Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Vote buying: Nigeria’s worst kept secret


“PDP, APC primaries: Dollar, Naira rain for delegates” was the screaming headline on the front page of Saturday Punch of December 13, 2014. In the elucidating new story, the newspaper reporters across the country gave graphic details of how party delegates that voted in the 2014 political party primaries were heavily induced with money to influence their choice of candidates.   According to the newspaper, amount ranging from N100,000 to $7,000 were shared out to some of the delegates. It reported that “The delegates that participated in the just concluded primaries of the ruling People’s Democratic Party and the opposition All Progressives Congress across the country have been laughing to the bank following the huge amount of money some aspirants reportedly paid to them.”

The newspaper reported that the aspirants sent some of the money to the delegates through the leaders of their parties and that apart from the money, incentives such as promise of automatic employment, among others, were also deployed in wooing the delegates. It further stated that its investigation revealed that “It was celebration in Kwara State as delegates to the APC presidential primary got $7,000 each.” It revealed further that “The 800 delegates that participated in all the PDP primaries in Cross River State raked in over N500,000 each.”  The news medium also asserted that “The PDP in Akwa Ibom State was said to have paid each of its delegates N1m.” While the Adamawa State Governor, Mr. Bala Ngillari, promised the 678 PDP delegates in the state automatic employment if voted as the party’s flag bearer for the governorship election in 2015. This promissory note seem unconvincing to the delegates as he lost the ticket.

If Nigerian politicians are spending this kind of humongous amount to get their party’s ticket, having previously spent millions of Naira purchasing their Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms, it is better imagined how much they would have spent in total by the time of general elections in February 2015. The story does not end there, some of them will still spend mind boggling sums of money at the election petition tribunals to retrieve or defend their mandate.

The implications of monetized politics are very grave. It leads to political corruption. These resources being deployed to winning elections are in many instances loans, proceeds from sales of assets of the political contestants, sponsorship from political godfathers, etc.  In short, they are high stake political investments meant to yield multifold financial and other benefiting returns. A former Senate President in Nigeria openly admitted that much in a newspaper interview that some of them have to sell off their possessions to contest elections with a hope of recouping their investment when they assume power. This heavy political investment is partly responsible for resort to violence by political aspirants and candidates. The stakes are far too high that Nigerian politician do not want to brook failure hence they are willing to deploy both fair and foul means including bribery and violence to capture power. After all, Niccolo Machiavelli in his masterpiece book, “The Prince” did say that the end justifies the means.

By the time they assume power and in a bid to recover their investment they think less of development but more of self-aggrandizement. They embark on looting of public till. While that goes on, citizens’ welfare, developmental projects and general good governance takes backseat. Such is the sad narrative of Nigeria’s and indeed Africa’s politics of underdevelopment.

It is not as if the laws are not there to curb and control the corrosive use of money in politics, however, they are observed in breach. Not only did the law prescribe how to raise money for politicking or campaigning it also highlights permissible and non-permissible expenditure including placing a cap on how much a candidate is supposed to spend in contesting for a particular office. Indeed, Section 124 of the Electoral Act 2014 criminalizes vote buying and spell out penalties which include fines of N500,000 and or 12 months  jail term. Even the code of conduct for political parties (2013) forbids  political parties and their agents from engaging in corrupt practices including buying votes  or offering any bribe, gift, reward, gratification, or any other monetary or material consideration of allurement to voters and electoral officials. It also prohibits offering any form of inducement to a person to stand or not to stand as a candidate or to withdraw his or her candidature.

It behooves political parties to assist in sanitizing the electoral environment. If they will not enforce their own codes on vote buying then they should realize they’re doing a great disservice to national development. Likewise, the Independent National Electoral Commission owes it a duty to enforce all campaign finance and indeed political finance laws and regulations, failure of which such electoral outcomes cannot be said to be free, fair or credible. .

Jide is the Executive Director, OJA Development Consult, Abuja

 

Nigeria: 2014 in retrospect

It’s the last day of 2014 and preparations are in top gear as Nigerians join the rest of the world to usher in the New Year 2015. Quite interestingly, it won’t come simultaneously as places like Australia and New Zealand that are hours ahead of the rest of the world would be the first to have a taste of the New Year. While New Zealand is some 12 hours ahead of Nigeria, Australia is +10 hours ahead of us. Well, it’s been a year of mixed grill in Nigeria. Whichever sector one picks to analyse, it’s a guarantee to find three things – the good, the bad and the ugly.
The year opened with celebrations for Nigeria. We rolled out the drums and celebrated our centenary anniversary with pomp and pageantry. There were symposia, home and abroad, on the 100th anniversary of Nigeria’s amalgamation. There were photo exhibitions, gala and award nights where 100 eminent Nigerians were honoured, there was the N100 commemorative note and in Abuja, a Centenary Estate is being built in remembrance of the epochal event. Indeed, it was one of Nigeria’s finest moments.
In sport, the Super Eagles may not have qualified for the African Cup of Nations coming up in January 2015 in Equatorial Guinea, however, our ladies did us proud. The Super Falcons in October won the African Women Championship for a record seventh time by beating their perpetual rival, the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon 2-0 in the final played in Namibia. At the 20th Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2014, Team Nigeria won a total of 36 medals, comprising 11 gold, 11 silver and 14 bronze, to emerge eighth on the overall medals’ table and second best among the Commonwealth countries in Africa, after South Africa.
In 2014, Blessing Okagbare remained Nigeria’s queen of track and field. She shone like a million stars in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. She won in both the 100m and 200m events in which she participated. At the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, China, Okagbare won in both the 200m as well as the Long Jump. She’s indeed a blessing to Nigerian sports. On August 20, the headquarters of the Nigerian Football Federation in Abuja were razed by suspected arsonists just as leadership crisis rocked the football house for the better part of the outgoing year though Nigeria managed to avoid FIFA ban.
In the education sector, it’s another mixed grill as the country is still plagued with ceaseless industrial crises. Polytechnics and Colleges of Education academic unions were on strike for months while teachers in Unity Schools also embarked on industrial actions over welfare matters. Perpetual attacks carried out by the insurgent group, Boko Haram, on schools particularly in North-Eastern Nigeria, especially the kidnapping of over 200 girls in Chibok, Borno State on April 14 gave birth to the worldwide campaign for the release of the girls under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. This also led to the launch of the Safe School Initiative by the Federal Government.
It is noteworthy that the relentless attacks on schools by the insurgents have weakened the attainment of the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals for Nigeria as many parents are afraid to enroll their children and wards in schools. Though poor funding is one of the major challenges faced by Nigeria’s education sector given the less than 10 per cent of national budget earmarked for the sector, ironically, a large pool of unaccessed funds from two main interventionist agencies remains a source of concern.
The Universal Basic Education Commission was set up to assist with the goal of free and compulsory basic education through provision of funding support. Quite unfortunately, over N44bn is lying fallow, unclaimed by benefiting states that have simply refused to comply with basic accessing requirement which is the provision of matching grants or counterpart funds by the benefiting states. The same obtains at the tertiary education level. The Federal Government established the Tertiary Education Trust Fund formerly known as the Education Tax Fund to provide some financial succour to colleges of education, polytechnics and universities (federal and states). Unfortunately, in the outgoing year, an estimated N60bn has not been accessed by the benefiting tertiary institutions who have not complied with basic requirements for drawing such funds. In the year under review, an uninspiring 30 per cent of students who sat for the November/December West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination passed with five credits; a mere one per cent improvement on last year’s performance.
The bitter-sweet story of Nigeria’s health sector is that the country faced and overcame an epidemic of gargantuan proportion when an infamous Liberian-American named Patrick Sawyer imported Ebola Virus Disease into the country on July 20, 2014. Within 93 days, Nigeria successfully contained the virus. In the end, the country confirmed a total of 19 cases, of whom seven died and 12 survived, giving the country an enviable case fatality rate of 40 per cent–much lower than the 70 per cent and higher seen elsewhere . As noted by Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO Director-General, “If a country like Nigeria, hampered by serious security problems, can do this – that is, make significant progress towards interrupting polio transmission, eradicate guinea-worm disease and contain Ebola, all at the same time – any country in the world experiencing an imported case can hold onward transmission to just a handful of cases.”
Another heartwarming news from the health sector is the signing into law of the National Health Bill on December 9, 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan. Some of the accruing benefits of the new Act include the provision of free basic health care services for children under age five, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with disabilities. On the flip side however, the sector is still crisis-ridden. As of the time Nigeria was fighting to contain the EVD, Nigerian doctors were on strike. Weeks after suspending their industrial action, other federal health workers took over and have since remained on a work-to-rule as I write. We still face issues of under-staffing, misdiagnosis and fake and contaminated drugs to mention a few.
The Nigerian economy remains in the doldrums with the Federal Government having to roll out austerity measures owing largely to dwindling crude oil revenues from the international market. There are still huge infrastructural deficits with the much touted power sector reforms offering little or no comfort even as the country peaks at production of about 4,600MW of electricity, much of which is wasted due to weak transmission lines. The sector is also plagued with lack of gas to power the turbines, pipeline vandalism, corruption and incompetence. On the whole, Nigerians are worse off economically in 2014 than they were in previous years as the federal and some state governments are owing backlog of worker’s salaries and the costs of doing business in the country remains exorbitant.
As the country prepares for the fifth general elections in this Fourth Republic, a large cloud of doubt envelops it going by the bestial attitude of the political class. The party primaries held last month through December leave much to be desired. All manner of sharp-practices and malpractices were recorded. Violence, manipulation, imposition of candidates, over-voting, and general lack of internal democracy were the hallmark of the nomination process. The Independent National Electoral Commission also needs to redouble its effort to enhance the confidence of the electorates as its level of preparations for the next polls is at present dissatisfactory. By far the ugliest development in 2014 is the heightened state of insecurity as the country has lost some territories to Boko Haram leaving over three million Nigerians as Internally Displaced Persons.
All the same, I wish you all Happy New Year!
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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Importance of the National Health Act

I am happy, very excited, not about tomorrow’s Christmas shindig but about the new National Health Bill which President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law on December 9, 2014. Health, they say, is wealth and a healthy nation is a wealthy nation. For those familiar with the “Israelite journey” of the bill at the National Assembly, its signing into law is a worthy Christmas gift from Mr. President to Nigerians. This is the second time the National Assembly will pass the bill as President Jonathan withheld assent when it was first passed, necessitating another legislative review of the all-important bill. All is well that ends well and I add my voice to hundreds of others who have appreciated the President for this wonderful act.
What actually is the health Act all about? The Act, experts say, seeks to provide a framework for the regulation, development and management of a National Health system and set standards for rendering health service in the country. Some of the accruing benefits of the new Act include the provision of free basic health care services for children under the age of five, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with disabilities in the country. Additionally, the law guarantees the universal acceptance of accident victims in both public and private health institutions. Interestingly and deservedly too, the new law bans senior public officers’ use of public funds for treatment abroad, especially for ailments that can be treated locally.
The former President, Nigerian Medical Association, Osahon Enabulele, noted that if enforced, the essential provisions in the Act would help Nigeria achieve the Millennium Development Goals 4, 5, and 6 which aim at reducing maternal and infant mortality rates by the year 2015. At present, Nigeria has the highest infant and maternal mortality in Africa. A Demographic Health Survey in 2013 reportedly found that Nigeria contributes about 13 per cent of global maternal mortality, with estimated 36,000 deaths annually. Thus, the coming of this Act is expected to reverse that ugly trend as more pregnant women would have access to free delivery services while their children are assured of standard paediatric services in the nation’s health facilities.
The ex-NMA boss added that with this new Act, “There will be improved funding of health care services at the grass roots so that people don’t have to travel far to access medical services. There is a Basic Health Provisions Fund for primary health care centres in the Act and it is to be majorly funded with one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation. This, undoubtedly, will re-energise Nigeria’s primary health care system.” It is on record that the 772 primary health care centres in the country offer sub-optimal services due to poor funding.
The Chairman, Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria, Board of Trustees, Benjamin Anyene, was quoted as saying that the implementation of the bill will save the lives of three million women and children over a five-year period. At present, over 5,000 Nigerians allegedly travel to India, the United Kingdom and the United States for treatment while on the average, over $800million is reportedly lost annually by Nigeria to medical tourism. In the view of the Supervising Minister of Health, Dr. Khaliri Alhassan, the new National Health Act would cause government’s savings in health care delivery to rise from N17bn in 2015 to over N211bn in 2025 if the Act is fully implemented.
The minister opined further that “Individuals and families will have more disposable income through reduction in catastrophic health expenditure occasioned by very high cost of out-of-pocket spending when the mandatory social health insurance scheme that will be supported by the Act is implemented.” Moreover, “The Act provides for a minimum package of essential health services for all citizens to guarantee a more productive life and will impact positively on infant, child and maternal mortality rates which currently are highly unacceptable at 69 and 66 per cents respectively.” The minister concluded by saying that, “The multiplier effects of this will holistically manifest in increased life expectancy of Nigerians, as well as increased productivity. It is the singular instrument required to unlock economic goodness and health to Nigerians.”
Listening to all these glowing tributes to the law gladdens one’s heart. But until the rotten tooth is pulled out, the mouth must chew with caution, so says a popular African proverb. It is not yet uhuru as the coming into effect of the Act is the easiest part. Implementation and enforcement are harder to achieve. Is there really the political will to give full expression to the execution of this Act? We would not have to wait for long. The 2015 budget estimate was just placed before the National Assembly last Wednesday, December 17. Let’s see what the Federal Government wants to do in the New Year in the health sector.
From the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria comes a worthy advice as relayed by its National President, Olumide Akintayo. He urged the President to appoint stakeholders from all cadres of the health profession to ensure the successful implementation of the Act. His words, “The process of appointing the drivers of salient aspects of the Health Act should therefore logically follow the conduct of a competitive selection process from a pool of professionals who have competent skills and cognate experience. We maintain with strong emphasis that such skills are found in all cadres of the health profession not just one profession.” That statement is pregnant given the fact that unhealthy rivalry among the different medical professionals have been destabilising the Nigerian health sector for some time now. As I write this, health workers aside the doctors in the public health sector have been on strike for upwards of two months now with its disastrous consequence on public health and safety. This is coming on the heels of a similar strike earlier embarked by the Nigeria Medical Association.
The Presidential Committee of Experts on Inter-Professional Relationship in the Public Health Sector headed by a former head of service, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed, last Friday, December 19, submitted its report to President Jonathan. The committee reportedly found 50 conflict areas among the health professionals. I do hope the President will match words with action by ensuring that the White Paper committee reviews the report expeditiously in time to make room for early implementation. The danger is, if this cold war among health professionals persists, the implementation of the new National Health Act will be compromised and rendered ineffectual. Thus, all relevant stakeholders must play their part in the full implementation and enforcement of this “Messianic Act.” There is the need for adequate sensitisation of the populace on this Act so that we all can positively take advantage of it.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Avoiding Domestic Violence

It is yet the season of the year many see as one of love, caring and sharing. I am sure many of my readers have received greeting cards (printed and soft copies), hampers, salary bonuses, and other gifts from family, friends, employers and well-wishers. It is also the season of carols as various music cantatas are organised to celebrate God for His mercies and blessings over our lives and situations. Father Christmas grottos have also sprung up as children tax their parents to sponsor their visits to see Santa Claus for their own seasonal gifts. In this season also, homes and houses wear new look as they are decorated in preparation for the Christmas Day in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Incidentally, it also a season of violence: both domestic and external. Externally, because it is a festive period, a lot of crimes and criminality also get committed. Bandits, rightly or wrongly, believe that a lot of people have money this season and make themselves unwanted guests at many homes where they forcefully demanded their share of the goodies. Those who do not want to take the trouble breaking into people’s homes waylay them on the roads, shopping malls, market places, relaxation spots, etc. Thus, as it is a season of celebration, it is also a time to be extra careful of night marauders and agents of terror whose sole aim is to wreak havoc.
My major concern is about the growing domestic violence which also peaks at this season of celebration. By domestic violence, I mean violence within the homes between spouses and among families. The manifestation of this comes in diverse ways. According to Wikipedia, “Domestic violence can take a number of forms including physical, emotional, verbal, economic and sexual abuse, which can range from subtle, coercive forms to marital rape and to violent physical abuse that result in disfigurement or death.”
Herein, I am not focusing on gender-based violence or violence against women. I’ve decided to concentrate on the entire family. Husband, wife, children and even the extended families. My simple reason being that much as it is good and noble to stop gender-based violence, it will not be comprehensive or holistic enough. Let’s stop domestic violence altogether whether against women, men, or children. I said earlier that domestic violence peaks during this season; how do I mean?
Families undergo a lot of financial pressures during this period. Many social events are fixed for the months leading to December as that is the time many workers take their annual leave and go on vacation to see friends and families. It also coincides with the harvest season for farmers so there is plenty of food and cash after sales of farm produce.
Furthermore, because the rains would have receded or totally gone then people can have their marriages, burials, chieftaincy coronations, harvest bazaars, house warming and other celebrations without disturbance from the weather.
What am I driving at with all these analogies? Invitations to the aforementioned events are not without strings attached. Open or subtle demands for financial and material supports often accompany these invitations. By our tradition and customs, we are usually our brothers’ keepers. So, we contribute monies to support the celebrants, buy “Aso ebi” (identification apparels with the celebrants) and also travel to attend. Many a time, the entire family compulsorily has to buy the “Aso ebi”. These cost a lot and place financial stress on many families. If these social functions take place close to Christmas, for Christians, this becomes additional financial burden as family members will demand clothes, shoes, special menu, outing to relaxation and recreational spots, visit to friends, colleagues and extended family members, all these have financial implications, even if you’re the one to host visitors.
Ironically, Christmas is one week apart from the New Year celebration. Thus, while we have yet to recover from the heavy expenses incurred attending the several social functions of the past few weeks, demands are made for preparations for the New Year merriment.
This season of celebrations is not pocket-friendly as it leaves a deep hole in many pouches. As if that is not bad enough, schools resume barely a week after the celebrations and fees and tuitions have to be paid.
Take it or leave it, this is the vicious circle many of us have been living through. How does this then translate to domestic violence? Economists say human needs are infinite but the means of meeting them are finite. Thus, a family with very limited financial and material resources will experience tension and violence in the homes when they fail to meet up to intra and interfamily demands as well as societal standards of being good, responsible and supportive. For instance, if a man cannot meet his family’s physiological needs of providing food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, such a family head will be ridiculed not only by the society but by even members of his immediate family. Such a man cannot earn or command the respect of his wife and children.
This will brew hatred, loss of self-esteem, assault, battery, psychological violence and all what not.
So what is the way out? How do we avoid domestic violence? Men as the head of the family need to apply wisdom in managing their homes. They need to communicate effectively with their wives, children and extended families.
They should shorn themselves of pretenses and make their families sincerely realise why they could not meet their demands. They need to plan with their wives on how best to apply their limited resources. Many women are good managers of resources and know how to make the best of little. Spouses also need to understand and learn how to cope with each other’s weaknesses and strengths. Both spouses and indeed children are duty bearers.
Therefore, spouses and their children need to seek and find amicable ways of resolving their issues. Domestic violence is avoidable and should be greatly desired. All it needs are mutual understanding, patience, prudence, tolerance, prayer and effective communication.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Let’s privatise and decentralise Nigerian prisons!

Hearty congratulations to the new Comptroller General of Prisons, Dr. Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu. I do not envy him on this appointment coming on the heels of incessant jailbreaks and attacks on Nigerian prisons with the last one being at the Minna Maximum Prison on Saturday, December 6, 2014.
Against these unhealthy developments, I think it is high time we fast tracked justice sector reform part of which is prison reform. I have two key suggestions. Let us privatise and decentralise Nigerian prison system. That is the norm and trend in some countries particularly in the United States of America which has federal, state and private prisons. Indeed, American private prisons are about 100 as of March 2014.
I am therefore seeking the repeal of the Nigerian Prisons Service Act as well as a constitution amendment for these to happen. Why? There is a blatant inefficiency in the management of the Nigerian prison system. Jailbreaks have now become a recurring decimal so much so that it is no longer how many jails have been broken but how many have yet to be. Since the Nigerian government is in the habit of privatising anything that is not working, let’s hand over the management of our prisons to the private sector as well. After all, the security sector has long been privatised and commercialised or don’t citizens have to engage private security to secure their lives while the Nigerian police takes care of the political office holders as well as the high and mighty who could afford to hire them as personal guards?
For instance, wouldn’t it be a nice idea if a convict is given an option of a private or public prison to serve his or her jail term? Those who choose to go to private prison will pay for the service (there should be option of working to pay for their incarceration) while those who choose to go to public prison would have government paying for them. Would that not be in line with freedom of choice? After all, in Nigeria today, almost all social services have been privatised and commercialized such as schools, hospitals, media, security, roads, housing, agriculture, transport and many more.
Experts say the incessant jailbreaks are due to overcrowding engendered by high number of awaiting trial inmates and insufficient number of prisons to cope with the high volumes of inmates. With my proposal of having both public and private detention facilities, an accused will have a choice of where to await trial and if convicted serve their prison terms. It’s all a matter of cash. If you choose to go private, you can be sure of having speedy trials as those running the detention facilities will be the ones to liaise with the Police and the Court to ensure that your case file is not missing and that you’re in court on the adjourned date. The detention facility authority will also ensure a more hygienic prison condition for those within their facilities. In fact, a prisoner will have a choice of the size of room and standard to enjoy if they can afford it.
As there are private and public wards in the hospitals so will there be one-person, two-person, four-person rooms with fans, air conditioners, choice menu, recreational facilities, vocational skills workshop, guest reception areas, etc. The key word is money and I know there are many prisoners in our jails today who wouldn’t mind paying for a more conducive environment to serve their jail term. Even the private prisons will be able to recommend their prisoners for parole or amnesty.
You may want to ask what assurance there will be that prisoners in private facilities do serve their term in prison and not in their homes. Well, there will be checks and balances. Officers and men of Nigerian Prison Service will be posted there to ensure full compliance with prison conditions. There will also be unscheduled monitoring by the NPS inspectors to ensure that their officials posted to the private prisons are not compromising standards.
The above suggestion does not in any way negate the imperative of justice sector reform. In fact, it is an integral part of it. The extant public prison will still have to be better resourced and managed. I do not understand why prisons are under the exclusive legislative list. It needs to be brought under the concurrent list so that the states can help out in the establishment and management of prison services. The Nigerian Prison Service employees need better training and re-training in modern prison administration. Some of the prisons have to be relocated to a more secure environment that will not make them prone to external attacks as is currently the case.
Provision of basic welfare facilities cannot be overemphasised. There is the need for proper sanitary facilities – beddings, rest-rooms (toilets), lightening, ventilation, recreational facilities. Prisons should not be hell on earth. Prisoners do have rights and privileges including options of going to school and learning vocational skills even while in prisons. After all, many prisoners have sat for external examinations like West African Secondary School Certificate Examination and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination from prison and passed in flying colours. Many don’t know that in some other climes, prisoners have a right to register to vote in an election in as much as such convicts are not on death row (that is, convicted for murder).
The police have been fingered as a cog in the wheel of expeditious trials. Many a time they misplace or “sit on” case files of awaiting trial inmates. At other times, they give excuses of not having concluded investigations of the suspect. Yet, such persons are kept in detention for far more years than the maximum sentence the offence being tried carry. What a travesty of justice! The courts too are not helping matters. Many suspects being clamped in prison as awaiting trial could and should have been released on liberal bail conditions and only taken to prison on conviction.
The Nigerian Legal Aid Council or the Office of Public Defender as called in some states expected to provide legal representation for indigent suspects is not doing enough in this respect. Poverty is also contributing to the congestion in our prisons as some convicts with the option of fine could not buy their freedom because of their financial incapacitation. The situation in our prisons could have been worse but for some public spirited individuals, social clubs, religious organisations and civil society who go on prison visitation to provide succour and bail out some of these convicts with options of fine.
I have in a previous commentary on this issue advocated that our judges explore other punishment options such as suspended sentence, community service, weekend sentence and parole as a means of decongesting and concomitantly reducing restiveness in our prisons. Seriously, the time has come to explore the option of private prisons in Nigeria.
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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Coping with austerity measures and insecurity

It’s the Yuletide season again when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and everyone thereafter rejoices at the grace of seeing the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. While the world celebrates, I am sure the number of Nigerians who will roll out the drums has shrunk significantly, no thanks to the current high cost of living and the ceaseless acts of insecurity across the country, especially in the North-East.
Many a time, I’ve been tempted not to listen to news or read newspapers again simply because of the large dose of negative heart-rending news Nigerians are daily being fed with by the media. But how will I be informed of happenings around me if I shut down on news? I know for a fact that this is the dilemma of many Nigerians. A majority of us are tired of the sad new stories we get every morning. This is not the breadth of fresh air this government promised us in 2011 before the elections. What we were told was that we would not need to buy or fuel generators within a year of the coming of this administration because epileptic power supply would have become a thing of the past. We were promised good transport networks, quality education, world class health care delivery, employment, security of lives and property, mass housing, industrialisation, and generally, high standard of living. Today, three and a half years after those noble promises were made, what do we see? High cost of living. Once again, it’s a de ja vu!
All levels of government are culpable for our unenviable status as a miserable nation. It is not only the Federal Government that has disappointed Nigerians. The state and local governments have not fared any better. The other day, I learnt Benue State had not paid workers’ salaries for four months plus now. Governor Gabriel Suswam claimed he could no longer pay the minimum wage he negotiated with the workers not too long ago due to the dwindling revenue from the Federal Government. Talk of “feeding bottle federalism” a la Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. Suswam lamented on Channels Television recently that he gets little or nothing from internally generated revenue as Benue State is an agrarian state with a huge dose of groceries stores which cannot be taxed. But in the midst of all this dearth of resources, Suswam loudly celebrated his 50th birthday with live telecast on major television networks. I do hope he used his personal funds for that gig. Before the recent industrial action by Benue civil servants, teachers in the state had embarked on strike for about eight months over welfare issues.
The Benue story is replicated in many more states and local governments. By the time ex-Governor Kayode Fayemi was leaving Ekiti State on October 16, 2014 he was owing workers’ salaries. Yet, billions of naira were spent building a new Governor’s Lodge in the state. Talk of misplaced priorities.
A few weeks ago, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, officially declared austerity measures in Nigeria. This is reminiscent of the administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari who in 1980 declared austerity measures. This was later followed by the 1986 Structural Adjustment Programme of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Both measures bore the same inhuman face as the current one being rolled out by the Jonathan government. There was currency devaluation, high interest rate, inflation, downsizing of workers, closure of industries, etc. Those governments, like the current one, asked Nigerians to tighten their belts.
I recall that Juju music maestro, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey released a chart-bursting album to commemorate the time with the title, “Austerity”. There, he sang of a coping eating formula devised by Nigerians: Formula 0-0-1, 0-1-0, 1-0-1, etc, in which citizens skipped some of the daily meals and embarked on compulsory fasting. Then, as it is now, a major lacuna is the insincerity of government. While the masses were at the receiving end, the leaders took turns to rape the economy, looting and embarking on a spending spree to the bewilderment of the populace.
What worsens our current situation is that Nigerians are not only faced with compulsory austerity measures, their lives are further endangered by the ongoing acts of internal insurrections by gangster insurgents. In the 80s during the austerity period, people had hopes of a better tomorrow and they lived for it. Not now, hapless Nigerians are cut down in their primes by blood sucking terrorists who daily bomb the innocents eking out a living into smithereens. What a life! Government’s response to curb these fiendish acts has been at best tardy. Citizens are now resorting to self-help to protect themselves. Millions of Nigerians have been displaced from their homes and livelihoods and are forced to live beggarly lives in refugee camps in and out of the country.
While the average Nigerians are left at the mercy of undesirable elements, political leaders and high government officials live large. They build themselves fortresses in major state and country capitals and spare no cost in buying themselves bomb and bulletproof vehicles. On top of these, there is a battalion of soldiers and other security agents keeping guard on them and their household. Much as I do not begrudge them for securing their lives, they should not do so at the expense of the suffering majority. Quite unfortunately, it’s also a campaign season for the 2015 general elections and the spate of violence has escalated as politicians arm and engage the services of thugs to deal with political opponents. Is this how to serve the people? Must you kill and maim to get to political office under the guise of offering yourself for national or state service?
How do we cope in this season of anomie? We need to pray for divine provision and protection. Additionally, we need to devise means of living. This is not the time for the average Nigerian to lose their heads in celebration. It’s a time for sober reflection. It is a time of adjustment to realities of life. It’s an era of saving for a rainy day and being careful in crowded environment. As you go shopping at those markets and malls, keep safe distance from the crowds. Train your children on security tips. Let them imbibe basic safety precautions. We as adults too should avoid late nights. We should not buy or encourage our children to buy and use fireworks (bangers, “knockouts”, etc). As we celebrate Christmas and New Year festivities, let us make provision for the children’s school fees which beckon immediately after. Above all, let us show love by caring and supporting the needy and the less privileged.
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