenty and cheap food is here. Time of festivities, celebrations and partying has come Time of vacationing has dawned. However, dry season brings with it harmattan haze. Now, the fog and dew of harmattan makes visibility poor. Indeed, many flights are cancelled for that single reason as many pilots will not dare to fly blind; same with vehicular traffic. Poor visibility arising from harmattan smog has been responsible for many road crashes. It is ironic that some drivers who could not see up to 50 meters ahead of them will still be running at top speed because of the false sense of security that they are familiar with the road. What if the vehicle coming in opposite direction is not familiar with the highway as you are? It is therefore important for drivers, especially commercial drivers, to be extra cautious driving through the harmattan fog.  It is advisable that they drive with their headlamp and hazard lights on. This will indicate to other road users that a vehicle is coming their way.
A huge challenge posed by dry season is the numerous fire outbreaks associated with it. Annually, billions of Naira is lost to fire disasters in Nigeria. Wildfires are very common this season and any careless handling of fire this period could spell doom for many farmers. Smokers should beware of how they dispose off their cigarrete butts.  Those who are in the habit of hunting for bush-rats should take caution not to set farmlands on fire in order to smoke out rats and rodents. In our homes, everyone must be thought about safety and security. Many homes now use cooking gas especially in urban centres. This is an inappropriate time for children to be playing with matches in the kitchen or near cooking gas. Anything that is highly inflammable can cause major fire disaster, if not handled with care.  Over the weekend, a house in my neighbourhood was gutted by fire. Luckily only a part of the building was razed as sympathisers quickly moved in to assist in putting off the inferno.
Gas stations, fuel depots and public and private buildings should ensure that they have fire extinguishers handy as a first aid in case of fire outbreak. All electrical appliances not in use should be switched off and removed from the sockets to prevent electrical sparks from power surge. Nigerian Fire Service should be proactive by embarking on massive public awareness campaigns on prevention of fire outbreaks, evacuation tips in case of fire disasters and how to contact fire service in an emergency. The Fire Service at all tiers of government must be well resourced to rise up to the challenge of rapid response to emergency during this season. The media should partner the Fire Service in carrying out this fire safety and security campaign. Many of our radio and television programmes should centre on how to prevent and respond to fire disasters with experts from the Fire Service invited to come and educate the public. National Orientation Agency also owe it a duty to partner with the Nigerian Fire Service to embark on public outreach through road shows across our market places, motor parks and  other  public spaces to educate the masses on dangers and prevention of fire disasters.
It behooves the Federal Road Safety Corps to also carry out public enlightenment programmes at our motor parks to educate the commercial drivers on how to drive when there is harmattan miasma. This should be stepped up to radio and television programmes.
It is noteworthy that dry season is not only associated with high incidences of fire disasters; it also brings about outbreak of certain types of diseases. These include meningitis, catarrh, cough, sunburn, conjunctivitis, stomach ailments, skin diseases like heat rashes and rabies. The dust of the dry season can also trigger asthma and bronchitis attacks. A lot of people and animals will also experience dehydration while the excessive heat can cause sleeplessness.  It is therefore important for parents and guardians to ensure proper clothing for family members and other preventive measures in order to stay healthy this season.
Another thing that dry season triggers is the migration of animals. Because many rivers and streams will dry off likewise the vegetation, animals will foray to wherever they can get green pasture and water for their consumption. It is therefore very likely that many cattle herders will move their herds to where they could get food and water. This may cause spike in the herders and farmers clashes as the famished cattle may not discriminate between the farmers cops and grass in their incursion. Am flagging this issue so that relevant authorities can start mapping out preventive measures that will help to preempt this foretold conflict.
As we hold our parties this season let us be mindful of how we handle fire and combustible materials. Let us take heed of the dangers inherent in this hot, dry season. Let all relevant government agencies such as the FRSC, NOA, Nigeria Meteorological Agency, Nigeria Fire Service, and the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency get prepared, like Boys Scout, to play their role of sensitization, prevention, rapid response and rescue. I must warn that Nigerian public should do away with the dangerous culture of fiddling  with fireworks this Yuletide season. Safety first, safety always!  
Follow me on twitter @jideojong



Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The birth of North East Development Commission

“I expect that the expeditious coming into force of the commission will remedy the long years of under-development suffered by the region. The recovery and redevelopment of the zone devastated by terrorism is expected to last decades.” – Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives.
News broke last week that President Muhammadu Buhari has assented to the North East Development Commission bill passed by the National Assembly. I congratulate the Speaker of House of Representatives and Senator Ali Ndume who are the lead sponsors of the bill in the two chambers of National Assembly. I equally felicitate with all sons and daughters including residents of the beleaguered North East Nigeria on this well-deserved federal intervention. The lamentable development situation in that geo-political zone is well known. Even when there was no Boko Haram insurgency, NE has always lagged behind in human development index.
In May 2015 Senator Abdul-Aziz Murtala Nyako did a concept note calling for the establishment of North East Development Commission. In that paper, the Senator quoted the National Bureau of Statistics 2010 data to buttress his campaign for the establishment of NEDC. According to him, “NBS’ 2010 Statistics show that the North East of Nigeria has the worst socioeconomic conditions in the country. Its average absolute poverty rate put at 69 per cent is above the national average of 60.9 per cent. This characterizes the Zone as having the highest rate of poverty in Nigeria.” The Senator did not stop at that. He quoted other credible sources such as the United Nations Children Fund and West Africa Examination Council. While the national average of Out-of-school children in primary school as at 2011  is 26.3 per cent, that of NE region stood at 44.8 per cent; also while the country’s national average  of  Out-out-school children (Junior Secondary School as at 2011) is 25.7 per cent, that of NE zone was 49.6 per cent. Similarly, as at 2012, while the national average percentage of candidates with five credits and above including Mathematics and English was 30.9 per cent that of NE stood at mere 8.72 per cent.  It is that bad!
Before the 2009 kickoff of hostilities by the insurgent group better known as Boko Haram, NE used to be peaceful with majority of the inhabitants of the six states that made up the region namely Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Taraba  and Bauchi engaging in agriculture. The geo-political zone has also produced many political juggernauts, academic giants and business octopus. Among them are the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa from Bauchi State, former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence, Gen. T.Y Danjuma from Taraba State, ex-Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar from Adamawa State, and incumbent number four citizen and Speaker of House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara from Bauchi State.
The Presidential Initiative for the North East in its 2015 – 2020 Economic Reconstruction and Redevelopment Plan succinctly captured the situation in the NE when it stated thus: “In the past, the North East region was renowned as a bastion of commerce and trade with prominent local enterprises and well established trade routes across the Sahara. It was known for its large agricultural potential, with 80 per cent of the population engaged in farming and contributing significantly to the regional and national GDP…….Over the past two decades however, the region has regressed with low education levels, access to healthcare/ other basic amenities and low GDP per capita. A once promising zone now trails the other regions of Nigeria across all socio economic indicators.”
As the Chief Executive Officer of Forward in Action for Education, Poverty and Malnutrition, a non-governmental organisation headquartered in Bauchi, I bear testimony to the gross underdevelopment of the NE geo-political zone. Our intervention which covers eight thematic areas namely  education, peace and conflict management, gender and disability issues, water and sanitation, nutrition, health, Orphans and Vulnerable Children as well as Democracy and Good Governance has been able to impact positively on the zone with funding support from many international donor agencies. Yet, our intervention, just like several others in the zone is like a drop in the ocean because there is so much to do but the resources are very limited. It is thus heartwarming that North East Development Commission will help scale up and speed up development in the zone.
Press release from the Office of Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly matters – (Senate) Senator Ita Enang says NEDC will among other things: Coordinate projects and programmes within the Master Plan for the rehabilitation, resettlement, reconciliation, reconstruction and sustainable development of the NE  Zone in the fields of infrastructure, human and social services, including health and nutrition, education and water supply, agriculture, wealth creation and employment opportunities, urban and rural development and poverty alleviation. It will also liaise with Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies, States and Development Partners on the implementation of all measures approved in the Master Plan for the stabilisation and development of the NE by the Federal Government. Assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the NE by any Federal Ministry, Department and Agency or company that has an agreement with the Federal Government, and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilised.
Other functions include: To liaise with other stakeholders on the tackling of humanitarian, ecological and environmental problems and degradation that arise from natural causes, insurgency and industrial activities in the NE Zone.  Seek humanitarian, human, material, technical and financial support from Development partners (local or international) and NGOs with a view to developing the NE Zone. Co-ordinate civil-military confidence building and stabilisation measures and also activities that lie within the civil-military interface especially before, during and after military and security operations; and Act as the focal point to coordinate and harmonise all other interventions programmes and initiatives that the FG  is involved with in the NE  Zone.
This is a very wide mandate and I do hope the bureaucrats who will manage this new commission will learn from the pitfall of Niger Delta Development Commission which over the years has been embroiled in all manner of controversies including allegations of corruption, project abandonment and inefficiency largely as a result of political intrigues.
NEDC is coming at the right time as the commission should be able to get its first budgetary allocation from the 2018 budget the president will be presenting soon to the National Assembly.  Now that we have the new commission, will the TY Danjuma led Victim Support Fund and the Presidential Initiative for the North East still be existing alongside the new commission or will they be merged with NEDC? I expect them to be dissolved into the new commission. For NEDC to succeed better, the insurgency in the zone must be halted; otherwise, whatever is done at the epicenter of the crisis may be tantamount to mopping a leaking roof.  
Lastly, I will enjoin Federal Government to prioritise national development rather than continuing to set up regional intervention agencies. Recall that the bid to set up South East Development Commission was botched at House of Representatives earlier in the year and other regions too may soon be justifiably angling for intervention agencies.  

Follow me on twitter @jideojong   

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

FG’s criminal abandonment of government projects

Anyone living in Nigeria needs a shock therapy from time to time, unless perhaps one does not listen to news or follow up with trending stories. Few days back I learnt from the news that there are over 500 abandoned federal government projects in Akwa Ibom State alone! The revelation was made by a Commissioner in the State. How could that be? But then, I remember that this is Nigeria where anything goes. A Sunday, June 28, 2015 report in the Daily Trust says that the Director of Administration of Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria, Mr. David Godswill Okoronkwo stated in an exclusive interview with the newspaper that there are approximately 56, 000 abandoned government projects across the country. He listed them according to geopolitical zones. In his words,  “South-east has 15,000, South-west, 10,000: South-south, 11,000: North-west, 6,000: North-central, 7,000: North-east, 5,000 and Abuja, 2,000.” All these projects were estimated at N12trn.
Earlier on March 4, 2010, former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated 20 man Ibrahim Bunu led Presidential Projects Assessment Committee to among other things take inventory of all federal government projects, assess level of funding, and project status. The committee on June 2, 2011 submitted its report to the ex-president. It made an inventory of 11,886 on-going projects (as at then) with N7.78tn estimated cost out of which FG had paid N2.696tn to contractors leaving a balance of about N5tn. Volume one of the report shows that of the geo-political zones, South-South zone had 1,755 projects amounting to N2.1tn followed by North Central zone with N630bn with 1,844 projects. The last in ranking is North East zone with 466 projects amounting to N98bn.
A July 2, 2017 report in The Guardian on Sunday says that Akwa Ibom Integrity Group published over 300 projects abandoned by the Niger Delta Development Commission in the State. Leader of the Group Chief Okon Jim alleged that the Commission abandoned a total of 121 rural roads, 75 classroom blocks, 69 rural water schemes, 43 mini-electrification projects among others across the state.
While the bulk of the abandoned projects are those initiated by the federal government. State governments and indeed local governments are equally complicit in this ignoble and criminal game of abandoning projects. Just last Sunday, October 22, 2017, The Nation newspaper published a features story where it detailed how seven states namely Abia, Rivers, Niger, Ogun, Plateau, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom states wasted billions on uncompleted projects. The newspaper cited the example of the Monorail Project in Rivers State, which was conceived and began by the former governor of the state, now Minister of Transportation, Chibuike  Rotimi Amaechi, in his first tenure as governor in 2008. It was designed to cover 12 kilometres at the cost of N50bn. Unfortunately; it was abandoned at the point of 2.6 kilometres when the former governor completed his second tenure in office. Sources said the work already done as at then, which was described as Phase 1A, gulped N33.9bn.
Other abandoned projects in the seven states with their estimated contract sum as published by the newspaper include: Minna Airport City awarded at the cost of $600m, Minna five-star Hotel – N19.6bn, Abia International  Hotel – N6bn to complete and would need about $25m to expand,  Jos Main Market — N5bn to rebuild, Bayelsa Hotel —N13.9bn, Ibom Tropicana —N33bn, Ibom Specialist Hospital (completed but shut down)—N41bn.
Is it not very heart rending that a country with high level of infrastructural deficit will initiate these plethora of capital projects and abandon them? Why start a project you do not intend to complete? What’s the value for money in this mindless pastime of our administrators?  Who benefits from this criminal neglect of capital projects?
The Ibrahim Bunu led Presidential Projects Assessment Committee blamed mass failure of public projects over the years to corruption, inadequate budgetary provision, poor project conceptualization and institutional mediocrity. Bunu noted that following the committee’s in-depth assessment of many of the projects, “there is indeed evidence of large scale, widespread institutional mediocrity, deficiency of vision and a lack of direction in project management, which result in poor conceptualization, poor design and faulty execution. Needless to add that this has resulted in avoidable loses of billions of naira to the government.” Considering the fact that this report was submitted to federal government six years ago, why has there been no conscious effort by the immediate past and indeed the present administration to have a paradigm shift on capital projects initiation and implementation?
From the initial statistics earlier reeled out in this piece, it would be noted that non-completion of capital projects has been continuing with reckless abandon even under this present Buhari administration. This is sad! I would have thought that President Buhari would have demonstrated courage to implement the PPAC report knowing that government is a continuum. What I thought this current administration would have done different would have been to categorise the abandoned and uncompleted federal government projects to those it can fund, those that are white elephants that needs to be auctioned off to the public as well as those it wants to complete through public-private-partnership. In fact, government can use the proceed from those auctioned abandoned projects to complete the viable ones it needs resources to complete.

If Buhari had concentrated energy and resources on completing most of the thousands of abandoned projects it would have bridged the infrastructure deficit of this country and would have had a lot more to showcase in terms of projects completion in its two and half years in office. For me this is a low hanging fruit that should be plucked. Of what point is the craze to initiate a new project when you’re not sure of completing it in the lifetime of your administration?  As experience has shown, successors are hardly interested in completing the projects of their predecessors even if they belong to same political party. This is untoward. Many of the abandoned project sites have been taken over by weeds, delinquents and reptiles thereby posing environmental hazards to law abiding members of the public. This unwholesome practice should be discontinued by all tiers and arms of government. If you can’t get the resources to complete a project, simply get the private sector to build, operate and transfer or better still, auction it off.