Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Will Nigeria avert flooding in 2013?

It is rainy season again and it comes with mixed feelings. It is that time of the year when people rejoice at the cool weather that affords them an opportunity of peaceful night rest even when the Power Holding Company of Nigeria seizes electricity thereby denying them opportunity of putting on their air-conditioning systems and fans. In an environment where there is a scarcity of water, the rainy season provides the opportunity of storage of rain water for domestic use. The farmers also jubilate at the advent of rain as it helps their crops to grow. Rain water is however only desirable in moderation otherwise the havoc its excess causes is dreadful. Torrential rainfall causes flooding which kills, maims and destroys. My first experience of flooding was in 1980 when Ogunpa River in Ibadan wreaked disaster that led to hundreds of death, collapsed buildings, washing away of roads, uprooting of trees, among others. The ancient city of Ibadan was also visited by flash flooding on August 26, 2011 when a seven-hour downpour resulted in loss of lives and property in the state capital. The death toll in the Ibadan flood was estimated by the Red Cross at over 100 while properties worth billions of naira were also lost to the deluge. The University of Ibadan alone claimed to have lost over N10bn worth of assets.
By far a mega-disaster was what the country experienced between September and October 2012 when many states experienced a tsunami-like flooding. Worse affected states include Adamawa, Oyo, Kogi, Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta, Benue and Plateau. According to the National Emergency Management Agency, 363 persons lost their lives while properties worth N2.6tr were destroyed during last year’s floods. Also, NEMA said 2.3 million people were totally displaced across the country as the floods destroyed 600,000 houses while several acres of farmlands were also washed off. Children were most affected by the floods as many schools were destroyed forcing the children out of schools for months.
I recall witnessing the negative impact of the 2012 floods in Benue State during an official visit to the state last October. The Benue River was filled to the brim thereby submerging houses close to the river bank. The Benue State University as well as the Benue Links Motor Park was also not spared. I also saw the internally displaced people being camped in a very unsafe and unhygienic environment like schools where some of the victims were alleged to have been robbed and raped though the Benue State government debunked that.
It will be recalled that River Niger also overflowed its bank submerging a portion of the Abuja–Lokoja road leaving travellers trapped for days while others had to make detours to ply the unmotorable Jebba-Bida-Mokwa-Abuja road. Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, was practically under water arising from the effect of the 2012 floods while President Goodluck Jonathan’s residence in Otuoke, his hometown, was also flooded. The East-West Road was also rendered impassable for days as a result of the downpour. The governors of the affected states were so overwhelmed with the challenge occasioned by the flooding that many of them had to cry out to the Federal Government for assistance. President Jonathan in a broadcast to the nation last October announced a total amount of N17.6bn relief package to tackle the floods. N13.3bn was allocated to the affected states while Federal Government agencies whose activities directly impact on the flood amelioration programme got N4.3bn.
Of course, committees were also set up with the last one being the Presidential Flood Relief and Rehabilitation Committee, co-chaired by business octopus, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, and former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN. The Dangote-Agbakoba committee held N100b fundraiser last November. Unfortunately, not only that the committee realised far less than the targeted amount, many of those who pledged financial support reportedly defaulted in redeeming their pledges. About N11.35bn of those pledges has yet to be redeemed even as the defaulters are currently enjoying the attached tax incentives. Trust some unscrupulous Nigerians to take undue advantage of even a calamitous situation! The Presidential Flood Relief and Rehabilitation Committee had recently given the defaulters up until June 30, 2013 for them to pay up or face being named and shamed via the print and electronic media.
Now, have we learnt any lesson from last year’s unfortunate incident? It is most doubtful. The Nigeria Meteorological Agency again published its seasonal rainfall prediction for 2013 in February with a serious early warning that this year’s rainfall may be more than last year’s and that flooding looms in about 12 states. Even though the rainy season has since started with report of downpour in some flood-prone states, it remains to be seen what preventive measures some of these state governments have put in place to forestall a recurrence of what happened last year. An adage says once bitten, twice shy.
It will be a national shame if in spite of the early warning by NIMET a foretold tragedy is not checked. It is true some states have taken some measures like clearing the drainage and canals, but will that be sufficient? What about the earth-dams the Federal Government was supposed to build to ensure that when Cameroon releases water from her over-filled dams, the ripple effect is minimised on Nigerians? How many people in the coastal areas likely to be affected by flood have been relocated to upland areas by the various state governments? How well-funded are the National Emergency Management Agency, State Emergency Management Agencies and Local Government Emergency Management Committees? How many people have been sensitised to disaster preventive measures and what to do in terms of disaster management?
Early warning demands early action and as the saying goes, a war foretold does not kill a wise cripple. Flooding may be a natural disaster but it is not totally unpreventable. We can preempt and contain it if adequate and proper measures are taken on time. The aftermath of last year’s deluge has yet to be fully redressed; should another one happen this year, I hope it will not totally cripple the country’s economy. Flooding does not discriminate; it affects the poor and the rich. Last year, the rich also cried when their River-view, Sea-view and Ocean-view estates were submerged in floods. Whether Nigeria will escape the looming disaster depends on you and me. Let us all do our best possible to avert another flooding in 2013!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Nigeria’s soaring unemployment and poverty rates

“Poverty rates remain high in Nigeria, particularly in the rural areas.”
—World Bank in its ‘Nigeria Economic Report’ May, 2013
The World Bank on Monday, May 13, 2013, released its economic report on Nigeria. What do we have? A less than complimentary report about my dear country! To my mind, the report largely reinforces what many genuine Nigerian economic analysts have been saying. I have said several times that what Nigeria has been experiencing is growth without development. There is just no way a country experiencing high inflation, unemployment and poverty can be said to be developing even if its economic growth is in double digits.
True, as the World Bank observed in its report, “Nigeria’s annual growth rates that average over seven per cent in official data during the last decade place the nation among the fastest growing economies in the world. This growth has been concentrated particularly on trade and agriculture, which would suggest substantial welfare benefits for many Nigerians. Nevertheless, improvements in social welfare indicators have been much slower than would be expected in the context of this growth. Poverty reduction and job creation have not kept pace with population growth, implying social distress for an increasing number of Nigerians. Progress toward the fulfilment of many of the Millennium Development Goals has been slow, and the country ranked 153 out of 186 countries in the 2013 United Nations Human Development Index.”
The World Bank further notes that “Job creation in Nigeria has been inadequate to keep pace with the expanding working age population. The official unemployment rate had steadily increased from 12 per cent of the working age population in 2006 to 24 per cent in 2011. Preliminary indications are that this upward trend continued in 2012.”
However, if one may ask, do we need the World Bank to tell us this? If anyone will pontificate about Nigeria’s deplorable economic situation, should it be one of the architects of that misfortune? Recall that it is these Bretton Woods Institutions, that is, World Bank and its sister, the International Monetary Fund, that first sold the idea of Structural Adjustment Programme to the then military government of Ibrahim Babangida in 1986. What were the fundamentals of SAP? Devaluation of currency; rightsizing and downsizing of the workforce; privatisation and commercialisation of government enterprises, etc. These are the pills forced down the throats of Nigerians by the military junta under the influence of the World Bank and IMF in order to access loans and grants. Ironically, it is the parlous state these economic policies have led us that the same World Bank is turning around to criticise. Anyway, the message is more important than the messenger.
It is worth reiterating that there have been more job losses under this administration than are created. Here, I do not mean at the federal level alone, even at state and local government levels as well as the private sector. Since 1986, when the words, “rightsizing” and “downsizing” crept into our national lexicon, we have not yet done with it. Many private enterprises have closed shop in Nigeria due to the high cost of doing business in the country. Individual entrepreneurs find it difficult to access soft loans at affordable interest rates. Often times, the interest rate is in double digits ranging from 15 to 20 per cent and above, yet you need to provide collateral, submit business plans and meet a long list of requirements. If you are eventually successful in accessing the loans, renting or leasing an office is very expensive. I live in a satellite town in Abuja where a small shop goes for between N500, 000 and N1m, depending on the location and size. This is the principal sum; you have to pay other service charges such as electricity, water and local government licensing fees. If you hire employees, you have to pay salaries. For you to break even and subsequently make profit in such an enterprise, you will need to fully stock your shop or provide affordable services otherwise your business failure is guaranteed. I have only spoken about a small enterprise, mostly in the informal sector. The challenge increases for medium and big enterprises.
There is the need to interrogate many jobs referred to by the government as employment opportunities. In my opinion, there is actually under-employment. Take for instance the glamourised SURE-P and other youth employment schemes embarked on by some of the state governments where graduates of tertiary institutions are recruited as street sweepers and traffic managers only to be paid N10, 000 a month. This is pure under-employment. There is also increasing casualisation by many public and private companies. Under this inhuman policy, eminently qualified personnel are recruited under conditions similar to slavery with peanuts as salaries and without any other welfare packages such as health, transport, housing allowances, leave bonus etc. This is one phenomenon that is being fought by the workers’ union of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria as government works towards consummating the planned privatisation of the company. A similar practice obtains in the banks, oil companies, telecommunications companies, among others. This is tantamount to under-employment as the workers in question do not get commensurate wages for their services. The glut in the unemployment market has made this to be an attractive option to many government and private corporations.
I couldn’t agree more with the submission of the World Bank that, “In sum, statistics on poverty and unemployment in Nigeria, together with other direct indicators of welfare, suggest a story that is rather different from the national accounts data. The GDP growth has not been sufficient to support levels of poverty reduction and job creation necessary to prevent a growing number of poor and unemployed (underemployed) Nigerians.”
The World Bank is on point in its suggestion that, “It is imperative that Nigeria finds a recipe to unlock rapid growth and job creation in a larger part of the country, as well as to increase standards of education, health, and other social services to enable its citizens to find gainful employment in the emerging growth poles.” There is no two ways about it; gainful employment will drastically reduce poverty. No one is under any illusion that only the government holds the recipe to fight unemployment and poverty. However, government needs to provide the enabling environment that will make the private sector, not necessarily the organised private sector but the informal private sector, the cottage industries, the artisanal service providers to thrive. If there is significant public electricity supply, it will reduce the cost of doing business drastically as many welders, hairdressers, barbers and other artisans will find it easier to ply their trade. Once the government can help bring down the cost of doing business through appropriate policies inclusive of low interest on loans, provision of critical social infrastructure and adequate security of lives and property, the problem of unemployment will abate and likewise poverty as the dependency ratio will also reduce.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 12, NGF crisis and Nigeria’s democracy

Today marks exactly two decades since the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida annulled the most peaceful and credible presidential election in Nigeria’s political history. How time flies! Last Thursday, June 6, the National Assembly rolled out the drums in celebration of the second anniversary of the Seventh Assembly. Last Wednesday, June 5, the Senate Constitution Review Committee presented its report to the plenary, making far-reaching recommendations aimed at strengthening Nigeria’s democracy. All of these were taking place while the crisis rocking the Nigeria Governors’ Forum had yet to abate. Indeed, there are lessons to be learnt in all these developments which, to me, are interrelated.
I was an undergraduate in 1993 when the annulment of June 12 election took place. It came to all lovers of democracy as a rude shock. I recall that Nigerians fought tooth and nail to have the military rescind that decision to no avail. Many lives were lost in the post-annulment protests while many tertiary institutions, including the University of Lagos, where I was studying, were also shut down for months. The annulment led to the emergence of the National Democratic Coalition. Campaign for Democracy, Civil Liberty Organisation, and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, all aligned to resist military rule. They worked with NADECO for the restoration of the mandate of Bashorun M.K.O Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the poll.
Many media houses sympathetic to the pro-democracy cause were proscribed or surreptitiously set on fire. The PUNCH and The Guardian were two of the most affected. Journalists such as Kunle Ajibade of The News were jailed while Bagauda Kaltho was murdered in Kaduna by unknown assassins. My favourite programme to which I was a regular contributor, OGBC 2 FM Mailbag 2084 was also suspended. Many other activists fled into exile with some of them floating the Freedom Radio later renamed Radio Kudirat. Even the death of Pa Alfred Rewane was not unconnected with his role as a financier of June 12 struggle. Readers should also be reminded that bombs or Improvised Explosive Devices were also being detonated in public places in the South-West by military goons while NADECO members, ironically, were being blamed for same. On top of this, Abiola, the symbol of June 12, died in military detention while his wife Kudirat was also assassinated thereabout.
Part of the June 12 history was also that of political sell-out. The military, using carrot and stick, lured some of the champions of revalidation of the June 12 mandate into abandoning the struggle. Abiola’s running mate, Babagana Kingibe, the then Social Democratic Party chairman and other chieftains of the SDP were to later soft-pedal on calling for the validation of the mandate. Strikingly, as it was with the June 12, so it is now with the May 24 NGF chairmanship election. Thirty five governors had met to elect a new chairman. The incumbent, Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State sought re-election much against the advice of his political party and some of his colleagues at the forum. The poll itself was postponed many times until it eventually held on Friday, May 24. No sooner had he defeated his opponent, Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State by 19 – 16 votes than all hell was let loose. “Jang and his Gang” decided to discredit the poll. They queried the authenticity of the ballot papers used, claiming that they were not serialised; they accused Amaechi of not stepping down as chairman for a neutral person to supervise the poll; they also said that 19 Northern governors had prior to the election endorsed Jang as the new chairman. They even claimed that it is against the tradition of the NGF to hold election as all previous chairmen had emerged as consensus candidates.
All these scenarios are similar to what Nigerians were told by the military and their apologists in 1993. They said a court had halted the presidential poll from being held; they alleged that Abiola breached the Electoral Act by wearing a cloth with the symbol of his party on election day; they said the election was inconclusive as only results of about 14 states out of the 30 states had been declared before further announcements were suspended. They conveniently forgot that the results had already been announced at the polling units, wards, local governments and the state collation centres and that the announcement at the then National Electoral Commission office in Abuja was just a mere formality. Like Abiola replied all those who tried to discredit the June 12 election, “You cannot abort a child that is already born”. For Jang and his factional governors forum members, whatever misgivings they have about the May 24 NGF poll is irrelevant, having subjected themselves to the electoral process, the outcome is binding on all of them. It would have been a different ball game if they had boycotted the election entirely.
Now, one of the key recommendations of the Senate Constitution Review Committee is a single term of six years for the President and governors. This is laudable, more so given the fact that this idea was in July 2011 mooted by President Goodluck Jonathan himself. It was officially broached by the Special Adviser to President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. According to Abati, “President Jonathan is concerned about the acrimony which the issue of re-election, every four years, generates both at the Federal and State levels. The nation is still smarting from the unrest, the desperation for power and the overheating of the polity that have attended each general election, the fall-out of all this is the unending inter and intra-party squabbles which have affected the growth of party democracy in the country, and have further undermined the country’s developmental aspirations. In addition, the cost of conducting party primaries and the general elections have become too high for the economy to accommodate every four years. The proposed Amendment Bill is necessary to consolidate our democracy and allow elected officials to concentrate on governance and service delivery for their full term, instead of running governments with re-election as their primary focus”
In order to disabuse the minds of Nigerians who may think the proposed bill is for personal aggrandisement of the initiator, the statement went further to say that: “The envisaged bill is part of the Jonathan administration’s transformation agenda aimed at sanitising the nation’s politics. The President believes that this single move, when actualised, will change the face of our politics and accelerate the overall development of our nation. If the proposed amendment is accepted by the National Assembly, the President assures that he will not in any way be a beneficiary”
Not even the claim by the President on Thursday, July 28, 2011 at the PDP’s National Executive Council meeting that the single term idea was not originally his, but that of the 29-member inter-party advisory committee set up by ex-president Umaru Yar’Adua in 2008, was able to placate the antagonists of the proposal. With the benefit of hindsight, given the rancorous debates that have emerged on the 2015 elections, I think the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly should unanimously adopt this recommendation. It will be recalled that part of Amaechi’s alleged sins was his touted ambition to run as vice-presidential candidate to Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido, in 2015. I believe a single term of six years, given its merits, will help consolidate the country’s democracy.
Some other proposals of the Senate CRC which I endorse include: A mayoral status for the Federal Capital Territory; the separation of office of Attorney-General of the federation office from that of Minister of Justice and office of Attorney-General of a state from that of Commissioner for Justice; granting of local councils full financial autonomy and that allocation of councils being run by non-elected representatives be withheld. Likewise, the dropping of new state creation enjoys my support. I also hope the state Houses of Assembly will not reject the proposed financial autonomy as they did in 2010. The abrogation of the joint account of states and local governments is in order. I also support the removal of some of the items in the overloaded Exclusive List to the Concurrent List. I however vehemently disagree with the proposed life pension for the President, Deputy President of the Senate, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. I equally think that Diaspora voting should have been guaranteed given the enormous financial remittance of Nigerians abroad. I do hope this constitutional amendment will be concluded on schedule in order to give room for adequate sensitisation and implementation ahead of the 2015 polls.

Banks and the challenges of ATM

Though ATM might have been introduced more than two decades ago in Nigeria, it was not until the post-consolidation era in 2005 that the machines became popular. The innovation was first piloted in Lagos before being deployed nationwide. With the introduction of cashless policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2011, the use of ATM became imperative. Advantages of ATM are legion. It saves time and helps to decongest banking halls as more people prefer to use their Debit Cards to make withdrawals. It makes withdrawal possible beyond traditional banking hours. Most banks in Nigeria operate between 8am – 4pm. However, ATM is available every hour of the day including weekends and national holidays which are off-days for banks.
On the flip side however, Automatic Teller Machine brought with it severe pains, tears and sorrow. Until recently, there exist syndicates who specialise in cloning unwary bank customers debit card. The customers debit card details are cloned in such a way as to enable the scammers make successful withdrawals from the customer’s account. The method in use varies. Some of the syndicates send scam electronic mails to thousands of people purportedly from Interswitch (debit card manufacturer) or the bank itself asking customers to update their records which are inclusive of their account numbers and debit card details. Once the customer supplies these details, they use it to clone cards and make withdrawal. Others go to crowded ATM pretending to want to withdraw and using the opportunity to steal peoples debit cards or memorise the details and later go back to clone the cards. Many have been arrested by the police and officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for this sharp-practice. It is common to hear of ATMs debiting customers for undispensed cash. There are also incidences of ATM swallowing bank customer’s debit cards during transaction. All these have decreased considerably. Replacement of stolen, lost or expired debit cards have also been simplified as I was able to apply and receive debit card same day recently.
However, what has refused to improve is the difficulty in making withdrawals through ATMs. This is as a result of the epileptic power supply. The machines are powered by electricity either publicly supplied by Power Holding Company of Nigeria, Generators or Inverters. None of these three is totally reliable. The other shortcoming is constant breakdown of the internet backbone that networks one bank to the other or one bank’s branch to the other. Many of the ATMs are old and need being replaced with new ones. There have also been instances where bank staff in charge of ATMs also engage in fraudulent activities, helping themselves with some of the monies meant for the machines. ATM is desirable and has helped to revolutionise the banking industry. However, banks need to unite in finding lasting solutions to the aforementioned challenges faced by their teeming customers.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What I saw in Katsina

Katsina has demonstrated that there are dividends in democracy
–Secretary to the State Government of Katsina.
It was my first time in Katsina. I received my nomination to attend the 9th National Delegate Conference of Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions of Nigeria with mixed feelings. I had heard so much about Katsina State, the home of the former Head of State, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) and the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Travelling is said to be part of education but I would rather be excused from travelling to a place where unknown gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram just launched an offensive. It was reported that on Thursday, May 16, 2013, the insurgents invaded Daura divisional police station and raided four commercial banks. I was therefore apprehensive about my safety. Well, I summoned courage and left for the town. I arrived at Katsina safely in the evening of Monday, May 27 and immediately went to town looking for where to recharge my internet modem.
The FOSIECON conference I came for was declared open by Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema on May 28. I was also privileged to give a goodwill message on behalf of my organisation. In the about 10 minutes he spoke, Shema, whom I was meeting for the first time, reeled out the achievements of his administration in the last six years. Among other things, he said education is free in the state from primary to secondary school levels while scholarships are awarded to Katsina indigenes in the universities both in Nigeria and abroad. By the way, Katsina State has three universities, namely, Umaru Musa Yar’adua University owned by the state government; Federal University, Dutsinma; and Katsina University, which is a private university. Shema’s administration is said to have built 180 new secondary schools and 40 new roads. In the area of health, the state government gives free medical services to pregnant women from conception to delivery, all malaria cases, all patients on dialysis, children from 0-5 years and accident victims in the first 48 hours of their hospital admission. Katsina government also procured 34 ambulances to provide health services to people in rural communities. The governor said he is against the scrapping of state independent electoral commissions and asked for the establishment of the election offences tribunal.
At the banquet in honour of the conference delegates on May 29, the governor who was represented by his Secretary to the State Government, spoke more on the achievements of his administration. I learnt from his speech that agriculture comes next to education in the state. The Songhai farm initiative has been adopted in Katsina State with over N1bn sunk into various agricultural projects. The government has revived farm settlements. The state government subsidised agriculture and dry season farming is practised all the year round. Some of the dams such as the Jibia Federal Dam, Ruwan Sanyi, Kusa and Kusada dams have been rehabilitated to provide irrigation services to farmers. Tractors are also loaned to farmers at subsidised rate. SSG also said the state government is going into joint ventures to attract investors to the state. One of such he cited was a solar project with a German company to provide 30MW of electricity. A new Government House is under construction with interests generated from the savings on the state funds. I also learnt that soft loans are being given to youths so that they can become self-employed. The most thrilling information is that all the numerous developmental projects are being executed without the state borrowing from any local or international financial institution. This is commendable given the penchant of our government at all levels to borrow to fund infrastructural developments.
Whatever is the achievement of Shema, I think kudos must go to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, his predecessor in office from 1999 – 2007. It was said that while many governors left empty treasuries and huge debts for their successors, Yar’Adua bequeathed a healthy treasury to his successor. He was believed to be a prudent manager of financial resources and it is his footstep that Shema is diligently following.
I have said much about what I was told. What did I see myself? As the saying goes, one eyewitness is of more weight than 10 hearsays. As I traversed the state from Funtua to Bakori, Malumfashi, Kankia, Charanchi, Katsina, Doka, Mashi down to Daura, I saw some good road networks with some of the intra-city roads having pedestrian walkways, street and traffic lights as well as road signs. I saw good primary and secondary schools with modern roofing, not the dilapidated structures many other states call schools. I also saw overhead borehole tanks signifying the provision of water for various communities. I also saw houses and housing units whose designs are breath-taking and could easily be regarded as architectural masterpieces. I saw the Katsina airport which was started by Yar’Adua and completed by Shema. Above all, I saw a society at peace with itself where people of different tribes and tongues live, work and achieve their potential without fear of molestation.
I also witnessed the hospitality of Katsina people when we visited the Emir of Katsina, His Royal Highness Alhaji (Dr.) Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, CFR, on May 28 and Emir of Daura on May 29. At the palace of the Emir of Katsina, who is also the Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, we all had to pull off our shoes at the entrance. Believe you me, the shoes of one person whose owner probably forgot at the palace were brought intact to the conference hall the following day. No theft. The Emir was very amiable and preached for unity of Nigeria.
The Emir of Daura, His Royal Highness, Alhaji (Dr.) Umar Faruk Umar, similarly prayed for peace and unity of the country and charged the SIECs managers to conduct credible, free and fair local government elections. At the palaces, I saw that there were no gates at the expansive domain although traditional palace guards (Dongaris) were seen around keeping watch. We saw the horse stable of the Emir of Daura during a tour of the palace. We were also at the Kusugu Well where Bayajidda killed Sarki, the snake that prevented Daura people from drawing water from the well except on Fridays. Many of us drank the well water. I had a memorable May 29 celebration as the various cultural troupes of Katsina State entertained us at the banquet held in our honour at the Government House. One of such was the Attah Dabai Drummers who performed at Nigeria’s independence in 1960.
On the flip side, however, I am surprised that in spite of the free education policy of the state government, there is a significant number of almajiri children begging for alms on the streets at a time they ought to be in school. These out-of-school children need to be encouraged to take advantage of the free education programme. I also do hope that the schools are not mere beautiful structures without adequate teaching aids and well-trained and sufficient teachers.