Friday, June 29, 2012

Nigerian Senate and the Pension Fund Scam

“This is not only a monumental fraud, but a national embarrassment. This is one report that the government should not ignore, it should be implemented.” – Senate President, David Mark on Thursday, June 21, 2012
I couldn’t agree more with the above statement credited to Nigeria’s Senate President, David Mark while adopting the recommendations of the Senate probe into the pension scam. There is no gainsaying that Nigeria has totally been engulfed and enveloped by corruption. Hardly will a week pass without one story or the other about high level corruption. I doubt if the Transparency International will not place us once again at the lower rung of the ladder of countries with high proclivity for corrupt practices. Six months into year 2012, there have been several corruption related scandals involving both private and public sectors. There have been the over one trillion Naira fuel subsidy scam, the $620,000 bribery allegation involving the chairman and the secretary of the committee that conducted the fuel subsidy probe, the N44 million demanded by the dissolved Committee on Capital Market from the Security and Exchange Commission popularly referred to as Oteh versus Hembe scandal, the Malabu oil deal  and now the multi-billion Naira Pension fraud perpetrated by some undesirable elements in the civil service as well as the members of the Task Force inaugurated to right the wrongs in the pension fund administration. Are we cursed or are we the cause? Is this all about resource curse? Is there a future for a corruption ridden Nigeria? Are we really on track in our fight against corruption?
It is important to recap some of the findings of the Senator Aloysious Etok-led Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment and States and Local Government Administration. The probe panel observed what it described as ‘syndicated and institutionalised corruption, fraud and embezzlement in the management of pension funds in the country’. The Senator Etok Committee uncovered N273.9 billion pension fraud from 2005 to 2011 and made a total of 104 recommendations which were adopted after a thorough debate of the committee’s report. According to the Senate President the looted funds were enough to pay all pensioners in the country for 15 years!
According to a comprehensive report of the committee published in Daily Trust of Thursday, June 21, 2012, out of the total sum of N1.025tn received as pension funds by the various pension offices and boards within the period, only N751.4 bn was expended, with N273.9bn looted. The report further stated that, out of the N213.3bn pension funds received by the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, only N154.6bn was disbursed; while the Military Pension Board disbursed only N294bn out of the N317.6bn it received. The report also reveals that the Customs, Immigration and Prisons Pension Office paid only N57.4bn out of the N85.2bn released to it; the Department of State Service Pension Office, N9.4bn out of N34.7bn; and the Police Pension Office, N88.2bn out of N131.4bn. Details further shows that within the period under review, out of the N176.4bn received by other parastatals as pension funds, only N100.6bn was expended; while only N46.9bn was spent out of the N55.8bn released for the payment of retirees of universities across the nation. This was made possible, according to the committee, because of beneficial collusion and conspiracy by government officials including some unscrupulous bank officials.

The committee recommended, among other things, that the chairman of the Pension Task Team, Mr Abdulrasheed Maina and all members of the team be arrested and prosecuted by the police while also proposing that the team be immediately disbanded as its continued existence and usurpation of statutory functions and violation of extant laws is illegal. The alleged crimes committed by Maina’s team, according to the committee, include: illegal contract splitting and award to the tune of N1.8bn; spending N1.6bn as running cost of the police pension instead of N80 million appropriated; spending N830.8 million purportedly for the payment of June 2010 pension using cheques instead of e-payment system; dubious enrolment of 49,395 pensioners into the payroll; spending N234 million on the already 90 percent completed biometric capturing with no files, data and documents from the pension department and spending N17 million on the biometric verification of less than 30 pensioners in Diaspora without recourse to the Nigerian Embassy/High Commission responsible for such. It also came to fore during investigation that members of the Presidential Task Team on Pension Reform used bank accounts of employees of the Police Pensions Office to siphon about N5.9bn of the funds belonging to the office.
Is it not worrisome that PRTT who had earlier in the year received wide acclamation for detecting  71, 133 fake pensioners after a nationwide biometric verification of pensioners and  discovering N151bn fraud has now found itself in the above chronicled mess? If those entrusted with correcting the ills of the society will themselves become part of the problem rather than the solution, who then are we to trust?  It would be recalled that a former Director of Pension in the Office of Head of Service of the Federation from Kogi State, currently standing trial for pension fraud, had admitted paying someone N60 million bribe meant to pave way for clinching the ticket of his political party ahead of the December 3, 2011 election in the confluence state. Just imagine if he had succeeded in his political ambition, Kogi State will have been done for.
According to the Human Rights Watch Report on Nigeria released on January 22, 2012: “Nigeria made only limited progress with its anti-corruption campaign in 2011. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at this writing had arraigned 35 nationally prominent political figures on corruption charges since 2003, including in 2011 a former federal minister, four former state governors, and a former speaker and deputy speaker of the House of Representatives. But executive interference with the EFCC, a weak and overburdened judiciary, and the agency’s own failings have undermined the effectiveness of its work. At this writing the commission had only secured four convictions of senior political figures, and they faced relatively little or no prison time. The EFCC has failed to prosecute other senior politicians widely implicated in corruption, and the political elite continues to squander and siphon off the country’s tremendous oil wealth, leaving poverty, malnutrition, and mortality rates among the world’s highest.” Need I say more?

Nigerian Political Parties and Investment Opportunities

With the coming into force of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which abolished public funding of political parties, many of the parties have been facing hard times meeting their financial needs. Even when the public grant was in place, it was insignificant considering the enormity of resources needed to fund political party administration. This development seems to have made some of the political parties to become creative and ingenious in surviving the harsh economic conditions of the country. A news report in one of Nigeria’s national newspaper, Sunday Punch of June 17, 2012 broke the news that the Peoples Democratic Party is planning to establish PDP Holding Company Ltd to hold and negotiate the interests of the party in all investments and business arrangements. Through the company, PDP hope to acquire oil and telecommunication licenses to generate revenue for the party. Other areas where the party hopes to generate incomes include real estate and the establishment of print and electronic media companies. The report observed that this was part of the revenue generation and investments strategies of the party, which was proposed by its National Financial Secretary, Mr. Bolaji Anani to the National Chairman of the party, Dr. Bamanga Tukur. The party planned to “raise short, medium and long term loans from financial institutions to fund the party’s investments and programmes with minimum risk.

The newspaper did a features story on the issue in its edition of June 24, 2012 where it sought opinions of some people on the issue. Their responses were diverse. Was the party right in wanting to set up a holding company? I would say yes. The country’s law is in full support of this. Section 225 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as well as section 89 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) both requires political parties to submit to INEC statement of assets and liabilities. However, parties are forbidden from holding or possessing assets or funds from outside Nigeria. More pointedly, INEC on page 7 of its Political Party Finance Handbook 2011 says “Political parties may obtain funds for their operations from the following only: (a) Membership fee (b) Income generated by property owned by political party (c) Profit from the income of the enterprises owned by political party (d) Public funding i.e. grant from the state; and (e) Contributions from legal entities and natural persons.” It is hoped that other registered political parties will follow the example of PDP and set up their investment enterprises to enhance their party funding. However, political parties must do this within the ambit of the law.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Charles Taylor, Hosni Mubarak and Lessons for African Leaders

No evil deeds can go unpunished. Any evil done by man to man will be redressed. If not now, then certainly later; if not by man, then by God for the victory of evil over good can only be temporary – Dele Giwa.

Nigeria’s unending tragedies of the recent past have made public commentators to be quiet on lessons to be drawn from the convictions of two former African Presidents.  64 year old erstwhile Liberian president, Charles Taylor, was on May 30 handed a 50 years jail term for committing war crimes in Sierra Leone by the International Criminal Court sitting in The Hague, Netherland while an Egyptian Court also sentenced 84 year old Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian president for 30 years to life imprisonment on June 2.  According to Cable News Network and other international newswire, Charles Taylor was convicted for supplying and encouraging rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in a campaign of terror, involving murder, rape, sexual slavery and the conscription of children younger than 15. He was also found guilty of using Sierra Leone's diamond deposits to help fuel her civil war with arms and guns while enriching himself with what have commonly come to be known as "blood diamonds." He was the first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes since World War II.

Judge Richard Lussick was quoted to have said that "The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting some of the most heinous crimes in human history. The crimes - which took place over five years - included cutting off the limbs of their victims and cutting open pregnant women to settle bets over the sex of their unborn children. In return for a constant flow of diamonds, Taylor provided arms and both logistical and moral support to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels - prolonging the conflict and the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone. While Mr. Taylor never set foot in Sierra Leone, his heavy footprint is there.” Charles Taylor was not the lone convict; others include one of RUF leaders, Issa Sesay, who received a 52-year jail term and a rebel from the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) group, Alex Tamba Brima who was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment. Taylor had accused the prosecution of paying and threatening witnesses in his war crimes trial.

While reacting to Charles Taylor’s conviction, Korto Williams, director of ActionAid Liberia, said: "Not only is this verdict an opportunity for Sierra Leone and Liberia to move forward, it also signals the international community's clear intent that any leader who misuses their power and carries out state-sanctioned violence will be held responsible for their crimes and will be punished." I couldn’t agree with him more.

Hosni Mubarak on his part was one of the three African leaders who were ousted by popular uprising termed “Arab Spring” which swept through the continent in 2011. The first of the trio to be consumed by the revolt was Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, followed by Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammer Ghaddafi of Libya. Hosni bowed to people’s power as expressed at Tahrir Square after 18 days of civil unrest. During the rebellion, an estimated 850 people were reported killed by the Egyptian security agencies.  It was for his complicity in the killing of protesters that an Egyptian court had sentenced the octogenarian ruler to life imprisonment. Habib el-Adly, Mubarak's minister of the interior, was also jailed for life but Mubarak's sons Gamal and Alaa were cleared of corruption. In sentencing, Judge Ahmed Rifaat was alleged to have called Mr. Mubarak’s tenure “30 years of intense darkness” He said further that officials had “committed the gravest sins, tyranny and corruption without accountability or oversight as their consciences died, their feelings became numb and their hearts in their chests turned blind.”


According to The Guardian of UK, “Mr. Mubarak’s conviction and court appearance — on a hospital gurney in the metal cage that holds criminal defendants in Egypt — offered the kind of vivid example of the humiliation of their once-invincible ruler that thrilled Egyptians with a feeling of liberation.” In his reaction, Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch's deputy Middle East director said "These convictions set an important precedent, since just over a year ago seeing Hosni Mubarak as a defendant in a criminal court would have been unthinkable. But the acquittal of senior ministry of interior officials for the deaths and injuries of peaceful protesters leaves police impunity intact and the victims still waiting for justice." For Mubarak, it is an unending misfortune. His once magical name has suddenly became an anathema so much so that the vestiges of his 30 years administration are now being wiped off with the latest being the defeat of his immediate past Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik by the candidate of Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi in the June 16 – 17 presidential polls whose result was officially released on June 24, 2012.

Do Nigerian leaders and indeed African Heads of State and Government have anything to learn from the adversity of Mubarak and Taylor? For me, the main lesson is that abuse of power will no longer be condoned by international community. The conviction of Hosni Mubarak as an “accessory to murder” because he failed to stop the killings of his people who were demanding for justice, fairness and equity shows that indeed Nigerian leadership could be held to account for the numerous deaths and injuries of unarmed protesters during the June 12 political crisis of 1993, several labour organized anti fuel hike protests and indeed the weeklong January 2012 anti subsidy removal revolt. 

Also, considering that Charles Taylor was convicted for aiding and abetting crime in other country, African leaders need to be careful henceforth in masterminding conflicts in other climes. Economic Community of West African States, African Union, other regional and sub-regional groupings need to impress it on their members to respect supremacy of their countries laws, equality of all citizens before the law as well as fundamental human rights as enshrined in their countries statutes and international covenants. It is most unfortunate that Africa continent has been the bastion of crises with coups and counter coups, wars, repressions, famine, droughts, endemic corruption, pandemic diseases and utter misgovernance.  African leaders owe it a duty to their citizens to run open society where civil liberties are guaranteed and rule of law obeyed in truth and indeed. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Nigeria’s House of Scandals

“Integrity is necessary for systems and institutions to be strong. Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly. What sort of laws will they make?  - Former president Olusegun Obasanjo while speaking at the fourth Academy for Entrepreneurial Studies, Nigeria Annual Conference, held in Lagos in May 2012

On Wednesday June 6, 2012 Nigeria’s Senate and House of Representatives had a low key celebration of the end of their first session in the 7th Legislative Assembly. They commended themselves for having helped to stabilized Nigeria’s democracy. The importance of legislature in a democracy cannot be underestimated or over-emphasized. The parliament is the linchpin on which democracy rests.  Populated by the elected representatives of the people, parliaments make laws for the peace, order and good government of the country; approve annual and supplementary budgets of the government; oversee the performance of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies; approve nominations into key government positions, etcetera. This they do in consonance with Sections 4 and 88, among other sections of the 1999 constitution (as amended).

By the provisions of Section 4(2) of the Constitution, the National Assembly shall have power "to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation ..." Section 88. (1) says “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed investigation into - (a) any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws, and (b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for - (i) executing or administering laws enacted by National Assembly, and (ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly. (2) The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to - (a) make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and (b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.

As highlighted above, the National Assembly has the constitutional responsibility to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste (S. 88(2b).  It is in respect of this power that the Speaker of House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal in January set up Hon. Farouk Lawan Ad Hoc Committee to probe fuel subsidy regime in Nigeria.  The committee tabled its report on April 18 while it was adopted on April 25.  One of the Nigerian newspapers, The Guardian, has this to say about the report: “the lawmakers in their 61-point recommendations, displayed the roll-call of institutions, private enterprises that ran a well-organized corruption regime, where both state officials and their private cohorts denied Nigerians the benefits of the subsidy policy, diverted public funds, over-invoiced fuel imports, and collected rebate for them.”  The highlights of the report included its recommendation of the refund of N1.067 trillion to the federal purse; the call for the unbundling of NNPC to make its operations more efficient and transparent; the request for quick passage  of a well-drafted and comprehensive Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB);   the directive to NNPC to stop any form of deductions not captured in Appropriation Act before remittance to the Federation Account, and the request that the corporation should submit its transactions to the operational guidelines of the subsidy scheme.

Civil right groups, media and the wider Nigerian public have  been pressurizing the federal government to implement the report of the probe report until facts emerged recently that indeed the chairman of the probe panel Farouk Lawan had cut a deal with one of the fuel marketers in order to protect the company’s interest.  It turned out that Rep. Lawan had demanded a princely sum of $3 million from Mr. Femi Otedola, Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas out of which he had received a cumulative sum of $620,000. Unknown to him, it was a sting operation which was carried out by the men of the State Security Services (SSS) after a formal complaint was made by Mr. Otedola to them. The paid sums were marked currency notes and the whole deal was taped.  

On June 10, Hon Lawan vehemently denied the allegation. At a press briefing in Abuja on that day he said, “I categorically deny that I or any member of the committee demanded and received any bribe from anybody in connection with the fuel subsidy probe and I believe that this is evident from the thorough and in-depth manner the investigation was carried out. The present mudslinging is not unexpected in view of the caliber of people whose actions and inactions were found wanting in the report. I am aware that in their desperation to discredit the report and divert attention of the public from the real issues of large scale fraud in high places established in the report, a video footage displaying a caricature of my person allegedly having a dealing with a marketer, reminiscent of the military era when dignitaries were invited to the villa to watch a video clip of a phantom coup involving Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, is already in circulation.” He was later to confirm that he indeed collected the said amount from Mr. Otedola but that he intended to tender same as bribery evidence. What a volte face!
Who would have thought that Mr. Integrity and a ranking member of the House of Representatives (a Fourth Timer) would be easily entrapped by filthy lucre? This is the same man Nigerians, including myself, see as one of the few heroes of our democracy. Hon. Farouk had in 2007 led the integrity group in the House of Representative that ousted first female Speaker of House of Reps in Nigeria, Patricia Olubunmi Etteh who was accused of wanting to spend a mind-blowing amount of N238 million to renovate and upgrade a set of five buildings. Most Nigerians see Farouk Lawan as bold, courageous, smart, honest and incorruptible. Alas, Ayi Kwe Ameh was right after all when he titled his classic novel, ‘the Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born’. There is no doubt that the corruption allegations rocking the fuel subsidy probe panel has tainted the integrity of the report as there are several other allegations in the media that members of the committee must have collected bribe money in the neighborhood of N11 billion from different oil marketers. It is good that Hon. Lawan is currently telling the police all he knows about this scandal while the House at its emergency sitting on Friday, June 15 did the right thing by suspending the embattled Rep. I do hope he gets fair trial in court.
It is not the first time corruption allegations are being leveled against committees of the National Assembly and indeed House of Reps committees. In 2008, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu’s Committee was widely acclaimed to have done a yeo-man’s job by unraveling corruption in the Power Sector. Shortly after, Hon. Elumelu, Senator Nicholas Ugbane and eight others were accused of involvement in the mismanagement of N5.2 billion earmarked for rural electrification nationwide.  
In 2010, immediate past Speaker of House of Representatives Hon. Oladimeji Bankole was alleged to have been involved neck-deep in N2.3 billion car purchase scandal. Again, the Group of 11 (G-11) who called themselves “Progressive Minded Legislators” led by Hon. Dino Melaye alleged a fraud of N9 billion contract scam against the Speaker. They even went as far as submitting petitions to the chairperson of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Monday, 21 June and ICPC on Wednesday, 23 June, 2010.  In the words of Dino Melaye, "We have documents to prove that some items approved by the Body of Principal officers of whom the Speaker Dimeji Bankole is the chairman were inflated.”A unit of 40-inch LCD TV set was purchased for N525, 000 each, contrary to the price list by the Bureau of Public Procurement and market price of N180, 000 by Samsung. "While three bullet-proof Mercedes Benz cars were bought for over N50m each, two Range Rovers were bought for N57m each.” The House leadership was further alleged to have bought torch-lights, car seats, fire extinguishers and sundry items for members at inflated price.” The former Speaker has since been charged to court and is currently answering corruption charges.
Also in March 2012, former House Committee on Capital Market, Hon Herman Hembe was accused by the now suspended Director General of the Security and Exchange Commission, Ms. Arunma Oteh of demanding for a sum of N44 million for sponsorship of the probe of Capital Market. She also accused the lawmaker of collecting estacode and other travelling allowances for a foreign trip from SEC but neither went nor returned the money. Hembe subsequently resigned his chairmanship of the House Committee while he is currently being prosecuted in the court.
These are just few of the many corruption charges dogging and trailing different committees of House of Representatives. Let no one be deceived that it is only the House that has dirty linen, even the Senate has previously been embroiled in corruption allegations. There had been N54 million bribe-for-Senate-confirmation allegation by a former Minster of Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El-Rufai against some Senators. There was also the N55 million bribe-for-budget scandal that embroiled the Senate and House of Reps committee on Education in 2004 or thereabout.
Was former president Obasanjo not right after all considering the on-going controversies rocking the House of Reps committee on fuel subsidy? Whatever the development, I do hope President Goodluck Jonathan will keep to his word by ensuring the full implementation of the subsidy report and that House of Reps and indeed our National and State Assemblies will learn from the unfortunate incidences of the past and redeem themselves. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dana: One Crash, Too Many

My heart rends as yet another air crash was recorded on Sunday, June 3, 2012. What a tragic weekend it was for Nigeria. Starting from Thursday, 31 May  when on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, five people were burnt in a multiple accident involving nine fuel tankers while at least 24 vehicles were  confirmed burnt in another multiple accident on the same Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on Friday, June 1. By Saturday, June 2, a Nigerian cargo plane attempting to take off from the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, Ghana crashed, killing 10 people and injuring an unspecified number of others. As if that was not enough, by the time it was Sunday, June 3, the day broke with heart-breaking news that about three churches in Bauchi State were attacked by a suicide bomber. As at June 4, twenty people have been confirmed dead and 45 injured.

By far the most calamitous of the weekend of tragedies was the crash of Dana Airline MD83 plane in Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos killing the146 passengers, 1 Dana Air Flight Engineer, two pilots and four cabin crew totaling 153 people on board and an unspecified people on ground. Among the victims of this ill-fated plane crash was my brother’s wife, Mrs. Adenike Ajani who was returning to Lagos after a visit to her husband in Abuja.  News report has it that the ill-fated craft, McDonnell Douglas 83 (MD83) was bought in 2009 from Alaska Airlines, US. The aircraft operated its first flight 22 years ago. According to Aviation Safety Network of Flight Safety Foundation, the crashed aircraft was the 29th loss of MD 80 series; it was the 5th worst accident involving the MD series and the third worst accident in Nigeria. It was alleged that on May 10, 2012 the same aircraft with 85 passengers, coming from Uyo to Lagos, made an emergency landing at the international runway, known as 19 Right, of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, owing to loss of hydraulic.
Since November 20, 1969 when Nigeria Airways BAC VC10 crashed on landing, killing 87 people on board, Nigeria has recorded over 40 plane crashes leading to death of over a thousand people and destruction of properties worth billions of Naira. Most of the plane crashes took place in 2005 with nine crashes while the last five major air crashes in Nigeria happened at weekend. On March 14, 2012 a police surveillance helicopter had crashed in Jos, Plateau State killing four persons on board, including a Deputy Inspector-General of Police, John Haruna.
Revelations coming out of the Dana crash has raised a number of posers. Was the aircraft air-worthy? Could the disaster have been averted? Was the crash as a result of mechanical or human errors? Is it true that Nigeria has banned airliner that is older than 20 years from flying in her airspace? What role did corruption play in the latest mishap? These are questions begging for answers.
On Monday, June 4, a staff of Dana Air who spoke on a local TV station informed Nigerian public that the aircraft that crashed was forced to fly by Dana management against professional advice that the aircraft is not in good condition. According to her “The plane has been developing faults for a very long time. There was a case when it was on ground in Uyo for over six hours. And then it came to Abuja and some people went with the aircraft but they could not come back because it had a fault there and it couldn’t leave Abuja.” Even though this has been debunked by Dana management who claimed they conducted a test flight of the aircraft to Ibadan a day before it crashed, however, Governor Godswill Akpabio was alleged to have warned the management of Dana Air over the unsatisfactory state of its aircraft, following an averted disaster en-route Lagos from Uyo.

According to Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) website, on “23 August 2010 Nigeria achieved a Category 1 air safety rating from the U.S. Government under the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program. This means that Nigeria complies with international air safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations' technical agency for aviation that establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.” I am also not unaware of the restructuring and reconstruction of some of the nation’s airports. Some of the 11 airports being remodeled in the first phase are the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe Intenational Airport, Abuja; Owerri Airport; Yola Airport and Benin Airport. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in August 2010, also announced that under its Industry Revival Fund, it had approved a N500 billion intervention facility for critical sectors of the economy. Out of the amount, N300 billion was earmarked for the troubled power and aviation sectors. The fund, which was channeled through the Bank of Industry (BoI), was to be accessed through commercial banks with a tenor of 10 to 15 years, at a concessionary all-inclusive interest rate of not more than 7 per cent.

Giant strides you would say, however, as a frequent flyer around the country; I know that all is not well with our aviation industry. Many of the airlines are engaged in malpractices and sharp practices. There is frequent flight delays almost always attributed to ‘operational reasons’ Recently, I was to go to Gombe and by the time I and my colleague got to the airport we were told our flight had left three hours earlier than the scheduled time without informing us despite having our phone numbers. We had to buy another ticket of another airline when we were told we cannot get refund but can only use our ticket another day. It is also not uncommon to be harassed by airport staff for tips when scanning luggage. Also, many a time, passengers’ luggages have been missing in transit. My colleague, Barrister Eze Onyekpere has twice suffered this fate in the last six months, with the recent one happening on May 29 while on a trip to Benin. We were on the same flight when the last incident happened.  

A couple of times recently, there have been light out at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport Abuja as well as Murtala Muhammed Airport Lagos thereby grounding the entire operation of the airports for hours. Since 2008 two former Aviation ministers and some top shots in the aviation ministry were charged for fraud in the N19.5 billion aviation intervention fund scandal. What has become of that case? More than four years, the cases are yet to be decided by Nigerian judiciary. Recently, some pilots and engineers of one of the airlines went on strike to protest delay in the payment of their salary. There has not been sufficient oversight on the aviation industry while collusion, connivance and impunity between the regulators and operators cannot be over-ruled. What happened last June 3 also exposed our lack of adequate preparation for disaster management. The rescue team got late to the crash site while there was also poor crowd control.

Again what has become of the over forty reports of previous air mishaps? They are gathering dust in the presidency and offices of appointing authorities.  President Jonathan has once more promised another probe while the Senate has ordered a comprehensive technical audit of all airline fleets operating on the nation’s airspace, just as the House of Representatives said it was interested in unraveling the detailed cause of the plane crash. Will the truth ever come out of these probes? Will the probe report ever be implemented? It is however heartwarming operational licence of Dana Air has been suspended by the federal government. More punitive measures need to be taken against the company if eventually found wanting after thorough investigation. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Please Don’t MAUL University of Lagos

As an alumnus of University of Lagos (having graduated with honours from the Political Science Department of the numero uno institution of learning) I have a locus to comment on the crisis rocking the institution. First and foremost, my condolence to the university community on the untimely and sudden death of its Vice Chancellor, Professor Adetokunbo  Sofoluwe on May 11. May Almighty God grant the amiable VC eternal rest. Secondly and more importantly, I want to react to the May 29, 2012 re-christening of my alma mater, UNILAG as Moshood Abiola University, Lagos (MAUL). I thank President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for deeming it fit to honour Nigeria’s martyr of democracy, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola ‘for making the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of justice and truth.’ This worthy and meritorious recognition is long overdue considering the enormous contributions of Bashorun MKO Abiola to national development.

I however join the staffs, students and alumni of the University of Lagos in rejecting the name change of the 50 year old institution.  My rejection of that rebaptism is for the following reasons:  Chief MKO Abiola was a national icon whose fame, philanthropy and political mandate superseded his South West region, thus the monument that should have been named after MKO should be outside his region and preferably in Abuja. The National Assembly, I learnt, had passed a resolution that being a pillar of sport in Africa; the Abuja National Stadium should be named after Chief Abiola. What the president ought to have done was to have heeded this resolution. Alternatively, the president should consider any of the following other available options – Recognize and declare June 12 as the authentic Democracy Day and make such a day public holiday. This is in the mould of what the American Government did in honour of Martin Luther King. Federal Government could also consider naming the Aso Presidential Villa or Abuja Three Arm Zone after the winner of the June 12 presidential election. Even, University of Abuja would be in order to be renamed MKO Abiola University after due consultations with the university authorities.

The president, as an academic, ought to have known that this is a democracy and that due consultation with University of Lagos authorities – the University Council and Senate or at the very least the University Vice Chancellor - ought to have preceded the announcement of the name change. This was not done. Moreover, being an institution established by an Act of Parliament (April 1962), it will take an amendment to that Act by the National Assembly for that pronouncement to be valid and legal. It has been discovered that no such amendment has been sponsored by the president. Whither due process in all these? UNILAG is a universal brand whose status should not be diminished by making it look like a Yoruba institution.  A lot of resources which the institution can ill-afford will also need to be spent on the rebranding of the university if the Federal Government goes ahead with the name change. It is yet not too late for the president to reverse himself on this faux pas. I do not want my dear UNILAG to be MAULed. Mr. President, let the staus quo ante before May 29, 2012 be maintained, it is not yet a fait accompli.