Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Yellow card to Nigeria’s All Progressives Congress

As progressives, we believe that Nigeria is greater than any individual or the sum of her federating units, therefore the country can only succeed when all of us have equal rights, where no one is above the law, where the culture of impunity is abolished and where there is (a) level playing field”
 – The All Progressives Congress in its party manifesto.
Until 2015, politicians in opposition political parties had been looking for an antidote to the dominance of the Peoples Democratic Party, the party that ruled Nigeria for uninterrupted 16 years. They tried all they could under the umbrella of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties; formed working alliances; criticised and did everything imaginable to no avail. Ultimately, immediately after the 2011 general elections some of the opposition political party chieftains decided to moot the idea of a merger. This merger talk was long and tortuous with every attempt made by the PDP to frustrate the success. However, through doggedness and unflinching determination, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, Action Congress of Nigeria, Congress for Progressive Change and a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance approached the Independent National Electoral Commission with a Memorandum of Understanding to dissolve into a new party to be known as All Progressives Congress. On July 31, 2013, INEC formally registered the APC and pronto, the party became a new bride that many politicians wanted to  court.
A month after its registration, precisely on August 31, 2013, seven PDP governors and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, staged a walk out of the special convention of the party at the Eagle Square in Abuja and formed what they called the New PDP. On November 26, 2013, five of the seven PDP governors who formed the New PDP defected to the APC alongside Atiku. By the time the 2015 general elections held in March/April, it was a depleted PDP that went into the electoral battle as many of its chieftains had defected to the APC while many of its national and state lawmakers had also cross-carpeted into the APC. In fact, the then Speaker of House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, alongside many of the House members left the ruling PDP to join the then opposition APC and by the time of the 2015 elections, the APC lawmakers outnumbered those of the PDP.
The excuse given by many of the defectors to the APC was that the PDP lacked internal democracy, was corrupt, imposed candidate and many more. Well, by the time election dust settled, the APC not only clinched the Presidency, it also won 20 out of the 29 governorship seats contested in 2015. The party also won majority seats in the Senate, House of Representatives, and state Houses of Assembly. Out of the five off cycle elections held thus far by INEC after the 2015 elections, the APC has won three, viz, Edo, Ondo, Kogi, the PDP won in Bayelsa while APGA won in Anambra. The APC has also won many of the local government council elections conducted by the State Independent Electoral Commissions.
While the APC might have won many electoral battles since its establishment five years ago, the party has not fared well in terms of governance. The Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led National Executive Council members were elected at the convention of the party held in Abuja on June 13, 2014. Internally, many of the organs of the party have not been meeting as and when due. The party does not also have a robust interface with its elected representatives in government.  The first major attempt by the party to influence the emergence of the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives in June 2015 was thwarted when members of the red and green chambers decided not to vote for the preferred candidates of the party and rather made independent choices of the current leadership. It is being widely speculated that Senate President, Bukola Saraki was dragged before the Code of Conduct Bureau for alleged false asset declaration because he went against the party’s position not to contest the Senate Presidency.
The APC in its manifesto says it is committed to eight cardinal points namely: War against Corruption; Food Security; Accelerated Power Supply; Integrated Transport Network; Free Education; Devolution of Power; Accelerated Economic Growth and Affordable Health Care. On all these promises, which one can the APC claim to have delivered? While it may be true that many arrests have been made of corrupt government officials, effective prosecution has remained a challenge. The acting chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has not been confirmed by the Senate due to allegations of abuse of office by another agency of the Federal Government, the Department of State Services. Under this party, there have been some scandals ranging from the Mainagate, DSS-EFCC face-off, ex-SGF Babachair Lawal and ex-DG NIA’s corruption scandal as well as the Kachikwu-Baru NNPC contract scandal. On all of these, it has been a loud silence from the APC leadership.
Has the APC been able to guarantee food security? What with the herdsmen versus farmers protracted conflicts which have led to deaths of thousands of people and destruction of property worth billions of naira. What about the increase in commodity prices and non-payment of workers’ salaries by many APC governors? What is the party’s position on these? Do we now have accelerated power supply, integrated transport network or free education? Where was the APC when its members in the National Assembly voted against devolution of powers during the ongoing constitution amendment? Can we genuinely say there is accelerated economic growth with over four million job loss recorded in 2017 alone? Can we be talking of economic growth with the protracted fuel crisis?  Is health care now affordable when most government hospitals are more under lock and key as a result of industrial actions by different unions in the health sector and while over 70 per cent of Nigerians are not under health insurance?
Does the APC have a Research and Development Department in its secretariat? Does the party carry out Monitoring and Evaluation of its elected members in government? Does the party have party liaison officers at the Presidential Villa, national and state Houses of Assembly as well as governors offices in the states? Will the party be inclined to organise town hall meetings with the populace to feel their pulse about what they think about their party in power? Will the party be interested in contracting an opinion polling agency to give it an independent view of the thinking of the people on the party’s performance?

As with the game of football, a yellow card is a warning preceding red card which leads to being sent off the field as well as serving suspension from playing for a number of games, usually two. The APC can still use 2018 to remedy its lacklustre performance and waning influence. My unsolicited advice to the party is that if it does not plan to rig to win in 2019, it needs to buckle down and start to impress it on its elected members in government to deliver on the party’s manifesto. Regular meetings, briefings, liaisons, lobbying and punishment of erring party members are needed if the APC does not intend to go down in history as a party of one-term in government.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The tasks before Liberian president-elect, George Weah

“Person looking to cheat the Liberian people through the menace of corruption will have no place in my administration. We will build on the institutional gains under Madam Sirleaf to improve the lives of our people. We will build a new institution where necessary to protect rights and engender inclusion among all our people” – President-elect of Liberia, George Weah in his victory speech on December 30, 2017.
Heartwarming news came from Liberia last Thursday, December 28, 2017 as the football legend; George Oppong Weah was declared president-elect of Liberia after a December 26 run-off presidential election with outgoing Vice President and candidate of the Unity Party, His Excellency Joseph Boakai. Weah, like he did in 2005 when he first ran for the presidency of Liberia, led the first round of election held on October 10, 2017 but failed to poll the 50+1 percentage votes needed to be declared winner at first ballot. After a seven weeks delay and eventual clearance from Liberia Supreme Court, the National Elections Commission of Liberia held the run-off.
Like the outgoing president of Liberia, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made history as the first elected female African president in 2005, George Weah who had won many laurels in football including the Ballon D’or, European Footballer of the Year and is a three time African Footballer of the Year has made history as the first professional footballer to become president of a country. He remains the only African footballer to be crowned World Footballer of the Year. What a rare feat!
Weah is not the only sportsperson to dabble into the murky water of politics and make success of it. He is now in company of some great sportsmen and women who have made their mark in politics and governance. According to British Broadcasting Corporation, “Sebastian Coe went from Olympic champion to the House of Lords, via the Commons, and is now head of athletics' world governing body the IAAF. One of Britain's greatest Paralympic athletes, Tanni Grey-Thompson won 11 gold, four silver and a bronze medal at five Paralympic Games. In 2005, she became a Dame and in March 2010 was made a life peer and sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Grey-Thompson.”
“Cricketer Imran Khan captained Pakistan to victory at the 1992 World Cup, but he has spent the past 20 years in politics. He formed the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in 1996 and has been leader of the opposition since 2013. Chess legend Garry Kasparov stood for the Russian presidency in 2007 and is an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin. He is chairman of the Human Rights Foundation. As a boxer, Manny Pacquiao won world titles at five weights over a 12-year career, with his pay-per-view fights earning a reported $1.2bn (£893m). But he is now a senator in the Philippines. Vitali Klitschko, the three-time world heavyweight champion boxer is mayor of Kiev in his native Ukraine.”
Weah, a man from humble beginning is from Clara Town, a rubbish-strewn slum where 75,000 residents once shared 11 public toilets. He was once described by African icon, Nelson Mandela as the “Pride of Africa”. According to The Sun of United Kingdom in its December 29, 2017 edition, in 2005 when he first ran for the Liberian presidency, “critics mocked him for lacking a formal education, especially compared to his Harvard-taught rival Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - and dubbed him "babe in the woods" for his lack of political experience.” Today, his mockers are celebrating him as he not only went back to school and studied for his school certificate, first and second degrees; in 2014 he was elected senator into the Liberian parliament.  This was after another failed bid to become vice president to Ambassador Winston Taubman in 2011.  As William Shakespeare rightly observed in his epic novel “Julius Caesar”, “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff”
The tasks before the president elect of Liberia are very Herculean and he knows it. The footballer turned politician struck the right cord during his victory speech last week when he said inter alia that: “To our Diaspora Liberians, we say come home. This is a new dispensation. We need your skills, your ideas, your expertise and talents so that together we will build our common patrimony. To our development partners, we say a big thank you for the support you have provided over the last 12 years. As we embark upon this transition, we call for renewal and strengthening of this partnership. We know that aid flows have declined in the last few years. In our view, this decline is not good for the current transition – at least in the short term. While we work to grow the Liberian economy and expand our revenue base, medium-term aid would be needed to support projects that would be critical to our long-term growth. To investors, we say Liberia is open and ready for business. Over the long term, private investment will be our key strategy to delivering transformation. We will work to relax constraints to private investment; strengthen the business, legal and regulatory environment, and protect business profits.”
Well said president-elect! However, will you walk the talk? Will there be no excuses on why you cannot deliver on your electoral promises? You very well know of the high expectations of your teeming supporters many of whom are youths and in dire need of gainful employment. You’re very aware of the deplorable state of public infrastructure in your country. You know of all the depressing development indices before you took the gauntlet to better the lot of your suffering compatriots. I beg of you, do all within your power to deliver on your party manifesto and your campaign promises.
Are there things “Big Brother Nigeria” can learn from the just concluded presidential election in Liberia? Yes! Both the October 10 and December 26 elections were very peaceful before, during and after the polls. There was thus a smooth transition of power from one political party, Unity Party to another political party Coalition for Democratic Change after the former’s two term in power. Liberia has produced the first female African president and with the just concluded presidential election produced a female Vice President in the person of Senator (Mrs.) Jewel Howard-Taylor. Liberia also has provision for independent candidates. Election in Liberia also takes place from 8am – 6pm while in Nigeria it is from 8am – 2pm. Liberia also just voted for generational change. George Weah, 51 is taking over from Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who turned 79 on October 26, 2017 while Jewel Howard Taylor, 55 is taking over as vice president from Joseph Boakai, 73.  Voter turnout in Liberia was also very impressive. In the October polls the turnout was 75.2 per cent while in the December 26 run-off the voter turnout was 55.8 per cent. In Nigeria, our turnout has perpetually been below average.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A recall of Nigeria’s political economy issues in 2017

“It has been a tough year for Nigeria and I hope next year will be a much more prosperous one,” - President Muhammadu Buhari on December 25, 2017
Compliment of the season! It’s barely four days to the end of the year and what a year it has been! I recently joined the Arise TV as an in-house analyst and on Christmas day we had a one hour documentary on the issues that defined the outgoing year. There were so many things tabled for discussion but time was so insufficient that many of them had to be shelved for discussion on another day. For me seven key issues defined Nigeria in 2017. They are the 154 days of medical tourism by the president, the restructuring debate, the budget imbroglio, the herders versus farmers faceoff, the economic recovery and growth plan, the lingering fuel scarcity, the party politics and preparation for 2019 General Elections.  All these can be subsumed under politics or economy.
In the outgoing year, President Muhammadu Buhari was out of the country on medical tourism for a cumulative 154 days during which he did the needful by sending a letter intimating the National Assembly of his travel and empowering his Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President. This was very much unlike the scenario that played out under the administration of ex-President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who failed to either transmit a letter to NASS or empower his Vice, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to act in his absence. This oversight led to the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity by the federal lawmaker which effectively resolved the issue before there was a constitutional amendment to make it mandatory for president or governors to hand over to their deputies when on leave.
The absence of the president generated a lot of furore with many arguing that as acting president, the Vice-President does not have unfettered executive powers. It is however interesting to note that Osinbajo effectively and judiciously utilised presidential powers while his principal was away attending to his failing health. This ensured that there was no vacuum in governance. The Acting President did a lot including embarking on conflict mediation missions around the country – in Niger Delta, in Southern Kaduna – and hosting dialogue sessions with political, religious and traditional rulers. He initiated and signed four executive orders targeted at ease of doing business including the launch of the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme aimed at increasing tax awareness and compliance, as well as grant tax payers a time-limited opportunity to regularise their tax status without penalty. The Acting President signed the 2017 appropriation bill into law and inaugurated two newly appointed ministers.
While the opposition party and a section of the civil society made heavy weather out of the president’s absence, with many claiming he’s on life support and is brain-damaged, some other flew the kite that the president has indeed died. All said, the President on August 19 made a triumphant return to the country and had effectively taken charge of governance of the country and even making many foreign trips.
In the outgoing year, the budget remains a knotty issue. The country is still bogged down with late presentation and passage of the appropriation bill. The financial estimate is also widely reported to be heavily padded by both the executive and the legislative arm of government. Indeed, a whistleblower, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin published many sordid details about the unwholesome practice by his colleagues in the parliament, especially the leadership of the national assembly. After some media frenzy the allegations quietly died. The 2017 budget was signed mid-year on June 12, 2017 and the capital vote release has been haphazard and uninspiring. In the first five months of the year, only N450bn was released by the Ministry of Finance with additional N750bn probably released last week. This has caused a lot of economic dislocation and negatively affected delivery on completion of major infrastructural projects. Indeed, much against the stipulation of Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper which should guide the budget proposal were  submitted late like the budget itself. The 2018 budget was submitted in November and news filtering in from BudgIT, a civil society watchdog on budget matters shows that the budget like the ones before it is heavily padded with bogus and   bloated estimates. The attempt to go back to January – December budget cycle has also been thwarted.
In 2017, the National Assembly worked assiduously to complete work on constitutional review exercise. The two chambers in July passed constitutional amendment bills. Unfortunately, they rejected the bill on devolution of powers while the 36 state houses of assembly are yet to vote on consequential amendments to finalise the exercise. Just last week, the Speakers of the SHA met with the Nigerian Governors who advised them to go and hold widespread consultations including public hearings before they will vote on the constitutional amendment bills transmitted to them by NASS. That has effectively stalled the amendment process.  The non-passage of the devolution of powers bill coupled with the push for referendum on self-determination by the Nnamdi Kanu led Indigenous People of Biafra and the launch of Operation Python dance by the military in the South-East culminated in the strident call for political and economic restructuring of the country.  The discussion on restructuring led to heated debate when some Arewa youth groups gave three months quit notice to Igbos living in 19 Northern States of Nigeria to leave by October 1. The ruling All Progressives Congress which had pledged devolution of powers in its electoral manifesto in response to the call for restructuring set up a Mallam Nasir El-Rufai committee to look into what should be the  party position on the issue.
On April 5, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari launched his economic blueprint which is tagged “Economic Recovery and Growth Plan”. ERGP seeks to achieve a seven per cent economic growth by the year 2020. The plan equally promised diversification of the economy, ease of doing business, increase oil production, reduction of inflation, effective collaboration between the public and private sector, as well as between the federal and the state governments. It also hopes to leverage on science, technology and innovation and building of a knowledge-based economy.  To an extent, this plan is working as its implementation has led to the country exiting economic recession with bold attempts at diversification of the economy (Nigeria started exporting yam in 2017 and improved local production of rice has led to significant reduction in the importation of the staple food).  Indeed, in October this year, World Bank reported that Nigeria had moved up by 24 points in the ‘Ease of Doing Business Index’  from 169th position on the 2017 ranking and also 170th position on the 2016 ranking to 145 in the World Bank’s 2018 report. This is heartwarming!
Unfortunately, the herders versus farmers’ faceoff took a turn for the worst in the outgoing year with some state governments such as Benue, Taraba and Ekiti passing anti-open grazing laws. The menace got to Olympian heights in Southern Kaduna, Adamawa and Benue with hundreds of lives lost and property worth millions of Naira destroyed while thousands became internally displaced. . Adequate federal government response to this threat to food security is still being awaited.
On March 9, 2017, two years ahead of the next general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission announced the dates for the 2019 general elections. The commission said the next presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 16, 2019 while governorship and state assembly polls will take place on March 2, 2019. The commission, apart from holding a credible and successful governorship election in Anambra on November 18, 2017 also embarked on nationwide Continuous Voters Registration and distribution of Permanent Voters Card exercise while registering a cumulative 26 new political parties bringing the total to 67 registered parties in Nigeria. The People’s Democratic Party was also largely able to resolve its protracted leadership crisis with the holding of an elective convention in Abuja on December 9, 2017. There have also been a number of defections and cross-carpeting by political heavyweights across the country with the most significant one being the recent dumping of the ruling APC for PDP by ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
The year is ending on a gloomy note for many Nigerians due to the recent resurgence of the hydra-headed monster known as fuel scarcity. Indeed, it was a bleak Christmas for most Christians last Monday as many had to observe a self-imposed curfew due to their inability to source fuel to power their automobiles and power generators. This has not only impacted negatively on the ease of doing business but also on the social lives of the citizenry. The question on the lips of most Nigerians is, when shall we overcome this perennial challenge?
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Sunday, December 24, 2017

2018 Budget: Another unfolding messy proposal

A public affairs analyst, Jide Ojo, also told Sunday Sun that the yearly quagmire in the budgetary process occurs due to lack of political will by the government to do things right.
  He said: “For me, the problem is lack of political will to do the right thing. We cannot say that we don’t have competent hands in a country of 180 million people that can deliver a sound, foolproof, and credible budgetary process. But it’s like there is too much politicking in that process because of inherent corruption. A lot of people want to take maximum advantage of that exercise to enrich themselves, communities and cronies. I mean in all good conscience, how could  you say that a country like Nigeria with experts in all spheres of human endeavour cannot assemble a committee of experts that will plug and deal with all the issues we perennially have with our budgetary process?  We have been told that the 2018 budget is allegedly padded. The bottom line is that those estimations are from the executive. How did they come about them? Why is it that items are perennially being repeated in the budget when they are not consumables? Why do you have very bogus figures budgeted annually for the same things year in year in year out? And by the time it gets to the legislators, they will also do their own padding with the zonal intervention projects and all that. And where does that leave the masses?” he queried.
  Ojo said the trend causes a dislocation in the economy that leaves the masses worse off despite huge capital votes in the budget every year. “This has brought about a dislocation in the economy. We have so many uncompleted projects across the country. We have over 11,000 uncompleted projects in this country as we speak. The 11,000 I’m talking about were as at 2011/2012; I’m not talking about the 2017 data. But the issue is that when capital releases come late or there is no sufficient cash backing for projects, eventually it leads to abandonment.  And once you abandon projects you are tying down your capital because the uncompleted project cannot yield any productivity; it remains unproductive until it is completed and put to good use. Many of them have turned out to be white elephant projects. So, invariably there is a lot of socio-economic dislocation arising from flawed budgetary process,” Ojo said.
  He added: “Now, Nigeria is just exiting recession. So, we are not far from suffering a relapse and sliding back into recession with the kind of economic dislocation we currently have on our hands. We just heard that they have released  additional  N750 billion to the initial N450bn  for implementation of capital projects in 2017 budget. At what time of the year? The bottom line is that everything will now be done in a rush. The attempt to go back to the January to December budget cycle is a mirage. The NASS has come out to say that there is nothing they can do to make the budget ready in January. So, we are now looking at the vicious cycle of having the budget passed may be by April or May 2018,” he added.
  To overcome the challenge, he called for an overhaul of the entire budgetary process that must be rooted in total adherence to the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007. “We need to overhaul the entire budgetary process from start to finish. There has to be total obedience to the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007. The Act provides that by August/September, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework /Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP) should be sent to the NASS and approved. After that, the president will present the budget latest by October so that the legislators will have at least three months to work on it and then pass it. I believe that if we start obeying the Fiscal Responsibility Act, we will get it right. This year, the MTEF/FSP was not sent to the NASS until early November and as at the time the president presented the 2018 budget, the NASS was yet to finalise legislative duties on the MTEF/FSP. I don’t know whether they have even passed it as we speak. Also, under remittances by revenue generating MDAs should be checked and there should be stiff penalties for defaulters, because those are monies outside the Federation Account that cannot be appropriated for.
  “All of these are causing so much overlap and confusion within the system. So, we need to streamline things; we need to bring in the needed expertise from wherever in the world to get things right and they don’t have to be foreigners. We have Nigerians in the Diaspora that can be invited to come and help us shape up the budgetary process if need be. We say we are doing zero budgetary process and for the third year running, there is still so much confusion associated with it. So, we need to streamline things. We need to make scapegoats of those who are involved in budget padding. We need the political will by the president and then the NASS to do the needful by putting Nigeria’s interest first and not their own self-serving interest. That’s the only way they can help this country,” Ojo noted.
  The budgetary process has been a subject of controversy since the Buhari administration came into life. Buhari had signed the first budget of his administration on May 6, 2016 after months of bickering between the executive and the legislature. Former Chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives, Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin, later raised allegations of padding against the leadership of the House, leading to his suspension for a period of 180 legislative sitting days in September 2016. The story was not too different in 2017 as the Presidency had accused the NASS of introducing more than 400 ‘strange projects’ into the budget while slashing allocations to key federal agencies and projects before belatedly passing it in May. The dissension over the 2018 budget is just beginning to unfold. Although the end result cannot be foretold, Nigerians certainly hope the issue would be resolved in the best interests of the country.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What Nigerians with disabilities want

"People with disabilities are also people with extraordinary talent.  Yet they are too often forgotten.  When people with disabilities are denied opportunities, they are more likely to fall into poverty -- and people living in conditions of poverty are more likely to develop disabilities.  As long as societies exclude those with disabilities, they will not reach their full potential and the poor in particular will be denied opportunities that they deserve." - Paul Wolfowitz, Former World Bank President.
According to United Nations Covenant on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”  From time immemorial, PwDs form the bulk of Nigeria’s community of beggars. Perhaps because many of them are destitute – poor, feeble, dependent and never-do-well – they rely heavily on handouts from the rest of the society.
In recent years however, we now have many PwDs who are educated, enlightened, cosmopolitan and high net worth individuals.   From the rank of these elite PwDs came the strident voice for change. There are now many Disability Person Organisations. Some of these DPOs are managed by able-bodied while many others are run by PwDs themselves. Examples of these are the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, Cedar Seed Foundation, Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria, Centre for Disability Rights and Development, Voice of Disability Initiative, Deaf Resource Centre, Child Care Trust, National Association of the Blind, Hayat Foundation, Albino Foundation and the umbrella body, Joint National Associations of Persons with Disabilities.  
Scholars said that Disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty due to limited access to education, employment, medical care, nutritious food, and accessible environment. Other causes of disability are trauma, genetics, disorder, malnutrition, environmental hazards, natural disasters, traffic and industrial accident, civil conflict and war. According to World Bank and  World Health Organisation report 2011, there are about one billion persons with disabilities on the face of the earth; 80 per cent living in developing countries.  It is estimated that only 5 per cent of adults with disabilities are literate while more than 98 percent of Children with Disabilities have no access to preparatory and elementary education. Depending on the context, living conditions and the definition of disability used in a given country, 15 to 20 per cent of the population has disability issues. In Nigeria, there are an estimated 25m PwDs. Perhaps due to the eight yearlong acts of insurgency in the zone, North East hosts the highest proportion of persons with disabilities and South West the lowest proportion.
There have been numerous efforts on the part of the Nigerian government to ameliorate the sufferings of PwDs. According to Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Nigeria signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol on May 28, 2007 and October 27, 2008 respectively. The Convention seeks among other things: “To promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”  On July 14, 2010, Nigeria signed the International Labour Organisation  Convention on the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of (Disabled) No. 159 of 1983. This Convention makes provision for employment of persons with disabilities without discrimination.
December 3, 2017, marks the silver jubilee of the observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The annual observance of the IDPD was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3 in 1992. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness  on the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. In the course of celebrating this 25th edition, I was privileged to attend two dialogue sessions by DPOs in Abuja. The first was the media dialogue on Nigeria Disability Bill organised by the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities on December 5. The second was the National Dialogue on Disability Rights and Inclusive Development in Nigeria” organised by Cedar Seed Foundation in partnership with JONAPWD, Centre for Democracy and Development and CCD last Monday, December 18. While the first event was primarily meant to educate media practitioners on the imperative and importance of the Nigeria Disability Bill, the second event has a rainbow coalition of participants from both the government and non-government sector.
At the second event were eminent personalities including the wife of the Governor of Kogi State, Barrister Amina Oyiza Yahaya Bello whose Hayat Foundation is working with the State House of Assembly to pass Disability Bill come 2018. There was also Dr. Cally Cussons who has transformed himself from a Very Ordinary Disabled Person to a Very Very Important Personality working as  a consultant to multinational organisations like Shell, Governments, International Development Agencies like UNIDO, MDAs, Private Companies, Groups and Individuals.
What does the Nigerian community of PwDs want? According to one of them, Lois Auta  who  is also the Executive Director of Cedar Seed Foundation, , “It is important to note that majority of persons living with disabilities lack access to information, and largely unaware of their rights. The concomitant effect is that their rights are abused on a daily basis by the governments, private sector and other citizens, with no remedies. They also lack access to public infrastructures, public policies, employment, education, transport systems, ICT infrastructure, housing, health care delivery and the electoral system largely excluded the PwDs.  Conversely, the Nigerian society continues to view disabilities issue from a social welfare perspective, merely confining PwDs to individuals seeking for just basic needs of life. But truth be told, we are tired of the charity model. We want the social model where we can enjoy our full rights as citizens through inclusive policy process.  We are simply asking for all barriers hindering us from living a productive life to be removed. As individuals, we have all our stories of triumphs and defeats as PwDs. We are living witnesses to how social, economic and political barriers have impacts on our abilities to harness our potentials in life.”

It is saddening that while eight states including Lagos, Ekiti and Plateau have all passed the Disability law, Nigerian presidents have twice refused to assent the Nigerian Disability bill as passed by the National Assembly while ongoing effort since 2015 seems to have been stalled after the harmonisation committee of the National Assembly adopted the Senate version on December 6, 2016. The bill has been adjudged missing and should urgently be found and sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent. That is the least expected of All Progressives Congress government of change. 

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!