Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My fears and aspirations for Nigeria in 2014

Happy New Year and a joyful centennial anniversary of Nigeria, Dear compatriots! It’s the first day of 2014 and congratulatory messages are in order as we usher in a brand new year. Even though I do not have a prior knowledge of President Goodluck Jonathan’s New Year speech, some things are discernible and worth discussing. I am not Nostradamus, the man credited to have a prescient knowledge of tomorrow, yet, I can hazard some guesses on the issues that will define 2014.They are largely carry over issues from last year.

Such issues include  this year’s budget which was laid before the National Assembly on December 19 by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi  Okonjo-Iweala; the centennial celebration of Nigeria’s amalgamation; the corruption scourge; the insecurity challenge; the “rofo-rofo” fight within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and between the party and its main nemesis, the All Progressives Congress; the proposed national dialogue; the inclement business environment; and the pitch darkness that still envelopes Nigeria  in spite of the conclusion of the sales of generating and distribution companies last year.

Others include the  forthcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil; the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games; the recurring industrial actions in the health and education sectors; the unacceptable unemployment and poverty rates in the country; the frosty relationship between the Presidency and the National Assembly, especially the “rebellious” House of Representatives; the lingering Nigerian Governors’ Forum crisis; the mutual suspicion between the states and Federal Government; the protracted constitution amendment exercise; the preparation for the 2015 General Elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission; the infrastructure deficit beleaguering the country, and many others.

Let me first discuss some of my nagging fears about these issues and then conclude with my hope for the year.     The first major issue I see beyond the euphoria of celebrating 100 years of Nigeria’s amalgamation is that of this year’s appropriation bill. The N4.6tn budget estimate is likely to generate a lot of ruckus when the Senate and House of Representatives begin the debate on it, especially during the Ministries, Departments and Agencies budget defence. The inkling that the passage of the budget might not be smooth sailing lies in the fact that there was a bitter argument between the executive and the legislature about the poor capital budget performance last year; the oil benchmark controversy as well as the late presentation of the estimate compared to that of 2013 that was presented in October 2012.

It will be recalled that it was not until two days to the budget presentation that the two chambers of the National Assembly agreed to $77.5 oil benchmark from their initial differing positions. While the executive proposed $74, the Senate chose $76.5 while the House of Reps pegged its benchmark at $79. The slight edge that the All Progressives Congress now has in the lower chamber on the aftermath of the cross-carpeting of 37 Peoples Democratic Party members into the party in December will also make things difficult for the Federal Government to get its programmes and policies through.    Lastly, on this particular issue, the snippets published by the media on the 2014 budget estimates have shown our leaders as insensitive to the plight of average Nigerians. The humongous amounts that the Federal Government has earmarked for its upkeep and fantasies including travels, pets, and acquisition of additional aircraft for the President’s use as well as maintenance of the Presidential Air Fleet attest to this.

Another contentious issue that will dominate headlines in 2014 is the proposed national dialogue whose advisory committee’s report was submitted to the President in December after it was inaugurated in October.  Many, including this writer, had observed that it was a needless distraction and a right thing being done at the wrong time. Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State on Friday, December 27 referred to the conference as ”a big joke and a waste of time”, even though he reportedly recanted his stance.   Many political watchers are waiting to see if this conference will not impact negatively on the preparations for the 2015 General Elections.

And talking about elections, 2014 will give Nigerians a foretaste of what to expect from the Independent National Electoral Commission during the 2015 general elections. There will be two governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states. INEC also hopes to conduct a Continuous Voter Registration exercise and distribute permanent voter cards among sundry other groundwork for the 2015 polls.   It had requested a sum of about N93bn to enable it prepare for the next general elections which it planned to hold either January or February of 2015.  If it is true that only N45bn has been earmarked for INEC in 2014 budget, it then means that the electoral body will only get less than half the amount it needed to conduct the 2015 polls. Invariably, this will affect the effort to hold elections early 2015.

Another major fear I have for this year is the overheating of the polity as the power-game between the APC and the PDP becomes intense. Already, the newly registered APC has successfully poached five governors and 37 House of Representatives members from its arch-rival, the PDP. News reports have it that about 22 senators are also set to dump the party in January 2014 or thereabout. Top members of the APC have also boasted that more PDP governors would soon defect to the party. Should this come true, the import on the polity may be both salutary and ominous. The emergence of the APC has brought about balance of power which then means that the ruling party, the PDP can no longer treat the electorate and the general public with levity.  However, inflammatory statements are already being bandied by the two main parties with the APC calling for the impeachment of President Goodluck Jonathan.  There will be worse spat as we get close to the elections and my fear is that if the leaders of these parties do not desist from hate speeches as well as inciting statements, the country’s security situation may take a turn for the worse.

Concerning my aspirations for the New Year, I wish the Super Eagles will get to the final of the World Cup in Brazil (this is not impossible if we prepare well) and that our contingent to the Commonwealth Games   at Glasgow 2014 (23 July – 3 August) will do the country proud. I also hope that we will start to reap the benefits of privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria and that there will be more light than darkness this year. I wish that government will genuinely surmount the nagging security challenges  currently facing this country and that we would have better road networks, no aircrash, better investment climate, no more strike in the health and education sectors and that our economic growth will result in palpable development particularly in terms of better employment opportunities and poverty reduction.

As we celebrate today, may we as a nation, family and individual never experience a better last year. Cheers!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas, a celebration like no other

It’s Christmas Day and I wish my dear readers happy celebration. It’s a season of love, sharing, caring, holidaying, indulgence and festivities. The Yuletide better known as the Christmas season is unique and special. Celebrated every year on December 25, the date is sacrosanct even though some theologians have come out to say that the birth of Jesus Christ which is celebrated on that day may have been miscalculated.

However, Christmas is peculiar in many respects. It is one celebration that is heralded by so much pageantry. The greetings during the season are special as people say to one another “Compliments of the season”, or “Yuletide” while the most common greeting style  on the D-Day is Merry Christmas! During the season, churches (both orthodox and Pentecostal), government at all levels, schools, and many private and public institutions take turns to organise Christmas carols where choirs engage in rendition of well-composed and rehearsed songs in commemoration of the birth of Christ. From about November 25, which is a clear one month ahead of Christmas, branded gift items in celebration of the season are usually offered for sale.

In fact, there are special offers with huge discounts for purchases made of some items during the season. Promotional music is also played on television and radio. Evergreen Christmas songs from Bonny M such as Silent Night, Feliz Navidad, Mary’s Boy Child, Noel, Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angel Sing, and many others trend during the Yuletide.   GSM operators also cash in on the season by asking their customers to download the many special Christmas songs as their ringtones for a token. Mobile telephone operators also smile to the banks during the season as people make endless calls and send season’s greetings to friends, colleagues and loved ones via text messages.

Also unique to the season is the Santa Claus popularly known as Father Christmas where children especially are taken to grotto where a supposedly old, heavily bearded man dressed in the traditional Christmas attire of Red and White dishes out well-packaged gifts to those who come to visit him. A small access fee is paid to partake of this bonanza.  I recall with nostalgia the tale told us when we were young that Father Christmas lives in Jerusalem and only visits other parts of the world at Christmas time to give people gifts. There is also Christmas light and tree. Pine tree or its synthetic version wired with multi-coloured singing strobe lights are used for interior decoration at Christmas. Some state governments even go to the extent of beautifying major roundabouts with Christmas trees and lightings all in a bid to add fun and glamour to the season.

 There are equally Christmas colours which are red and green. Many public and private institutions as well as churches decorate their premises with well-designed chiffon materials. It’s all part of the celebration.  Yuletide is vacation and reunion time. It is a time for rest and recuperation.   Schools close for their first term during the season while many workers often fix their annual leave for the period. Some corporate organisations even close their offices during the period. This affords the workers who have been separated from their extended family members to travel home to reunite with them and share the joy of the season with kith and kin. Some organisations also do pay what is called 13th month salary to their workers which is one month salary bonus. This largesse enables many workers to have extra income to celebrate the time of year with their friends and loved ones.

Peculiar to Yuletide is the Christmas card and sale of hamper. As earlier said, it’s a season of giving and people strive to share with both the loved ones and the less-privileged. Thus, it is not uncommon to see people buying specially designed cards and picnic baskets packed with groceries and wines which they give out in appreciation to loved ones and well wishers. It is not only these that are given out at Christmas; foodstuffs, clothing materials, utensils are also shared out according to the giver’s level of grace. One can safely conclude that Christmas’ food is rice and chicken as this is the most popular menu on Christmas Day. Wrapped gifts received at Christmas are supposed to be opened on December 26 which is internationally recognised as Boxing Day.

Also synonymous with the Christmas season is the end-of-year parties, musical concerts and carnivals. The ones that readily come to mind are the Abuja Carnival, Port Harcourt Carnival known as Carniriv organised by Rivers State and Carnival Calabar organised by the Cross Rivers State Government. Many towns and communities, especially those from the South-East, also seize the opportunity of the Christmas season to set aside a day for fund raising for community development initiatives.

Another practice at Christmas is the use of fireworks. Bangers and knockouts are among the most popular fireworks on sale. Unfortunately, the uncontrolled and reckless use of these fireworks has wreaked havoc in many communities. These fireworks had set ablaze many houses, shops and offices as well as maimed and killed many people. This had made law enforcement agencies to ban the use of fireworks at Christmas in Nigeria. Despite the ban, these substances are still smuggled into the country and offered for sale.

Why is Christmas so unique? It’s simply because the person whose birth is being celebrated in that season –Jesus Christ – is himself a peculiar Being. His unique conception, His birth in a manger, His celebration by the Three Wise Men from the East who offered Him the gift of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, His eventual death at the age of 33 and His resurrection from death after three days and ascension to Heaven are all pointers to the fact that Jesus Christ is an unusual Being. Any wonder His birth is widely celebrated in an uncommon style?

Unfortunately, many celebrate Christmas without knowing the essence. They indulge in all manner of abuses – overeating, alcoholism, womanising, flaunting of wealth, etc.  They lack spiritual understanding of the celebration which is indeed the most important. Some also put themselves under undue pressure during the season as they strive to cater for the special needs of their families. They use up their little savings celebrating, forgetting the more important school fees they would have to pay barely a week after celebrating the Yuletide. Some parents even resort to borrowing to buy new cloths and prepare special dishes for their families and friends. Others indulge in crimes and criminality in order to source funds for Christmas celebration. This is against the spirit of Christmas.

Thus, as we celebrate another Christmas today, let us seek the spiritual understanding of the day and celebrate in moderation. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Another look at Obasanjo’s epistle to Jonathan

Opposition is true friendship. The man who tells you that you have a stinking rear is your friend. He is only drawing attention to your bodily filth and asking you to do something about it. He is better than a sycophant who says you can always come out of the sewage tank and smell of roses!

—Aristotle, in his Analytics



in the last one week, former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s December 2 letter to President Goodluck Jonathan which was leaked to the media on Wednesday, December 11 has generated a lot of furore and brouhaha in the media. Opinions are divided on the propriety or otherwise of the 18-page missive. While many believed that it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black and that the ex-president has ulterior motive rather than patriotic reasons for writing the memo; others have also recalled the many woes of the Obasanjo administration while some others said he should not have made the communication public.

Yet, there are those who say “focus on the message and not the messenger”.  I belong to the latter group. There is a saying in Yorubaland that, ‘eni jin si koto ko ara yoku logbon’, which literally translates as, ‘he who falls into the pit serves as a moral lesson to other passersby’. While it may be true that Obasanjo committed quite a lot of missteps during his cumulative 11 years as Head of State and President, it should be instructive to his successors’ to learn from his mistakes. For those who think the letter should not have been made public, Obasanjo gave 10 reasons why he chose to make it an open letter.

I have twice read the letter from Obasanjo and should say that the Ota farmer should be commended for being courageous enough to say the truth that many people on the corridors of power would not want to tell the President. Indeed, Obasanjo’s antecedent as a military General robs him of diplomacy. He is always frank, blunt and fearless when saying his mind. This is not to say that the former president is always right. Yes, his record in office may not be as impressive as we may wish as Nigerians. Of course, if he had performed creditably, perhaps he could have won the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. However, whatever may be his governance or performance deficit, he is still very popular and is a sounding board for the international community who continues to engage his services as head of election observer mission and international mediator, among other international assignments.

I found the contents of the controversial letter didactic and instructive. It is an eye-opener on many national issues. The former president has put the issue of President Jonathan’s promise to do one term in office beyond speculation. It will be recalled that Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State and several others had said that the president promised or even signed a pact to do one term in office. Now, Obasanjo has come out boldly to mention the communication on the matter between him and Governor Gabriel Suswam and the confirmation of President Jonathan to him to do one term.  Lest we forget, it is this second term ambition of President Jonathan that is at the heart of the crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party. As chronicled by Obasanjo in the letter, it is the second term aspiration of the President that is making him to do deals with opposition parties in the South-West Zone particularly in Lagos State during the 2011 elections and in Ondo and Edo states during the 2012 governorship elections as well as in Anambra State during the November 16, 2013 governorship poll.

On the issue of insecurity which Obasanjo said is very discomforting, it is only someone living in a fool’s paradise who will deny that assertion. I have said previously that Nigerian leaders, past and present,  have failed signally to secure lives and property of the citizens as enjoined by Section 14 (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended which says “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. I therefore couldn’t agree more with the analysis of Obasanjo that  “Drug,  indoctrination, fundamentalism,  gun  trafficking,  hate  culture,  human  trafficking,  money laundering,  religion, poverty, unemployment, poor  education,  revenge  and  international terrorism are among the factors that have effect on Boko Haram”. Prescription of a multi-pronged approach to dealing with the menace of insecurity cannot also be faulted.

The former president was also on point when he said, “To  allow  or  tacitly encourage  people of ‘Ijaw nation’ to throw insults  on  other  Nigerians from other  parts of  the  country  and threaten fire and brimstone to  protect  your interest  as  an  Ijaw  man  is  myopic  and  your  not  openly  quieting  them  is even  more  unfortunate”.  I shudder at the mere thought that Jonathan’s government may have put about 1,000 people on political watch and that snipers are being trained surreptitiously to deal with perceived enemies of the federal government. Like Obasanjo said,” If it is true, this cannot augur well for the initiator, the government and the people of Nigeria”. The insinuations that the Presidency may have remotely controlled the judiciary to allow someone to evade justice also leaves a sour taste in the mouth and further erode people’s confidence in the judiciary.

The former president was as well on point when he observed that:” Most  of  our  friends  and  development  partners …are worried about issue of  security  internally  and  on  our  coastal  waters,  including  heavy  oil  theft, alias  bunkering  and  piracy.  They  are  worried  about  corruption  and  what we  are  doing  or  not  doing  about  it……    They  are worried  about how we  play  our  role in  our  region  and,  indeed, in the  world”. There is no gainsaying that the world has become a hamlet and events in one country have implications on others. If it is true that some of Nigeria’s   development  partners  were  politically  frustrated  to  withdraw  from  the Olokola  LNG  project, and that the  major  international  oil  companies  have withheld  investment  in  projects  in  Nigeria or divesting,  then it’s a real cause for concern. .

 It is also bothersome to note that   the Port Harcourt water project, originally initiated by the Federal Government and to be financed by the Africa Development Bank, is being put in the cooler by the former because of the Amaechi-Jonathan face-off. Obasanjo said a director in the ADB informed him about this. If it is true, it goes a long way to confirm what Governor Rotimi Amaechi has been saying that all the Federal Government projects in Rivers State have been put on hold because of the misunderstanding between him and the President.

I find no fault in Obasanjo’s assertion that the most dangerous ticking bomb is youth unemployment, particularly in the face of unbridled corruption and obscene rulers’ opulence. Obasanjo was also spot on when he admonished that, “We  must  all remember  that  corruption,  inequity  and  injustice  breed  poverty, unemployment,  conflict,  violence  and  wittingly  or  unwittingly  create terrorists  because  the  opulence  of  the  governor  can  only  lead  to  the leanness of the governed.” I have said time and again that 10 aircraft in the presidential fleet, the countless bulletproof cars of the elected and appointed political office holders and ostentatious living of our leaders have contributed immensely to the worsening security situation in the country be it in terms of kidnapping, oil theft, pipeline vandalism, armed robbery and other acts of terrorism. We cannot continue to celebrate growth without development and watch as unemployment and poverty soar.

I do hope President Jonathan will adhere to the worthy counsel of Obasanjo when he urged him to, “Move  away  from  culture  of  denials,  cover-ups  and  proxies  and  deal honesty, sincerely and transparently with Nigerians to regain their trust and confidence.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A vote for road tolling in Nigeria

On November 6, 2013, the Federal Ministry of Works unveiled a draft Green Paper on federal roads and bridges tolling policy at a consultative forum in Abuja. I have perused the 24-page document and found a lot of interesting and exciting proposals which if carefully, diligently and effectively implemented will go a long way to reverse the road infrastructure deficit in Nigeria. Tolling of roads and bridges is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria, we have treaded that path before between 1980 (or thereabout) and 2004, and it was a sad tale.

The new policy identified three challenges faced under the previous toll collection administration. They are:  Legal disputes, revenue leakages and unmet requirements for maintenance of the tolled roads. I recall that tolls were collected from the many plazas built on major federal highways but the proceeds went largely to private pockets. Allegations were rife that toll managers printed their own tickets and were issuing more of theirs to motorists instead of that of government. It was thus a honey pot for some powerful elements in the Federal Ministry of Works. With the attendant loss of revenue from the toll plazas, coupled with dwindling budgetary allocations, the roads were left to decay as there was little or no funding for road maintenance, rehabilitation or construction.

According to the draft Green Paper, “Nigeria has a total road network of 193,200km of which the Federal Government owns 17 per cent while the states and local government councils own 16 and 68 per cent respectively. Nineteen per cent of the main road areas are paved. As of 2007, only 35 per cent of the Federal roads were rated as being in a good or very good condition. The most recent visual and qualitative condition assessment of federal roads by the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (March 2011) revealed that only 26.5 per cent of the federal roads are rated as “being in a good condition”.

Yet, “the road sector not only accounts for an overwhelming percentage of passenger and freight movements across the nation, but also for over 95 per cent of non-oil goods conveyed to and fro the Nigerian seaports”. That is straight from the horse’s mouth.  In terms of the number of vehicles plying the road network, the number has risen geometrically from 2,781 in 1937 to 7.6 million in 2007.  The draft tolling policy also rightfully observed that “Nigeria has long suffered from a sub-optimal road network that imposes significant costs in terms of travel time, vehicle wear and tear and high accident rates. Limited access resulting from underdeveloped networks also discourages investment and economic development in many regions of the country”.

The aforesaid makes tolling an appealing and desirable option. As the draft paper affirmed, the benefits are enormous. It observed that, “Provided the programme is well-managed, federal toll roads and bridges can reduce journey times and travel costs and ensure safer travel for road users on the selected roads. It can also encourage more investment and diversification of commercial activity to outlying areas that are currently closed off by poor access. Tolls are also equitable because they are paid by those who use a road or bridge rather than from general taxes, and are reinvested in the road or bridge itself.”

Before someone will develop high blood pressure because of the reintroduction of road and bridge tolling, the proposed policy has made it abundantly clear that not all roads will be tolled. It says: “Not all roads and bridges are viable propositions for tolling. The majority of Nigeria’s roads – especially subsidiary roads and roads with low traffic volumes – will continue to be managed and funded by the Federal Government, as well as state governments and local authorities”.

Three cardinal guides for the proposed tolling are as follows: Toll concessions will only be considered  only where such concessions are financially-viable; permitted only  in respect of roads and bridges where the related investment results in significant improvements to road user so as to promote willingness to pay; lastly,  tolling of roads and bridges formerly financed by public funds will be allowed but the  tolls will be  “ring-fenced and dedicated to defraying the costs of rehabilitation/ upgrading, maintenance and operation of such roads.”

Besides, the new policy seeks the establishment of the Federal Roads Authority which will take on operational responsibilities to champion tolling and contract for road and bridge concessions while the functions of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency will be taken over by the FRA. The Green Paper also seeks to give policing power to concessionaires to enable them combat toll evasion effectively. It likewise intends to license the concessionaires to erect and operate weighbridge infrastructure (including mobile weighing) at the expense of the concessionaires in order to control heavy axle loads and to provide an enabling framework for such arrangements in the Federal Roads Authority Bill. Indeed, I am excited by this provision. Since 2004 when ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the demolition of the toll-gates across the country, the weighbridges went with the demolished plazas. Ever since, many articulated vehicles breach the load limit for their vehicles with impunity. What that does is systematic destruction of our roads as many of these trailers doing haulage businesses carry far more than the capacity of luggage meant for their vehicles thereby putting undue pressure on the road.

On the whole, the policy on tolling of roads and bridges is a welcome development. It is good that the Federal Ministry of Works has come up with this new idea of public private partnership financing of road infrastructure and has deemed it fit to consult widely before the re-introduction of tolls. There is no gainsaying that lessons from the past failed attempt have been factored into the new policy. I will however, in addition, state as follows: The ministry must robustly engage the National Assembly for the quick passage of the proposed Federal Roads Authority bill before it. This bill, as I understand, will give legal backing to the new policy and straighten the grey areas between the powers given by the Federal Highway Act and FERMA Act on who has the authority to introduce tolls on our roads.

Second, there is the need for synergy among the three levels of government on this issue. This is because they control different trunks. While the Federal Government controls Trunk A roads, the states and local governments control Trunk B and C respectively. It therefore makes economic and political sense for them to have an integrated policy on road and bridge tolling. Additionally, no road should be tolled unless and until they have been maintained, rehabilitated or upgraded as the case may be. I do not want the current logic being applied in the area of electricity to be used in the road sector. Right now, Nigerians are paying more for electricity they are not enjoying. Only motorable roads should therefore be tolled. Also, in order to encourage motorists to pay, the toll should be pocket friendly while the toll plaza should be big enough and fully automated to allow for smooth flow of traffic.

There should be proper disclosures on the terms and conditions of the contracts to be signed with the concessionaires as well as full accountability on the invested sum, revenue generated, operational cost, and what percentage of  the income is being ploughed back to maintain and upgrade the tolled roads and bridges.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Are you really the father of those children?

My man, can you answer this simple question:  Are you sure, really sure, you’re the father of those children in your house?  I mean, are you their biological father? Do they carry your genes? Was it your sperm that impregnated your wife resulting in the birth of those children? Pardon my meddling in what clearly is your family affair. However, you do have a right to know that you’re not raising other people’s children under the illusion that they are yours. Recent revelations about disputed paternity of children brought to mind the agelong belief that it is the mother of a child who knows the real father.

Dr. Murray Conrad, remember him? He was the personal physician of the music idol, Michael Jackson. In a recent interview he granted a US news medium, the doctor said Jackson was not the father of his three children as he claimed he never slept with their mother, Debbie Rowe.  (See: http://www.tmz.com/2013/11/24/dr-conrad-murray-michael-jackson-penis-interview-daily-mail/). The dust raised by that revelation had hardly settled when a newsbreak in Ghana revealed that Ghanaian football superstar; Nii Odartey Lamptey, is embroiled in a divorce suit with his wife, Gloria. Ghana newspaper, Daily Graphic of November 30,  2013 reported in its online edition  that  Gloria Lamptey has “filed for divorce at the Accra High Court on the back of marital problems arising out of alleged infidelity on her part, after the football star discovered through paternity tests that he was not the biological father of their three daughters”.

According to the 38-year-old Lamptey, “The issue is in court… it is a legal issue I don’t want to go into it now….but I am 100 per cent sure that the children are not mine after 20 years,” he was reported to have told Accra-based NEAT FM. However, Mrs. Lamptey allegedly claimed the husband was infertile and it was upon his consent that she proceeded to undertake InVitro Fertilisation, a claim the footballer is contesting.

Lamptey, a midfield maestro was a member of the Black Starlets team which won the 1991 FIFA Under-17 World Cup and went on to win a historic Olympic bronze medal with the Black Meteors at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, and a silver medal at the 1993 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Australia. A former Aston Villa and Coventry City player, he was 1991 world’s best juvenile player. The Lampteys’ case is said to have come  on the heels of a recent divorce case being heard at another  Accra High Court involving a former Black Stars captain, John Mensah, whose wife of 10 years, Henrietta, is seeking a break-up of their marriage on the grounds of infidelity, among other accusations.

Before we think there are no similar paternity issues in Nigeria, let me bring to our attention a celebrated case involving the late business mogul and colourful politician, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. The Nation in its August 7, 2007 edition reported that  a DNA test conducted on the order of  the administrator of Abiola’s estate and in compliance with the instruction in Abiola’s Will dated October 29, 1989 showed that  some of his 113 children might not be his children as 25 of them were alleged to have failed the DNA test.

The question is why are cases of paternity dispute on the increase around the world? The simple answer may be due to increasing infidelity in marriages. However, that will not explain the entire phenomenon. The act of infidelity is itself driven by a number of factors. Among them are pressures from the extended family, fear of divorce as a result of woman’s inability to bear children or giving birth to only girls, lack of sexual satisfaction, and many others.

I have been married for over a decade and should know some of these things. Family pressures, if not properly handled may lead spouses astray. Though companionship should be the primary reason for marriage, however, in our traditional African society, children are placed over and above companionship. Mothers and mothers in-law especially want their daughters or daughters in-law to give birth nine months from the wedding date; that is if she’s not yet pregnant before marriage. Some mothers do tell their sons to be sure their fiancĂ©es are pregnant before fixing date of marriage because of fear of infertility. Those who believe that the marital bed should not be defiled before marriage start putting their daughters or daughters in-law under intense stress once a year passed by without signs of pregnancy in the wife. In some cases, the husbands too join in mounting the pressure on their wives to bear them children.

Similarly, there is another category of married women who do not have male children. They do have children but they are all girls. In some traditional societies, particularly among the Igbo and Yoruba, male children are preferred to female. For some reasons, such as a male child being the one to carry on or preserve the names of the family; a male child being stronger and hard-working and so on, some husbands and their extended families therefore mount undue pressure on their wives to give them male children.

Medically, it has been proved that men carry X and Y chromosomes while women carry X chromosome. A male child is produced only when a male sperm produces Y chromosome to fertilise the X chromosome of the woman. Invariably, it is the man who determines the sex of the child. Unfortunately, many men who blame their wives do not know this or rather choose to ignore the medical truth. In search of children, particularly male children, some women do silly things such as having extra-marital relationships including having sexual affairs with their husband’s friends, office colleagues, drivers, gatekeepers, etc. Some of them even resort to buying children from fake and mercantile maternity clinics and orphanages that dot our landscape. They do this in the vain hope of making their husbands and families happy and saving their marriage from collapse.

The Nigerian law may not recognise bastards but the Yoruba despise them. They are called “omo ale”, that is a child from concubine. There is an adage that “agbo ile to ba ntoro, omo ale ibe ni o ti d’agba” that is if a clan is peaceful, it’s because the bastard in the family is yet to be of age. Perhaps, if husbands and the extended family of spouses will stop putting their wives, daughters and daughters in- law under pressure, maybe, we will have fewer cases of disputed paternities. I do hope that women themselves will stop this nonsense all in the name of preserving their marriage. If they or their husbands are infertile, they should insist on written agreement or having a witness if they are to go for artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation, child adoption or any lawful means of resolving their infertility.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Let's castrate the rapists

There is one universal truth applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.”
—UNSecretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

On Wednesday, November 20, I received a text message on my phone saying, “Sexual Offences Bill, which prescribes life imprisonment for paedophiles and over 10 years for sexual assaults passed second reading at the Senate today”. That piece of information jolted my memory and I started ruminating about the soaring cases of rape in Nigeria. Several questions came to mind: Why do people commit rape? What are the effects on the perpetrators as well as the victims?   How do we curb this growing menace?

My research shows that there are different types of rape cases. Dr. Wilson in an article simply titled, Rape (http://drlwilson.com/articles/RAPE.htm)  tried to categorise them into Forcible rape, which is any forced sexual intercourse between two adults; Statutory rape, which is sexual intercourse between an adult and a minor (that is someone below 18 years of age); Incest, which is sexual relations or marriage between two people who are forbidden to marry by customs or law; Random or haphazard rape which is rape through a random encounter with someone who is intoxicated with liquor or on drugs or just psychopathic; and  Professional rape which is explained to be carried out by professionals, either alone or in a gang.  “These are used to condition people for brainwashing, for political reasons, to inculcate ideas, or as part of a culture or religion”.

Rape is said to be one of the most violent crimes on earth, yet, it is one of the least talked about. In Wilson’s opinion, referenced above, “I would estimate that about 50 per cent of women have experienced rape, although the official statistics is about 25 per cent”. He chronicles reasons for rape to include the following:  for brainwashing and political control, for fun, to harm another, as an “experiment”, the result of sloppiness or due to drugs or alcohol use, for revenge, the result of crossed signals, to force a lady to marry, and even as an accident.

The rape syndrome has been gaining ascendancy due to a number of factors among which are the refusal of many of the victims to lodge complaints with law enforcement agencies (some victims would not even tell their family members or friends for fear of stigmatisation); lack of diligent prosecution by police; difficulty in proving the crime of rape; and light punishment meted out to perpetrators of rape.

According to The PUNCH editorial of November 5, 2013, “Jude Uchendu, a consultant pathologist in the Central Hospital, Benin, Edo State, sounded alarm that the hospital recorded more than 80 rape cases from March to mid-October this year alone. Bad enough, 90 per cent of rape cases are committed by people close to and trusted by the victims, people such as neighbours and relations. Sometimes, those who ought to protect the children are their tormentors as was the case when a police corporal recently raped a two-year-old girl in Mararaba, Nasarawa State”.

Hardly will a day pass without one or two cases of rape being reported in the media. The most troubling is the act of paedophiles, the animals in human skin, who take delight in having forceful carnal knowledge of children. Unfortunately, these paedophiles are usually enemies within. They are teachers of the pupils they rape, uncles, brothers, and trusted house helps to whom we entrust the care of our children.  In the words of Senator Chris Anyanwu, who sponsored the Sexual Offences Bill: “The children and young people of this country, both male and female, today face a growing danger as they were being routinely targeted by sexual predators and paedophiles that take advantage of their vulnerability and innocence, etching on their psyche, scars that last a lifetime”. .

According to CLEEN Foundation’s 2012 National Crime and Safety Survey, 37 per cent of the rape victims surveyed said it had occurred in their own homes; 34 per cent said it was around their homes; while 26 per cent said it happened in school or the workplace. Only three per cent of victims stated that it had occurred elsewhere.

The effects of rape are no less harrowing. The victims often go into trauma, depression and become suicidal. They risk Sexually Transmitted Diseases including HIV/AIDs. At times, unwanted pregnancy becomes the testimony of the illicit act. In the process of procuring abortion, which in itself is illegal in Nigeria, victims may lose their lives. Rape therefore oftentimes makes their victims maladjusted, paranoid and sceptical of even genuine love.

It is perhaps with a view to taming this monster that the House of Representatives on March 5, 2013 passed a bill for an Act to eliminate all forms of violence against persons. The bill prescribes life imprisonment for rape, a minimum of 20 years for anyone involved or is an accomplice in gang rape, and seeks compensation for victims of rape. The bill also treats the issues of domestic violence such as acid attack, political violence, harmful traditional practices such as female circumcision, and protection of widows. I hope it is the Senate version that is tagged the Sexual Offences Bill which on Wednesday, November 20 passed the second reading.

The proposed legislation, in my own opinion, is quite in order and timely too but is highly inadequate to effectively deal with the demon of rape.   First is our penchant to observe laws in breach. Many have rightly observed that the problem with Nigeria is not that of laws but enforcement or implementation. Thus, I am in complete agreement with the editorial of The PUNCH of November 5 which stated, inter alia, that, “To stem the tide, women affairs and social welfare departments at the federal, state and local government levels have to start enlightenment campaigns to alert parents and their children to this crime and how to avoid being violated. Parents also have to spend more time with their children, be closer to them and teach them about sex education early in life”.

As far as I am concerned, the expeditious way to send the right warning signal to perpetrators of rape is to simply castrate them, once they are found guilty. Let us make them eunuchs so that their manhood will forever be sentenced to life imprisonment.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

GSM Phenomenon and Service Delivery Challenges in Nigeria

Are there regulators for the Nigerian Global System for Mobile Communications industry? I am not unaware that the Nigerian Communications Commission; Senate and House Committees on Communications of the National Assembly as well as the Federal Ministry of Communications have oversight functions on our GSM operators. But it will seem they have all gone to sleep while our mobile phone service providers continue to operate with impunity, ceaselessly providing poor quality services. When Nigeria joined the elite league of GSM operators in 2001, we all shouted Eureka. Finally, we thought the days of inefficient and ineffective Nigeria Telecommunications is over. No more being at the mercy of the almighty NITEL.  No more pains and agony while queuing up at NITEL pay phones to make calls (at least, that’s what some of us who are too poor to own fixed telephone lines resort to).

To some extent that was true. NITEL did die a natural death when the new kids came on the block. The ever-changing Econet (later Vmobile, Vodacom, Zain now Airtel), Mtel, and MTN were first licensed in January 2001. Additional two – Globacom and Etisalat were later certified to operate. Now, we have five GSM operators.  As of July 2013, information  gleaned from the website of the NCC shows the subscriber base of the five musketeers are as follows : Airtel  – 21, 065,801 (19 per cent) ; Etisalat – 15, 515,615 (14 per cent) ; Globacom – 22, 828,918 (20 per cent) ; MTel – 258,520 (0 per cent) while MTN has 47 per cent of the market share with 52, 198,079 subscribers.

For years, these GSM operators called for our understanding while claiming to be facing teething problems. They said they paid exorbitant licensing fees (the first licensees paid $285m while others paid $400m and above). They blamed lack of infrastructure for their prohibitive operational costs. They told everyone that cared to listen that they had to build base stations, provide two generators to run each of the stations and still have to provide security at the stations. They promised to inject billions of dollars in infrastructure development and that the take-off problems would soon be over when they laid their optical fibre network and acquired state of the art facilities to improve their services.

It’s been some 12 years those promises were made. In 2013, it’s still the same old story.  Drop calls have increased, inability to load credit on the pre-paid lines has not abated, while network coverage is still limited. In the last two weeks or thereabout, MTN, in particular, has been offering unsatisfactory services as it’s been highly difficult making calls and sending text messages. It has been a very frustrating experience. It’s not only MTN that has these problems, I have three mobile lines and the difference between the services they provide is that between six and half a dozen. Has anyone noticed that in spite of the introduction of mobile number portability on April 22, 2013, most subscribers have not “ported” as envisaged? We still carry between two to four dual SIM handsets and subscribing to most of the networks all in a bid to communicate.

There is no doubt that the GSM has improved considerably our means of communication. After all, I don’t have to travel to see friends and family again, unless it is absolutely necessary. Even for those abroad, there are multifarious ways to keep in touch with them. I can call, text, and chat with them on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc.).  Life has definitely been made easier with the advent of the GSM. Today, even the poor can afford to own a mobile phone. Farmers, artisans, traders, government and private employees all have access to mobile telephones. For some time now, I only call my tailor to pick up any new cloths I need to sew Recently, when my car had an electrical fault, I just had to call my “rewire” to meet me at the spot of the incident and pronto, he fixed it.

These GSM operators also provide internet service with which we link the rest of the world whether for research or pleasure. With internet service, one can send and receive electronic mails as well as go on the social media to keep abreast of latest gists around town. One can also read newspapers of any country in the world that is online as well as watch television, video and do many things via the internet provided by the GSM operators. Such is the beautiful and wonderful world the GSM has created. The operators have indeed made the world a hamlet, a small village.

In fairness to Nigeria’s GSM operators, they have been facing daunting challenges. All their excuses are genuine but not sufficient enough not to provide improved services. It is true that terrorists have been burning some of their base stations in the North-East zone. Some of their cables have been vandalised and they have to provide light and security for their base stations. In spite of these operational challenges, they have been providing corporate social responsibility in terms of setting up of educational foundations, sponsorship of music and sports events and giving back to the society through various educational competitions and bonanzas.

The value chain of the GSM in Nigeria, like in many other countries where it has been embraced, is very robust. The GSM has provided market for manufacturers of mobile phones as many brands abound from Samsung to Nokia, Techno, and BlackBerry. They come in various models. It has also opened a floodgate of market for mobile phone accessories – battery, charger, bluetooth, earpiece, memory card, etc. Jobs have also been provided for those who can repair these mobile phones as well as those manufacturing and selling recharge cards.  The technology that gave birth to the GSM is no doubt fascinating. It’s amazing what can be done under GSM beyond the basics of making calls, sending and receiving text messages, chatting, recording, taking and sending pictures

There are no doubts that the GSM comes with loads of benefits which the consumers should enjoy at a pocket friendly fees. However, it is not just good enough that after 12 years of operation, GSM consumers in the country are still heavily shortchanged by being charged high fees for poor services. It is high time the NCC, the Federal Ministry of Communications, the National Assembly and indeed President Goodluck Jonathan ensured that GSM operators provided value for the money charged the over 153,665,438 Nigerian subscribers. Enough of this rip-off!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is that thing an asset or a liability?

Live on what you earn,

Live if possible on less,

Never borrow for vanity or pleasure,

For vanity will end in shame,

And pleasure in regret.

- Author unknown

Why do some Nigerians indulge in flamboyant lifestyles? Why do some of my compatriots like ostentatious living even when they can ill-afford it? Who do they want to impress? It is not uncommon to see some Nigerians acquire gadgets they don’t need, can’t afford, and don’t know how to use. Some persons are obsessed with acquiring all modern contraptions they see; from cars, to phones, wrist-watches, computers, music machines, television sets, air conditioning systems, freezers, cookers and other household items.

Starting with cars, some people are gripped with the Sport Utility Vehicles (which in local parlance is called Jeeps) and other posh cars. They allow themselves to be lured by credit facilities granted by some banks or car dealers to buy at almost double the market price. Because they have a long term to pay back the money for the cars, they jump at it without thinking through if they actually need such classy cars in the first place or if they could maintain them. Quite unfortunately, some of those cars do get stolen or get involved in accidents even before the owners finish paying the loans. If the vehicles are not insured, that is tantamount to double jeopardy as they would still have to repay the loan for the lost car.

The same goes for other afore-listed appliances or gadgets. Some people have up to three smartphones, just as a status symbol.  I have seen people who are looking for jobs buying BlackBerry or smartphones when what they actually need is a phone for basic communication. The sad pity is that a significant number of people using smartphones do not know how to make optimal use of them. All they know how to do is to call, text, take pictures, and access the social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). The phone may yet have over 20 other functions which many of the users never know how to operate. This inability to make maximum use of the phones and other electronic gadgets arise from the owner’s inability to read the manufacturers manual of such appliances.

The same applies with computers. There are some people who unnecessarily acquire desktops, laptops and i-pads for personal use. When asked why they are buying all these gadgets, they’ll tell you they perform different functions. Some will say they want to be current or want to be seen as being sophisticated. There are people going for LCD, flat screen television they don’t have the resources to buy. Some buy on loan from their cooperative societies or through bank facilities.

There is also another category of Nigerians who though love to party but would rather borrow to throw the bash. They buy everything for the celebration on credit – foodstuff, drinks, and rent hall, cloths, among others.  The one they couldn’t get on loan, they borrow to pay for with the hope that they would use money given them by well-wishers to offset the debts. Oftentimes, little or nothing is realised from this expected source.

With the party over, the host begins to worry and dodge from their debtors. What a life! Can’t people just learn to live within their means? Again, who are these people trying to impress? Is it the society that is insatiable? Is it the people who will extol your virtue today when the going is good and tongue-lash you when there is nothing to offer them?

I pity people who always want to be trendy. I mean the gadget freaks.  They want to have the latest cars, phones, computers, wrist-watches, cloths, shoes, bags, belt, perfumes, ties, eyeglasses, settees, and many more. Good, if they can afford them. But, it is patently clear that many could not but are just acting under peer pressure. The humongous amount some people invest on contraptions they barely need, referred to as toys in the social circles, is enough to build decent houses for their families. Of what use is acquiring all manner of gadgets when you are in a rented apartment and unable to meet the basic needs of your immediate family? For sure, you don’t have to be ostentatious to be fashionable. Some people misapply the dictum that, “As you dress, so you’ll be addressed”. You can dress simply and moderately and still be appreciated. These people forget the wise saying that it is important to cut one’s coat according to the length of the cloth and not one’s size or as put by one of the Pentecostal pastors, “Life is in phases, men are in sizes”.

This rat race has led many into avoidable debts, financial crises, crimes, sickness and even untimely deaths. Pity, sad pity. If only many of us will cease to be impulsive buyers. If only we would think deeply and separate our needs from our wants and imbibe the economist principle of scale of preference and opportunity cost. If only we would resist peer and family pressures and live our lives decently within the limits of our resources.

If only we understand what is an asset and what is a liability. Then, and only then, would we save ourselves from the needless hassles of ostentatious, glitzy and vain-glorious living.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Issues in Pension Reform Bill 2013

 



 


 




Jide Ojo
Pension matters are dear to my heart. My father taught for 40 years and retired as a school headmaster. The unfortunate thing is that he neither got his pension nor his gratuity till he died three years into retirement. He was not alone. Many senior citizens of this country suffered a similar fate as they languished in pains, ailments and died miserably while waiting to be paid their retirement benefits. My office is at present enrolled in the contributory pension scheme and over the years, I have been able to accrue some reasonable pension savings under this scheme. I hope not to suffer the same upshot as my dad when my retirement comes.
It is for these reasons that I have taken more than a cursory interest in pension matters. The administration of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, in a bid to reform pension management in the country in 2004, got the National Assembly to pass the Pension Reform bill through which the National Pension Commission was established. Giving historical background to some of the issues necessitating the establishment of PenCom, the Commission on its website stated as follows:
“Prior to the enactment of the Pension Reform Act 2004, pension schemes in Nigeria had been bedevilled by many problems. The Public Service operated an unfunded Defined Benefits Scheme and the payment of retirement benefits were budgeted annually. The annual budgetary allocation for pension was often one of the most vulnerable items in budget implementation in the light of resource constraints. In many cases, even where budgetary provisions were made, inadequate and untimely release of funds resulted in delays and accumulation of arrears of payment of pension rights. It was obvious therefore that the Defined Benefits Scheme could not be sustained.
“In the private sector on the other hand, many employees were not covered by the pension schemes put in place by their employers and many of these schemes were not funded. Besides, where the schemes were funded, the management of the pension funds was full of malpractices between the fund managers and the Trustees of the pension funds”.
There are five cardinal objectives and features of the Pension Reform Act 2004. Namely: to ensure that every person who worked in either the public service of the Federation, the Federal Capital Territory or the private sector receives his retirement benefits as and when due; to assist individuals by ensuring that they save to cater for their livelihood during old age and thereby reducing old age poverty; to ensure that pensioners are not subjected to untold suffering due to inefficient and cumbersome process of pension payment; to establish a uniform set of rules, regulations and standards for the administration and payments of retirement benefits for the Public Service of the Federation, Federal Capital Territory and the Private Sector; and to stem the growth of outstanding pension liabilities.
Almost a decade after the establishment of PenCom and licensing of scores of Pension Fund Administrators, Pension Fund Custodians and Closed Pension Fund Administrators, the woes of Nigerian workers have yet to be over. There are still issues with the management of pension fund. For instance, the state and local governments’ employees are not covered by the PRA 2004.   Even the federal workers and the private sector that are compelled to operate contributory pension scheme are still having challenges. Just last January 28, an Assistant Director in the Police Pension Office,  John Yakubu Yusuf was  sentenced  to two years’ imprisonment with an option of N750,000 fine for conniving with others to defraud  the Police Pension Office and pensioners of N27.2bn. Several other persons have been arrested and currently being prosecuted for diverting, embezzling or misappropriating the pension funds of workers.
According to a report in The Nation, Monday, November 4, 2013, titled, ‘Can Pension Reform Bill end pensioners’ agony?’, “The action and inaction of some pension administrators laid the unfortunate foundation for the scandalous deeds trailing the country pension sector. Barefaced lies and confounding falsehood, ever blossoming thievery of pension funds and activities of rapacious pension administrators more than anything made the repeal and re-enactment of the Pension Act 2004 more urgent than ever”. Senate President David Mark described those prowling pension funds as stealing blood money.
In response to the general outcry for further reform of Nigeria’s Pension industry, President Goodluck Jonathan in April 2013 forwarded an executive bill to the National Assembly to tighten the nuts and bolts of the PRA 2004. Highlights of the Pension Reform Amendment Bill 2013 are as follows:  To enhance the powers of the Pension Commission in its regulatory and enforcement activities as well as to enhance the protection of pension fund assets; to unlock the opportunities for the deployment of pension assets for national development; to review the sanctions regime to reflect current realities; and to provide for the participation of the Informal Sector.
The PRAB 2013 also seeks to provide the framework for the adoption of the Contributory Pension Scheme by States and Local Governments. This is long overdue.  The bill also aims to create new offences and provide for stiffer penalties that will serve as a deterrent against mismanagement or diversion of pension funds assets under any guise, as well as other infractions of the provisions of the Act. The bill equally seeks an upward review of minimum rate of pension contribution from the current 15 per cent. The proposed minimum rate is 20 per cent of the monthly emolument payable as 12 per cent by the employer and 8 per cent by the employee.
The PRAB 2013 scrutinised the provision of the 2004 Act with respect to qualifying years of experience for the Director-General such that the requirement is graduated in descending order from that of the Chairman at 20 years to that of the Director-General at 15 years. This particular clause in the bill has been most contentious. Opinions are divided on the justification for the reduction in the number of years of experience the DG of PenCom needs to have from 20 years to 15 years. A section of the media believes that the request is self serving and uncalled for.  This alteration being proposed by the President is supposedly meant to pave the way for the acting Director General of National Pension Commission, Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, to be confirmed as substantive chief executive. She was appointed acting DG in December 2012 at a time she was allegedly due to retire having served for eight years as Company Secretary on the level of director and possessing only 15 years experience in the industry.
The Joint National Assembly Committees on Pension and Establishment Matters led by Senator Aloysius Etok and Rep. Ibrahim Bawa Kamba has recommended that a person to be appointed to the office of DG PenCom does not even need to have the 15 years being recommended by the executive bill but  should only be a ‘fit and proper person with adequate cognate experience in pension matters’.
The Committee while submitting its report on October 29 said it recommended the removal of 20 years of experience and replaced it with competency just as is the case with other financial regulatory agencies such as the Central Bank of Nigeria Act, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation Act 2006, Securities and Exchange Commission, National Insurance Commission and Corporate Affairs Commission Acts. I do hope the intention of the committee in making this recommendation is altruistic and not in order to satisfy the whim and caprice of the president. As observed by The PUNCH in its editorial of August 22, 2013, “Appointing a pension fund chief regulator should not be reduced to contemptible patronage or despicable cronyism”. I couldn’t agree more.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nollywood at 20 and Nigeria’s entertainment industry

Congratulations to all Nigerian thespians, playwrights, producers, directors, costumiers, scriptwriters, musicians, set-designers, location managers, dancers, choreographers, cameramen and women, photographers, editors, marketers, financiers and all other professionals who are involved in film-making in the country.  From November 2 – 27, 2013, Nigeria’s movie industry, better known as Nollywood, is set to celebrate its two decades of existence with pomp. Lots of interesting activities have been lined up to mark the twentieth anniversary celebrations. These include a grand awards night, a charity novelty football match, special master class sessions for practitioners, coaching clinics for Nigerian youths and upcoming motion picture practitioners, special charity-support activities, among others.
I appreciate the artistry, resilience, and conscientiousness of Nollywood practitioners. From nothing, they have made the Nigerian film industry a global brand so much so that in 20 years, Nollywood is rated third best world over coming after the United States of America’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. I had a taste of the popularity of Nigeria’s films and artistes in Ghana in 2008 when I was a short term international election observer with The Carter Centre.   At the Bekwai constituency in the Kumasi Region where I observed the December 28, presidential run-off, it was a pleasant surprise as some of the poll officials, having noticed that I am from Nigeria, warmed up to me and told me that they love our actors and actresses. Names of screen divas such as Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Genevive Nnaji, Ini Edo and actors such as Nkem Owoh (Osuofia), Desmond Elliot and Ramsey Nouah were mentioned.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria movie professionals have contributed immensely to national development. Apart from offering employment to several thousands of people along the value chain, Nollywood has helped to foster national unity as people from different ethnic, religious and cultural background work together in making good films for our entertainment. The country’s film industry has also helped to project and promote Nigerian cultures and values. Nigerian names, food, attires, dance, tourist centres, architectural designs, music, and general lifestyles have been locally and internationally promoted via our film industry. The Nigerian movie industry has also done a lot of image laundry for the country. Our films, movies and artistes have won numerous prestigious national and international awards among which is the Africa Movie Academy Awards. Our actors and actresses have also had the opportunity to showcase their talents in other countries in Europe, America and Africa. Our films have provided an unrivalled means of relaxation. Films with comedy slants have helped to reduce stress by offering comic reliefs.
Nigerian actors and actresses have also been able to demonstrate their resourcefulness and versatility by their ability to play multiple roles in the industry. Some are artistes, masters of ceremonies, directors and producers all rolled into one. Some such as Elliot, Owoh, Jalade-Ekeinde, Tonto Dike, Segun Arinze, the late Hubert Ogunde and a host of others have also proved that they are equally good musicians.
Even though stage plays as well as television and radio dramas predate the advent of the movie industry, it is sad that stage plays have been relegated to the background. I used to go to the University of Ibadan Theatre Arts Hall, Cultural Centre at Mokola and Obisesan Hall  in Dugbe,  Ibadan to watch stage plays by the UNIBADAN Performing Company where the likes of Becky Musa, the late Sam Loco Efe and Clarion Chukwura used to hold sway. Stage plays are no longer fashionable because it is not as financially rewarding to the artistes as featuring in movies. Even when the likes of Chief Eddie Ugbomah, Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love), Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala), and the late Ogunde pioneered filmmaking in the early 80s, we had to go to cinemas to watch them. It was thereafter that home videos came and people could then purchase the VHS tape and later Compact Discs to watch. The advent of home videos coupled with the high level of insecurity has made the cinema culture to also go comatose.
Among the challenges facing Nigeria’s film industry are inadequate funding as many of the filmmakers have to depend on private individuals to finance their projects. These financiers dictate both the storyline as well as the artistes to feature; piracy (illegal or unauthorised duplication and sales of intellectual properties e.g. films. A handful of powerful individuals at the Alaba International Market in Lagos are notorious for this); lack of an umbrella structure for the industry; inadequate training  and exposure of filmmakers on how to use modern technology to perfect their acts;  advent of cable or satellite television stations which take delight in showing films produced thereby making it unnecessary for individuals to buy personal copies; substandard production aftermath of low budget; market glut as a result of too many releases at the same time; weak legal framework and enforcement by the regulators (in spite of the establishment of the National Film and Video Censors Board, some films whose contents are unethical, immoral, or culturally insensitive are found in the market when they ought to be banned.
Like the film industry, the wider entertainment industry in the country follows the same narrative.  Nigerian musicians have done the country proud both locally and internationally. Nigeria’s brand of music such as Afrobeat, Highlife, Reggae, Rap, Hip-Hop (Nigerian version) and traditional genres such as Juju, FujiApala, Awurebe, Were, Waka, Sakara, Dundun and Sekere, Bolojo, Ewi, all have international appeal with many of the exponents travelling abroad to perform at international music festivals as well as for Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Some Nigerian musicians such as Femi Anikulapo Kuti and King Sunny Ade have also been nominated for Grammy, the most influential music award in the world, though they did not win. However, Nigerian musicians in the Diaspora such as Sade Adu and Seal have won the Grammies. About seven Nigerian musicians are among the richest top 10 in Africa in the Channel O and Forbes list recently released for 2013. There are now many talent hunt shows supported by the private sector such as the MTN Project Fame, Nigerian Idol, Glo X Factor, Multina Dancehall, etc. These are no mean achievements.  The comedy sub-set of Nigeria’s entertainment industry has also grown big with many of our comedians and comediennes now organising shows both within and outside Nigeria as well as running personal television comedy shows.  It is heartwarming that Nigerian artistes have been found worthy by the Nigerian telecommunication industry as brand ambassadors.
As with the filmmakers, Nigerian musicians and comedians face similar challenges such as their intellectual properties being pirated or used without licence, sub-standard production, funding constraint, and lack of self-censorship. Some of Nigerian artistes are fond of lewd songs and jokes. Women particularly are greatly mistreated both in their songs and promotional videos. Some of our comedians and comediennes promote  stereotypes. For instance, Warri, a prominent town in Delta State usually has its inhabitants projected as lawless, careless and uncouth people. This is wrong.
About the funding challenge faced by the entertainment industry, the Federal Government has stepped in to offer a lifeline to the artistes. In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan promised a $200m soft loan to the filmmakers. Various bureaucratic bottlenecks however hampered the disbursement of the bail-out. At a dinner held with top Nollywood practitioners in Lagos to celebrate Nollywood’s 20th anniversary on March 2, 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan announced a N3bn grant to support the motion picture industry. He also launched a programme known as “Project Nollywood,” which he said would help to support the key components of the industry’s value chain through a dedicated grant. At the same event, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio, also endowed the “Goodluck Jonathan Prize for Best Producer, Actor and Actresses”, worth N50m. It remains to be seen if these lifelines will be accessible and put to good use by the theatre practitioners. The different unions in the industry also need to float an endowment fund to assist some of their members facing health challenges. However, 20 hearty cheers to Nollywood, do keep the flag flying.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NCAA $1.6m toys for Nigeria's Aviation Minister

“Therefore the best fortress is to be found in the love of the people, for although you may have fortresses, they will not save you if you are hated by the people”
—Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Nigeria is indeed a theatre of the absurd. The frequent scandals we are treated to confirm this more than anything. Thus, when news broke out last week that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority purchased two armoured BMW 760 Li cars for the use of the Minister of Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah, I could not but hold my head in disbelief.  Am I suffering from auditory hallucination? Two bulletproof cars for a whopping $1.6m (N255m). This is our aviation empress’ priority while the sector is riddled with avoidable crisis while our public hospitals and universities have been shut down by striking doctors and lecturers!
A number of issues have been raised by various analysts on the NCAA Greek gifts to the minister. First, is it appropriate for an agency under a ministry to purchase cars for the use of its supervisor? Were the funds for the cars in the NCAA budget for 2013? There are six parastatals under the aviation ministry, why is it only the NCAA that single-handedly bought the cars? Were they meant to curry the minister’s favour? Couldn’t the Ministry of Aviation have purchased the cars from its own budget rather than relying on an agency under it to protect the minster with a bulletproof car? Are the cars not against the monetisation policy of government?  Was there value for money in the purchase of the cars?
Various revelations have shown that same model of cars cost far less from the manufacturers. In fact, Sunday PUNCH of October 20, 2013 said in a news report thus “Each of the two armoured BMW 760 Li cars bought for the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority is more expensive than the British Prime Minister, David Cameron’s car. While Oduah’s cars go for $800,000 (about N127.5m) each, Cameron’s armoured Jaguar XJ X351 car costs £200,000 (about N52m). ….Even at the N52m price, Cameron’s car reportedly has more sophisticated features, including special bullet and bomb-proof security armour, run-flat tyres, bulletproof glass and a self-contained oxygen supply”.
Even the justifications of the NCAA and the Special Assistant, Media to the Aviation Minister, Joe Obi, were very hollow. That the minister needs bulletproof cars because of potential threats to her life as well as to convey foreign aviation regulatory agencies dignitaries sounds unconvincing. If Oduah needs bulletproof cars, would she need a bulletproof office, official quarters, and airplane in order to work? What is the responsibility of all those security details at her beck and call? I mean what are the police and state security service agents posted to her doing? If she knows that she’s not safe performing her duties she ought to have voluntarily resigned.
It will be naive to think that only the aviation minister has abused her office by making this ludicrous demand from an agency in her ministry. Some other serving ministers may have been doing so and it is high time such was unravelled and stopped forthwith.
In 2010, I recall a similar allegation of over-invoicing or inflated purchase made by Dino Melaye against a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole. In a petition submitted to the chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Monday, June 21, 2010 and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission on Wednesday, 23 June, 2010, members of the Group of 11 (G-11) who called themselves “Progressive Minded Legislators” alleged a fraud of N9bn contract scam against Bankole.  In the words of 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 bulletproof 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 touches, car seats, fire extinguishers and sundry items for members at inflated prices. What has come out of the investigation?
Also, we have had a scenario where the regulator asked an operator to co-fund investigation into the operator’s activities. Remember the case of the House Committee on Capital Market which had written to the Securities and Exchange Commission for a sum of N44m last year? The rejection of SEC to approve the sum and the exposure of the Director General of SEC on the inappropriate request were partly responsible for the National Assembly’s call for the removal of the DG as well as non-appropriation of any fund for SEC in the 2013 budget.
If the truth must be told, the ruling elite in Nigeria care less about the welfare of the populace. They wallow in obscene affluence while majority of the citizenry could hardly afford a decent meal in a day. In the midst of decaying infrastructure, high rate of unemployment, and other unimpressive indices of development, all our ruling elite is obsessed with is self aggrandisement. Setting the pace is the presidency with mind-blowing amount earmarked annually for feeding, and a penchant for wonders on wheel. In the air fleet of Nigerian president is about a dozen presidential jets and countless number of ‘mobile palaces’ as presidential cars.
Even our state governors have started acquiring private jets for their incessant but mostly frivolous travels. At the same time, they pay themselves humongous amount as security votes. Our federal parliamentarians were recently declared as one of the highest paid in the world yet they only sit for 181 days in a year! (Section 63 of 1999 Constitution, as amended). Even if they work every day of the year, the amount of salaries and allowances these lawmakers pay themselves will still be unjustifiable.  This definitely is not how to serve the people. What Nigerian taxpayers spent maintaining the handful of ruling elite would have made many of the borrowing sprees embarked upon by the various levels of government unnecessary. Our leaders should show some empathy for the poor and the vulnerable and drastically reduce their huge appetite for vain-glorious and ostentatious living. Not even their bulletproof cars and aircraft will be able to shield them from people’s revolt when the time comes. I do hope they draw inspiration from the eternal words of Niccolo Machiavelli cited in the opening statement of this piece.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

National conference: The right thing at the wrong time

Expectedly, the most discussed issue since October 1, 2013 is the proposed national conference consented to by President Goodluck Jonathan in his Independence Day broadcast.  Since then, the President has gone ahead to inaugurate the Femi Okurounmu-led National Advisory Committee on National Dialogue. My take on this whole issue is that it is a right thing being done at the wrong time. Yes, it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. However, convoking a national dialogue on the eve of an election year is ominous. The quick succession in which the opponents of the idea became the proponents is suspect. First, Senate President David Mark welcomed the idea on resumption from the National Assembly’s recess in September before the President established a 13-member committee on October 1. The nation’s No. 1 and 3 citizens are known antagonists of the idea before now.
My main bother about the timing of the conference is that it may affect the proper planning for the 2015 elections. Election needs a painstaking planning and enormous funding; with all the energy, time and resources being channelled towards a national dialogue, inadequate resources may be made available to the Independent National Electoral Commission to prepare for the 2015 polls. Given that the Okurounmu’s committee has been given six weeks to plan for the conference, all points to the fact that the main conference will take place in 2014.
The Obafemi Awolowo Foundation held a colloquium on October 7 where it tried to do agenda setting by asking for a nine-month conference of 400 delegates 90 per cent of whom will emerge by electoral colleges from wards, local governments, states and zonal levels on a non-partisan basis. The remaining 10 per cent, it was suggested, would be nominees of professional bodies, trade unions, civil society organisations, which of course should include youths, children and women as well as pan Nigerian religious bodies. My concern is that instead of INEC to focus on preparations for 2015 polls, it might end up being saddled with organising or supervising election of persons to attend the national conference and the proposed referendum on the outcome.
Is there really a way we can have the dialogue without the 2015 elections being hampered or are we going to have the conference and still allow INEC to go on with the preparation for the polls? What if the conference resolves to alter the current political structures and systems? For instance, what if it resolves that we go back to parliamentary system of government as some have said that the cost of running a presidential system is too prohibitive? What if we decide to try out unicameral legislature as against the current bicameral structure? What if we agree to reduce or increase the number of states, local government, federal constituencies, state constituencies, etc?  Some people have also suggested going back to the First Republic regional structure. Others have called for the scrapping of the State Independent Electoral Commission and its functions being taken over by INEC. What if the conference approves the proposition of a single term of six or seven years? Will it take effect immediately or post 2015 polls? Will there be a new constitution to be drafted after the national dialogue? The implication of all these posers is that the conference may very likely impact negatively on the plans for 2015 elections. If there is no election in 2015, what then happens? The current political office holders get to stay on? Will that not confirm the suspicion that the motive for acceding to the national dialogue is self-serving rather than altruistic? Or, will there be an interim government?
I would have preferred a situation where the conference would have held last year (2012) so that the implementation of the resolutions would not hamper the preparations for the next polls. What that would also have done for us was to save the nation the enormous resources already spent on constitution amendment currently being pushed through the national assembly. As it were, both chambers embarked on nationwide public hearings with the House of Representatives holding historic peoples public sessions in the 360 federal constituencies. At present, the National Assembly is expected to set up a conference committee to hamonise the positions of the two chambers, vote on the proposals and send sections that get two-thirds majority approval to the state Houses of Assembly for possible concurrence. If the National Assembly had not been tardy with its constitution amendment timeline and had met the June 2013 proposed end-date, that exercise would have been concluded before this scheduled conference. Is our country so rich to afford all these exercises?
It would seem most of the Nigerian political, business and religious elites and opinion moulders have bought the idea of national conference and  are willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt, but let it be on record that I warned the nation that it is a right idea being implemented at a very wrong time. When Kenya did her own in 2010, the elections were some three years ahead (the elections held in March 2013). I would rather we give INEC the needed support and resources to organise a better election in 2015 than spending 2014 discussing Nigeria and putting the election management body in a state of suspended animation or uncertainty.

Air crashes and Regulators’ Dilemma


The October 3, 2013 crash of Associated Airline plane in Lagos which claimed about 15 lives out of the 20 on board has diminished the great works the regulatory agencies have been doing to make Nigeria’s airspace safe. If the truth must be told, the Federal Ministry of Aviation has been trying to do the needful to ensure international best practices in the sector. Since the ill-fated Dana plane crash of June 3, 2012 in Lagos, the aviation ministry and agencies under it have been intensifying effort to enforce compliance with policies and procedures guiding the operations of the airlines. Not only that, many of the airports dotting the Nigerian landscape has been receiving facelift with the Akanu Ibiam Airport in Enugu recently upgraded to international status.

Aviation experts are wont to saying that the sector is the most regulated of all the means of transportation. Unfortunately, in spite of the perceived strict regulations, air crashes is gradually becoming a perennial event in Nigeria. What is missing? From what has been in the public domain since the latest mishap, it would seem some of the airlines have been cooking the books and doctoring their certifications. Everything looks good on paper – maintenance done as at when due, pilots well trained, etc. However, in reality, those documentations may have been forged. There is insinuation that the crashed Associated Airplane may not have valid insurance. Last Friday, a Commissioner with the Accident Investigation Bureau, Capt. Muktar Usman revealed that information gotten from the black box retrieved from the crashed plane showed that the pilots ignored the automated warning from the onboard computer voice, alerting them of a possible problem with the aircraft flaps and right engine. Should this claim be true, the competence of the pilots who flew the plane is in doubt.

There are allegations that pilots and engineers in some airlines are being owned salaries and allowances and as such may not be in good frame of mind to perform their delicate duties. This is aside the accusation that some spare parts used in the repair of some planes may be obsolete. I am really amazed that airlines are still cutting corners despite the multi-billion Naira aviation intervention fund made available to bailout airlines operating in Nigeria. The regulatory authorities need to do more to sanitise the ailing sector.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The many travails of Nigerian judiciary

Amidst the cacophony of the roforofo fight between the “Old Peoples Democratic Party and the “New PDP”; the distraction called the national conference and the tragic Associated Airline plane crash of Thursday, October 3, I have chosen to beam my searchlight and lend a voice to the clarion call for the rescue of the Nigerian judiciary from an imminent collapse.  Nigeria on October 1 marked its 53rd independence anniversary while the Supreme Court also marked its 50th anniversary.  How has the judiciary fared in the last five decades?
There is no doubt that the judicial arm of government plays a pivotal role in nation building. The courts interpret the law and adjudicate disputes among parties, be they individuals, persons and the states, different levels of government as well as different legal entities. It is often said that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. This is true. But for the judiciary, many crimes would have gone unpunished.  If not  for the judiciary, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar would not have been able to contest the 2007 presidential election;  Peter Obi, Rauf Aregbesola, Adams Oshiomhole,  Kayode Fayemi  and Olusegun Mimiko would probably  not have been governor of  Anambra, Osun, Edo, Ekiti and Ondo states respectively after their mandates were initially stolen by the  Peoples Democratic Party candidates;   Chibuike Amaechi would not have been governor of Rivers State in his first term as his victory at the party primary was annulled by the powers-that-be in his party until the Supreme Court installed him as the winner of the 2007 PDP governorship election;  some governors would have spent six to seven years  as one term instead of four  because of the spurious claim that their first election was annulled and their tenure started to count from when they won their re-run. The judiciary helps to redress injustices and maintain law and order in the country.
I give kudos to the magistrates, judges and justices as well as all those who work in our temples of justice, the courts. They have done well in spite of the daunting challenges and the inclement work environment in which they operate. These ladies and gentlemen at the bench have been working assiduously with the police and other security agencies as well as the Nigerian Prison Service to dispense justice and sanitise the society of crimes and criminality.
On Monday, September 23, 2013, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mariam  Aloma Mukthar inaugurated the 2013/2014 Legal Year which also coincided with  the swearing in of 17 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria. The CJN at the event laid bare the plethora of challenges currently facing the country’s judiciary. Among the lot mentioned are untoward attitude of litigants, lawyers and judicial officers alike (some of whom are corrupt and indolent); ill equipped court rooms (some courts lacked basic facilities like furniture, well lit and ventilated environment, library); inability of judges to embrace ICT (most judges still write their reports, rulings and judgments in long hand while relying on court clerks to type them. This practice does not guarantee confidentiality and also lead to delay of justice).
Mukthar described some of our laws as being archaic and culturally irrelevant and condemned the unwholesome practice of some security agents involved in the criminal justice administration system.  According to her, “It is common knowledge that our security agencies usually rush to the courts with suspects, before looking for evidence to prosecute them. The persistent use of the ‘’Holden charge’’ by these agencies to detain awaiting trial suspects, is a major contributor to the high number of cases pending in our courts”. The CJN opined that, “An extreme consequence of these glaring lapses may lie in the loss of confidence in our domestic justice administration system which rubbishes our often brandished favourable investment climate and translate to a huge disincentive to potential foreign investors in Nigeria”
She expressed dissatisfaction with our civil and criminal procedures. According to her, “By our criminal procedure, I believe we have a variety of unnecessary dichotomies – felony and misdemeanour, indictable and non – indictable offences, etc. This has made commencement of criminal proceedings complicated. Jurisdiction is very paramount in a case and often times, a lot of time is expended on jurisdiction on account of this dichotomy before the proper commencement of the case”. She added that “In civil procedure, the situation is scandalous to our notion of justice. To exhaust the complete remedy in a case, i.e. from trial court to Supreme Court, could take up to 20 years with the original litigants dead and substituted and in some cases the substitutes also dead and substituted. The process of interlocutory appeals aggravates the situation to the extent that by the time the Supreme Court decides that they be continued in trial court, most of the witnesses might have died or are alive but senile, with documents no longer traceable”. Isn’t it a settled legal dictum that justice delayed is justice denied?
Most worrisome of all the concerns raised by the CJN is the recurring dwindling subvention to the judiciary. In her words: “Statistics have shown that funding from the Federal Government has witnessed a steady decline since 2010, from N95bn in that year to N85bn  in 2011, then N75bn  in 2012 and dropped again in the 2013 budget to N67bn. Indeed, with this, if the amount allocated to the extrajudicial organisations within the judiciary is deducted, the courts are left with a paltry sum to operate”. There is no doubt that the judiciary is being treated unfairly among the three arms of government just because it has no say in appropriation matters. While the executive prepares the appropriation bill in terms of budget estimates, the legislative arm does the actual appropriation as the executive is duty bound to implement what the parliament passes. Unfortunately, the judiciary is at a receiving end, having to make do with the little envelope handed to it by the other two arms. The National Assembly has been taking N150bn in the last two or three appropriation years, the executive has equally being taking good care of itself with more jets being added to the presidential fleet and humongous amount in the neighbourhood of a billion naira appropriated for meals and incidentals, yet the fortunes of Nigeria’s judiciary dwindles. This is preposterous!
Another disturbing development capable of destroying the judiciary are the acts of blackmail, intimidation and terrorism being visited on members of the bench. In the last couple of years, a lot of stories have been weaved on some judicial officers by the political class in the main as well as other categories of litigants. Many of the judges were accused of corruption and miscarriage of justice unfairly. No doubt, there are corrupt judges (some have actually been suspended or compulsorily retired on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council) but I am of the opinion that that they are in the minority. The unfolding trend of kidnapping of judges, justices or members of their families is an ill-wind that blows no good. If our judicial officers are being harassed and molested with impunity, in due course, we may not have courageous judges to deliver justice anymore. We may be left with supine judges who will only give judgments. Inadequate staffing is already a phenomenon in our judicial sector. The Supreme Court ought to have a maximum of 21 justices but currently has 15, the CJN inclusive. The Court of Appeal should have 70 with amendments recently made to increase the number to 100; the appellate court does not at present have full complement of justices. Same goes for our high courts, magistrate and customary courts.
All the highlighted malaise needs to be urgently addressed in order to save Nigerian judiciary from an imminent collapse. I heard the Nigerian Law Reform Commission has reviewed some of our archaic laws but the process of reform has yet to be consummated by the National Assembly which needs to legislate on these proposals. As the constitution amendment progresses to its final stage, that’s if the process has not already been scuttled by the proposed national conference, it is important for our lawmaker to take another look at Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution in order to allow 60 days earmarked for appeals in election cases to start from the day appellants filed their appeals and not from the date of the judgment of the trial court as currently obtained.