Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nigerian government as ‘boko haram’

Boko haram which literally translates in Hausa language as ‘western education is a sin’ is arguably the most widely used expression in Nigeria today. The insurgent group headquartered in Borno State introduced that vocabulary into Nigeria and indeed world lexicon when it started its campaign against western education by attacking schools - abducting and killing the students - and burning down the institutions. As I write this, international appeal is still on to this terrorist group to release about 276 female students of Chibok secondary school they abducted on the night of April 14. The focus of this commentary is however not on the terrorist group but on Nigerian government who has over the decades been showing disdain for western education.

Undoubtedly, Nigerian government is boko haram. Be it at federal, state or local government levels. Our government may not be burning schools, abducting pupils as well as killing and maiming students and teachers as the terrorist group is doing; however, by refusing to fund education adequately; by failing to address the demands of striking polytechnic and colleges of education lecturers; by refusing to provide conducive learning environment; by not providing jobs for graduates of the country’s academic institutions; this government and its successors have proven beyond reasonable doubts that they are boko haram.

It’s close to a year since the academic staff union of polytechnics has been on strike. Committees have been set up, meetings have been held, yet issues have remained unresolved. As such, Nigerian polytechnics have remained under lock and key for upward of 11 months. ASUP counterparts in the country’s colleges of education have been on industrial action since December 2013 or thereabout.  Like ASUP, their demands have not been met and as such the institutions have remained shut. In the last presidential media chat, when President Jonathan was asked how and when the issues which has to do with implementation of agreement reached with federal government by the unions since 2009 will be resolved, the president glibly responded in a non-committal manner by saying that the lecturers want to get paid for the months when they are on strike which he said is illegal.   In 2013 it took six months of strike action before Federal Government resolved its issues with the Academic Staff Union of Universities.

Due to insufficient subvention from the federal and state governments, some universities owned by these two tiers have started charging exorbitant tuition fees. One of such is the Lagos State University which hiked the school’s tuition fee from about N25,000 to between N250,000 to N350,000 depending on course of study. Students of Obafemi Awolowo, Ile-Ife have also been protesting hike in their fees. The prohibitive tuition fees charged by the private academic institutions in Nigeria have further led to high school dropout or substantial lack of school enrolment.  Education is a right and not a privilege under Nigerian constitution even though it is not yet justiciable or enforceable.

The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) under Chapter II which deals with fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy stated in section  18 as follows: (1) Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. (2) Government shall promote science and technology (3) Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end Government shall as and when practicable provide (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education; (b) free secondary education; (c) free university education; and (d) free adult literacy programme. It should be categorically stated here that government is not striving to eradicate illiteracy or ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities by pricing education beyond the reach of average Nigerians who though are poor but are ambitious to have western education.

It may be true that the present Nigerian government is implementing free basic education, however, how about the welfare of tutors?  It is disheartening to note that some states are yet to implement the negotiated 12.5 per cent salary increment agreed between the National Union of Teachers and the government some two years ago.  Government at the federal, state and local government levels has always claimed they don’t enough money to give to education due to dwindling resources.  For instance the education sector got N495.2bn out of the N4.964tn federal budget for 2014 at a time when defence got about a trillion Naira (N968.127bn). It’s about priorities. If the government does not want more of its citizens being out of school, it needs to find creative ways of funding education without shifting the burden on the already impoverished parents.

Some of the ways include the cutting down of wastes in government expenditure. I do not see the sense in having 10 presidential jets when two or maximum of three will do. Having more than two bullet proof cars at a time for president or governors is undesirable. Situation where humongous amount is spent to cater for the wants of our political elites has to change. Only their basic needs should be met.  Leakages within the system whether it is called corruption, misappropriation, misapplication or stealing needs to be plugged.

Government can show its encouragement for the attainment of education for all millennium development goal by increasing provision of scholarship, setting up students loans board to give credit facilities to needy students, meaningful bursary award to cushion the effect of hike in tuition fees as well as meeting the operational and welfare needs of both academic and non-academic staff of all our educational institutions be it primary, secondary or tertiary.

In addition, though government cannot provide all the job needs of Nigerians but must strive to create the enabling environment for private sector intervention. Private sector has been credited to be the engine of economic growth and development in any human society. Cost of doing business needs to be drastically reduced. Social infrastructures such as electricity, good road network, hospitals, potable water all have to do with the creation of enabling environment for private sector intervention and foreign direct investment. Good legal and policy framework, tax incentive, stress free land acquisition will all contribute to incentivizing the private sector investment.

With job opportunities available to educated graduates; family and friends of the gainfully employed will cease to see education as a sin the way they are perceiving it now when the uneducated seem to be faring better than the literates. Nigerian government at all levels needs to give prime attention to education. It is only then they will cease to be, in my reckoning, boko haram.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The wonderful world of ICT

If there are things that make the contemporary times better than the olden days, it is the Information Communication Technology. As I type this piece on my personal computer, I cannot but wonder at how we managed to survive those antediluvian days when Olympic typewriter held sway and tippex had to be used to correct errors. Then came the IBM electronic typewriter, an advanced technology. Today, computers have made dinosaur of typists. Secretarial studies has given way to computer studies and many organisations have since stopped hiring confidential secretaries because, in truth, if you have to trust someone to do your typing for you, be rest assured that the content may not be confidential as you think. Today, with computers, it is better to type those secret documents yourself.
Experts say that the ICT is an umbrella term that includes any communication device or application, encompassing radio, television, cellular phones, computer and network hardware and software, satellite systems and so on, as well as the various services and applications associated with them, such as videoconferencing and distance learning. With the ICT, the world has become a global village. With these gadgets, we listen to radio programmes and watch the television including live telecast of events. With computers, you can do a whole lot of wonders. With the advent of the Internet, life become so good that those versed in the use of the ICT can easily be equated to magicians as a whole lot of feats can be performed by those skilful in the usage of information, communication technology.
Let’s take a look at the use of the mobile telephone. With this tiny object on your palm, you can make calls, send text messages, take pictures, record conversations, listen to radio, film, play music and watch television. If the device is connected to the Internet, in addition to the itemised basic functions, users can also check electronic mails, download and upload documents, make cash transfers, interact with people on the social media be it Twitter, Facebook, Badoo, Skype, Youtube, Whatssap, BlackBerry Messenger, LinkedIn, Blogger, Instagram and so on. Have you also observed the magic our Global System for Mobile Communication service providers can perform on their platform? I have wondered at the marvelous things those corporations have been able to do during their perennial promos and bonanzas. The latest wonder is that you can borrow credit to make calls and pay back at the next recharge. Isn’t it amazing!
In plain terms, the ICT collectively have made our lives more beautiful and less stressful. In the comfort of your room or office, the world is brought to you via radio, television, computers, etc. With a token of subscription fees, you’re on to satellite television stations where you can enjoy variety of channels. With the Internet, you can log on to world wide web whereby in a press of button, you can use search engines available to you such as Google, Yahoo, Ask.com, and so on to research on any topic. Security wise, with walkie-talkie, CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras, traffic lights and satellite communication devices, security of lives and property are being enhanced. With flash drives and memory cards, tonnes of information can be stored and carried around effortlessly. With computer-aided designs, a new world is being created in engineering, architecture, visual arts, etc. The ICT has made electronic libraries and distance learning possible; telemedicine achievable; banking stressless and religious worship easier. Megaphone, microphone, satellite networking have made it easy for our religious leaders to connect with their congregations.
Thus, with the ICT, ignorance is being banished, needless travels avoided, education promoted, entertainment is being accessed, productivity is being enhanced, relationships are being built and security of lives and property are being achieved.
However, the ICT has not come without its pains. Largely, it is not the fault of the inventors or manufacturers of the ICT equipment but the human elements that use them. Take, for instance, the phenomenon called Internet fraud popularly known as ‘419’ in Nigeria. Thousands, if not millions, of innocent as well as greedy people around the world have fallen victims of perpetrators of these Internet scams. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has successfully prosecuted hundreds of these scammers while several others are still going through court trials. One of the drawbacks of the ICT, however, is the introduction of virus attacks on the websites and e-mail accounts of unsuspecting users. Even though anti-virus software has also been produced to prevent or neutralise the attack, more devastating viruses are being created by some evil minds in order to counter them.
Aside from virus attacks, there is also the illegal activity of hackers who for some selfish reasons that border on theft whether of information or money embark on such crimes. Banks and their customers have lost fortunes to these hackers. Privacy of many individuals has been compromised by such criminal elements. Hackers have caused pains and sorrow to many by implicating them in crimes they know nothing about. Imagine a hacker gaining access to your e-mail or social media accounts and sending out negative information in your name. A friend of mine was a victim of this recently when some impostors compromised his Facebook account and posted stinking comments on a political party on his Facebook wall. Those of us who knew he was not a politician were surprised at such comments. He had to post a disclaimer when his attention was called to the unsavoury information.
Another cybercrime being perpetrated on the ICT platforms is fake promos. Countless times, I have received text messages or e-mails asking me to call a number to claim a prize in a competition I never participated in. Until recently, when banks had to fortify their Automated Teller Machine debit cards, it was quite easy to clone such cards and use them to make cash withdrawals. There have been heated arguments in several circles about some reality shows such as the Big Brother Africa, raunchy musical videos and films that promote savagery and pornography being churned out by our artistes. All these are some of the abuses the ICT has been subjected to.
However, it is gratifying that steps are being taken at various levels to counter the abuses and overcome the challenges of the ICT. There is also the need for better ICT education by its users. In spite of the abuses of the ICT, I am happy to be living in modern times and enjoying its boundless pleasure. I don’t know about you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Where are the Nigerian prophets?

It is stale news that Nigeria is under the siege of terrorism. Armed robbery, kidnapping, cultism, murder are now routine occurrences so much so that many people have lost count of the number of victims. Even though incidence of crime is nationwide, that of the Northern Nigeria, particularly North-Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa is particularly more troubling. The insurgent group popularly called Boko Haram has been wreaking a lot of havoc on the residents of the aforementioned states since 2009. As I write this, the abduction of over 200 girls from Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State since April 14, 2014 has dominated the media, be it traditional or social. The #BringBackOurGirls advocates are dominating the social media. The Nigerian government has been trying to restore peace and order in the insurgents’ hot spots but if the truth must be said, our military seem overwhelmed due largely to a number of factors such as inadequate funding, corruption, sabotage and politics. Heartwarming, therefore, is the offer of assistance from some foreign governments such as France, the United States of America, China and the United Kingdom.
As the Nigerian government battles the insurgents without much success, I am tempted to ask, where are the prophets in Nigeria? Where are the celebrated “Oracles of God”? I mean the General Overseers, Pastors, Evangelists, Reverends, Bishops, Archbishops, and other titular religious leaders who always lay claim to know the mind of God? I ask again, where are our miracle merchants? Where are our own Prophet Elijah, King David and Moses? It will be recalled that in the Biblical account of 1 Kings 18, Prophet Elijah confronted the 450 prophets of Baal and defeated them on Mount Carmel. Also in the Bible, according to 1 Samuel 17, a young shepherd boy, David, removed the reproach of the nation of Israel by killing Goliath. The account read that after 40 days of taunting and mocking of Israel’s army by Goliath and the armed forces of Philistines, David with a mere sling and stone killed Goliath. It is also on record in the book of Exodus how God used Moses to deliver the Israelite from their generational bondage in Egypt.
If these Biblical accounts are not fictional stories; if they did happen as we are made to believe; if truly God is immutable and capable of doing all things as He said in Luke 1 verse 37, then, it is time to see live practical demonstration of His omnipotence through the works of His anointed servants in Nigeria. This country has a bourgeoning Christian population especially in the Southern part. Though it may be true that Boko Haram insurgency has been happening mostly in Northern Nigeria, our Christian leaders need to rise up against this menace before its tentacles spread to the South. I cannot imagine the devastating effect of a terrorist attack on any of our religious camps on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway or anywhere else where hundreds of thousands of worshippers  gather for weekly, monthly or annual programmes.
Just imagine clerics like Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Bishop Mike Okonkwo of The Redeemed Evangelical Ministry, Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith Church, Pastor D.K. Olukoya of Mountain of Fire Ministries, Prophet T.B. Joshua of The Synagogue Church of All Nations, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy, Bishop John Praise Daniel of the Dominion Chapel International Churches, Pastor Paul Enenche of Dunamis International Gospel Centre, Pastor W.F. Kumuyi of the Deeper Life Bible Church and several others  jointly or individually  challenging Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, to a spiritual duel  like Elijah of old did.  Just imagine what the defeat of Boko Haram and other terrorist groups by Christian leaders will do to the growth of Christianity and restoration of peace in Nigeria. Not only will Christians be able to worship God in harmony, evangelism will become a piece of cake as many non-Christians will readily believe and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. Will our Christian leaders seize the moment to demonstrate their much talked about God-given spiritual prowess?
Why am I recommending this duel between Christian leaders and Boko Haram? Watch the latest video released by Abubakar Shekau.  He made no pretence about his hatred of Christians and has promised to extend his reign of terror to Southern Nigeria. Our Christian leaders had better act to check these merchants of death and sorrow before they succeed in putting the Christian fold, and indeed the entire country, in disarray. I am not unmindful of all the prayers and fasting that have been declared and observed by Christians for the restoration of peace in Nigeria. The efficacy of these spiritual measures is not in doubt, but in addition, Christian leaders need to act, take action as directed by God. According to news reports, Chibok, where over 200 girls were abducted on April 14, is a predominantly Christian community in Borno State. About 180 of the kidnapped girls were said to be Christians. Should our spiritual leaders continue to play the ostrich about the potent danger posed by terrorism to their fold and the nation, they may wake up one day to minister to empty churches when the congregation may have become too scared to attend services.
Already in Lagos and a few other places in the South, dare-devil armed robbers have been reported to successfully raid some churches during services, and a couple of child kidnap cases  have also been reported. Some of these happened during the day while others happened during vigil services.  I know many of the church leaders claim to have divine mandate to make disciple of all the people. It would be great to demonstrate that by winning the soul of Shekau and his cohorts. It is time our religious leaders deployed their spiritual arsenals to the fight against terrorism which is an ill-wind that blows no good to the nation in particular, and the world in general.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The best ways to reduce cost of governance

At last, the Mohammed Bello Adoke committee’s White Paper on the proposed mergers and acquisitions of federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies was made public on April 7, 2014. This was a clear two years after the inauguration of the committee on April 16, 2012 when the Steve Oronsaye’s Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Agencies, Commissions and Parastatals submitted its report to President Goodluck Jonathan. Oronsaye’s committee itself was set up on August 18, 2011 with a mandate to among others study and review all previous reports on similar exercise; examine the enabling Acts of all MDAs and classify them into various sectors; examine critically their mandates and make appropriate recommendations to either restructure, merge or scrap; and, advise on any other matters, which may be relevant to the desire of government to prune the cost of governance.
Oronsaye’s committee in its 800-page report proffered four ways to immediately tackle the high cost of governance. These include: “Reduction in the number and size of the governing boards of parastatals; linking the budgetary system to deliverables and output; implementation or vacation of some decisions taken on past reports; and removal of all professional bodies/councils from the national budget.” The committee established that as of the time of submitting its report in 2012, there were 541 government parastatals, commissions and agencies. Two hundred and sixty three of these were statutory agencies which it recommended reduced to 161. To achieve this, the committee proposed the abolition of 38 agencies, merger of 52 and reversion of 14 to departments in ministries. The rationale being that there were “duplications and overlaps in the mandates of many parastatals and agencies…without regard to existing laws and, in some cases, outright replicating extant laws.” In addition, the committee proposed that management audit should be conducted on 89 agencies with biometric data capture of staff.
In the committee’s opinion, if its report was adopted and agencies reduced in accordance with the recommendations, the government would be saving over N862bn between 2012 and 2015. The breakdown showed that about N124.8bn would be reduced from agencies proposed for abolition; about N100.6bn from agencies proposed for mergers; about N6.6bn from professional bodies; N489.9bn from universities;  N50.9bn from polytechnics; N32.3bn from colleges of education and N616m from boards of Federal Medical Centres.
Now, let us take a look at the content of the Adoke’s White Paper. In its 105-page report, the committee agreed to scrap the National Poverty Eradication Programme and the Fiscal Responsibility Commission. The government in the White Paper directed the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to perform the functions of the FRC. The RMAFC’s enabling law, according to the White Paper, should be amended to accommodate the functions of the FRC and the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission whose duties are also to be transferred to the RMAFC.
It also accepted the recommendation to merge the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency into a new body to be known as the Federal Civil Aviation Authority. Their respective enabling laws are to be amended accordingly. The government also endorsed some of the recommendations for the commercialisation and privatisation of some agencies such as the Nigerian Film Corporation, Nigerian Television Authority and Nigerian Postal Service. It approved the proposal to abolish the Utilities Charges Commission and accepted that the Veterinary Research Council of Nigeria should as a professional body be self-funding. Further budgetary allocation of the council is to cease forthwith. The Federal Government agreed to sell off part of its shares in the Nigerian Communications Satellite and retain a minority shares in it. Based on the recommendation of the Oronsaye committee, the functions of NIGCOMSAT relating to space development will be reverted to the National Space Development Agency.
It also accepted that the functions of the Nigerian Institute for Education Planners and Administrators be merged with those of the National Teachers Institute. The Federal Government also accepted that the National Council of Arts and Culture, the National Troupe and the National Theatre be merged into one agency called National Council of Arts and Culture. Government is also to stop funding the Nigerian Financial Reporting Council from 2015 while the Industrial Training Fund becomes self-funding from 2014. Though the Adoke’s White Paper Committee did not approve of the proposed name-change of the Federal Civil Service Commission to Federal Public Service Commission, it however accepted the recommendation of a single-term of five years for the chairman and members of the commission.
However, the committee report has been generating dust since it was released. While many of the heads of the MDAs who escaped the hammer of merger or acquisition have been commending the committee for a good job, those who are unlucky have been making last ditch efforts to save their agencies. My friend and The PUNCH columnist, Eze Onyekpere, wrote a two-part article (see The PUNCH, April 21 and 28, 2014) on why the Fiscal Responsibility Commission should not be scrapped. He articulated 14 grounds to buttress his position. The reasons sound convincing but is it not coming late in the day? I am also disappointed that the Adoke’s committee rejected Oronsaye’s recommendation for the Federal Government stoppage of funding of holy pilgrimages either to Mecca or Jerusalem.
I am happy though that President Goodluck Jonathan had on Wednesday, April 9, directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, and the Head of Service of the Federation, Alhaji Boni Aji, to constitute a committee that would quickly implement the White Paper. Given the slow pace the entire process had taken since 2011, one is sceptical if the Adoke’s White Paper will be fully implemented before the next elections in February 2015. The reasons are very simple. Executive Bills are supposed to be sponsored for the amendment of the statutes setting up the merged and scrapped institutions. The bills may not be ready in the next three months while our National Assembly also has a penchant for dawdling on consideration of bills. In a couple of months from now, governance will give way to politics as preparation for the next elections takes the centre stage. Any bill not passed by the current National Assembly will have to be reintroduced afresh after the inauguration of the new assembly in June 2015. So, the actual implementation of the report of the Adoke’s Committee report may not see the light of the day ultimately.
Again, as I observed in my earlier commentary on the Oronsaye report (see Thisday on Sunday, April 22, 2012) it is not only through merger and acquisition of the MDAs that we can reduce the cost of governance. I opined then that,  “Additional ways the President should explore to condense the cost of governance is by halving the presidential fleet of aircraft and cars; reducing the number of presidential and legislative aides and auctioning the white elephants among the over 11,886 Federal Government projects that dot Nigeria’s landscape. It is also advisable for government to quit sponsorship of pilgrimages.
“During the forthcoming constitutional amendment exercise, the President should sponsor a bill to seek amendment to Section 147(3) of the 1999 Constitution which makes it mandatory for the President to appoint at least one minister from each state. Nigeria does not need more than 20 cabinet ministers unlike the current fad where an unwieldy 42 ministers are appointed by the President.  He should also look at reducing the number of Nigerian foreign missions while the National Assembly must exercise utmost circumspection in creating additional agencies or commissions.  Above all, he must strengthen all anti-corruption agencies inclusive of the police and the Code of Conduct Bureau. It is an unassailable fact that corruption plays a big role in Nigeria’s soaring cost of governance”. Need I say more?