Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wishing you the best of 2010

Year 2009 will be off in few hours, it’s probably 2010 already in Australia. To you all my fans who have been encouraging me through your constructive and largely positive feedback, I say a big thank you.
In 2009, I have many reasons to thank the Lord. In April, I clocked 40 and in October, it dawned on me that it’s been 19 years since my first piece was published in Daily Sketch. Today, the little acorn has grown to a large oak. In 2009, I spread my tentacles wider and added four more platforms to publishing my articles. They are The Nation, Daily Sun, Daily Independent and Next. Two Magazines/Newsletters, Women Advocate and Voters News also sought my permission to publish some of my published articles in their media. On the whole, to date, I have been published by 17 national newspapers and 11 magazines and newsletters. In July 2009, with the influence and inspiration from a friend, Sola Adetunji, I established my own blog from where those who love my writings can now read my views on national issues.
28 of my articles in 2009 were published 40 times by different newspapers and newsletters. The breakdown is as follows:
Thisday Wednesday, January 7, 2009 Political Lessons from Ghana 2008 Elections
The Punch Thursday, January 8, 2009 Still on Ghana 2008 Elections
The Guardian Tuesday, January 17, 2009 The Voting Rights of Nigerians
Nigerian Tribune Wednesday, February 25, 2009 On the review of the 1999 Constitution
The Nation Friday, February 27, 2009 Constitution Amendment Jinx
Thisday Wednesday, March 4, 2009 The Senate, Reps and Constitution Review
Nigerian Tribune Friday, March 13, 2009 The Church and Healthcare Delivery
Thisday Tuesday, March 24, 2009 Still on the Need for Constitution Review
Nigerian Tribune Monday, April 13, 2009 Need for State of Emergency in Nigeria's Education Sector
Thisday Thursday, April 23, 2009 Declare State of Emergency in Education Sector
Nigerian Tribune Friday, May 8,2009 Jail-Evasion Cartel and the Drug War
The Guardian Tuesday, May 19, 2009 Who Misinformed Yar'Adua on Electoral Reform?
Thisday Wednesday, June 3, 2009 Yar'Adua's Electoral Reform Bills
Nigerian Tribune Monday, June 8, 2009 Segun Adeniyi Goofed on Uwais Report
The Nation Wednesday, June 10, 2009 Adeniyi Goofed on Electoral Reform
The Punch Wednesday, July 15, 2009 Nigeria at the Mercy of MEND
The Nation Tuesday, July 21, 2009 Preventable Labour Crises
Nigerian Tribune Saturday, July 25, 2009 Let there be light!
The Nation Wednesday, July 29, 2009 Against Automatic Tickets
Daily Sun Wednesday, August 5, 2009 Carpet Crossing and Nigeria's Mercantile Politics
Nigerian Tribune Thursday, August 6, 2009 Shall we tell the president?
The Punch Thursday, August 20, 2009 The Political Economy of Nigeria's Financial Sector
Daily Sun Tuesday, August 25, 2009 Don't Agonise, Organise!
Daily Independent Sunday, September 6, 2009 In Support of Tenured Civil Service
Nigerian Tribune Tuesday, September 15, 2009 Salvaging Nigerian Sports
Daily Sun Wednesday, September 16, 2009 Salvaging Nigerian Sports
Daily Independent Saturday, September 26, 2009 This Amnesty Deal Must Not Fail!
Daily Sun Wednesday, September 30, 2009 Caring for the Physically Challenged Persons
Daily Independent Thursday, October 29, 2009 Deadlier than HIV/AIDS
Nigerian Tribune Monday, November 2, 2009 Deadlier than HIV/AIDS
Daily Sun Wednesday, November 4, 2009 Nigeria Varsity Crisis: Not Yet Uhuru
Nigerian Tribune Monday, November 16, 2009 Celebrating 150 Years of Media Practice in Nigeria
Daily Independent Thursday, November 19, 2009 Nigeria Fire Service and Disaster Management Challenge
234NEXT Monday, November 30, 2009 A Return to Good Sportsmanship
Daily Sun Thurs, December 17, 2009 Budgeting as Hollow Ritual in Nigeria
The Guardian Wednesday, December 30, 2009 Budgeting as Hollow Ritual in Nigeria
Nigerian Tribune Thursday, December 31, 2009 The 2010 Budget of Stimulus or Deceit?
IFES Newsletter February, 2009 Spotlight on Nigeria's Electoral Reform Process
Women's Advocate June 2009 Vol. 10 No. 44 Declare State of Emergency in the Education Sector
Voters News Vol. 2 No. 10 November 2009 This Amnesty Deal Must Not Fail!

There are few of the articles that were only published on my blog and as such not among those listed above. There are also a couple that are already with some newspapers and will likely be published in early 2010.
This is wishing you and yours a happier, more prosperous and more fruitful 2010.
Cheers!
Jide Ojo

The 2010 budget of stimulus or deceit?

Nigeria’s 2010 appropriation bill of N4.079 trillion was tagged ‘Budget of Fiscal Stimulus.’ What a misnomer! Since the budget was presented to National Assembly on November 24, 2009 the media has kept faith analysing and reporting the budget defence sessions of the Senate and House of Representatives committees with various Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs). I have followed these analyses keenly and I should say Nigeria is doomed with the current political leadership of the country.
Over the years, budget in trillions of Naira have been passed without much to show in terms of human capital or infrastructural development. In a country with more than 70 per cent of the populace living below poverty line, we have a government that has voted N7.066 billion to build an earthly paradise for her Vice President. In the news report on the Federal Executive Council meeting of December 23, 2009, Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Senator Adamu Aliero justified the need to have a permanent residence for the Vice President but left out why Yar’Adua administration is just realising the need to build a befitting residence for its Number 2 citizen as well as the rationale behind the huge contract sum. To my own mind, the amount involved in this building project is mind-boggling and tantamount to sheer waste or misapplication of the nation’s resources.
I think there is more to this building contract than meet the eyes. Where were all the previous Second-in-Commands under the former military Heads of State such as Augustus Ahiomu, Ebitu Ukiwe, Oladipo Diya and Mike Akhigbe living while they were No. 2 citizen in Abuja? If these previous deputies had official residence in Abuja, what happened to the building? Or could it be that there was no original provision for Vice President’s accommodation in Abuja’s master-plan? Why did the Yar’Adua administration wait till the third year of his administration, the eve of another general election as well as when there is global economic recession and fall in oil revenue to build house for the Vice President? Am of the opinion that even at today’s inflationary rate, if there will be any urgent need to build an official residence for the Vice-President, N1 billion will be too much let alone seven. In whatever way this project is viewed it is out of tune with current economic realities.
Other heart-rending revelations from the 2010 budget include the proposition to spend $210 million, which is about N31.5 billion to purchase 4 New Presidential Aircrafts, although only N23.4 billion is provided for it in the budget. Two of the aircrafts are to be delivered in 2010 while the remaining two are expected in 2011 and 2012. It was reported also that N250 million has been earmarked to fight termites in State House; N542.4 million budgeted to purchase and fuel power generating plants as well as the N450 million set aside for maintenance of vehicles by the presidency in 2010 despite the monetisation policy of the government.
At the National Assembly, the legislature will spend a total of N127.782 billion. The breakdown shows that the legislature will have N118.782 billion as recurrent expenditure and N9 billion for capital projects. Of the amount, N30.9 billion is voted for Senators and House of Representatives sitting allowances while furnishing and renovation of residences of the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President will need N250 million. The Senate is said to be planning to buy guest houses for its principal officers at the cost of N750 million. For fuelling and lubricants of vehicles and generators, the House budgeted N460 million, while the Senate set aside N286 million. Also in 2010, the Senate proposed to spend N600 million for budget activities; N3.7 billion for office materials, books, periodicals, printing and uniforms; N1 billion for public hearings; N9 billion for ‘programmed activities’; N957 million for maintenance of vehicles and other equipment; N355 million for office equipment; and N80 million for utilities. The House budgeted N3.7 billion for office materials, books, periodicals, printing and uniforms; N1.4 billion for maintenance of vehicles, generators and other equipment; N500 million for partitioning of offices; and N385 million for three new generators. Can we in good conscience say these are national priorities considering that a whooping N1.09 trillion of the budget is expected deficit?
If the presidency and the NASS could vote these huge figures for their personal aggrandisement in this austere time while millions of graduates of our tertiary institutions roam the street aimlessly in search of non-existing white and blue collar jobs, does this not portray our political leaders as self-serving? Any wonder there is high rate of armed robbery and kidnappings in the country? To drive home the pitiable situation of Nigerian masses, on December 22, 2009, Kapital FM, Abuja hosted widows to a Christmas fete; the estimation of the organisers was that about 1,000 widows will turn up. They were wrong, over 10,000 widows showed up putting the planners in a quandary on what to do. In the footage of the sad story showed on NTA on December 24, many of these widows were seen scrambling for grains. It is in the midst of this nationwide misery that a handful of people in corridors of power decided to enjoy on our behalf. If this status quo is maintained, neither the seven point agenda nor Vision 20:2020 will be achieved.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Budgeting as hollow ritual in Nigeria

After the November 19 impasse between the Senate and the House of Representatives over the venue for the presentation of the Nigeria’s 2010 budget, Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba -Aji presented the appropriation bill to the two chambers of the National Assembly on Tuesday, 24 November 2009.

The N4.079 trillion budget is the highest in the history of Nigeria; the first that was not read and laid personally by the president and also the first to be presented without fanfare but in accordance with constitutional procedure. The financial statement was also presented same day as the Senate approved additional supplementary budget of N353.6 billion as part of total expenditure for the 2009 fiscal year. This is apart from the initial N3. 049 trillion that was approved by the National Assembly last April for the 2009 fiscal year.

In spite of these huge budget proposals, there has been perennial challenge of implementation.In analysing the 2009 budget, President Yar’Adua admitted that there were problems with the budget performance. He put the blame on four things: Global economic crisis, fall in oil price, the Niger Delta crisis and the low capacity utilisation of budget releases by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). According to him, “implementation of the 2009 Budget has been challenging with revenue from both oil and non-oil sources falling well below projections.

On a positive note, oil prices recovered during the course of the year from a low of US$37/barrel recorded in December 2008 to the present level of about US$79/barrel. However, oil production in our country suffered numerous disruptions during the first half of 2009. Non-oil revenue receipts were affected by the global economic downturn which impacted on the domestic business environment. Consequently, both oil and non-oil revenues were about 17% and 21%, respectively, below budgeted levels as at the end of the third quarter. On the expenditure side, while budgetary allocations have been promptly released to the MDAs, actual utilisation has been below expectation.”

While the president was very diplomatic in his assessment of the 2009 budget, members of the National Assembly were not impressed with successive national budget performance in Nigeria. As published in The Guardian of Thursday, November 26, 2009, Senator Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi State) declared that the Senate should not be debating the 2010 budget when the 2009 budget it passed a year ago had not been implemented up to 30 per cent. Hon. John Halims Agoda representing Ethiope Federal Constituency in Delta State regretted that since 1999, no budget had been implemented faithfully. He was quoted as saying: "While the budget is working in other countries, why is ours not working? Do we need to go abroad for budget course? We have over the years sat and done good budget but at the end, we target 30, 40 per cent performance. Do we need performance index? We need to do something. I have gone through this ritual since 1999 and it is sad."

In my own opinion the problem with the budget implementation in Nigeria can be traced to the following factors: Nigeria’s monoculture economy; deficit budgeting; delayed passage of the budget by the legislature; ineffective oversight by the National Assembly; late budget releases by the relevant authorities such as the Federal Ministry of Finance, Office of Accountant General of the Federation as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria and corruption. Nigeria mostly depends on crude oil for its budget. Other non-oil sectors such as solid minerals, agriculture and manufacturing are underdeveloped. This is unhealthy for the economy. Concomitant to this is the perennial budget deficit the country runs in which the projected revenue is lower than the proposed expenditure. Nigeria ought to strive at having balanced or surplus budget.

On late passage of budget, while the Senate passed the 2009 appropriation bill in December 2008, the House of Representatives did not pass same until April 2009 or thereabout. This hampers economic planning and budget implementation. Oversight is among the constitutional roles of the legislature. In the performance of this function, the parliament can visit any MDAs and project sites and conduct probes on any issues affecting the country. In the course of time, it seems Nigerian legislature pays more attention to this oversight than their primary role of law making. However, in spite of plethora of inquiries into different MDAs, the report of the probes have neither been debated at plenary nor made available to the public. This fuels speculations that the motive behind such flurry of probes is self serving and not in the national interest. Is it not shocking that the report of the power sector inquiry where startling revelations were made never got debated at the plenary? In a recent television interview, I was amazed when the House of Reps Speaker claimed that the recommendations in the report have been communicated to the relevant agencies.

The bureaucratic process of securing budget releases is also stifling. Not fewer than three hurdles are crossed before approvals can be cash-backed. This has led to situations where contractors abandon sites after waiting endlessly for the next tranche of payments for contracts. Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge to budget implementation is corruption. It is baffling that even with the introduction of electronic payment; a lot of monies cannot still be accounted for.

A newstory in NEXT newspaper of 27 November, alleged that 70% of money advanced to MDAs has not been retired. It would be recalled that many civil servants and some lawmakers are currently in courts for frauds while Nigeria currently occupies 130th position on Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. All the aforesaid goes to show that low budget performance lies with both the operators and the regulators. Expectedly, all the malaise afflicting budget implementation at the national level also manifest at state and local government levels without much attention being paid. This unsatisfactory trend must be halted.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A return to good sportsmanship

Congratulations to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), National Sports Commission (NSC), Presidential Task Force (PTF) Super Eagles players and Nigerians on our recent qualification for the first Football World Cup to be hosted by an African country.
The November 14, 2009 qualification was a divine favour coming at a time when the majority of Nigerians had given up on the senior national football team due to its lacklustre performance in the run up to the qualification matches.
Also deserving kudos is the Coach John Obuh who tutored U-17 football team that came second in the just concluded cadet championship hosted by Nigeria. The Nigerian lads lost 1-0 to debutant Switzerland at the final played on November 15, 2009.
The raging controversy between the NSC and the NFF over the issue of whether to appoint a foreign coach or technical adviser for the Super Eagles is a needless distraction.
In my own opinion, the NFF did right by sticking with Coach Shuaibu Amodu as the head of Super Eagles coaching crew for the 2010 Nations Cup in Angola and the World Cup in South Africa. Amodu, by his track record at the senior national team, is the best coach in Nigeria today.
He qualified Nigeria for 2002 World Cup but was denied the opportunity of taking the team to the mundial. He has done the same again and unfortunately, instead of celebrating this man, many Nigerians including the NSC are demanding for his sack.
In this era of re-branding and the campaign for patronising Made-in-Nigeria, is it not awkward that we still hold strongly that only a foreign coach can guarantee us a sterling performance at the World Cup?
History does not support this. I have discovered that all the countries that have won the senior World Cup did it with indigenous coaches. On several occasions that Nigeria has engaged the services of foreign coaches, their performances have been average. Yet, these foreign coaches are paid mind-blowing salaries and allowances. If the NSC and NFF will give adequate support and working conditions to indigenous coaches, they too will perform excellently like their counterparts abroad. Again, the timing is wrong to replace Amodu.
The Nation Cup starts in January and World Cup in June 2010, appointing even a world-class coach now may be counter-productive as it takes time to nurture a team.
Now that Amodu has been endorsed by the NFF, the next thing is for the PTF, NFF and NSC to ensure that adequate planning and financial provisions are made for the Super Eagles.
The team must be called to camp early, quality friendlies must be played before the Nations Cup in Angola while Amodu and his coaching crew should also look within and in the Diaspora for talented, young and committed footballers to blend with the ageing members of the national team.
Sporting authorities should also heed FIFA's advice about adequate maintenance of the eight stadia used for the FIFA U-17. Our bane in this country has been the absence of a maintenance culture. Ten years ago, Nigeria hosted a cadet championship but within a decade the entire infrastructure has become dilapidated through neglect. Examples of this can be seen in the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos and the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, Oyo State.
These two stadia that were venues for the Nigeria ‘99 football are eyesores.
This fate should not be allowed to befall the Kaduna, Bauchi, Ijebu-Ode,
Abuja, Enugu, Kano, Calabar and Teslim Balogun stadia. The state of the art facilities provided for the U-17 tournament should not only be preserved but improved upon. Stadiums are not meant for football alone but for sports generally.
Even though the football pitches and spectators stands may have received greater attention during the recent soccer fiesta, other sporting facilities should now be upgraded and put to good use. Sport is a good social investment, a unifying factor and a good instrument of international diplomacy.
Apart from helping to positively engage the youths, it is also a goldmine for professional practitioners, especially those who ply their trade in Europe and America.
The controversy over the age falsification of some of our U-17 players is very disheartening and such should be avoided in any future age-grade championship. Cheating to win laurels is against the spirit of sports. The brouhaha trailing the N13 billion spent on the FIFA U-17 Championship should also be thoroughly investigated and culprits brought to book. Nigeria must return to the path of glory in football, nay sports.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nigeria Fire Service and Disaster Management Challenge

Disaster strikes every day. In Nigeria, managing calamities when they occur has been very challenging. There have been plane crashes, road accidents, boat mishaps, building collapse and fire outbreaks that exposed our poor state of preparedness for disaster prevention, control and management. The Nigeria Fire Service is one of the several agencies responsible for disaster management. According to the charter of the Federal Fire Service, its statutory responsibilities cut across: Ensuring safety of lives and property and giving impulse to capacity building of the nation’s fire services through the establishment and monitoring of standards in fire prevention, fire education and training; national fire statistics and promotion of legislative instruments for a fire safe nation as well as promotion of capacity building in the State Fire Services through manpower development, appropriate fire stations and equipment and effective community based fire safety outfits.
Among the roles the Nigeria Fire Service perform are: Formulation, monitoring and evaluation of policies on national fire safety delivery; preparation and submission to the Federal Government, as situation demands, proposals for national fire safety development programmes and plans; provision of inputs for the construction of public structures and all buildings above four floors such as corporate headquarters of Ministries and Parastatals; fire cover for major events hosted by the government; resource persons for commissions of enquiry whenever they are set up to investigate the cause of a Fire incidence and provide recommendations to forestall future occurrences. Others are, promotion of fire prevention and basic fire fighting in markets, schools, hospitals, industries, corporate organizations and the hospitality industry; and fostering of interaction between Federal Fire Service and Fire Services in the States in order to enhance community fire safety partnerships aimed at minimizing careless fire outbreaks.
The scorecard of Nigeria fire service is very dismal. The agency has become an anathema, a byword such that the phrase fire brigade approach has been coined in Nigeria to describe late response to issues or assignments and unconventional work ethics. Among the many challenges of the Service are: shortage of fire stations, lack of effective communication system, shortage of water supply, obsolete equipment, poor training, shortage of manpower, lack of welfare package for officers and men of the fire service (this include attractive salary and insurance policy) and road traffic jams. The situation has worsened to the extent that Nigeria now depend more on multinational construction and oil companies for disaster management.
Fortunately, the Service itself is aware of its low rating and lack of confidence among Nigerian populace. However, it is also quick to provide an alibi in the fact that the agency over time has suffered untold neglect by the government. Federal Fire Service is an agency under the Federal Ministry of Interior and the ministry is responsible for the budget allocation to the Service. Perhaps because Fire Service does not generate income to government as other agencies in the ministry such as Nigeria Immigration Service and Nigeria Customs Service, coupled with our notoriety at misplaced priorities, Nigeria Fire Service is perennially starved of fund. This attitude must change if we intend to have an effective and efficient Fire Brigade.
In October 2009, the first National Fire Conference was held in Abuja. At the end of the conference, the following resolutions were reached: The immediate implementation of the report of the committee on the reorganization of Fire Services in the country as approved by the Federal Executive Council and ratified by the Council on Establishment; review of the present fire fighters training modules for continuous professional development; establishment of more fire stations to reduce response time during emergencies; improved water supply within the metropolis with hydrants located at not more than 100 metres along the reticulation lines as well as for every fire station to have a water tanker of not less than 10,000 litres capacity as an interim solution; improved communication system for better management of emergencies for enhanced safety delivery and to expedite action on the three-digit toll-free national emergency number; better surveillance of the country’s water ways; improved fire fighters personal protective gears and accident insurance policy; Joint training/simulation and mock exercises for all disaster responders to enhance operational co-operation, command and control; approval of a proposed National Fire Safety Code and improved funding by government for the Federal Fire Services at states and federal levels.
During the conference, it was revealed by the Comptroller General of the Federal Fire Service, Mr. Olusegun James Okebiorun, an engineer, that plans are afoot to set up a National Fire Academy, which will be the official fire training institution for the country with its main campus in Abuja. Through the academy, future fire-fighters will engage in practical and hands-on equipment training to meet international standards and the institution will offer various levels of training for crew command, watch command, station command and brigade command. Other activities to be undertaken in the academy are fire ground operations, search and rescue operations, fire prevention, fire protection, fire investigation, records keeping, supervising techniques command and control and fire service administration.
Quite a shopping list! However, the missing links are the milestones and the timelines within which all these will be done. As the 2010 budget is being put together, the cost implication of some of these recommendations must be factored into the appropriation bill. Disaster management is a serious business which must not be taken with levity. So many lives and properties have been lost to preventable catastrophes. Even when the unenvisaged ones occur it behoves the government at all levels to ensure that there is timely, coordinated and effective response so as to minimise loss. It is a good thing that the Federal Fire Service is advocating for private fire stations to compliment the services rendered by the government fire brigade. It is also heart-warming to note that the Federal Fire Service is embarking on reorganization for enhanced productivity; collaborating with water board for improved water supply and fire hydrant installation and working with the Federal Road Safety Corps on awareness education about right-of-way for Fire Fighting Vehicles on emergency calls. All these are far-reaching commitments. It is important for the Nigerian mass media and the general public to lend support to the campaign on fire and general disaster prevention and control.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Celebrating 150 Years of Media Practice in Nigeria

Sorrow can take care of itself, but to get the true benefit of joy, you must share it- Mark Twain
Nigeria mass media is in a celebration mood and justifiably so. It is 150 years since Iwe Iroyin fun awon ara Egba ati Yoruba; the first newspaper in Nigeria was published in Abeokuta by late Reverend Henry Townsend. It debuted in 1859. Many newspapers have hit the news-stand thereafter. They include the Lagos Weekly Record, Lagos Standard, Lagos Daily News and West African Pilot. Others include Daily Times, National Concord, Third Eye, Post Express, The Diet, The Comet, Weekend Classique, A.M News and Daily Sketch to mention but a few. What all the aforementioned dailies have in common is that they are defunct. The high mortality rate of Nigeria’s print media made the diamond anniversary of Nigerian Tribune worth celebrating with pomp and pageantry. It is to the eternal glory of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo that Nigerian Tribune was established on November 16, 1949. That Tribune managed to survive 60 tortuous years of operation speaks volume of the resilience, focus and courage of the founding father of the newspaper as well as its successive managements.
Sixty hearty cheers to Nigerian Tribune; the paper of the masses, the voice of the oppressed, the champion of the cause of the Yoruba and the Nigerian nation. The little acorn sown 6 decades ago has grown to become a mighty oak. Today, there is no gainsaying that Nigerian Tribune ranks among the nation’s best in the practice of journalism. The paper’s editorial, news reportage, features, and commentaries help in shaping public policy. I am glad to be associated with this news medium which has been offering me its platform to ventilate my views on various topical national issues. I recall with nostalgia my first published article with the newspaper in its Monday, December 11, 1995 edition with the caption: Which Way to Survive? My advice to the management of the Tribune is to improve on the printing quality of the newspaper, particularly that of the picture.
Another legacy of Papa Awolowo is the Nigerian Television which came to being on October 31, 1959. Awo as the Premier of the Western Region demonstrated an uncommon vision when his administration thought it wise to establish the very first television station in Africa some 50 years ago. Then known as Western Nigerian Television (WNTV), the premier TV station was established in the ancient city of Ibadan being the capital of the then Western Region. WNTV later transformed to Nigerian Television (NTV) before being later renamed Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). It is said that there are now over 50 State owned television stations across the country as well as about a dozen licensed private TV stations. The revolution caused by the advent of TV in Nigeria is significant. Unlike just listening to radio, people are now able to enjoy both sight and sound simultaneously. Even the name given to the television in Yorubaland is indicative of its uniqueness. It is called amohunmaworan (which literally translate to a medium that captures voice with pictures). Today, the medium that started by operating for few hours a day has now grown to operate 24 hours service while there is now a flourishing business of Satellite Television which has further revolutionalised the broadcast industry with variety of local and foreign programming.
The overall assessment of 150 years of the existence on Nigerian Press shows that though it is a joyous occasion, it is equally a time for sober reflection. Legally speaking, section 22 of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution states that “the press, radio, television, and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter (i.e. fundamental objectives and directive principle of state policy) and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”. Nigerian media have fared well on this count. However, better performance can be enhanced if the Freedom of Information regime is in place. This is long overdue.
It is true that s. 39 of the 1999 CFRN guarantees right to freedom of expression and the press. However, in practice, there have been several attempts to curtail these rights. This has been a recurring decimal under the successive regimes in Nigeria be it military or civilian. It would be recalled that many newspapers and broadcast stations were proscribed by the military juntas while several journalists were murdered, molested, injured or hounded into exile. Sadly, harassment and killing of journalists is yet to abate as under the present civil rule, similar incidences have been recorded. Media houses have been shut down while journalists have been murdered in cold blood by assassins. The last of these dastardly acts was the September 20, 2009 murder of Bayo Ohu, a political correspondent with The Guardian newspaper.
Among other challenges facing media practice in Nigeria is the poor funding of many of the media outfits by their proprietors as well as low return on investment. It is an open secret that many of the established newspapers and broadcast stations be it public or private suffer from inadequate funding. Salaries of media practitioners are not only relatively small, they are also not paid as at when due. Many of them are rarely exposed to specialised training; they have no insurance policy and are generally ill-motivated. This inadequate welfare package makes journalists susceptible to pecuniary influences and is partly responsible for the exodus of highly skilled media practitioners into other field of human endeavours. Closely link to this is the poor reading culture in Nigeria. In a country of approximately 150 million people, I doubt if there is any newspaper that can boast of a million daily print run. Many newspapers depend more on adverts than sales to break even while few additionally indulge in organising all manner of awards in other to shore up their income. Unhelpful is the high cost of production which has necessitated the constant increase in the price of newspapers and adverts and is largely responsible for the high mortality rate of media houses in Nigeria.
Internet or virtual journalism has also undermined the performance of our traditional print media. With a click of the button, people can now access media publications from all part of the world. The orthodox media has risen to the challenge by establishing their respective websites and publishing online editions which are available to readers with internet access free of charge; this has reduced the patronage of printed version thereby leading to loss of revenue. Worth mentioning is the menace of quacks among Nigerian media practitioners. It is a common phenomenon to see these fake journalists gate-crashing into workshop or conference venues with fake identity cards in order to earn a living. This is unbecoming.
The challenge before media regulators like Nigerian Press Council, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Nigerian Guild of Editors, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, and Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria is to stamp out all these unethical practices. These bodies need to engage Nigerian government to assist in the creation and sustenance of the enabling environment for media practice. Media practitioners too must reciprocate this gesture by eschewing the practise of junk or yellow journalism. They must be factual, professional and patriotic as any act of indiscretion on their part can set the nation ablaze.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nigeria Varsity Crisis: Not yet Uhuru

It is heart-warming to know that the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities has on Friday, October 23, 2009 decided to suspend indefinitely the 4 months old industrial action embarked upon by the union. It would be recalled that government owned universities, made up of 27 federal universities and 35 State universities, had been on strike since June 22, 2009 leaving out the 41 private universities (this is inclusive of the 7 newly licensed). The 2009 ASUU-FG agreement had taken eight years and no fewer than four strikes to conclude and kudos must be given to Comrade Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo State for his sagacity in brokering the deal after it was initially deadlocked. It is hoped that government did not sign the October 21 agreement just to avoid the embarrassment of proposed ASUU and other varsity unions’ street protests during the on-going FIFA U-17 World Football tournament.
The gist of the signed agreement include the approval of about 50% salary increase for the university lecturers, administrative autonomy for the universities, 70 years retirement age for university professors and enhanced funding of the universities as well as signing of the agreement centrally. According to ASUU President, Professor Ukachuwku Awuzie, the agreement signed with the Federal Government prescribed the UNESCO minimum of 26% of the annual budget to education, which, he said, must be achieved by 2020 in accordance with the vision 20:2020 of the Federal Government. Nonetheless, the union has called on the Federal Government to ensure that 18 per cent is allocated to education in 2010 budget and progressively as indicated in the signed agreement.
On the autonomy granted the universities, Awuzie said financial autonomy was not given to the universities, but certain prescriptions that would enhance administrative autonomy for smooth and effective running of the university from department to council levels were included in the agreement. To this end, he said the proposed amendment for the JAMB Act, Education-National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions Act- and the National Universities Commission (NUC) Act (2004) would be presented to the National Assembly “without prejudice to any other proposals that might be brought or have been brought before the National Assembly.” ASUU president also clarified that the agreement signed was binding on all universities operating in Nigeria, saying “what the union negotiated was a minimum benchmark.”
He also made case for the assistance in funding to the state universities by the Federal Government, citing Section 164 (1) of the 1999 Constitution empowering the National Assembly, adding “the agreement contains in addition to the constitutionally backed assistance, a provision for a new direction of the Education Trust Fund (ETF) intervention in Higher Education, access to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PDTF) among others.”
From the tone of the agreement it can be deduced that it is yet a long way to freedom for Nigerian universities. Other things that need be done before a lasting peace can return to our ivory towers include the conclusion of negotiation and signing of agreement with other unions in the universities, these include: the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU) and National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT). The union also said that the agreement signed with the Federal Government “does not address the brain drain in a way that will significantly reduce this threat to the development of Nigeria,” adding that the issue was yet unresolved as the government failed to meet up with the demand for ‘African Average’ on the salary increase.
This is another challenge. Brain-drain has been one of the major problems of tertiary education in Nigeria. There is high turn-over of staffs who are leaving the academia for greener pasture in Nigeria’s private sector and for foreign universities. ASUU has also enjoined people of goodwill to pressurise government to implement the signed agreement and that its members who participated in the strike should not be victimised. This is instructive. It is based on precedent that government is not to be trusted. The UNILORIN 49 saga was a case in point when in May 2001 forty-nine staffs of University of Ilorin were sacked in defiance of a court order for participating in strike action. It is also worth recalling that primary and secondary school teachers in 19 states recently had to embark on another round of strike because of their state governors’ failure to implement the 27% pay rise agreed with them since 2008. It is hoped that the governors will not make good their threat not to honour any agreement signed centrally between ASUU and Federal Government.
It is important for the federal and state governments to capture the financial cost of the implementation of the October 21 agreement in their respective 2010 budget. National Assembly should pass all the necessary legislations to give effect to this agreement. Most importantly, there is need to develop a blue-print for Nigeria’s education sector. Ad-hoc, cosmetic solution will not take us anywhere. In a world ranking of universities published in July 2009 by US News & World Report, no Nigerian universities ranked among the top 400 in the world. It will take a conscious and systematic step to address this. A lasting peace in the universities must also factor in the students. It is unfortunate that the menace of campus cultism has continued unabated in many of Nigerian universities in spite of amnesty granted repentant cultists under President Obasanjo’s administration. These terrorist groups must be uprooted from our ivory towers for peace to reign.
Government, University Senates and their Governing Councils must also enforce discipline on campuses. Lecturers, staff and students who are involved in admission racketeering, sex for grade, gratification for marks, cultism, indolence, truancy, hustling and all acts that are tantamount to compromising the integrity of the university system must be effectively sanctioned. ASUU must ensure that the whole semester the students have lost to strike is made up for them through intensive teaching and supervision. To whom much is given, from him much is expected.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Deadlier than HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes and heart failure rank among the world killer diseases, however, none of these deadly diseases take as many lives in a year as road accidents. All the world known diseases give their victims a fighting chance of survival through adequate care and management of the sickness; not so with road accident. It often claims its victims with a speed of light while others suffer prolong or permanent disability. The recent statistics released by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) about the spate of road accidents in Nigeria is mind-boggling. According to FRSC, the number of reported cases of road accidents on the country's highways between January and first week of October is put at 8,553. In the incidences, about 4,120 persons lost their lives while 20,975 others were seriously injured in the fatal accidents that involved 11,031 vehicles across the nations. From the statistics, it was clear that the accident rate for this year was on the verge of surpassing that of last year, which recorded 11, 341 accidents with total number of deaths put at 6,661 and 27,980 injured. It should be noted that these are figures of reported cases. It is a known fact that many cases of accidents particularly in sub-urban and rural areas go unreported.

The commission in a statement issued as part of preparations for the FIFA U-17 World Cup taking place in Nigeria advised Nigerian motorists and foreign contingents to exhibit extreme caution while plying certain routes designated as dangerous for motorists. The routes designated as black-spots due to some traffic peculiarities associated with them include; Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja, Obollo-Afor-9th Mile-Enugu, Keffi-Akwanga-Jos, Mokwa-Jebba, Lagos-Ibadan and Benin-Ore highways. The statement allegedly signed by the Assistant Corp Marshal in-charge of Operations, Mr. Boboye Oyeyemi also warned road users to strictly avoid road vices such as over-loading, speed violation, drunk-driving, route violation, use of cell phone while driving, non use of seat belts and night trips in view of the inherent traffic hazards associated with such practices. Worthy advice, I dare say.

However, what the FRSC statement failed to mention is the deplorable state of most of Nigerian roads. In The Guardian of 28 October 2009 the Managing Director of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Kabiru Abdulahi, said that over 80 per cent of federal roads have exceeded their life-span and that what is needed on them is total reconstruction and rehabilitation rather than repairs which he said would amount to waste of funds since they are bound to fail within the shortest possible time. Truthfully, all the routes designated as black-spots by FRSC belonged to the federal government. Nigerian Senate passed a motion recently calling on federal government to urgently repair many of the roads under its watch. That perhaps was part of what spurred government to action to award some of them to contractors.

Though it is a welcome development to have road contracts awarded, however, after the fan-fare of signing agreement and payment of mobilisation fee, the usual practice is that many of these road projects get abandoned soon after because the contractors working on them are often starved of funds. It would be recalled that the Ibadan-Oyo-Ogbomosho- Ilorin road project awarded by Obasanjo administration since 2001 or thereabout has not been completed. The situation is similar in many parts of the country. The criminal negligence of most of the roads in Nigeria is therefore partly responsible for the high rate of accidents on our roads. Allied to this is inadequate or total absence of road signs and poor illumination of our roads at night.

The human elements causing accidents that were itemised by the FRSC in its statement are well known to us. However, how much compliance have the FRSC and other ancillary organisations like the Motor Traffic Division of Nigerian Police and Directorate of Road Traffic Services (Vehicle Inspection Office) been able to enforce? The FRSC report claimed its various command units nationwide were able to nab a total of 309,112 offenders on offences totalling 364,496 ranging from non-use of helmet, seat-belt and number plate violations. Though this is significant arrests over a 10 month period, however, it is a far cry from the number of those who daily commit these infractions. What this means is that there is need for synergy among all the traffic management organisations to enforce compliance with road worthiness and traffic regulations. In Abuja, the ban on commercial motor-bikes from operating in the city-centres has led to huge vehicular traffic to Abuja municipal from the satellite towns. If work can be fast-tracked on the ongoing road expansion and metro-line in the Federal Capital Territory these will ease the present chaotic traffic jam in the FCT. However, the revival of the nationwide railway service holds the key to the decongestion of vehicular traffic on the roads as human commuting and haulage business are cheaper and safer through rail and even waterways. It then behoves government to explore and improve on alternate means of transportation such as rail, water and air. The more traffic is taking off roads, the longer the life-span of the roads.

It is mandatory to cater to the welfare of the personnel of agencies and commissions in charge of traffic management in Nigeria. This is what will make them to eschew corruption. Ill-equipped traffic management organisations cannot perform any magic if they are not well motivated to perform their duties. It is unfortunate that staffs, vehicles, communication gadgets and other operational tools are grossly inadequate for these agencies. Be that as it may, management and staffs of these organisations need to also understand that they are offering humanitarian services and should therefore be patriotic and be alive to their responsibilities even beyond the call of duty. There is no gainsaying that our road culture in Nigeria as at today is awful. Positive attitudinal change from road users is therefore imperative. This can be achieved through sustained public education and sensitization campaigns as well as enforcement of road traffic regulations. Life has no duplicate and as such, all of us; drivers and commuters, owe it a duty to obey road traffic regulations while government at all levels must also play their part by providing the enabling environment.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Cost of 2007 Elections in Nigeria

Periodic elections are an integral part of representative democracy. Elections offer citizens the choice to decide who should be their leader. It also offers voters the opportunity to remove non-performing representatives from power. A common voter education slogan is, ‘your vote is your power; use it wisely’ Elections represent the voter’s right to take part in forming a democratic government. Every election comes with a cost; unfortunately, many of us focus more on the economic cost of holding elections, while leaving out the social and political costs. Even when economic cost is analyzed, all aspects of the cost are rarely captured.

For a start, who are the people and institutions who make and spend money during elections? There are three categories: the election management bodies, that is, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs); political parties; and candidates. This is exclusive of the support from non-state actors like the international donor community and NGOs. The 2007 General Elections were arguably the costliest elections Nigeria has ever conducted. Apart from the cost of employing a 5,000-strong workforce in headquarters, and state and local government offices of INEC; about 500,000 ad-hoc staff were engaged to run the polls, and about the same number were hired to conduct the electronic voters’ registration exercise from October 7, 2006 – February 2, 2007. The attempts to use the electronic voting system (EVS) also added to the huge financial cost for the election as 33,000 Direct Data Capture Machines were ordered and when the vendors were behind delivery schedule, implementers had to improvise, acquiring thousands of laptops in order to conduct the Voter Registration. In order to implement the EVS, contracts were awarded for VSAT installations to enable Electronic Transfer of Election Results. Other notable issues that led to the huge cost of the election were the need to re-print over 65 million presidential ballot papers 5 days before the April 21 elections as a result of the Supreme Court ruling overturning the initial disqualification of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Not only that, some INEC staff did not properly vet the ballot papers before they were printed, thereby adding an extra day to the elections. The April 2007 elections were initially planned for 14 and 21 April; however, because of errors of omission or commission by some unscrupulous INEC staff, the elections had to be re-conducted in about 31 of 36 states in Nigeria on April 28, 2007. Not only did the Commission have to procure fresh sensitive election materials for the April 28 polls, it also had to pay the ad-hoc staff on election duty on that date.

With regard to political parties, it will be interesting to know how much the 50 registered political parties received and spent individually and cumulatively on the elections. Sections 225 and 226 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 88 of the Electoral Act 2006 mandated political parties to render annual accounts of their income and expenditures to the INEC, while Sections 89 and 94 of the 2006 Electoral Act also requested the political parties to file their election expense returns to the INEC as well as publish this information in at least two national newspapers. By the INEC deadline of 31 January 2008, only 26 of the 50 registered political parties had submitted their election expenses report to the Commission; none has yet officially published it in two newspapers.

According to the INEC official report on the 2007 general elections, 9,802 candidates ran for 1,564 positions nationwide during the April Polls. The breakdown is as follows:

Type of Election No. of Candidates

  • Presidential (I Seat) 25
  • Governorship (36 Seats) 485
  • Senate (109 Seats) 810
  • House of Reps. (360 Seats) 2,358
  • State House of Assembly (990 Seats) 5,788
  • FCT Area Council Chairmanship (6 Seats) 37
  • FCT Area Legislative Council (62 Seats) 299

Total 9,802

It is very important to know how much each of these candidates spent on their elections. Section 93 Subsection 2-7 of Electoral Act 2006 placed limitations on the amount each candidate may spend in order to run for office. Subsection (8a, b, and c) identified three important areas that candidates’ elections records had permission to omit: monies spent before notice of elections was issued by INEC; monies spent by candidates to obtain their party nominations; and, lastly, monies spent on their elections by their political parties. Aside from this, there was no provision in the law compelling candidates to submit their election expenses to INEC or to publish it for public consumption.

As electoral and constitutional reform is on-going, it is imperative to have legal and accounting mechanisms that will enable the public to know how much each of these critical actors in the electoral process received from private and public sources, as well as the amount of the resources generated for elections that were spent and how it was also expended. Right now, even though INEC, as a public institution is accountable to the National Assembly, an attempt to probe the award of contracts and the funds appropriated to the Commission by the Senate in May 2007 was rebuffed by INEC, who claimed that its solicitors advised ‘that the power of the National Assembly to investigate under Section 88 of the Constitution is incidental to legislation’. INEC claimed that only the Auditor-General of the Federation may audit its account and subsequently submit its report to the National Assembly according to the provisions of Section 85 of the 1999 Constitution. No-one knows when the Auditor General will finish auditing INEC’s account. However, it is unlikely to be very soon, in the light of the controversies surrounding a number of contracts for the elections alleged to have been awarded by INEC. In fact, former Senate President Ken Nnamani called it a ‘bazaar’. According to INEC, only when the report is ready will it be sent to National Assembly for consideration and the findings made public. This, too, is unlikely because the law does not provide for it, nor will the National Assembly – themselves the beneficiaries of the flawed 2007 elections – likely take steps against INEC, even if corrupt practices by the Commission are proven.

As the National Assembly attempts to amend the 1999 Constitution, it is important to note that while it is imperative for INEC and perhaps State Independent Electoral Commissions to be funded from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, it is equally important to insert a disclosure clause that will ensure value for money, and to make the audited accounts of the Commission publicly available to interested individuals and organizations. As previously mentioned, there is also the need for individual candidates and political parties to submit their audited election expense reports to INEC and to publish these in at least two national newspapers.

No financial audit reports have yet been published in any of the three national newspapers as stated in Section 88 (4) of the Electoral Act 2006, nor has the Commission made the audited election expense reports submitted by political parties after the 2007 elections available for public inspection. It also remains to be seen what steps the Commission will take against the political parties that did not submit their election expense reports. It is imperative to capture the income and expenditures of all the critical actors in the electoral process, whether these are Election Management Bodies, candidates, or political parties. We need to generate this data in other to help in the planning for future general elections. However, as illustrated above, it is a Herculean task to capture all the financial resources that go into any election. Even the 2007 elections are proving difficult to document because some of the candidates and parties who contested in the last general elections are still at the election petition tribunals, and a significant number of the election returns have been annulled by the courts. With some of the cases still on appeals, the actual cost of the 2007 elections may not be known until the tribunals have concluded their work and subsequent by-elections conducted in areas where the tribunals have so ordered. Despite the daunting challenge, we still need to grapple with this fact and compute the available income and expenditure figures on the April 2007 elections.

The cost of last April’s 2007 General Elections may be gargantuan in monetary terms; however, the real cost is the subversion of the will and intents of the people. Billions of naira may have been expended on the polls by the electoral commissions, the political parties and the candidates, yet the outcome of the elections has been ruled fundamentally flawed by Election Petitions Tribunals (EPTs) and election observers. These problems necessitated the setting up of the 22-man Electoral Reform Committee in August 2007. The ultimate challenge now is how to restore people’s confidence in the electoral process. The only way to achieve this is by genuine electoral and attitudinal reforms.

*This article was first published in IFES Money and Politics Newsletter of February 2008 (Volume 10)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Caring for the Physically Challenged Persons

No human is immune from vicissitude of life. Professor Chinua Achebe was hale and hearty until a fateful day he got involved in a near fatal road accident which has now confined the literary giant to the wheel chair. Yinka Ayefele, a gospel musician, was also involved in a motor accident. Today, though on wheelchair, he is a household name among Nigerian gospel music lovers. Mohammed Ali was an all time great pugilist; he flew like a butterfly and punches like the sting of a bee. Today, the world boxing heavyweight champion is down with an incurable Parkinson disease. There is a growing community of physically challenged persons, particularly in Nigeria. Reasons being the high incidence of road, industrial and domestic accidents; ethno-religious conflicts; diseases; afflictions; environmental hazards etc. Everyone is a potential member of community of persons with disability.

The issue here is how do we treat those who are already members of this over 19 million estimated persons with disability in Nigeria? How do we treat the blind, the lame, the deaf and dumb, the infirm and invalid, lepers, amputees, mentally challenged, visually impaired, etc who abound around us? Do we discriminate against them, treat them as irritants or offer helping hands to them? Do we realise that Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which articulates fundamental rights also apply to these victims of circumstance? What can we do as government, corporate organisations, groups and individuals to make life better for persons with disability? These are the crux of this article.

Beginning with the political rights, persons with disability ought not to be denied their rights to vote and to be voted for. It would be recalled that Franklin D. Roosevelt ruled United States of America as President for 12 years from the wheelchair. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, physically challenged persons count less in our preparations for elections. The prohibitive cost of standing for elections coupled with the discriminatory attitude of political party executives have oftentimes denied these vulnerable groups the right to contest elections. When it comes to voting, the law is not too friendly to them as well. Section 57 (2) of 2006 Electoral Act says “the Commission (INEC) MAY take reasonable steps to ensure that voters with disabilities are assisted at the polling place by the provision of suitable means of communication, such as Braille, large embossed print or electronic devices or sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in appropriate places”. Because the law did not make it mandatory for the Electoral Management Bodies to provide these audio-visual aids that will help integrate persons with disability into the electoral process, the electoral commissions never cared to make them available. If the persons with disability are sidelined in the electoral process, how about political appointments? Same story. Information has it that only 10 states government have appointed persons with disability as special advisers on disability matters; even at that, it is doubtful if they are provided with funds to make them functional and impactful.

Our environment also conspired to make life uncomfortable for physically challenged persons. Access to public and private buildings is an endurance test for these vulnerable groups. Many of these buildings are without ramps and elevators thereby making access to them huge task for persons on crutches and wheelchairs. It is a psychological torture for dumb and deaf persons to watch or listen to news in this country. Many of our electronic media, be they private or public never factor in these people, who through no fault of theirs could neither hear nor speak. Yet, sign language could be used to interpret news and current affairs to this vulnerable group.

In spite of the explicit provision of Section 42 of the CFRN 1999 which stipulates right to freedom from discrimination, persons with disability are still heavily discriminated against. Employment opportunities are flagrantly denied them even when they are eminently qualified. Labour employers fail to see the advantage persons with disability usually bring to their work which is strong commitment to duty as they are not in position to gallivant about during office hours. Even in few places where these persons have been offered employment, they are treated with disdain as they are seen more as sub-humans. Their potentials are either not fully utilised or misapplied. National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) and National Directorate of Employment (NDE) that are supposed to assist persons with disability to be self employed could not do much due to inadequate funding of their programmes and stiff competition from the able-bodied men and women.

Why then do we snort at the menace of beggars? These hapless and challenged persons must survive one way or the other, hence their importunate requests for alms. Unfortunately, various governments’ reactions are to indiscriminately arrest these beggars and dump them out of town rather than providing them social welfare that will make begging unattractive to them.

In the sports sector, whereas our able bodied athletes often wobble and fumble at international tournaments, records have it that Nigerian disable athletes have brought Nigeria more laurels and national honour than their able bodied counterparts. Unfortunately, while many corporate organisations rush to sponsor live telecast of Olympic Games, the Paralympics hardly get mentioned no matter how great the performance of the physically challenged athletes are. This is unfair.

Many of the issues raised above are what a bill titled ‘National Disability Bill’ seeks to address. Fortunately, the bill has been passed by both chambers of the National Assembly (NASS) but needs the conference committee of NASS to harmonize their positions before it can be sent to the President for assent. This should be done urgently. However, legal reform - though desirable - is not the magic wand. More important are faithful implementation of the laws and positive change of attitude towards these persons with disability. This we can do by showing them love, care and affection. Remember, no one knows tomorrow!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This Amnesty Deal Must Not Fail !

Before President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua declared amnesty for all Niger Delta militants on June 25, 2009, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and other disparate groups had made the Nigeria’s oil producing region near ungovernable due to the fierce armed struggle the militants engaged in against the Nigerian state. Not even the bombardment of Gbaramatu Kingdom in May 2009 in which about 53 communities were allegedly destroyed deterred the militants from avenging the attack on their communities. MEND on the night of July 12 struck with military precision on the Atlas Cove Jetty in Lagos killing about five security men on duty and reducing the jetty to rubbles. Before the attack in Lagos, oil pipelines had became a toy in the hands of the militants as they vandalise it at will while also taking oil workers hostage and institutionalising the culture of ransom kidnapping which has now spread to other parts of the country. Unrest in the oil-producing Niger Delta had reduced Nigeria’s crude production with daily output standing at about 1.7 million barrels, from the 2.6 million bpd in 2006.

In fairness to President Yar’Adua, he meant well for Niger Delta and seems to be taking the right steps in resolving the age-long neglect of the region. Not only did he make it one of his 7 Point Agenda; in his two years in office, the president has created a Niger Delta Ministry while also increasing funding for the Niger Delta Development Corporation (NDDC). A Presidential Panel on Amnesty and Disarmament of Militants in the Niger Delta was set up on May 5, 2009 to work out details of the amnesty programme which he later made public on June 25. Under the amnesty, the militants are to turn in their arms at designated centres and register for rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. The amnesty period is August 6 - October 4, 2009. About 10,000 militants are expected to take advantage of the amnesty. To demonstrate his genuine intention, the president through the Attorney General and Minister of Justice on July 13, 2009 discontinued the trial of MEND leader, Henry Okah who had been standing trial for alleged gun-running and treason.

However, since the announcement of the amnesty deal, some issues have cropped up which have threatened the success of the amnesty plan. The first was when South-South Governors’ Forum on July 23, 2009 threatened to pull out of the amnesty deal on the ground that the Petroleum Industry Bill, which seeks to reform the oil sector, does not take care of the interest of host communities. They also kicked against the reported movement of the proposed University of Petroleum from Effurun, Delta State, to Kaduna State while also alleging that the Federal Government does not have any concrete post-amnesty plan on the ground. President Yar’Adua met with the aggrieved governors and amicably resolved the issues with them.

The second major hiccup was when on September 4, 7, and 25, 2009 hundreds of militants took to the streets of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State to protest their alleged neglect by the state government and the Presidential Amnesty Committee. The ex-insurgents kicked against being housed in dilapidated building in rehabilitation centres and threatened to go back to the creeks to resume their 'struggle' if they are not paid their allowances. On August 7, 2009, Governor Timipre Sylva had shepherded about 32 militants to meet President Yar’Adua ahead of the formal submission of their arsenal at a well publicised event on August 22 in Yenagoa.

Perhaps, the greatest threat to the amnesty deal is the frosty relationship and muscle flexing between two Timis. The administration of Timipre Sylva, Governor of Bayelsa State has accused the Honourary Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Matters, Mr. Ndutimi Alaibe of undermining his authority. The Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government had in a reaction to the disarmament that took place at Azuzuma, Bayelsa State accused Alaibe of introducing politics into the amnesty exercise. The SSG also said the protest in Yenagoa is politically motivated to erode the gains recorded by his governor in the amnesty programme. It is an open secret that Timi Alaibe has his eyes fixed on the governorship of Bayelsa State and would want to make capital political gain of his present position. However, the issue at hand needs to be dispassionately tackled so that the amnesty deal does not get scuttled. There is need for the two Timis to sheath their swords and work together in the larger interest of Nigeria and their Niger Delta region.

It would be recalled that on September 6, 2009, thirty-year-old South Wing Commander of the MEND, Mr. Kile Selky Torughedi, a.k.a 'Young Shall Grow' submitted a large cache of weapons to Timi Alaibe. They included assorted guns and rifles, grenade launcher chargers, grenades, dynamites, bombs and gun boats. He claimed he had 350 fighters and that he speaks French and has soldiers from Liberia and Gabon. In footage of his village shown on Africa Independent Television (AIT) on September 17, I saw a Nursery school founded and funded by Kile as well as old women he engages on environmental sanitation on N10, 000 monthly salaries each. Talk of failure of governance!

With few days to the October 4 deadline for militants to embrace disarmament, the deal has recorded modest success in that less than a thousand of the expected 10,000 militants have so far laid down their arms as at the time of writing this piece. The reason behind this is not farfetched. With all sorts of complaints from those who were quick to accept the offer; the majority left in the creeks have their doubts about the sincerity of government on the amnesty programme. It is therefore high time the Presidential Committee on Amnesty became more proactive in resolving all outstanding challenges be it funding, logistics or political. This amnesty deal must not be allowed to fail for there may not be another chance for government to show sincerity of purpose in resolving the Niger Delta question. Now that MEND has extended its unilateral 60 days ceasefire which ended on September 15, 2009 by another 30 days, all hands must be on deck to ensure that the doubting militants are convinced to lay down their arms and embrace the amnesty deal. If need be the amnesty period should be extended. Above all, there must be immediate and sustained development of the Niger Delta region. This is the only way Nigeria can avoid a relapse into anarchy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nigeria and the MDGs

Nigeria is one of the 189 countries that endorsed the Millennium Declaration in September 2000 in United States of America. The Declaration sets out eight goals to be reached by 2015. They are: Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty; Achieve universal primary education; Promote gender equality and empower women; Reduce child mortality; Improve maternal health; Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; Ensure environmental sustainability and, Develop a global partnership for development. These are to be fully achieved or met by half between 1990 and 2015. Is Nigeria any near achieving these goals in less than 6 years time?

Minister of Youth Development, Senator Akinlabi Olasunkanmi on July 15, 2008 said 64 of the 80 million youths in Nigeria are unemployed. He stated further at a 2-day stakeholders meeting on youth employment in Abuja that 1.6 million of the employed youths are underemployed and went on to inform that data made available by the National Manpower Board and Federal Bureau of Statistics indicated that only about 10 per cent of the graduates released into the labour market annually by universities and other tertiary institutions in the country were able to get paid employment. With this frightening statistics, any wonder that 300,000 people applied for a 7,000 job vacancies at the Nigeria Prison Service and Nigeria Immigration Service in 2008? During the recruitment exercise on July 12, 2008, Minister of Interior who oversees the two agencies said that 43 people were tentatively conformed dead. Again, with this mind boggling figures, is there any wonder that in the month of July 2008 alone, Nigeria lost 14 people who embarked on a dangerous sea crossing to Spain with the Spanish coastal guards saying that thousands of people die yearly in such escapade with Nigerians being the bulk of victims?

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that over one million infants die yearly in Nigeria while nearly a third of children less than five years of age are underweight. UNICEF, during the launch of its flagship publications on the situation of children throughout the world in Abuja, went further to say that Nigeria ranked amongst twelve countries in the entire world with the highest mortality rate of children below the age of five. The report quoted UNICEF Representative in Nigeria; Dr Robert Limlim as saying that half of Nigeria’s population lacked access to safe drinking water while the number of children crippled by polio has been on the rise. In fact, in the month of July 2008 alone, Nigeria records 52 new cases of wild polio according to Global Polio Eradication Initiative Weekly report because many parents still have the belief that vaccines contained birth control drugs. Nigeria also has high maternal mortality. To confirm the deplorable state of our health institutions, our dear President Yar’Adua has had to go abroad for medical attention. As the front horse is the one the back ones uses to pace, many of the current and former governors are also travelling out in droves for Medicare. If Nigeria’s health institutions were to be effective would there have been need for these people to go abroad for medical attention? The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi said his doctors in Nigeria could not appropriately diagnose his ailment until he traveled to Britain where he was properly diagnosed as having cancer of the lung. Yet, Cuba who has only sugarcane as its resource has had her president, Fidel Castro terminally sick for the past four years, yet I never read or heard that Fidel was flown abroad for medical attention.

The Punch of July 30, 2008 quoted the Assistant Country Representative of UNICEF, Mr. Karim Akadiri as saying that about 10 million school age children in both primary and secondary schools in Nigeria are not enrolled in any school, this comprised of 4.7 million children who were supposed to be in primary schools and 5.3 million others who are supposed to be in secondary schools but are currently idling away. Again, 15 million children are at present engaged in child labour with over 40 per cent of them at the risk of being trafficked yearly, both within and outside the country. Akadiri added that 1.8 million children have so far become orphans due to HIV/AIDS pandemic. As I write this, it’s been three months since labour unions in Nigerian universities went on strike while 19 States chapters of Nigerian Union of Teachers embarked on industrial action since September 1, 2009 due to State governments’ inability to pay them the salary increase they agreed on since 2008. Now with 10 million out of school despite the launch in December 1999 in Sokoto of Universal Basic Education and the protracted industrial disputes in the education sector, how do we hope to meet the Millennium Development Goals?

President Yar’Adua came up with 7 Point Agenda with many items in the agenda being linked to the achievement of the MDGs and the blurred Vision 20-20. However more than 2 years at the helms of affair, only the president and perhaps his cabinet know what the 7 Point Agenda means in real terms. The president has spent about 28 months planning and Nigerians await the implementation. Life expectancy in Nigeria is now 49, social infrastructures are in deplorable conditions, corruption is on the increase while culture of impunity pervades. Africa Peer Review Mechanism did its assessment on Nigeria in 2008 and here is what the report has to say about President Yar’Adua’s seven point agenda “It lacks specifications of the structural transformation to be taken”. The APRM report said further that: “One could categorize Yar’Adua’s seven point agenda as a political party-led government ambition that is even questionable in its realism. Although the document alludes to a Nigerian dream, it does not constitute a long-term vision”. Enough of sloganeering about the 7 Point Agenda. Where is the blueprint? Concrete action please!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Salvaging Nigerian Sports

This is not the best of time for Nigerian sports and their lovers. The sector that brought Nigeria and its sportsmen and women fame and fortune is in the doldrums. Our love song has turned to dirge. Things have fallen apart and the centre can no longer hold. Who shall restore us to our once glorious and illustrious path? Boxing used to be Nigeria’s king of sports before football. Boxing produced world and continental champions like Hogan ‘Kid’ Bassey, Dick Tiger, Nojeem Mayegun, Obisia Nwapa, Peter Koyenwachie, Bash Ali and most recently Samuel Peters. After the flash-in-the-pan success of Samuel Peters, Nigerian boxing went into a coma. While the popularity of boxing was waning, that of football and athletics assumed meteoric rise. Nigeria, for close to two decades, dominated Africa in track and field events like Long Jump, Sprints, Hurdles and Relays as well as Table-Tennis while football became the undisputed king of our sports. Football is the toast of Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion, age, sex or political affiliation. It is a unifying factor and consolidated Nigeria as a global brand. 1994 -‘96, in my estimation, was the peak period of Nigeria’s football. In 1994, we won the Nations Cup and had a good run at the World Cup. In 1996, Super Eagles won the Atlanta Olympic football gold medal. Nigeria was rated 5th best footballing country in the world in 1994 while Gen. Oladipo Diya (Rtd.) referred to Nigeria’s 1996 Olympic gold medal as the mother of all gold. After that era, our other successes had been at the youth championship like U-17 and U-20 as well as the women football, particularly Super Falcons who are acclaimed African champion.

Nowadays, watching Team Nigeria in any sports is an invitation to heart-attack. Not only do we no longer play inspiring football, we have also been embroiled in all sorts of scandals with the most recent one being the detection by Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MSI) of 15 over-aged players in the Nigerian squad preparing for the 13th FIFA U-17 World Cup finals which Nigeria is hosting from October 24 to November 15, 2009. Before then, over $200,000 was alleged missing from the accounts department of the Nigerian Football Federation while issue of unpaid bonus also rocked the camp of Falcons during one of their international competitions. As things stand, Nigeria is as good as missing a second successive opportunity to be at the World Cup. Our chances of qualifying for the next 2010 Mundial in South Africa was blown after our ‘Super’ Eagles played a heart-rending 2-2 draw with the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia on Sunday, September 6, 2009. On top of the dismal performance the players were allegedly paid $10,000 ‘winning’ bonus even when they did not win. How better can a nation reward failure and mediocrity!

At the recently concluded World Athletics Championship in Berlin where Usain Bolt of Jamaica broke two world records and won three gold medals, not only that Team Nigeria didn’t win any medal, three of our athletes also failed dope test. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic in China, while Michael Phelps of USA won 8 Gold medals in Swimming events, Nigeria only managed to win a couple of Bronze medals through Blessing Okagbure in Long Jump and Chuka Chukwumerije in Taekwondo. To date, 1996 is Nigeria’s Olympic best outing with Chioma Ajunwa’s Long Jump gold medal as well as the football gold and few other medals in sprint.

If the truth must be told, poor performances and the dearth of laurels from Nigerian athletes in recent time is traceable to government’s domineering influence on our sports; calibre of our sports managers and the athletes themselves. How do I mean? There is high level of politics in Nigerian sports administration. There was a time when some state governors became chairmen of some of the sports associations and ran them like personal estates while some sport associations chairmen were imposed by Sports Ministry if not by the Minister himself. Coaches and athletes are sometime selected based on who they know in the corridor of power and not on their professional competence. Ethnic balancing and political consideration influence who gets appointed as coaches and who gets called up as an athlete, while inadequate funding made welfare of athletes’ Herculean responsibility. Of course, our sporting facilities are obsolete and badly maintained while there is also no blueprint for sports development. Athletes preparation for tournaments are largely shoddy and uncoordinated while some of them try to cheat the system by making false age declaration. Lack of adequate care and support have made some Nigerian athletes lackadaisical to national duty even as some have adopted dual nationality and are now representing other countries.

Crying over spilt milk will achieve nothing. In my own estimation, Nigeria’s sports sector needs total overhaul. This is the time to act on the various investigative reports gathering dusts in Nigeria’s Sports Ministry and Presidency. If there is a need to conduct fresh inquiry to unearth why it is no longer at ease with Nigerian sports, so be it. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua must get to the bottom of the crisis in Nigeria’s sports. The Minister of Sports and Chairman of National Sports Commission (NSC) as well as Executive Councils of various sport associations/ federations must be thoroughly probed to know why sports under their watch are in coma. To my mind, it is only when the Augean stables had been cleaned in the NSC and the various sports associations that the private sector can be guaranteed to invest reasonably in Nigeria’s sports sector. If the president will act with dispatch to salvage Nigeria’s sports, he would be remembered by posterity as the one who gave the sector the desired national re-birth. A stitch in time saves nine.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

NYSC, a Scheme in need of Reform

The National Youth Service Corps was established in 1973 by General Yakubu Gowon (Rtd.) administration with the aim of fostering unity among Nigerian young educated elite. The Scheme is in its 36 years of existence amidst heated debate on whether or not the NYSC has outlived its usefulness. In fact, the incumbent Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Kano, Prof. Attahiru Jega has suggested that the scheme should be converted into a military service and should be made voluntary. Others, including some serving corps members themselves have suggested that the scheme should be abolished.

There is no gainsaying that NYSC is in need of reform but to call for the scrapping of the scheme will be counter-productive. Available statistics shows that over 1.5 million has participated in the scheme in the last 36 years of its establishment. At inception, the scheme enrolled 2,364 but in 2008 alone, 250,000 graduates were mobilized for the mandatory one year service. What can be inferred from the above statistics is that there is an astronomic growth in the number of students mobilized for the scheme. However, has there been a corresponding provision of material, financial and structural resources to meet the huge number of participants? NO! According to the immediate past Director General of the scheme, Brig-General Yusuf Bomoi, challenges facing the NYSC include: dilapidated status of some orientation camps and inadequate camp facilities in the existing ones. Other problems listed include, corps members rejection by their places of primary assignment; underutilization of some serving corps members and fraudulent inclusion of names of unqualified people for service. Additionally, from my personal experience, lack of provision of accommodation for serving corps members by their places of primary assignment as well as exploitation of corps members by the NYSC staff and some of the corps employers also form part of the problem.

However, in spite of the numerous challenges facing the Scheme, it still has a lot of usefulness and relevance. It is exhilarating to wear the customized NYSC brown Khaki and crested vests, boots and tennis canvass. The Scheme also continues to expose young educated Nigerians to diverse cultures, traditions and customs of other ethnic groups as graduate youths are posted away from their States of origin and schooling. Moreover, corps members are used as ad-hoc census and electoral officials when the need arises. It thus widens ones worldview. The NYSC scheme has also promoted inter-tribal and inter-ethnic marriages. What’s more, many have equally been retained in States and places where they served. All these coupled with the perception of the Scheme as a means of poverty alleviation, albeit temporarily, are some of the enduring virtues of the NYSC that cannot be discountenanced even after 35 of its existence.

Some of the corps members who complained about the scheme are indolent and hedonistic. They want to be posted to city centers where they will have access to light, water, good accommodation and telephone services. Only a significant few take their posting to rural communities stoically. Yet, this scheme is about service, a national service for that matter. NYSC teaches the values of life. It teaches that all that glitters is not gold and that there is need to contribute to the upliftment of the society. That is why a component of it is a periodic community development service (CDS). What is fundamentally wrong if corps members who read Mechanical Engineering, Mass Communication, Law or Architecture are posted to primary and secondary schools to teach? There is none of these professionals who did not, I believe, possess a secondary school certificate before proceeding to the University or Polytechnic. Why then do corps members complain bitterly about being posted to schools to teach? Where are the industries and companies that would have assisted to absorb many of the professionals mobilized for the Youth Service? Even, the allowance being paid corps members (N9, 775), though very inadequate is meant to teach lesson in prudence and resource management. However, the Scheme, like every human endeavour, is susceptible to abuse and is far from being perfect.

The solution to the myriads of problems facing NYSC lies in diversified funding sources. It is high time States, local government and agency like Education Tax Fund are made to provide counterpart funding for the sustenance of the Scheme. Corporate bodies should also be made to chip in their support while the Scheme should be allowed to organize fund raising. It is imperative to stipulate provision of decent accommodation and a minimum wage payable as a prerequisite for all those who write in to request for corps members. Local and State governments would also need to construct more Corpers Lodge to accommodate those serving under the Scheme. Many of our insurance companies can also give free life insurance for serving corps members. I also subscribe to the idea of making the Scheme voluntary as the projected 300,000 figures for 2009 is astronomic. I bet many more graduate students will still willingly volunteer to engage in the Scheme. After all, due to the high rate of unemployment, there are people who are said to be involved in antics like name swapping in order to be re-mobilized to serve more than once. The managers of the Scheme can also start thinking about reducing the length of the service period to six months instead of one year or alternatively leave it at one year but use the last three months for intensive training of corps members in entrepreneurial or business skills. This can be a joint venture between NYSC and National Directorate of Employment (NDE). For those who successfully undergo this training, micro credit should be made available to them as a start-up capital for self-employment. This way, the government would start taming the current menace of unemployment. Lastly, NYSC will need to purge itself of the bad eggs in its midst while Zonal Inspectors (ZIs) also need to work harder at protecting the interest of serving corps members under them against the shylock corps employees. Some of these suggestions will need parliamentary amendment of the Act/ Decree establishing the Scheme. This should be drafted without further delay for passage into law.