Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Over the weekend, I watched a newscast on the Kwara State’s planned International Vocational Centre being done in collaboration with the world-acclaimed vocational education institution, City and Guilds of London. The news fascinated me a great deal. It is a good thinking on the part of the state government, I reasoned. There is no gainsaying that Nigeria is in dire need of qualified, competent, skilful and productive artisans. Yes, there are many bogus and dim-witted persons with sign-posts and labels everywhere claiming to be master artisans. Last December, I needed to change the lock on my door and thus went to the market to purchase a replacement. I thereafter called on a welder near my house to come and replace the lock. Lo and behold, the apprentice he sent down could not fix the lock; the master himself came, fumbled with it for a couple of hours without success and thereafter promised to summon a colleague to help out. It took another “master” welder to fix the lock after two had tried. I have had similar experience with motor mechanics, cobblers, tailors, to mention but a few. Indeed, there are more destroyers out there than repairers among the artisans. Upon their incompetence, they are also very fraudulent. I know many readers have not fared any better than me.
It is thus heart-warming that the Kwara State Government is thinking of helping to solve this critical manpower need. It was reported that Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed laid the foundation of the N1.4bn vocational centre at Ajase-Ipo, Irepodun Local Government Area on September 11, 2012. The governor was quoted as saying that the vocational centre was part of his administration’s resolve to “create a new generation of highly employable artisans and prosperous youth entrepreneurs through the provision of market relevant skills under our Share Prosperity Programme”. He noted that “the centre will, through modernised vocational training, premised on world-class standards, turn senior secondary school-leavers, polytechnic and university graduates into well-trained artisans ready to create jobs and contribute to the collective prosperity of the state”.
Governor Ahmed emphasised that “the graduates of the International Vocational Centre who would be awarded globally recognised certificates and diplomas moderated by the London-based City and Guilds will, on completion of their courses, be marketable and employable youths while Kwara State will become a reputable hub for vocational and technical skills in West Africa”. The centre, according to the governor, would run on a good mix of practical and theoretical learning with well-equipped classrooms and practical skill development areas, especially in marine and port operation, agriculture, hospitality, catering as well as engineering, construction, fashion design and textiles.
I wish the Governor well in his bid. One hopes, however, that this will not turn out to be a white elephant. I truly believe the governor is on the right track and looks forward to the speedy take-off of the training institute. Experience with Nigeria’s policy implementation has been very discomforting. Many decades ago, precisely in 1982, we started the 6-3-3-4 system of education. This substituted the hitherto 6-5-4 system under which I was schooled. (6-5-4 means six years of primary school, five years of secondary education and four years of university training). The 6-3-3-4 system, according to education experts, was designed to inject functionality into the Nigerian school system by producing graduates who would be able to make use of their hands, head and the heart (the 3Hs of education). The idea was to have six years of primary education, three years of junior secondary education, and another three years of either technical education for those who are more interested in learning a trade or three years of senior secondary school for those who are more academically inclined. The last four years of the 6-3-3-4 system is for tertiary education.
Incidentally, there are reports that the policy was changed about 24 years later when the then Minister for Education, Dr. Obi Ezekwesili, launched the 9-3-4 system coupled with the privatisation of Unity Schools, hitherto known as Federal Government Colleges. However, taking a second look at the system, incumbent Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, proposed to the National Assembly the need to revert to the old system of 6-3-3-4, but with a modification that would include Early Childhood Education. In the manner of her predecessors, she also christened the system, hence the name 1-6-3-3-4.
In summary, we have moved from 6-5-4 to 6-3-3-4 to 9-3-4 and now 1-6-3-3-4. It will seem every administration in Nigeria just wants to tinker with our education system and rename it to suit its fancy. The challenge with Nigeria’s education sector is not so much lack of policy, road map or blueprint but privation of adequate funding of the vision. I recall that in time past, as part of tackling the challenge of technical manpower, polytechnics, technical colleges and trade centres were established across the length and breadth of Nigeria. Unfortunately, many of them are now comatose due to inadequate manpower and funding to make them functional. I do hope the promoters of the vocational centre being built by the Kwara State government has learnt from the failure of these past efforts and as such will avoid the pitfalls.
It is crystal clear that we cannot all go to the universities no matter the effort of government to create access. Some people are gifted with technical skills and need to be encouraged to hone their skills at a formal school where they will get certified. This is inclusive education. The Kwara initiative is a clarion call on our state and local government executives to do all in their powers to revive the technical colleges and trade centres in their domains. This is one veritable way to bridge the technical knowledge gap that currently exists in the country. It is also a way of reducing unemployment as many graduates of these technical institutions are potential entrepreneurs who can set up their own outfit and provide quality services to the society. Failure to revitalise these technical colleges and regulated vocational study centres will continue to make Nigerians to be at the mercy of these charlatans called artisans.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
For some time now, news has been making the rounds that some unemployed Nigerians pay huge sums of money to secure employment in some Ministries, Agencies and Departments of government, especially at the federal level. Top on the list of these MDAs and paramilitary organisations are the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Police, Nigeria Prison Service, Federal Civil Service Commission, among others. The entire saga peaked with the compulsory retirement on January 15 of Mrs. Rose Chinyere Uzoma as the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service. Media reports had alleged that the forced exit of Mrs. Uzoma was not unconnected with allegations of nepotism levelled against her. However, it must be noted that job racketeering is not a federal issue alone. It happens in state MDAs and the private sector too.
Senator Atiku Bagudu had during discussion on the floor of the Senate on January 16 said a statement credited to the dismissed Comptroller General of the NIS, alleged over 4,000 employment slots were approved by the Federal Government but were sold to job applicants while others were allocated to some personalities in breach of due process. He also noted that employment letters were offered for sale at the rate of between N400, 000 and N500, 000 through a syndicate operating in Gwagwalada and Karu. It will be recalled that a similar scandal rocked the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps sometime last year. Many senators had affirmed last week that some of their constituents were asked to pay in order to get appointments at some federal agencies.
Wading into the issue of bribery-for-job scandal, the Senate has mandated its Committees on Federal Character and Employment, Labour and Productivity to investigate these allegations of kickbacks in the employment processes in the NIS and other MDAs with a view to bringing the culprits to book. The joint committee was given eight weeks to conclude its assignment. The Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, has also set up an in-house investigative panel to unravel the allegations of sharp practices within the NIS.
Why did I say that this scandal is the worst kept secret? It has been an open secret for a long time now that jobs whether in the private or public sector in Nigeria are largely for sale. Less than half of the persons employed in most of the federal and state MDAs in the last decade could be said to have got the job on merit. More often than not, you must pay (in cash or kind) or must have been recommended by a very important person for your job application to be considered. Even in the private sector, the story is not any different. Most bank jobs are got not necessarily by those who passed the routine aptitude tests and oral interviews but those whose parents or the organisations they work for have fat accounts with the banks. Even teaching jobs have been on sale for long at least in Abuja. I have heard stories of those who paid to get teaching appointments. As it is with getting job appointments into some MDAs, so it is with getting promotion and choice postings, as merit counts for less while the ability to bribe, political party affiliation, and the VIPs one knows are of primary importance.
A scandal similar to what happens with employment is also playing out when it comes to getting admissions to tertiary institutions. I once had a nasty experience about 22 years ago. I had done the Polytechnic entrance examination to a polytechnic located in one of the South-West states. I scored 204 over 300. The cut-off mark for out-of-state applicants was 203. Shouldn’t I be packing my luggage to go to school? Not so fast! I was told that the institution, as a state-owned, was at liberty to pick and choose those to admit. My encounter with the Registrar of the polytechnic was very revealing. After listening to my story, he asked me to come back in two weeks’ time. On getting back, after a long wait, he told me to meet with his secretary who in turn asked me whose list my name came with. I naively mentioned my father’s name. He searched through the files containing list of names from commissioners, traditional and religious rulers, permanent secretaries and other political office holders. When he didn’t see any name like mine, he gave up. For three months, I was swinging back and forth to the institution without any success. Meanwhile, indigenes of the state who had scores far less than mine had been admitted and started attending lectures before my name eventually got published on the discretionary list. I was then given three days to pay the tuition fees. To cut a long story short, I studied in the school for a semester before leaving for the university. Today, some scoundrels have perfected the act of selling admission letters to desperate and unqualified students.
I think the reason why bribery-for-job or admission-for-sale racketeering flourishes is due to the dearth of job and admission opportunities. In elementary economics, when demand outweighs supply, the price will rise. There are far too many persons seeking white-collar jobs than there are vacancies. Same with tertiary institutions’ admissions. The number of persons looking for admission is more than the universities’ carrying capacity. For instance, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin said recently that out of the 64,121 candidates that qualified for admission into the university for the 2012/2013 academic session, only 8,098 students were offered admission.
Job drought apart, our diminished values and ethics also contribute to the untoward situation. Though Nigerians are said to be highly religious, however, our religiosity does not always reflect well in our human relations. The rat-race to make money at all costs from even a calamitous situation is a worthy testimony of the abysmal level of our moral corruption. If some persons would rob accident victims and deny flood victims of their relief materials, how will they not cash in on desperate job seekers who want to be gainfully employed?
I agree that the bribe-for-job scandal should be investigated but are those investigating not also the culprits? Are they not the VIPs encouraging the heads of these MDAs to set aside rules and procedures and willy-nilly take their candidates? Who will clean the Aegean’s table? The issue at hand goes beyond the Senate probe. A select men and women of integrity should instead take on that responsibility. They could be from the three arms of government and the civil society. Beyond probe however, government at all levels needs to provide an enabling environment that will ensure that job opportunities abound and for those who may wish to set up their own enterprise, they have access to soft loans. Those collecting ‘blood money’ from hapless job applicants and admission seekers should remember the eternal words of the late Dele Giwa that “No evil deeds can go unpunished. Any evil done by man to man will be redressed. If not now, then certainly later; if not by man, then by God for the victory of evil over good can only be temporary.”
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
On Thursday, January 10, 2013, the Nigerian Police authorities launched a new code of conduct for the Force. The policy which the Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar, referred to as an article of faith is meant to instill discipline and ethics in the officers and men of the Force. According to the Deputy Police Public Relations Officer, CSP Frank Mba, “The Code contains standard policing rules as well as contemporary international best practices in law enforcement as available in various United Nations Conventions, the Nigeria constitution, Police Act and Regulations and other domestic statutes. It is intended to be used by police officers in determining what is right and proper in all their actions.”
Furthermore, Mba intoned, “The Code is designed to promote efficiency and effectiveness of Police services by promoting transparency, accountability and a deeper sense of civilian oversight on police activities. It is further intended to promote discipline, professionalism and strict adherence to due process in police activities and operations.” The cryptogram dealt with issues such as the primary responsibilities of police officer; performance of duties as a police officer; discretion; use of force; confidentiality; integrity; cooperation with other police officers and agencies and personal professional capabilities.
There is no gainsaying that the motive behind the enactment of the new cipher is noble and the IGP deserves commendation for his dynamism aimed at improving standards and efficiency of the Nigerian Police. It is noteworthy that the Force has been under virulent attacks by the Nigerian public and some international agencies like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of late.
In its 2011 report, Human Rights Watch said this about our police: “As in previous years, the undisciplined Nigeria Police Force was implicated in frequent human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and extortion-related abuses. The police routinely solicit bribes from victims to investigate crimes and from suspects to drop investigations. Embezzlement of police funds is rife among senior police officials who also often demand monetary “returns” from money extorted from the public by their subordinates.” In a November 1, 2012 report, Amnesty International in an account titled, Nigeria: Trapped in the cycle of violence, documents the atrocities carried out by the Nigerian security agencies as including enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial executions, the burning of homes and detention without trial.
While delivering a keynote address on December 10, 2012 during the International Human Rights Day in Abuja, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, (SAN), castigated the Nigerian Police for carrying out extrajudicial killing. According to media reports, Adoke opined that the Federal Government had noted with concern that the police had, through the years, relied on ‘Police Force Order 237’ to commit extrajudicial killings. The order, he observed, allows the police to shoot any suspect or detainees trying to escape or avoid arrest. Hiding under the cover of Order 237, the Police had perpetrated unlawful killings of 7,195 persons in four years, out of which 2,500 were detainees. The AGF further revealed that plans were afoot by his office to take over from the police the power to prosecute any criminal suspect in the courts because the Force, in his opinion, is peopled by laymen who could not adequately prosecute cases in court.
These scathing remarks, it would seem, did not go down well with police authorities hence the IGP got a team together to fashion out this new code of ethics. However, this regulation is not in anyway new. It is like putting a new wine in an old wine skin and if history is anything to go by, this supposedly new code will most likely change nothing. Something more than a convention is needed to reform the Nigerian Police and the authorities know that. Several investigative panels have been set up to transform the Force but their reports have remained largely unimplemented. The last one was the AIG Parry Osayande (retd.) panel which submitted its recommendations last August. The White Paper on that report has yet to be out.
In spite of the horrific picture of the Nigerian Police painted by the AGF and other international agencies, the police have burnished Nigeria’s image in international assignments particularly during peacekeeping operations and at international sporting events. Many forgot that a policewoman, Chioma Ajunwa, gave Nigeria her first Olympic gold medal via Long Jump at the Atlantic Olympics in 1996. A former World Boxing Council Heavyweight champion, Samuel Peters, sprinter Sunday Bada of the blessed memory and Kikelomo Ajayi, former skipper of the Super Falcons are among police officers who have done this nation proud.
In my own opinion, Nigerian police officers and men need to be motivated for them to be able to conform to the new code. Like Governor Adams Oshiohmole observed during the launch of the code, it is incongruous to expect the best from policemen and women who are posted on assignment outside their base without adequate logistics and had to take shelter in accidented vehicles at police stations. The Governor also joined the Osayande committee to call for the scrapping of the Ministry of Police Affairs. I endorse these positions completely.
The Nigeria Police deserves our empathy and sympathy. It is impossible to make bricks without straw. The workload on police operatives is far too heavy. They are prime targets of terrorists, and marauders. While men of the Force may have killed thousands unlawfully so have they lost hundreds in the same manner. Sadly, they are not properly trained, equipped and remunerated. Yet, we summon them at odd hours to come out and confront dare-devil criminals just because they possess some anachronistic weapons. I was shocked to learn that Nigerian Police lack a state of the art forensic laboratory. How then would they solve the tons of criminal cases we rely on them to crack? Nigeria is grossly under-policed due to inadequate manpower and funds. Many a time, the police rely heavily on state governors for logistics such as operational vehicles and communication gadgets. This makes the call for the establishment of state police logical.
Though inherent with potential abuses, if proper parameters are not set to guide their operations, state police will ensure adequate community policing. It is not mandatory for all states to establish state police, only those with wherewithal may do so. The police should be under the concurrent legislative list just like education. I do know the fear lies in a possible abuse by politicians and other power brokers but even the federal police, as we have it, are being greatly influenced by the political and economic elite. With state high courts already in place, state police and prisons, when established, will complete the justice sector at the state level. Though the Police Equipment Fund of yesteryears was perverted and embroiled in huge controversies, a remodelling of such is imperative. This time, it should be a government-driven and legally established Security Trust Fund which should make companies in Nigeria to donate possibly one per cent of their annual profit before or after tax to the Trust Fund. With proper training, work environment, logistics and welfare, the Nigeria Police will perform better and then the new code will truly be an article of faith.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
November to March is the traditional harmattan season in Nigeria; however, with the severe climate change being experienced around the world, it is difficult to say exactly when the season starts and ends. The season otherwise called dry season in our part of the world comes with dust and mist. As a result of the haze, visions are blurred as drivers cannot see far; even flights are delayed because of poor visibility. It is the time of year when children and adult alike suffer most from cold, cough, catarrh and conjunctivitis (an eye disease popularly referred to as Apollo in Nigeria). The weather is extremely hot during the day and harshly cold at night. The phase is also the harvest and pre-planting season. When there is bountiful harvest, food becomes cheap. It is also the time of the year for festivities. Because there is no likelihood of rain disturbance and since it is a post-harvest period, many social functions such as marriages, burials, house warming and chieftaincy title celebrations are slated for the dry season. Christmas and New Year celebrations also fall within the period.
Ironically, what I enjoy most during harmattan is its coldness. It lures you to sleep even when there is no electricity to power your fan or air-conditioning system. However, the day the cold turns to heat, there is no sound sleep as the heat also comes in extreme measures. Sweltering takes over as pyjamas, night gowns and beddings are soaked with sweats. That is when you see some families sleeping out in the open daring mosquito bites and night marauders in order to catch a sound sleep. Those who could not sleep out open up their barricaded windows to let in some fresh air.
However, the most debilitating drawback of the harmattan is its incendiary proclivity. A careless handling of fire in dry season can end up in monumental loss. Fire spreads quickly because the environment is full of excessive heat; unfortunately water is also in short supply during the season as rivulet, rivers, wells, rain and tap waters are in short supply. Thus, any fire out of place is usually difficult to contain. My heart rends when I read about the numerous fire disasters recorded in the last few weeks. The November 8, 2012 firestorm at Ogbosisi section of the Onitsha Bridgehead Market in Anambra State; the December 8 conflagration at Makurdi Ultra Modern Market which destroyed the administrative block that houses a Magistrate’s Court, banks as well as shops; the December 15 hellhole at Owode Market, Offa in Kwara State; the December 21 fire disaster that wreaked havoc on the warehouse of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control in Oshodi, Lagos; the December 26 blaze at Jankara Market in Lagos that claimed at least one life, about 12 buildings and over 40 cars; the December 27, 2012 inferno that gutted a section of the Hilltop Mansion of former President Olusegun Obasanjo; the January 1 combustion that razed no fewer than 10 shops and five residential buildings at the Ikoku Spare Parts market in Diobu area of Port Harcourt, Rivers State and a January 5, 2013 destruction of a block of four flats located along Demonstration Road in Gwagwalada, a satellite town in the Federal Capital Territory. This is not forgetting the inferno that razed the voter registry unit of the National Independent Electoral Commission headquarters in Abuja on Monday, January 7.
These occurrences though heartrending, are not unpreventable and therefore cannot be categorised as natural disasters. Adhering to simple housekeeping procedures would have forestalled these catastrophes. For instance, many of us indulge in illegal electricity connection, overloading of power sockets, and indifferent to putting off electrical appliances when leaving homes in the morning and offices in the evening. When there is an electrical spark, it often engulfs the building with attendant colossal damage. Also, our rural folk still cosset in bush burning in preparation for new farming season as well as to hunt for rodents. I witnessed a couple of such on the highway as I travelled back to Abuja last weekend. Those who set these bushes on fire do so indiscriminately without any form of control. As fire rages, it consumes everything in its track – unharvested crops, wooden electric poles, houses, cars, among others.
Those setting refuse dumps on fire during harmattan without adequate control measures are also not helping the environment. Not only are they polluting the atmosphere, they are also putting structures around the refuse dumpsites in danger of fire. This, I learnt, was what was responsible for the Ikoku Market fire in Port Harcourt on New Year’s Day. The use of firecrackers during festivities has also proved to be very dangerous as it could spark unintended fire outbreak as well as cause deafness. This was experienced last Christmas. It is unfortunate that despite the government ban on the use of firecrackers, some shylock and scoundrel businessmen and women still managed to smuggle them into the country. Furthermore, those in the habit of storing petrol and other inflammable substances in their homes are inviting the wrath of fire.
This season, we all need to take safety precautions. Fire disasters are largely preventable. All it needs is for all and sundry to play their role well. Civic education is imperative to enlighten the public on how to prevent fire tragedies. The National Orientation Agency, the Federal and State Fire Services, National and State Emergency Management Agencies, the print and electronic media, all have a role to play to educate the public on how to prevent fire eruptions and when they do occur, how to respond to such emergencies. All car owners (both private and commercial), all offices and homes need to have fire extinguishers and know how to use them. Women using gas for domestic cooking need to be very careful this season. Federal, state and local governments should adequately fund their fire services to proactively and timely respond to fire and other disasters. It is unfortunate that men of the Rivers State Fire Service could not respond to the Ikoku Spare Parts Market inferno because the tyres of the only available vehicle were reportedly damaged. All fire service vehicles and machines need to be repaired and adequately stocked with water and other hydrants in order for them to respond to numerous emergencies. Our smoking friends should also learn to firmly extinguish their cigarette butts. Indiscriminate disposal of cigarette butts has been known to cause fire debacles. I wish us all a safer 2013.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
2012 was indeed an eventful and terrible year for Nigeria’s Governors Forum (NGF). Not only did the Forum lost one of its own, Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State to the cold hands of death via an helicopter crash on December 15, 2012; no fewer than four of its members are also facing serious health challenges. They are Governors Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, Danbaba Suntai of Taraba, Liyel Imoke of Cross River and Idris Wada of Kogi State. While Sullivan is purportedly receiving treatment in India, Liyel is reported to be undergoing Medicare in United States of America, while Danbaba and Idris are receiving medical attention in Germany and Nigeria respectively as a result of injuries they suffered in plane and car crashes. Governor Suntai had a plane crash on October 25 while Governor Wada’s had a car crash on December 28, 2012.
Indeed, the unexpected do happen which is why Nigeria’s grundnorm (the 1999 Constitution as amended) has provisions on what to do when the unforeseen calamity such as sudden death or incapacitation as a result of prolonged sickness or accidents happen. When the sudden demise of a State executive occur as it had on few occasions such as ex-Governor Shehu Kangiwa of Sokoto State during the Second Republic; ex-Governor Mamman Ali of Yobe State and ex-Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State during this Fourth Republic the transition of power to their deputies is very smooth. When the governors are elevated to Vice Presidency as had happened in the case of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and incumbent Vice President Namadi Sambo; their deputies also naturally took over the reins of power as the governor. Even when governors are impeached as with the case of DSP Alamiesiegha of Bayelsa State, the deputy takes over except when state of emergency is declared as was the case in Plateau State under former governor Joshua Dariye and in Ekiti under former governor Ayo Fayose.
The power game changes when it comes to governors transmitting powers to their deputies when they are going on annual vacation; sick leave or incapacitated to govern as a result of accidents. This is the scenario playing out in some of the states at present. The states include Enugu, Taraba and Kogi. News report has it that Governor Sullivan Chime transmitted a letter to the Enugu State House of Assembly Speaker that he is going on accumulated six weeks annual leave from September 19, 2012. More than 100 days after the governor left the shores of Nigeria for abroad he is yet to be sighted in Enugu, the state he was elected to govern.
Controversies had ensued on whether Governor Chime actually handed the reins of governance to his deputy, Sunday Onyebuchi when he was leaving for his purported annual vacation in US. While some said Mr. Onyebuchi is acting governor, many are quick to say he remains Deputy Governor. A similar scenario is playing out in Taraba. Aftermath of the October 25, 2012 plane crash involving Governor Suntai, the Taraba State House of Assembly dilly-dallied for weeks before eventually passing a resolution on November 14 empowering the State’s Deputy Governor Garba Umar as acting governor. In Kogi State, despite the hospitalization of Governor Idris Wada as a result of injuries sustained from the ghastly motor accident, his deputy, Architect Yomi Awoniyi was not sworn in as acting governor. Though the governor has been discharged from hospital after five days, it was reported that his injuries may take about six months to heal properly.
Legally, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended in section 191(1) gave five grounds under which a deputy can become a governor. These are on the ground of death, resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or removal of Governor from office for any other reason in accordance with section 188 or 189 of the constitution. Section 190 (1)(2) of the constitution, as amended, stipulates that the deputy governor should take over if the governor is on leave or is unable to discharge the function of his office. Sub-section 1 reads: “Whenever the Governor is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the Speaker of the House of Assembly to that effect, and until he transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration to the contrary, the Deputy Governor shall perform the functions of the Governor as Acting Governor.”
Subsection 2 reads: “In the event that the Governor is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in sub-section (1) of this section within 21 days, the House of Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of the House, mandate the Deputy Governor to perform the functions of the office of the Governor as Acting Governor, until the Governor transmits a letter to the Speaker that he is now available to resume his functions as Governor.”
In the same vein, Section 145 sub-section two of the constitution as amended stipulates that the Vice-President becomes acting president if the President is not available for 21 days. The rationale behind these subsections is well known to discerning public. It was borne out of the political logjam engendered by the ill-health of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2009 which necessitated the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity by the National Assembly that empowers the incumbent president to become acting president then.
Another way the Deputy Governor could become a governor is if the State executive council decided to give effect to section 189 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. That section says the governor or deputy governor of a state shall cease to hold office if by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all members of the executive council of the state (i.e. the body of commissioners of the Government of the State) it is declared that the governor or deputy governors is incapable of discharging the functions of his office. This declaration has to, however, be verified by a medical panel of five (one of who must be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned) to be appointed by the Speaker of the State House of Assembly. Will the Enugu, Taraba and Kogi states executive council and their Assembly Speakers toe this line? This is doubtful given the overbearing influence that governors wield on their cabinet and their state houses of assembly. It would be recalled that in 2010, state house of assembly overwhelmingly rejected financial autonomy for themselves during the constitution review exercise on the prompting of their governors. Perhaps, it is in order to forestall their impeachment threats on the ground of incapacitation that made some of the loyalists of Governor Chime to announce that the governor has concluded plan to arrive Enugu State on December 31, 2012. This proved to be a hoax. Similarly, picture of ailing Governor Suntai suddenly appeared on the internet and Nigerian newspapers on January 2, 2013. In the picture, Governor Sunta was seeing seated and flanked by his wife and a friend while carrying one of his twins on his lap.
Superstition and distrust of associates and opposition made many governors not to be straightforward in coming out clean to the public about their state of health. Unlike in many advanced countries where there are official press releases about the state of health of their president and governors; in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. For instance, Venezuelan authorities have been making regular public disclosures about the health status of their president, Hugo Chavez who is receiving treatment for cancer in Cuba; the health status of former president Nelson Mandela of South Africa as well as that of United State Secretary of States, Senator Hilary Clinton who had a blood clot in the head had been a subject of public discourse as facts and status update are made available by their respective governments.
In Nigeria, the health statuses of our public officials are always confidential even when they are on admission in the hospital. This was the scenario under erstwhile President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. That was the situation when Mrs. Patience Jonathan was on admission for weeks in Germany. It is also the current situation with Governors Sullivan Chime and Liyel Imoke. Nigerians are only being treated to unconfirmed and speculative media reports. This should not be because this is an era of access to freedom of information when factual official reports ought to be voluntarily made available for public consumption. However, the fear that opposition parties and some ambitious aides may plan to upstage the governor coupled with superstitious belief that such disclosure may expose them to spiritual attacks often make the governors to keep a sealed lips about their health status, even when they are suffering from terminal diseases.
This has given rise to lack of constitutionalism as constitution provisions are jettisoned on the altar of political expediency particularly in terms of transmission of executive power to deputy governors when the governors are unavailable to govern. In the entire history of the Fourth Republic, it was only the former Zamfara State governor, now Senator Sani Yerima who courageously endorsed his former deputy Mahmuda Aliyu Shinkafi to succeed him in 2007. Irreconcilable differences with his former boss however led Shinkafi to decamp to People’s Democratic Party from the All Nigeria Peoples Party. This angered Yerima so much that he pulled all the strings to ensure that Shinkafi did not succeed in his second term ambition. Former Governor of Anambra State Chukwuemeka Ezeife was credited as referring to Deputy Governor as spare tyres. Others have said the position of the Secretary to the State Government is weightier and more recognizable than that of the Deputy Governor.
This is spot on as section 193 of the constitution equated the office with those of the commissioners. It says in subsection 1 that “The Governor of a State may, in his discretion, assign to the Deputy Governor or any Commissioner of the Government of the State responsibility for any business of the Government of that State, including the administration of any department of Government” Thus, it is not surprising that any ambitious or independent minded Deputy Governor is sidelined or have an impeachment orchestrated against him or her as was the case in many states with the most recent being the voluntary resignation of the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State Mr. Nsima Ekere on October 31, 2012. The frosty relationship between governors and their deputies is borne out of the fact that the two are strange bedfellows. Deputies are often foisted on the governors by their political parties or godfathers. Thus, they operate under a climate of distrust. It is important to give specific constitutional role to the position of Vice President and Deputy Governor. While that is tabled for discussion, it is hoped that the cabinet and state of assemblies of absentee governors will do the needful by following constitutional provisions to the letter.
For many years now, Nigeria’s Central Bank of Nigeria Monetary Policy Rate (MPR), otherwise known as the benchmark interest rate has been at double digit. In 2012 it was largely at 12 per cent. By the time deposit money banks charge their own lending rates to prospective customers wanting to loan money, it’s usually between 15 – 20 per cent and more. This has made nonsense of government’s effort at stimulating the real sector of the economy. Even the aviation, textile and entertainment intervention funds set aside by government to revitalize these ailing sectors have been difficult to access by the target beneficiaries. Banks, apart from charging high interest rates on loans, also add all manner of administrative or miscellaneous charges which make the burden of borrowing unbearable. What obtain in many other developing countries are low interest rates of between 5-8 per cent with a moratorium. What cheap loans do for entrepreneurs are that it makes take off and expansion of business relatively easy for the investors. With that, the cost of doing business is reduced and they in turn will be able to provide cheaper services and goods. Invariably the consumers get a better deal from the producer.
However, with the high interest rate, the mortality of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) becomes high as lack of cheap loans to grow their business interests will lead to high cost of production, low capacity utilization, staff rationalization (right-sizing and down-sizing), low sales as consumers may not be able to afford the goods and services, default in loan repayment, and ultimately, business collapse.
It is most unfortunate that while many entrepreneurs borrowed at cut-throat interest rates from banks and other financial institutions, many government contractors are not paid for the contracts they have successfully executed for government many years after completion of such projects. Statistics from the Debt Management Office of the Federal Government show that the country’s domestic debt profile stands at about $38.37bn (N5.97tn) as at March 2012. In the 2013 budget only a paltry N100bn is earmarked for the payment of domestic debts. The nonpayment of contractors who in most cases borrowed at high interest rates from financial institutions to do contracts for federal, states and local governments is to say the least very unfortunate and discouraging. Any wonder there are so many abandoned projects dotting Nigeria’s landscape.
Apart from high interest rate on loans and nonpayment for contracts duly executed on behalf of different tiers of government and their agencies, the World Bank in its Investment Climate Assessment Report for the 2011 fiscal period chronicled other constraints that entrepreneurs face in doing business in Nigeria. The report titled ‘Nigeria, an Assessment of the Investment Climate in 26 States’ was released on August 9, 2012. The account observed among many other things that Nigerian business environment, in spite of the series of reforms being carried out by the current administration to attract Foreign Direct Investment into the country, remained hostile. The 202-page report said that investors were losing 10 per cent of their revenue to the hostile investment climate in the country. It stated that the areas that account for the 10 per cent loss include poor quality infrastructure, crime, insecurity, and corruption. The assessment reviewed the experiences of over 3,000 surveyed business owners in 26 states of Nigeria about the aspects of the business climate that affected their businesses.
The aforementioned constraints are not only responsible for low investment drive in Nigeria but also high level of divestment and business mortality. Today, many once flourishing businesses have either collapsed like a pack of cards or their founders have relocated to saner climes where the cost of doing business is not as astronomic like ours. A case in point are our tyre manufacturing companies like Dunlop and Micheline; pharmaceutical companies; vehicle assembly plants like Steyr, Leyland, Volkswagen and even textile mills to mention but a few. Many warehouses of once productive businesses have been acquired by churches and turned to worship or event centres.
In 2013, serious attention must be paid to incidences of insecurity in all its ramifications, poor social infrastructures such as electricity, water, good roads, hospitals and even recreational facilities. The policy of government must also be investment friendly. Such policies include the tax regime and moratorium; customs duties and goods clearing process, industrial dispute adjudication procedures; labour laws and many others. The entire lending process and procedures set by financial institutions need to be simplified and made investor friendly. We must also combat corruption not by paying lip service but by effectively prosecuting corrupt elements in our society.