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.