Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It’s another Democracy Day, so what!

It’s been 14 years since Nigeria severed her relationship with the military in governance and decided to embrace democracy. It is also three years since President Goodluck Jonathan assumed office as Commander-in-Chief of the country’s Armed Forces, having succeeded the late President Umaru Yar’Adua on May 6, 2010. Today also marks the second anniversary of the inauguration of President Jonathan as the substantive president of Nigeria having been declared as the winner of the April 16, 2011 presidential election. Again, it is a few months to the centennial anniversary of Nigeria’s amalgamation. In his speech exactly a year ago, President Jonathan gave account of his stewardship and made a lot of promises to Nigerians. Twelve months after, how has Jonathan’s Presidency fared?
It will be uncharitable to say nothing has been achieved since May 29, 2012 Democracy Day celebration. A lot of effort has been made to better the lives of Nigerians but not many of them have impacted positively on the citizenry. There is growing unemployment and deepening poverty as well while insecurity being experienced is comparable to that witnessed during the Nigerian Civil War. In my opinion, the administration did well by giving some of our airports a facelift. Benin, Kano, Enugu, Lagos airports now wear a new look. However, we have yet to have a national carrier and there has been a couple of air disasters with the major one being the June 3, 2012 Dana plane crash that killed 153 people on board and an unspecified number of people on ground. Industrial action by workers in the aviation sector persists. Only recently, employees of Aero Contractors were on strike for some weeks. Flight delays and cancellations without due regard for the interest of the customers still take place.
In the road sector, the minister in charge appears to have also demonstrated high capacity. Some federal roads are receiving due attention but many of them have yet to be completed and lack of sufficient budgetary provisions still remains a serious challenge to meeting completion schedules. In spite of the flash flooding in about 20 of the 36 states during the last quarter of 2012, the country is not experiencing famine. This is due largely to the proactive steps taken by the agriculture ministry. The dismantling of the tractor and fertiliser syndicate is another commendable achievement of the present administration. However, the introduction of 10 million mobile cell phones to rural farmers pitted the minister against some Nigerians who saw the phone project as a phony deal.
This administration’s introduction of mobile number portability via the Nigerian Communications Commission is laudable. It is geared towards empowering mobile phone users to migrate to the network provider of their choice should they be dissatisfied with their current provider. They get to retain their number in the event of “porting” to another network. Since the April 22, 2013 introduction of the MNP, Nigerians who had hitherto been shortchanged with poor quality services are now being treated better. The rate of drop calls, difficulty in loading recharge card and other sundry challenges have yet to be totally wiped out but the MNP has made the providers to woo customers with all manner of bonanza schemes.
In the area of education, the Jonathan administration has been making efforts to redress decades of rot in that sector. At the convocation ceremony of the Ahmadu Bello University on March 2, 2013, the present administration promised to convert one university in each of the six geo-political zones to a “mega university” in order to address the low admission capacity of existing universities. The establishment of mega universities is modelled after the order of the University of Bueños Aires, Argentina, which has 300,000 students; the University of Pretoria, South Africa, with 250,000 and the University of Mexico with a student population of 200,000. Just last year, the administration established nine new federal universities. In addition, the Federal Government launched a Special Presidential Scholarship Scheme for First Class graduates in various disciplines, especially engineering and science. They are being sent for postgraduate studies in the best universities abroad.
In spite of these seemingly commendable efforts at addressing the admission capacity and manpower need in our universities, other tertiary institutions like the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education are not receiving due attention from the Federal Government. I learnt that the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics has been on strike for some weeks now without their grievances being addressed. Even for the universities, the report of the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led Committee on Needs Assessment of Nigerian Public Universities submitted since November 2012 is still largely unimplemented seven months after. Mass failures are still being recorded in West African Senior School Certificate examinations. Even in the April 27, 2013 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, poor performance has made all the universities to lower their cut-off marks. While the old generation universities set their cut-off point at 200, many new generation keep theirs at 180. This is out of a maximum score of 400 marks. In spite of establishment of more universities, funding still poses a serious challenge. In the 2013 budget, N426.53bn was earmarked for education. This is about nine per cent of the total budget. This is a far cry from the UNESCO recommended 26 per cent.
If there is one sector where Jonathan administration is not pulling its weight, it is in the health sector. Medical tourism is still the order of the day with the Presidency setting the pace. Minister of State for Health, Dr. Mohammed Ali Pate, disclosed on June 25, 2012 in Lagos that the country loses $500m or N81bn yearly to other countries under medical tourism as Nigerians seek solution to their medical challenges abroad. In his Democracy Day address of last year, Jonathan said he wanted to eradicate polio by 2014. This is a mirage given new cases of the deadly virus still being discovered in 2013. It has even been admitted by government officials that Nigeria will not meet the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Three of the eight MDGs namely Goals 4, 5 and 6 are health-related.
In the power sector, with all the road map and assurances, Nigeria is still generating about 4,000 megawatts much of which is lost in the process of transmission on our weak transmission lines. Cases of systems collapse are still rampant with the most recent one happening on Friday, May 24, 2013. The inability of power marketing companies to provide pre-paid meters to consumers leaves the hapless customers at the mercy of the unscrupulous marketers who still distribute “crazy” bills to them thereby forcing them to pay for what they did not consume. The inability of this administration to resolve this knotty problem of power generation, transmission and distribution has weakened the fight against unemployment while raising the cost of doing business in Nigeria.
In spite of the Jonathan government’s claim to be fighting corruption, the 2012 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, released in December 2012 placed Nigeria 135 out of 176 countries surveyed. According to the report, Nigeria shares the position with Pakistan and Nepal, to remain one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Truly, many of the mega corruption cases that have been uncovered remain largely unresolved with the Nigeria police, lawyers and judges being most reprehensible. The perpetrators of the Oil Subsidy scam, the Pension Scam, the 2009 bank frauds and many others are still far from being successfully prosecuted.
The Steve Orosanye report on merger and acquisition of ministries, departments and agencies, the Parry Osayande Police reform report and many other committee reports have yet to be implemented; yet this administration holds the ace as being one with a plethora of committees. It is true that the government is trying to establish various job creation schemes like the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria Programme, designed to encourage entrepreneurship and provide grants for small and medium scale enterprises. However, more jobs have been lost than created under this administration as many enterprises close shops to relocate to better climes.
Perhaps, the greatest challenge this administration is facing is that of insecurity with Nigeria remaining the kidnapping headquarters of the world while the Boko Haram Islamist insurgents had succeeded in carving a territory for themselves in North-East part of the country before the declaration of the state of emergency in Borno, Admawa and Yobe states on May 14. Even though the President in April released N5.7bn to nine states of the federation for direct disbursement to those who suffered losses of properties, means of livelihood and places of worship in the post-election violence of 2011, he has yet to fulfil his promise of establishing Electoral Offences Tribunals to deal speedily with established cases of electoral violence as promised in his Democracy Day speech of last year. On the whole, while we may have recorded some incremental success, we are still far away from the transformational change promised us in the lead up to the April 2011 elections. However, enjoy your holiday, Dear compatriots.