Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Kenya 2017 election: Lessons for Nigeria

On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, Kenya held its sixth general elections since return to multi-party democracy in 1991. Declaring the result of the presidential election last Friday in its Nairobi headquarters, the chairman of the country’s electoral management body known as Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission of Kenya, Barrister Wafula W. Chebukati said the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee Party had a total of 8,215,963 votes representing 54.2 per cent to defeat his arch-rival Raila Odinga of National Super Alliance/ODM   who polled 6,815,971 votes representing 44.9 per cent.  Total voters turnout was 79.4 per cent. The controversies surrounding the elections are still unfolding with the claim by Odinga that the IEBC rigged the election in support of the incumbent, President Kenyatta. Some lives have reportedly been lost to post-election conflict with international community appealing for calm and calling for caution.
I have been privileged to discuss the recent political events in Kenya on different media platforms in the last one week or so. I have featured on Global Update and news analysis on three different Nigerian Television Authority stations, African Independent Television and Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria. The more I read about the elections in the East African country, the more I understand certain similarities and marked differences between Nigeria and Kenya. 
Like Nigeria, Kenya is a multi-ethnic, plural society. Another similarity with Nigeria is that it is a British colonised territory. It gained independence from Britain in 1963 while we got ours three years earlier. Kenya was a one party state from 1982 to 1991 but has since become a multi-party state. The country is not new to electoral conflict. Since 1992, all elections held in Kenya had led to bloodletting with the exception of those conducted in 2002 and 2013. In fact, the worst electoral violence took place in Kenya in 2007 when an estimated 1,300 lives were lost and over 600,000 persons internally displaced. In the lead up to the 2017 general election, on July 27, Christopher Msando, the head of ICT Unit of IEBC of Kenya was tortured and murdered by unknown assailants.  In Nigeria, electoral violence is a common phenomenon with several hundreds of lives lost.  It would be recalled that in 2011, close to a thousand lives were lost to pre and post-election crisis. 
Kenya, like Nigeria has bicameral legislature at the centre and unicameral legislature at the state / county level. Both countries have also been adapting electoral technology to enhance credibility of their elections. In Kenya, technology is deployed in the areas of voter identification, candidate registration, result transmission and presentation as well as biometric voter registration.
Similar to what obtains in Nigeria, Kenya is plagued by endemic corruption, high unemployment and poverty rate. According to Washington Post of Friday, August 11, 2017, “One of the reasons, analysts say that Kenya’s elections are so hotly contested is that the central government has been an enormously profitable political machine, awarding contracts across a large patronage network. A report from Kenya’s auditor-general last year said that about $200 million meant for the National Youth Service had been paid to fraudulent companies, including some with connections to politicians. The United States earlier this year suspended $21 million in health funding due to corruption allegations.”  According to the 2016 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Kenya is ranked 145 out of a total of 176 nations profiled while Nigeria is ranked 136. In sub-Saharan Africa, while Kenya is ranked 26, Nigeria is ranked 28. Unemployment rate in Kenya is officially put at 22.2 per cent.
Politically, out of the four past presidents of Kenya, three of them had been from Kikuyu tribe while one is Kalanjin. No Luo has ever been president in the over 50 years of the country’s nationhood. This is similar to the situation in Nigeria where out of the three major ethnic groups the Igbos are yet to be president of Nigeria. This has continually generated political tensions and is one of the bases for the strident call for restructuring of Nigeria at present.
As there are several similarities between Nigeria’s and Kenya’s political systems, so are there legion of differences.  For instance, the Kenyan Constitution requires there to be a general election on the second Tuesday in August in every fifth year. That is why the elections were held last Tuesday. In Nigeria, we not only have our general election every four years, there is latitude of five months within which our election management body i.e. Independent National Electoral Commission could fix election.  The constitution says elections into the office of the president, governors, National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) and State Houses of Assembly are to be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days to the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent. 
In Kenya, unlike Nigeria, all elections are held in one day. Thus, on the eight of this month, six separate elections - president, national assembly, female representatives, governors, senate and county assemblies – were held simultaneously. No wonder there was huge voter turnout. In Kenya, there is provision for independent candidacy. Indeed, out of the eight presidential candidates that participated in the country’s 2017 election, three of them ran as independents.  In Nigeria, for executive positions such as President, Governor and Chairman of Local Government and Area Council, a candidate has to score 25 percent of votes cast in  two-third of his or her constituency as well as majority of valid votes cast while for legislative positions, a winner emerge by simple majority. However, in Kenya, a presidential candidate need 50 per cent plus one vote as well as 25 per cent of votes cast in 24 out of the 47 counties for first-round victory. Otherwise, there will be a run-off.
In Kenya, unlike Nigeria, there is affirmative action for the marginalised groups.  Out of the 349 Members of Parliament, 290 of them are directly elected while 47 seats are reserved for women to be contested for while six Youths and six Persons with Disabilities are nominated into the parliament. In the country’s 67 member Senate, 47 of them are directly elected while 20 are nominated. Out of the 20 nominees, 16 are women, two are Youths and two are PwD.  History was made last week during the country’s general election. Three Kenyan women were elected governors after beating some of the seasoned male politicians. Joyce Laboso, Anne Waiguru and Charity Ngilu made political history by becoming the first women to be elected as governors in Kenya. Previously, all 47 counties were governed by males.
IEBC of Kenya has chairman and vice chairman. While the chairman, Mr. Wafula W. Chebukati is a man, the vice, Ms. Consolata Nkatha Bucha Maina is a lady. This is called twining in political circles. Out of the eight members of the Commission, three of them are women. Also, Kipng’etich Kones, the son of a late Cabinet Minister Kipkalya Kones, who ran in the Kenyan parliamentary election lost to his mother, Beatrice Kones.  Unlike Nigeria that has 36 states, Kenya has 47 counties which is their equivalent of our state.
While Nigeria’s polling hours is between 8am – 3pm, in Kenya, it is between 6am – 5pm.  No sitting president has ever lost an election in the East African country of 48 million people. This jinx has been broken in Nigeria in 2015. In Kenya, prisoners who are not on death row or serving life sentence are allowed to vote in the presidential election. There is also provision for out-of-country or diaspora voting. In the August 8 general election, Kenyans in five African countries viz. South Africa, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda were registered to vote and approximately 7,000 of them voted in the presidential election. There is also public funding for political parties in the country. In August 2010, Kenya’s new constitution designed to limit the powers of the president and devolve power to the regions was approved in referendum.

Where lies the political lessons for Nigeria? In the noble provisions highlighted above which guarantee inclusive electoral process.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Stemming soaring cases of mental illness in Nigeria

So many strange things are happening in Nigeria today that give goose pimples. Oftentimes, I ask myself if those who indulge in many heinous crimes reported in the country are normal. There is tendency for many people to think that only those in hospitals or invalids are sick. Indeed, there are millions of sick people who appear normal. They go to school, work and seem to be okay until when something snap in them and they commit a crime that many thought they are incapable of perpetrating. Then their true health status is revealed. Indeed, many Nigerians are mentally sick.
According to information gathered from the website of MedicineNet, ”Mental illness is any disease or condition that influences the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and/or relates to others and to his or her surroundings. Although the symptoms of mental illness can range from mild to severe and are different depending on the type of mental illness, a person with an untreated mental illness often is unable to cope with life's daily routines and demands.” Medical researchers have revealed that mental illnesses are caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
The serenity of the  town of  Ozubulu in  Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State was shattered last Sunday when a lone gunman marched into St. Philip Catholic Church in the town while the early morning mass was on. By the time the merchant of death fled the premises, he had  killed 11 worshipers and injured 18 others. Can the murderer be said to be mentally fit? Those who rape minors, I mean pedophiles, can they be said to be mentally stable? Can the fathers who are raping their daughters be said to be in full control of their senses? What about the parents that the Nigerian Army claimed are donating their daughters to insurgents as suicide bombers, are they okay?
So many things are happening all around us today that buttress the fact that we live in odd world full of lunatics in decent attires. There have been many reported cases of parents selling off their children because of hunger, people feigning their own kidnap, husbands using their wives for money rituals, servants organising kidnapping and robbery of their bosses among several other crimes.
One of the several mental disorders is depression. According to American Psychiatrist Association, depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. It causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home. Last Saturday, Federal Medical Centre Lokoja, Kogi State held its 2017 Annual General Meeting and the Scientific Conference Week of the Nigerian Medical Association of the state chapter. The theme of the conference was: “Economic Recession and The Rise of Depression”. At the event, a Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr.  Adeyemi Egbeola, decried the increasing rate of recession-associated clinical depression in Nigeria.
According to him, a significant association has been demonstrated between macroeconomic indicators in recession and clinical depression as a mental illness. He was quoted as saying that: “For every suicide committed, there is an average of 20 attempts (ratio 1:20), due to unemployment, self-rated mental health, debts, financial difficulties and other common mental health issues. Depressive disorder account for 80 per cent suicide and hopelessness is the most predictive indicator of suicide, a depressive thought pattern.
The psychiatrist asserted that “In 2015 from January to November, record show that 25, 267 patients were treated on mental health at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba Lagos, while the number increased to 53,287 in 2016 within the same period”. That is more than 100 per cent increase. Note that these are those who came to hospitals to receive treatment. There are millions of other people suffering from mental illness that are living in denial or lack family care to support their treatment. There are several unaccounted for who are patients at many herbal homes and faith clinics with the hope of getting cured there of their mental problems.
Am sure that by next year when statistics from all our Neuro-psychiatrist hospitals would be out, the number of patients may have quadruple from the current statistics. Why? Starting from July 1, 2017, the Federal Road Safety Commission, worried by the astronomic rate of vehicle accidents in the country, has commenced referral of certain categories of traffic offenders for  psychological evaluation. According to a statement issued on behalf of FRSC Corps Marshal, Dr.  Boboye Oyeyemi by Bisi Kazeem, the FRSC Corps Public Education Officer, the test would focus on four areas of violations including use of phone while driving, traffic light and route violations as well as dangerous driving.  The move, according to him, was necessitated by continued violations in the identified four areas despite efforts by the corps to change the behaviour of motorists through education and enforcement. Truth be told, many Nigerian motorists have become incorrigible on these traffic offences. 
The step by FRSC is therefore in the right direction. However, FRSC should also encourage relevant authorities to make sure that there are properly installed road signs. Many a time, motorists are not notified about roads that are ‘one way’. Many traffic lights are also malfunctioning and in need of repairs.
The phenomenal increase in the number of people with mental illness should worry our government at all levels. This economic recession is biting hard on Nigerian masses and they need succor. There is need to reduce the high level of unemployment and poverty ravaging the land. Many people are today taking solace in crimes and criminality due to inability to meet basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Many have become hypertensive and suffered stroke due to these aforementioned predisposing factors. There are those who have committed suicide due to too much economic pressure from their families.

Am also in agreement with the suggestions of Dr. Egbeola that government should also provide cheap, but effective medications while individuals are enjoined to live  healthy lifestyle, take adequate sleep, exercise, eat nourishing balanced diet, avoid smoking and consume alcohol moderately. Above all, there is need for family and friends to help those perceived to have mental illness by taking them to hospital for treatment while not stigmatising them. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

NASS potential failed constitution amendment bid

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
                                                                                                   – George Santayana
The most trendy news last week, aside the visit of some governors to our ailing president in London, was the fourth amendment of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria by the National Assembly. On Wednesday, July 26, Nigeria’s Senate amended a total of 28 items among the 32 listed for alteration while a day after the House of Representatives amended 21 out of 30 clauses voted on. Since that epochal event took place, I have been privileged to discuss it on some media platforms among them are the Nigerian Television Authority and Silverbird Television.
It has been mixed reactions to the amendment. While some commends the federal lawmakers, many others have condemned them.  Those in the latter category did so on the basis that the two chambers failed to agree to pass the clause on Devolution of Powers from the Exclusive Legislative list to the Concurrent list  and Affirmative Action for Women.  The Gbagyi people who are the indigene of the Federal Capital Territory are also unhappy that their bid to have a minister of their extraction in the Federal Cabinet was aborted by the House of Representatives. In total, about ten items which either of the two chambers of the federal parliament could not pass will not make the list that will be sent to the 36 State Houses of Assembly to vote on.
By my estimation, the items that failed in either chambers apart from the three aforementioned  include the bid to separate office of Attorney General of the Federation and State  from that of  Minister or Commissioner  of Justice; a bill for state creation and boundary adjustment to remove the ambiguity associated with the procedures; the citizenship and indigeneship bill for married women;  a bill that provide for a change in the names of some local government councils; a bill to amend the constitution to allow INEC conduct local government elections in states and the bill to remove certain Acts including the National Youth Service Corps, Land Use Act  and  national security agencies and the Public Complaints Commission from the constitution.
A number of things worry me about this onerous national assignment. My concern stems from some of the constitution amendment bills passed. In April 2015, the four year effort of the National Assembly to alter the Constitution for the fourth time was aborted by President Goodluck Jonathan who refused to sign the amendment bill due to what he called “irregularities and an attempt by the lawmakers to violate the doctrine of Separation of Powers”.  Jonathan in a seven-page letter listed about 13 reasons why he withheld assent to the amendment.  Unfortunately, the National Assembly was unable to exercise the power vested in them to override the veto of the president as stipulated in section 58 (5) of the Constitution.  Though I know that there has been leadership change both at the executive and legislative arm, I do hope NASS has taken cognisance of the concerns raised by the immediate past president and are ensuring that the extant attempt is in full compliance with section 9 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended in 2010. That section enunciated the provision for altering the Constitution.
Let me be more specific. NASS last week passed Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (Fourth Alteration) Bill, No. 2, 2017 (Authorisation of Expenditure)  which seeks to alter sections 82 and 122 of the Constitution to reduce the period within which the President or Governor of a state may authorise the withdrawal of monies from the consolidated revenue fund in the absence of an appropriation act from 6 months to 3 months.”  President Jonathan raised objection when this bill was passed in the 7th National Assembly as part of Constitution alteration. He said:  “I am of the view that this provision has the potential of occasioning financial hardships and unintended shut-down of government business, particularly where for unforeseen reasons and other exigencies in the polity; the National Assembly is unable to pass the Appropriation Act timeously. Our recent experiences with the process of passing the Appropriation Act do not justify the reduction of six-month time limit in the Constitution”. The former president was spot on! Recall that this year’s budget was only signed into law on June 12, 2017. Thus I foresee a situation where President Buhari may also object to this amendment. 
The passage of Bill No. 17 seeking to alter section 84 of the Constitution to establish the office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government separate from the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation was also one of the bills passed by the seventh National Assembly but objected to by President Jonathan. His concern then was that it did not address the funding requirements for establishment of the office. “It is necessary to clarify, for instance, who staffs and funds the office of Accountant-General of the Federation and from whose budget he will be paid since he serves the three tiers of government,” he opined.
I also foresee President Buhari and indeed governors picking hole with the passage of Bill No. 10 which seeks to alter sections 58, 59 and 100 to resolve the impasse where the President or Governor neglects to signify his/her assent to a bill from the National Assembly or withhold such assent as well as Bill No. 24 dealing with Procedure for overriding Presidential veto in Constitutional Alteration. The Bill seeks to among other things provide the procedure for passing a Constitution Alteration Bill where the President withholds assent. It will be recalled that these bills were passed in the last constitution alteration exercise and was kicked against by ex-President Jonathan on the basis that they were not passed by four/fifth of each chamber of the National Assembly. Jonathan had further noted that “However, assuming without conceding that the necessary thresholds were met by the National Assembly, there are a number of provisions in the Act that altogether constitute flagrant violation of the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and an unjustified whittling down of the executive powers of the federation vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution.”
I sincerely do hope that our lawmakers in passing the new alterations to the Constitution did reckon with the principle of separation of power as well as checks and balances among the three arms of government and among the three tiers of government. I am raising this red flag early in this exercise so that all the noble efforts of the lawmakers do not turn out to be a wild goose chase like the last one turned out to be with huge financial resources squandered. It will be recalled that in the recent past there have been altercations between the executive and legislature over the right interpretation of sections  171 and 69 of the Constitution over the appointment of chairman of Economic *and Financial Crimes Commission as well as recall of Senator Dino Melaye respectively.

As the constitution amendment exercise moves to the State Houses of Assembly, I plead that the state lawmakers will be guided by patriotic zeal and not the dictate of their respective governors. The entire constitution amendment process should be concluded before the end of this year in order to pave way for early implementation of the provisions which has to do with election such as timelines for pre-election dispute resolution, reduction in the age qualification for the offices of the president, governor, House of Representatives and State House of Assembly, increase in the number of days for conduct of by-election, independent candidature, de-registration of political parties, as well as ensuring that the court does not impose anyone who has not participated in all the electoral process as winner. Timely conclusion of this constitution and electoral act amendment will assist INEC immeasurably to effectively plan for the next general elections already scheduled for February 16 and March 2, 2019. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Flooding in Nigeria, a danger foretold!

The rains are here and in torrents, we are indeed at the peak period of the season. There is now widespread flooding across many states. This newspaper on Monday, July 24, 2017 published pictures of flooding in states like Rivers, Delta, Lagos, and Ogun. In Niger State, about 25 persons were reported dead as a result of flooding. A young man, whose name was given simply as Izuchukwu purportedly died in a flood at West End Road area of  Owerri  last Saturday  while a  member of the All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Lateef Ajikanle, was also allegedly  electrocuted when he mistakenly touched live electricity wire while trying to clear debris from the flood in his compound  on Bolaji Omupo Street, Somolu, Lagos State, also last Saturday.
On June 11, 2017 as a result of heavy flooding the bridge in Tatabu, Mokwa Local Government Area of Niger State collapsed. The bridge links Northern and Western parts of the country. Since then, more pressure has been put on Okene-Lokoja-Abuja road which is the alternative to the Mokwa-Bida-Abuja axis. As a result of heavy downpour, the Local Council election of last Saturday, July 22 could not commence as scheduled. Election materials and personnel were soaked in many Polling Stations while the turnout of voters was extremely poor. Early this month, most part of the highbrow residence of Lekki, Victoria Island, Ikoyi, and Ajah in Lagos were submerged in waer after hours of heavy downpour. Roads were closed, lights cut off and property worth billions of Naira lost to these flooding.
The bitter truth is that the worst is not yet over. Heavy rains will still be experienced till about December especially in coastal cities. How did I know?  In March this year, Nigeria Meteorological Agency better known as NiMET published its 2017 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction. It was quite revealing.  According to its Director-General, Prof. Sani Machi, cessation dates of the rains in 2017 are predicted to start from October 4 in the extreme north and reach the coastal states around December 25. “Extended rains of three to eight days are predicted for areas in and around Adamawa, Ogun, Edo, Niger Delta and low-lying areas such as Lagos. The cessation dates of the growing season are predicted to extend well into December over most coastal states of the Niger Delta”. There you are!
“A war foretold does not kill a clever and wise cripple”, so says an old adage. In the case of Nigeria, it is a case of “none so deaf as those who will not hear”. Yearly, NiMET publishes Seasonal Rainfall Prediction; unfortunately both the government and we the people largely ignore the weatherman’s prediction. We carry on lackadaisically. Take for instance the recurring flooding from the Ogunpa River in Ibadan. According to Wikipedia, in 1960, more than 1,000 residents were rendered homeless when the Ogunpa River  exceeded its banks. More than 500 houses were damaged in 1963 when the river again flooded the city. In 1978, official record confirmed that 32 bodies were retrieved from the ruins of the flood even as more than 100 houses were destroyed. It was the flood of 1980 that however gave "Ogunpa" a national and international notoriety. After about 10 hours of heavy, the city was virtually left in ruins. More than 100 bodies were retrieved from the debris of collapsed houses and vehicles washed away by the deluge.
In 2011, precisely Friday, August 26 another flood seized the Oyo State capital after a seven hour torrential rain. Death toll in the Ibadan flood was conservatively put by Red Cross at over 100 while properties worth billions of Naira were also lost to the ‘tsunami’. University of Ibadan alone claimed to have lost over N10 billion worth of assets.  News reports on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 quoted the then Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan, Professor Isaac Adewole, as having said that: “The major calamity suffered by the university include the washing away of the Fish Farm with different species of fish valued at about N300 million, flooding of the Zoological Garden leading to the death of animals, extensive damage of the Teaching and Research Farm and the destruction of books estimated to the tune of N2bn. Besides, many gigantic buildings, laboratories and expensive equipment were destroyed by the flood which equally pulled down the university fence and 13 electricity poles, thereby compounding the hitherto poor electricity supply to the institution.” Corroborating the V.C, Head of Department of Fishery, Dr Bamidele Omitoye, said that special species of fish such as claias gariepinus, heterobranchus bidorsalis, oreochromis niloticus and parachana obscura were swept away.
Has anything been done differently to prevent further flooding in Oyo State or Nigeria since that time. I sincerely doubt. Water channels are still being blocked by refuse dumps from many homes. People are still building on riverbanks and waterways. Though environmental sanitation is called for every last Saturday of the month, many residents only use the time to relax in their homes since there will be restriction of movements. It is high time government takes proactive steps to prevent further flooding than already experienced this year. Environmental Health Officers better known as Sanitary Inspectors need to go out to mobilise residents to clear water channels and drainages. Those who build on waterways should be given quit notice, relocated to safer environment while their illegal structures should be demolished.
Furthermore, town planning authorities should go round communities and carry out stress test on residential structures, Any dilapidated buildings, even if not on waterways should be pulled down in a controlled manner so that flood will not pull such houses down in a manner that can constitute danger to adjoining buildings. A lot of public enlightenments also need to be sustainably carried out on the dangers of blocking water channels with solid wastes.  I also advise that anytime there is heavy downpour electricity distribution companies should take a proactive measure to cut off light until when it is sure that the rains had stopped and that there is no complaint of any fallen electric poles or snapped cables which can constitute danger to residents. Electricity companies should also take preemptive step by ensuring that electric poles in their areas of operations are standing well and that there is no fallen electricity cable that can constitute danger to members of the public. There is no gainsaying that many people have been electrocuted during flooding.
Government at all levels should also put their disaster management agencies on high alert. With the best of efforts, there could still be flood. However, prompt response from agencies like the Emergency Management Agencies as well as Fire Service can mitigate the potential damage and destruction. Internally Displaced Camps should be readied to accommodate victims of flood disaster.  In addition to NIMET’s nationwide weather forecast, I enjoin each state government to also commission localised meteorological studies of their own for a more accurate and in-depth weather forecast. A stich in time saves nine!
Follow me on twitter @jideojong


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wanted: Agrarian revolution for economic development

If you cannot feed the world, feed yourself!  
- Dr. David Oyedepo, Chancellor, Landmark University, Omu Aran, Kwara State.
It was a great privilege and honour to be the guest of Landmark University during her just concluded 4th Convocation Ceremony held last week from Wednesday, July 12 to Sunday, July 16, 2017. Though I was not there for all the time but the two full days I spent in that citadel of learning was an eye opener for me.  I learnt a lot from some of the wisdom nuggets shared by Bishop David Oyedepo as well as the convocation lecture delivered by Mr. Mezuo Nwuneli as well as the keynote address by Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro. Since then, I have come to realise the full import of agriculture both for food security as well as economic development.
Erroneously, many of us look at agriculture as mere cultivation for food production, sales and consumption. It is more than that.  At Landmark, I learnt about agribusiness and agripreneurship.  It is noteworthy that all students in the university irrespective of their course of study had to learn about agriculture. The school is also the only one in Nigeria offering Certificate and Diploma in Agripreneurship. Did you know that there is no home in the world that does not contain agricultural products or by-products? Here I am not talking of food which is compulsory and is found in every home. What about the flowers, the trees, the furniture, the shoes, the bags, the belts, the clothes, the books, the newspapers, tissue papers, cartons, the drugs, cigars, cigarettes,  tobacco, wines, fruit juice, soft drinks  and several other daily needs at home? They are all agricultural produce and by-products.
Last Thursday, Mr. Mezuo Nwuneli who presented the convocation lecture spoke on “The Business of Agriculture: Benchmarking and Attaining New Frontiers  in Agricultural Development for Africa”.  In an illuminating speech, the guest lecturer spoke of business of agriculture. According to him Agribusiness encompasses the interlinked set of activities from the farm to the fork. It includes four key segments: Agricultural Input Industry for increasing agricultural productivity, such as agricultural machinery, equipment and tools; fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides; and irrigation systems and related equipment.
There is also Production and Processing for Agro-industry. Here he spoke about food and beverages; tobacco products, leather and leather products; textile; footwear and garments; wood and wood products; rubber products; as well as construction industry products based on agricultural materials.  Mention was also made of Agricultural Processing Equipment which includes machinery (cleaning, sorting and grading, milling, blending, packaging}, cooling technology, tools and spare parts. Lastly are the support services such as transportation logistics, marketing, and distribution, storage facilities (silos, cold room, warehouses); information technology services; and packaging materials.
Nwuneli reeled out a lot of statistics, graphs and survey reports to demonstrate the numerous challenges and solutions to Nigeria’s attainment of agrarian revolution. He noted inter alia that an average Nigerian spends 50 per cent of his or her earnings on food and that the country imports over 45 per cent of its food needs. He stated also that over the past 10 years, there has been a gradual increase in agribusiness investments in Nigeria. The ‘agripreneur’ noted that there are broad range of opportunities in agricultural production, processing, storage and distribution, financing, and inputs. He went into details of opportunities in cassava and tomato processing as well as integrated poultry.
The keynote speaker, Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro made his own presentation during the main convocation event last Friday, July 14, 2017. He spoke on the topic “Revolutionizing Agriculture: A Catalyst for Up scaling Development and Transformation in Africa”. In the well-researched paper, Bogoro, a renowned Professor of Animal Science from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi who is also the immediate past Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund delved into the various government initiatives aimed at revolutionizing agriculture in Nigeria, their successes and challenges, as well as the roles of different stakeholders in the attainment of agrarian revolution in Nigeria, nay Africa.  
For instance he did an overview of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration under the immediate past Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina. According to the erudite scholar, “The overarching objectives of the ATA are to boost agricultural output, encourage private sector engagement, and create 3.5m new jobs in the farming sector. The ATA aims to boost farmers’ incomes by N300bn ($1.5bn) by increasing productivity, securing greater market access, and strengthening value chains. At the heart of ATA is the idea that agriculture should be a business rather than a development activity and that efforts to grow the sector require strategic direction rather than the pursuit of piecemeal disconnected projects.”. The speaker said ATA has achieved limited success with many of the objectives yet to be fully realized. Bogoro observed that the main policy thrust of the incumbent Buhari administration is “to embark on a massive and comprehensive reorganisation and revolutionalisation of the agricultural sector” 
The university don listed six actions required to spur transformational growth in Nigeria’s agricultural sector. They are: Consistence and high level policy attention. To him, “Agricultural reform and transformation will require policy stability and continuity that builds and improves on the progress already made. He also called for more investment in agriculture. In his view, Nigeria has not come close to meeting the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme guideline for African countries to spend at least 10 per cent of their budgets on agriculture. He challenged all tiers of government to get involved in the transformation agenda and that efforts should be made to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the three tiers of government for agricultural policy and delivery.
Bogoro called for more emphasis to be placed on research and development. He observed that Nigeria is home to 15 national agricultural research institutes and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture. Unfortunately, spending on these institutes has been very inadequate. Yet, there is need for greater emphasis on developing research that provides practical solutions to the problems faced by farmers.  He also called for the active engagement of smallholder as well as young farmers.   He equally stated that value addition on our agricultural commodities hold the key to increased incomes and reducing the huge post-harvest losses. To attain self-sufficiency in food production and processing, he opined that it is important to have infrastructure that will support production and accessibility to markets such as dams, irrigation facilities and silos.
The keynote speaker observed the preference of Nigerian policy maker for the crop subsector with little attention given to livestock and fisheries subsectors. This, he observed, is at variance with the practice in developed countries. He challenged Landmark University to develop Agro-technology Park similar to the popular Research Triangle of North Carolina in USA. The academic also lend his support to the proposed Agricultural Trust Fund.
Since I listened to the soul steering paper presentations of the two guest speakers, I have been having introspection of how to get involved in the agriculture value chain. I never knew there are boundless opportunities in that sector as I have been made to see. Even the elementary aspect which is food production is a money spinner. Like Bishop David Oyedepo said at LMU convocation last week, “Until life ceases to be, food will remain relevant. Food market will forever remain open. Get involved!”  
Follow me on twitter @jideojong



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Osinbajo’s noble advice to African leaders

“The tragic consequences of wars and conflicts in Africa are self-evident. The millions killed and maimed, the millions displaced, children out of school, set us back decades economically and socially. Our resolve to end wars and conflicts in Africa is therefore our vote for a future of real growth and development for our continent.”
– Acting President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on July 3, 2017 at the 29th AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Africa Union held its 29th Summit last week and it was another rainbow coalition of leaders from the 54 African countries.  They   jaw-jawed once again to find lasting solutions to the myriads of challenges confronting the continent.  Nigeria’s delegate to the summit was ably led by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.  Incidentally, Nigeria, this July, officially assumed the one-month rotational chairmanship of the African Union Peace and Security Council. Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the AU, Mr. Bankole Adeoye, took over from Mr. Susan Sikaneta, the Permanent Representative of Zambia, who held the Presidency for the month of June.
It is important to state that “the Peace and Security Council is the standing organ of the AU for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts.  The PSC was established to be a collective security and ‘early warning’ arrangement with the ability to facilitate timely and efficient responses to conflict and crisis situations. The PSC’s core functions are to conduct early warning and preventive diplomacy, facilitate peace-making, establish peace-support operations and, in certain circumstances, recommend intervention in Member States to promote peace, security and stability. The PSC also works in support of peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction as well as humanitarian action and disaster management.”
Professor Osinbajo was at his eloquent and articulate best when he delivered his address on Peace and Security in Africa. Apart from the opening quote of this article which is an excerpt from the Acting President’s speech, he also said, inter alia, that: “We have no choice; peace, security and stability are fundamental to the realisation of sustainable development and to assure our people of decent and happy lives. As we move towards silencing the guns by 2020, our collective resolve must remain solid and steadfast to effectively tackle conflicts, terrorism, violent extremism and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.” My president, you’re indeed spot on!
Africa’s growth and development have been stunted and retarded as a result of plethora of senseless conflicts and wars. From the fratricidal hostilities in Somalia, South Sudan, Guinea Bissau, Libya, DR Congo and Central African Republic to the Xenophobic attacks in South Africa. The continent is also being plagued with terrorism and violent extremism in Sinai Peninsula of Egypt as well as the North Eastern Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Mali where Boko Haram insurgency is raging.  In the 1990s Nigeria deployed huge human and material resources under the ECOWAS Military Operations better known as ECOMOG in order to quell uprisings in Liberia and Sierra Leone. 
In all these bloodlettings, millions of lives were lost, many were maimed, huge refugee and internally displaced persons emerged and on many occasions, United Nations has to step in when AU cannot mobilise sufficient resources for its peace keeping operations. Out of the 16 Peace Keeping Missions currently being undertaken all over the world, nine of them are taking place in Africa alone. They are in Western Sahara, Liberia, Dafur, Mali, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Cote D’Ivoire, DR Congo and Abyei. That is to let you know the burden Africa has become to the rest of the world.
Due to the youth bulge in the continent, the frequent conflicts has led to the ugly phenomenon of child soldering where very young boys are conscripted to fight in a war that they do not understand the basis. As earlier mentioned, these conflicts have led to significant increase in the number of IDPs, refugees, out-of-school children as well as famine. The Acting President was on point  when he advised that as a first step, AU must ensure the full implementation of the African Peace and Security Architecture, especially the operationalisation of the African Standby Force and the Peace Fund.
It is unfortunate that since 1963 when Organisation for African Unity was formed before its metamorphosis into   African Union, the continent has no standby force. Funding has equally remained a potent challenge as the continental body continues to be starved of financial resources by member countries who failed to pay their annual dues.  Southern African Legal Information Institute research shows that five countries -- Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, and South Africa --cover at least 66 per cent of the member states' share of the budget. However, for years most of the AU's budgets and programmes have been financed by foreign donors, including the European Union, the US, China, the World Bank and the United Kingdom, according to available financial statements. While the AU's budget grew from $278.2 million in 2013 to $393.4 million in 2015, external financing also rose from 56 per cent to 61.7per cent in the corresponding years.
Hear our Acting President again, “We must redouble our efforts, and without equivocation avail the necessary resources, in order to successfully achieve the goals set out in Agenda 2063. We need to rekindle our political will and determination not to bequeath to the next generation of Africans the burden of wars, poverty and misery. It is therefore necessary for the Assembly to reaffirm the overriding importance of holistically addressing the root causes of violent conflicts in our countries.” One of the seven aspirations of Agenda 2063 which was developed in 2013 when AU celebrated its 50th anniversary is to have ‘a peaceful and secure Africa’.  Part of the milestones set under this aspiration is to ‘silence the guns by 2020’.  Is that feasible?
It is indeed a noble aspiration. However, barely three years to the attainment of that target, we’re still faced with the challenge of proliferation of small arms and light weapons which are smuggled into many of the armed conflict zones in Africa. These unlicensed weapons are difficult to mop up due to the porous international borders of many African countries coupled with lack of political will to act. Last Thursday, I was on Silverbird Television to discuss this issue and the moderator asked me how to address the root causes of conflicts in Africa.

My answer was that these have been well documented from many commissioned researches of African Union itself and those conducted by academics in ivory towers as well as civil society organisations working with regional and continental bodies like AU. They range from ‘sit-tightism’ by some African leaders to flawed elections, injustices, poverty, external influence (regime change policy of some Western countries), marginalisation, distrust, discriminations and lack of constitutionalism. What is to be done to address all these identified triggers of conflict? Good governance. QED. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Nigerian government’s amnesty for tax evaders

Last Thursday, June 29, 2017, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo signed an Executive Order birthing Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme known as VAIDS. The scheme outlines the federal government’s plan to increase tax awareness and compliance, and grant taxpayers a time-limited opportunity to regularise their tax status without penalty. Taking a cue  from similar actions that have been successfully implemented in South Africa, Indonesia and India in 2016, Nigeria’s government hopes to bring more people to the tax net,  increase government revenue and reduce borrowing to finance budget. 
Indeed the country’s narrative of tax compliance is very appalling and heart rending. Unlike several African countries whose Tax to Gross Domestic Product Ratio is average of 15 per cent, while that of many advanced countries is 30 per cent and above, Nigeria’s Tax to GDP ratio is mere six per cent. According to the National Bureau of Statistics figures, Nigeria has a taxable class of no fewer than 69 million people, out of which only 14 million are currently in the tax net. Also, only 214 of taxpayers, irrespective of status, pay N20 million or more annually, while about 900 taxpayers pay N10 million per annum. All the 214 taxpayers are based in Lagos while out of the 900 also paying N10 million, all but two are based outside Lagos.
The above statistics quoted by Acting President in his speech at the launch of VAIDS last Thursday shows that 55 million taxable Nigerians are not paying tax. Also huge chunk of high net worth individuals voluntarily paying tax reside in Lagos. This is not surprising as the State of Aquatic Splendour also known as Centre of Excellence is the economic nerve centre of Nigeria. Lagos is to Nigeria what New York is to America and London to United Kingdom.  It is however a lie peddled too far to say that there are no handful of high net worth individuals in all the states of the country especially Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Warri, Eket, Calabar and several other major cities. A further interrogation of those reported to have voluntarily complied with their tax obligations may also reveal underpayment.
Truth be told, Nigerian tax system is riddled with corruption. It’s not only individuals that evade tax; many companies operating in Nigeria either do not pay tax at all or under pay. Many tax officials and consultants are millionaires today as a result of sharp practices and malpractices. Many of them help their clients to commit tax fraud. They assist them to procure fake tax certificates and in other respect did under declaration of their income and concomitantly tax liabilities.  
There are several reasons why people and companies do not want to pay tax. One of them is the high level of corruption among Nigeria’s politically exposed persons. Many political office holders do not either pay tax or do not pay the right tax. Yet, they take advantage of the governance system to corruptly enrich themselves. A look at Nigeria’s yearly budget at all levels will reveal high level of wastages of the nation’s resources. Frugality is not in the dictionary of Nigeria’s political office holders. They live ostentatious lifestyles and care less about the suffering masses.
Look at the number of cars in the convoy of the president and governors. Until recently, about 10 aircraft were in Nigerian presidential air fleet which is maintained annually with billions of Naira. Two Saturdays ago, while discussing the 2017 Federal Government budget on a Radio Nigeria network pidgin programme, ‘Kontri Mata’, a caller asked me why huge resources are voted annually for purchase of cooking utensils in State House as well as purchase of cars, computers and building renovations every year. Nigerians are indeed averse to a situation of “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop”.
Multiple taxation has also been a disincentive to Nigerians and enterprises operating in the country. For instance, apart from paying import duty on imported hardware and raw materials, companies operating in the country are also faced with plethora of other levies, duties and taxes by all the tiers of government viz. federal, state and local. Individuals pay Value Added Tax on their goods and services, Personal Income Tax  (Pay As You Earn scheme). There is also a Withholding Tax and last year a N50 Stamp Duty on every transaction has been made compulsory for every current account holder in the Money Deposit Banks. Do we have accountability for revenues collected under these myriads of taxations? No! I can’t recollect government at any level coming out to tell Nigerians how much has been realised from the payment of the Stamp Duty since the enforcement began.
There is also insufficient education on tax computation. For instance, who is supposed to pay tax? What constitutes tax reliefs? Does a business woman or man pay tax on all sales proceeds or on profit? What is tax holiday? Good enough, every Thursday during this nine month amnesty period has been declared by the government as ‘Tax Thursday’ meant to create awareness among Nigerians. To my own mind, voluntary compliance with tax obligations will work when there is tax justice. Tax policy must be customer friendly. Already, there is high cost of living arising from increase in pump price of petroleum products, high electricity tariff, epileptic power supply, high cost of rent and transportation and low salary which again is not paid as at when due. Without tax pressure, there is already high incidence of suicide and incidences of mental illness. Government will do well not to push people more into depression.
Under VAIDS, tax amnesty will run for nine months, effective July 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, to give room for tax defaulters to voluntarily declare their assets and pay commensurate taxes. That is a fair deal. However, government should consider imposing high taxes on luxury items such as exotic drinks, clothes, and other non-essential items. It is also high time to issue Property Verification Number similar to Bank Verification Number. Owners of high net worth properties above certain threshold like N100m should be made to pay property tax.

There is no gainsaying that VAIDS is desirable as it will boost government revenue and reduce borrowing; however, issues bordering on corruption, lack of transparency and accountability as well as multiple taxation earlier raised in this piece should be critically examined and resolved within this amnesty period. The front horse is the one used by the back one to pace; therefore, change must begin with our leaders, in and out of government.