Sunday, November 29, 2015

The N18,000 minimum wage brouhaha

Trouble is brewing between the state governors and the Nigerian labour un­ions over the former's attempt to stop paying N18,000 minimum wage to Nigerian workers. The hint was dropped on November 18, after a meeting of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa. In a communiqué read by its chairman, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, also the Governor of Zamfara State, he stated that the dwindling prices of crude oil had drastical­ly affected federation allocation to the states. He said: "The situation is no longer the same when we were asked to pay N18,000 min­imum wage, when oil price was $126 (per barrel) and when oil is $41 and the source of government expenditure is from oil, and we have not seen prospects in the oil industry in the near future".

Very good and rational argument. It is a notorious fact that Federal Government since last year declared austerity measures arising from the fall in international oil market. Na­ira has had to be devalued with the coun­try's currency now exchanging for over N200 to a $1. Indeed, experts say the manufactur­ing sector has slid into recession, while the oil sector remained weak. Various econom­ic indicators do not look good. Inflation is rising, likewise unemployment and concom­itantly poverty. Most private companies are engaging in staff rationalisation and even placed embargo on employment.
Many states have been unable to pay work­ers' salaries since the first quarter of 2015, while federal government had to arrange for bailout funds to assist the states pay salary arrears. In spite of that, many of the states have not been able to pay up to date, while pensioners' plight has been worsened. Giv­en the above gloomy pictures, will the gover­nors be correct to unilaterally renege to pay the N18,000 minimum wage? No.
The National Minimum Wage is an Act of Parliament signed into law by former Presi­dent Goodluck Jonathan in March 2011. This was after about two years of tripartite negoti­ation by government (represented by the fed­eral and state governments), the Nigeria Em­ployers Consultative Association (NECA), representing other employers (in the pri­vate sector) and organised Labour. Balking on the payment of the minimum wage will therefore be a breach of the Act.
Two, the minimum wage in question has become grossly inadequate to meet workers need. It's been implemented for five years and is due for upward review according to the Nigerian Labour Congress. Truth be told, N18,000 has become greatly undervalued by virtue of the hyper-inflation and curren­cy devaluation which have weakened the Na­ira. House rent has been increased by many property owners. Cost of transportation has increased due to fuel scarcity and high cost of vehicle spare parts thus hiking cost of main­tenance. School fees, access to healthcare, cost of foodstuffs, as well as cost of clothing have all become astronomic. Giving the high rate of unemployment, the dependency ra­tio on workers has tremendously increased.
What Nigerians now witness is high cost of living rather than high standard of living. It will therefore be uncharitable to increase the economic burden of workers by reduc­ing their paltry take home pay. Should this be done willy-nilly, it will affect staff produc­tivity as there would be no commitment to work. Another unintended consequence is high level of corruption and economic sab­otage as most workers will be finding ways and means to take undue advantage of their positions to defraud government.
Should government decide to further down-size staff strength as a way of reduc­ing wage bill, the upshot of that will be over­burdening of the retained staff as one staff may end up doing the job of more than one while salary and other emoluments remain same. Salary cut and retrenchment of staff are bound to also lead to labour unrest as their unions will definitely call for strikes.
What then is the way out of this alba­tross? This calls for thinking out of the box and doing business unusual. One veritable way of getting out of the financial quagmire is to block all leakages in the economy of the state. A look at many of the state's annual ap­propriation bill better known as budget will reveal that the statement is usually padded with all manner of wasteful and needless ex­penditure items. Every year, hundreds of ve­hicles are purchased while the one for last year are still serviceable. Same with comput­ers (hardware and software). There is also the huge overhead cost which is inclusive of en­tertainment allowance, wardrobe allowance, purchase of gift items for distribution dur­ing religious festivals such as Sallah (Rama­dan, Eid-el-Fitr and Eid-el-Kabir), Easter and Christmas celebrations. Is it not preposter­ous that the governors who are crying of low revenue base are still sponsoring pilgrims to Mecca and Jerusalem? Meanwhile the Nigeri­an Constitution has made it abundantly clear that there shall be no state religion and that Nigeria is a secular state. The sponsorship of pilgrimage is discriminatory against the ad­herents of African Indigenous Religion.
Other areas where government can cut down waste and block financial hemor­rhage is in the significant reduction of the ostentatious lifestyle of the governors them­selves and their lieutenants. Is it not iron­ic that the same governors who are lament­ing empty treasury have up to twenty cars in their convoys, fly chartered aircraft instead of joining the normal commercial flights and maintain multiple governor lodges in many states of the federation? Many state governors have done well by fishing out ghost workers through the biometric verification exercise of their respective workforce. This is com­mendable.
It is also imperative for the governors to stop award of contracts for white elephants. With the dwindling income, I will expect governors to do an audit of projects already awarded, percentage of their completion and whether such projects should be com­pleted or auctioned out to private buyer or investors.
Diversification of the state's revenue base has become inevitable. Am happy that the NGF has also flagged it as one of the options they are weighing. A lot of money could be made by state government from proper in­vestment in their state tourism potentials, agriculture, solid mineral extraction and sports. The best way to go about this is to bring in private investors under a mutually beneficial terms and conditions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Perspective on Kogi’s electoral impasse

I have been a keen follower of the political developments in Kogi State. Ahead of the inconclusive November 21, 2015 gubernatorial election, I have been to the state three times on pre-election duties. The first was on Monday, September 14 when Alliance for Credible Elections organised a day sensitisation programme for election stakeholder on peaceful, non-violent and credible election. The second time was in October when INEC Gender Division held a voter sensistisation seminar for Kogi women also on the need for peaceful gubernatorial election. The third time was on November 12 when I was again a resource person at INEC organised Electoral Alternative Dispute Resolution workshop for election stakeholders in the confluence state. The central message in the three engagements was on the need for a non-violent election.

As it turned out last Saturday, the election was largely peaceful and well conducted but for the inconclusive end and the unexpected death of the candidate who was coasting home to victory, ex-Governor Abubakar Audu. Permit me to summarise the basic facts about the election. Twenty-two political parties fielded candidates in the election though it turned out to be a two horse race between the incumbent Governor Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party and former Governor Abubakar Audu of All Progressives Congress.  Two political parties were reported to have fielded women as their candidates. There are approximately 1,379,971 registered voters in Kogi State. Of this number however, only about a million collected their Permanent Voters Card ahead of the election and are therefore persons expected to vote. Again, on the Election Day, only 511,648 out of registered voters were accredited to vote in the election. Of this number, the total valid votes cast was 459,983 while the total rejected ballot was 21, 351. An estimated 40,314 accredited voters did not make it back to cast their vote.

There are 2,548 Polling Units and 239 Registration Areas or Wards in Kogi State. About 16,000 security agents were deployed across the 21 Local Government Areas of the State. INEC deployed 11 Resident Electoral Commissioners and 3 national commissioners to supervise the poll.  Final results from the election as declared by the Returning Officer, Prof. Emmanuel Kucha, Vice Chancellor of Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi showed that the APC candidate, Audu, scored a total of 240,867 votes and won majority of votes in 16 Local Government Areas, while the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Capt. Idris Wada (Retd), who is the incumbent governor, polled 199,514 votes and majority of votes in five LGAs.

Kucha said with Audu’s votes at 240,867 and Wada at 199,514, the margin of Audu’s lead over Wada would be 41,353, He said election was cancelled or not held in 91 polling units from 19 of the 21 local government areas and noted that the total registered voters in places where the election did not take place were 49,953, a figure higher than Audu’s lead of 41,353. This is the rationale behind the declaration of the poll as inconclusive necessitating the need for INEC to fix date for the conduct of supplementary election in the affected 91 Polling Units.

I was an accredited observer for the election but could not make it down to Kogi for the exercise. I was however among the distinguished panelists that analysed the poll on the Nigerian Television Authority’s “Kogi Decides” studio. I had earlier been guest of Kakaaki on African Independent Television a couple of times to discuss the election.  I have also had the honour and privilege to be on Nigerian Info 95.1 FM as well as Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria’s “Politics Nationwide” on November 24 to discuss the election.

Few lessons I drew from the Kogi gubernatorial elections are these:  Electorates alone and no one else determines the winner of election in Nigeria. As it happened during the Ekiti State June 21, 2014 governorship election where an incumbent governor lost a reelection bid, Kogi electorates were at the threshold of voting out the incumbent governor, Captain Idris Wada. Many factors could account for this. Non-performance may be one; It may as well be that the electorates do not want their state to be in the opposition party. Two, INEC, Security agents and the electorates in Kogi performed splendidly as they were roundly commended by the various accredited observer groups and journalists that cover the election.

For instance, the nagging challenge of late commencement of voting process was largely overcome in the election as about 95 per cent of the Polling Units opened as at 8 am which is the stipulated time for commencement of accreditation. Also though there were isolated challenges with the authentication of fingerprint by the Smart Card Reader, Transition Monitoring Group in its official report on the poll said “During accreditation, the card readers functioned well throughout in 93 per cent of polling units.” The Group further said that “In majority of polling units, no incidents of intimidation, harassment, or violence against poll officials, political party agents, observers, or voters (96 per cent) or women (98 per cent) were reported.” This underscores the fact that INEC and security agents planned adequately for the poll.

I have read and heard a lot of opinions on how to resolve the unprecedented conundrum thrown up by the death of Prince Abubakar Audu. Some said it necessitated fresh governorship election. Others opined that APC should just be allowed to nominate a replacement for Audu while the supplementary election should be held to conclude the exercise. In selecting a substitute for Audu, some legal opinions believed that since Audu and his running mate Hon. James Abiodun Faleke are on joint ticket, the running mate should become the new candidate while the party goes ahead to nominate a new running mate for him. Others believe the first runner up in the APC governorship primary for Kogi,. Yahaya Bello should be picked as the new candidate. There are those who believe a fresh party primary needs to be held.

In my candid opinion, those who are calling for fresh party primary and statewide gubernatorial election thereafter needs to factor in the provision of section 178 (2) of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended) which says election to the office of the governor should be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days. Captain Wada was sworn in as Kogi Governor about January 31, 2012 and as things stand INEC may not have the wherewithal to conduct fresh election throughout Kogi State within the next one month left for it to do so. For those pushing the joint ticket argument. Audu alone ran in the party primary while his running mate was nominated by him or his party after he emerged victorious at the intra-party election. Meanwhile for a person to be a candidate of the party under our extant law, particularly section 87 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, he must have participated in all the stages of the nomination processes. That is he must have undergone party primary. Faleke unfortunately did not undergo primary with Abubakar Audu. To my own mind, the cost and time-saving thing to do by APC and INEC is for the party to nominate the first runner up to be its candidate while INEC should go ahead to conclude the election by holding supplementary poll in the 91 polling units where elections could not hold or cancelled. Meanwhile it is not the first time INEC had declared election inconclusive and went ahead to conduct supplementary elections. It happened in governorship election in Ekiti State in 2009, Imo State in 2011 and 2015 to mention but a few. Last line, it is now imperative for political parties to ask for certificate of medical fitness from their candidates before they are nominated to INEC to run election. Perhaps, that will guard against what happened with former president Umaru Musa Yar;Adua and now Prince Abubakar Audu.
N.B: This piece was written before INEC took the decision to allow APC nominate a new candidate and fix the supplementary election for December 5, 2015

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Nigeria's soaring cases of paedophilia

I am worried, very worried about the soaring cases of rape in Nigeria. If something is not done and very fast too, we may end up being the country with the highest number of rape cases in the world. There are different categories of rape.  Dr. Wilson in an article simply titled, Rape (  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”. All these different categories are present in Nigeria.

The most heart rending to me of all these categories is the rape of minors otherwise called pedophilia. Wikipedia says “Pedophilia or paedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children, generally age 11 years or younger.”  According to Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, “Pedophilia is also a psychosexual disorder in which the fantasy or actual act of engaging in sexual activity with prepubertal children is the preferred or exclusive means of achieving sexual excitement and gratification. It may be directed toward children of the same sex or children of the other sex. Some pedophiles are attracted to both boys and girls. Some are attracted only to children, while others are attracted to adults as well as to children.”

In the last one week, there have been media reports of two acts of pedophilia. The first, reported in The Punch of September 3, 2015, was that of a 34-year-old factory worker, Mohammed Ahmed, who admitted raping his daughter six times. Ahmed, who was paraded by officials of the Osun State Command of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps said he started having sex with his 14-year-old daughter (name withheld) in April, 2015. He has been remanded at Ilesa prison while he is undergoing prosecution.  The same newspaper in its September 7, 2015 edition also reported the case of a 41-year-old father, Emeka Igwe of Federal Housing Estate, Meiran, Ojokoro, Lagos State  who has also been raping her seven year old daughter and has  gotten  her addicted to masturbation.

The Director of Project Alert, Mrs. Josephine Effah-Chukwuma whose NGO is prosecuting the Emeka Igwe’s case said: “….we are having an epidemic in our hand. Hardly a week goes by without us having cases of children between the ages of three to seven being defiled.” Sad, very sad indeed! 

Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders says “Most experts regard pedophilia as resulting from psychosocial factors rather than biological characteristics. Some think that pedophilia is the result of having been sexually abused as a child. Still others think that it derives from the person's interactions with parents during their early years of life. Some researchers attribute pedophilia to arrested emotional development; that is, the pedophile is attracted to children because he or she has never matured psychologically. Some regard pedophilia as the result of a distorted need to dominate a sexual partner. Since children are smaller and usually weaker than adults, they may be regarded as nonthreatening potential partners. This drive for domination is sometimes thought to explain why most pedophiles are males.”

Under Nigerian jurisprudence, particularly the Criminal Code of Nigeria, Rape is defined, as having unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm, or by means of false act, or, in case of a married woman, be personating her husband. This offence is punishable by imprisonment for life, with or without caning.  (See Section 357 and 358 of the Criminal Code Cap “C38”, Laws of the Federation, 2004)

 In plain language, in Nigeria, a person has committed rape when he has sexual relations (carnal knowledge) with a woman against her will; or

 a)      without her consent or,

 b)      while putting her in fear of death or hurt or,

 c)      misrepresenting as the husband of the woman or,

 d)     having carnal knowledge of a girl under 14 years, with or without her consent or,

 e)      having carnal knowledge of a girl with unsound mind.

 The one under discourse here is that of subsection (d) which has to do with having carnal knowledge a girl under 14 years of age irrespective of whether she gives her consent or not. The Penal Code (applicable in Northern part of Nigeria), goes further to say even where the girl is a wife of the person, such person will be guilty of rape if she has not attained puberty.

In a decided case of Edwin Ezigbo v. The State (2012) 16 NWLR Pt 1326, My Lord Justice Muhammed J.S.C had this to say; “the facts revealed in this appeal are sordid and can lead to a conclusion that a man can turn into a barbaric animal. When the “criminal” was alleged to have committed the offence of rape, he was 32 years. His two young victims: Ogechi Kelechi, 8 years old and Chioma, 6 years, were, by all standard underage. What did the appellant want to get out of these underage girls. Perhaps, the appellant forgot that by nature, children, generally, are like animals. They follow anyone who offers them food. That was why the appellant, tactfully, induced the young girls with ice cream and zobo drinks in order to translate his hidden criminal intention to reality, damning the consequences. Honestly, for an adult man like the appellant to have carnal knowledge of underage girls such as the appellant’s victims is very callous and animalistic. It is against the laws of all human beings and it is against God and the State. Such small girls and indeed all females of whatever age need to be protected against callous acts of criminally likeminded people of the appellant’s class…..”

On Wednesday, June 3, 2015, the Senate passed the Sexual Offences Bill, 2015 which prescribes life imprisonment for rapists and those who have sexual intercourse with children under 11 years. The passage of the bill followed the report of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.  Senator Chris Anyawu from Imo State who was the main sponsor of the bill listed some of the sexual offences captured by the bill to include gang rape, lacing drinks with drugs with intent to sexually abuse, deliberately infecting partner with HIV and other diseases.  Others, according to her, include child sex tourism, sexual harassment and prostitution of persons with mental disabilities.

 She said the bill had mandated the storing of names of sexual offenders in database for institutional and social discrimination. “Culprits would never be employed in any institution where they may pose a risk to unsuspecting persons. You can see that the penalties are weighty,” she opined. She also said convicted offenders would be subjected to compulsory medical examination, while “those that, however, bring false sexual allegation against any person will also be liable for punishment.’’

In an opinion article I did on this issue of rape published in The PUNCH of November 27, 2013 entitled “Let’s castrate the rapists” I observed that:  “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.”  The most troubling about the act of pedophiles, the animals in human skin, is that they are usually enemies within. They are sometimes teachers of the pupils they rape, uncles, brothers, neighbours and house helps to whom we entrust the care of our children.

 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 skeptical of even genuine love.

As a way of curbing the incidence of pedophiles, the editorial of The PUNCH of November 5, 2013 is very apt.  “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”. I maintained my stance of 2013 that the expeditious way to send the right warning signal to perpetrators of rape is to simply castrate them, once they are found guilty. This way, they will be perpetually incarcerated.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter @jideojong


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Nigeria's Deplorable Highways

I am a regular traveller. In the course of my work I make several trips across the length and breadth of this country. Each time I em­bark on any journey by road, it's as if am being punished for some sins I or my forebears have committed. The Nigerian roads are just simply impassable. They are deathtraps. It's as if there is no government in place or top government offi­cials never use the roads. Perhaps, because they have government vehicles at their disposal and are also mostly chauffer driven, they do not feel as much discomfort as ordinary commuters feel while using the roads.
Road is on the concurrent legislative list, thus the responsibilities for building and maintenance are shared by the three tiers of government. Fed­eral government is in charge of Trunk 'A' roads better known as interstate roads. Trunk 'B' roads are intra-state roads and are therefore to be tak­en care of by the 36 state governments. The 774 Local Government Areas are in charge Trunk 'C' roads which are majorly within their local gov­ernment territories. In total Nigeria has an esti­mated 193,200km of roads and the federal gov­ernment is in charge of about 34,000km.
As The Guardian noted in its editorial of No­vember 8, 2015, "unfortunately, no tier of gov­ernment can be said to have acquitted itself cred­itably on matters of roads construction and maintenance. Scores of innocent people are killed daily in avoidable accidents on account of the bad roads. Man-hours are lost in traffic. And the national economy suffers incalculable losses." The editorial observed further that "since 1999, a whopping N1.4 trillion ($8.5 billion) has reportedly been spent on road construction or maintenance with very little evidence of the money spent. The system is rotten and merely serves as a veritable platform for corruption." I couldn't agree less!
Some of the worst highways include the La­gos-Ibadan Expressway, Sagamu-Ore, Onitsha-Enugu–Port Harcourt road, Ikorodu-Shagamu road, Okene-Lokoja-Abuja and Rijau -Kontago­ra road in Niger State. The South East governors met last Tuesday, November 17, 2015 in Enugu and they simply declared the state of emergen­cy on the federal roads in their zone. According to Governor Rochas Okorocha while briefing the press, the most worrisome to them are the Enugu-Onitsha express road, Aba-Ikot Ekpene, Owerri-Port Harcourt and Enugu-Port Harcourt roads. I'm in agreement with the South East gov­ernors but will like to ask them to tell the pub­lic what the condition of state and local govern­ment roads in their geo-political zone look like. Are they any better than the federal roads they are condemning?
There is no gainsaying that corruption, lack of adequate funding, policy inconsistence, and over-reliance on foreign construction compa­nies, are some of the malaise responsible for this parlous state of Nigerian roads. On corruption, the aforementioned The Guardian editorial has this to say: "Whereas, the World Bank's bench­mark for building a kilometre of road is N238 million, the same is built for about N1 billion in Nigeria."
In the good old days, states have the Public Works Department popularly known as PWDs in their State Ministry of Work. PWDs were well resourced to regularly maintain state roads. Not anymore, everything is being outsourced to pri­vate contractors so that those awarding the con­tracts can get their percentage kickbacks. Often­times road contracts are starved of funds and as such when the contractors find it unbearable to continue work, they abandon the sites. Unfortu­nately, when government may want to complete them, the contractors will ask for upward review of the contract due to inflation. Recently, sever­al thousands of construction workers in Nige­ria were laid off due to government's heavy in­debtedness to these companies. That has further compounded the unemployment situation in the country and concomitantly insecurity.
It is a shame that Nigeria lacks requisite skilled construction workers. This revelation was made at a recent meeting between President Muham­madu Buhari and the Board of Directors of Ju­lius Berger Nigeria Plc. They told the President that because of shortage of competent construc­tion workers and artisans, construction compa­nies were forced to bring in skilled expatriates. This is in spite of the plethora of Nigerian mono­technics, polytechnics and universities annually graduating thousands of Engineers, Architects, Builders, Quantity Surveyors, Technicians, and Estate Managers, to mention but a few. This is heart rending! However, federal government should not totally fall for this line of argument as the foreign construction companies may actu­ally be justifying their abuse of expatriate quota.
The way out of the present quagmire and al­batross is for government to look more towards the BOT (Build, Operate and Transfer) option whereby private companies are allowed to build the roads through their own funds which they recoup through tolling over a period of time and thereafter transfer the ownership back to govern­ment. Alternatively, government can also go into joint venture with private enterprises to build roads and jointly manage it. Similarly, govern­ment can engage private companies to manage its road networks. In any of these options, there is no way we can do without tolling. To contin­ue to wish that we will use all roads free is to live in delusion. Yes, not all roads should be tolled particularly Trunk B and C roads. However key federal roads cannot escape the privatisation and commercialisation option. Our new Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Ameachi, you have your job cut out for you. Do something!
•Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Devel­opment Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter @jideojong

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Repositioning the Nigerian aviation sector

Congratulations to the new Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, and his Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika. The duo was among the 36 cabinet members inaugurated last Wednesday by President Muhammadu Buhari. Truth be told, I do not envy these gentlemen! The simple reason being that the task before them is Herculean.
Just last month, precisely on October 17, 2015, a travel website that goes by the name, “The Guide to Sleeping at the Airports”, made some startling revelations about the state of Nigeria’s airports. In its 2015 survey on airports around the world, the website rated three of Nigeria’s airports among the worst in Africa while the country also occupies the unenviable position of harbouring the worst airport in the world.

According to the report, “Every year, Sleeping In Airports conducts a survey asking travellers to rate their airport experiences based on the services and facilities available within the terminal, cleanliness, customer service, comfort and their overall airport experience.” According to a follow-up report published by the Cable News Network, the Port Harcourt International Airport is the worst in the world because respondents to the survey complained about unpleasant and unhelpful airport employees, alleged corruption, a severe lack of seating facilities, broken air-conditioning system and the fact that the arrivals hall was inside a tent. In Africa, the same Port Harcourt Airport was rated the worst, the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja ranked seventh worst while the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos was the 10th worst in 2015.
The worrisome thing is that in 2012, Nigeria got multi-million dollar loan to enable the country remodel 22 of its airports. Three years down the line, work had only been completed on a handful of the terminals. These are the ones in Ilorin, Benin, Yola, Sokoto, Kano, the VIP and Hajj terminals in Abuja, Owerri, Makurdi and Enugu airports. Aviation experts claim work was slowed down on the projects due to the removal of the erstwhile Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, who initiated the projects while others attributed it to paucity of funds. Interestingly, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria kicked against the survey claiming it was wrong for it to have rated airports under reconstruction. Though there may be some truth in that assertion, it is evident that Nigeria’s aviation industry is sick and needs a lifeline.
On Tuesday, November 10, 2015, the Nigerian Television Authority on its flagship programme, “Good morning, Nigeria”, anchored by Blessing Abu and Kingsley Osadolor hosted some aviation experts who took a holistic look at the sector. Guests on the programme were Captain Roland Iyayi, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah (who is a pilot), Captain Dan Omale, Mr. Chris Alegbe and Dr. Freedom Onuoha. They took a clinical look at the Nigerian aircraft, airlines, airports and aviation regulators.
In the opinion of the TV guests, the greatest challenge facing the aviation sector is the overbearing influence of government. There is said to be too much meddlesomeness by political office holders on the industry. It will seem that President Muhammadu Buhari even watched the programme as one of the key suggestions made by the experts was for the aviation ministry to be scrapped. It was said that only about four countries in the world have a ministry of aviation. It is also believed that there is too much bureaucracy in the sector as about 75 per cent of the work force is said to be made up of administrative staff while the remaining 25 per cent comprises the technical cum professional staff. Other identified challenges include inadequate infrastructures, corruption, policy inconsistency, high operational costs, huge indebtedness, obsolete regulatory framework, and inadequate security measures.
It will be recalled that not all Nigerian airports have perimeter fencing. Perhaps, that is why the country has recorded a number of stowaways. Sometime ago, herds of cattle were found grazing in one of the country’s airports. A couple of wanted terrorists have been apprehended at our airports in recent past. While I commend our airport security agents for those arrests, our airports are still more crowded than some markets with many people who have no business hawking or simply loitering around and constituting a nuisance. In the light of what took place in Egypt on October 31 when ISIS bombed Russian-operated airline in Sinai killing all 224 on board, it is imperative for Nigeria to take airport and aircraft security more seriously.
In terms of operational cost, a sister publication, Saturday PUNCH of July 18, 2015 reported the outcry of airline operators in the country. According to the story, the Airline Operators Association of Nigeria urged the Federal Government to review the charges paid by its members in order to reduce their high cost of operation. The General Secretary of the association, Mr. Mohammed Joji, told the media in Abuja that airline operators in the country were burdened with multiple charges which included five per cent ticket sale charge, landing and parking charge as well as passenger service charge and en-route navigational charge. Airlines are also subjected to paying Value Added Tax to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, which he described as abnormal.
Perhaps, it is this high operational cost that is making Nigerian airlines to cut corners and exhibit nonchalant attitudes towards their passengers. Not only do they review their prices upward arbitrarily, flights are delayed or cancelled without any cogent or verifiable reason. Many a time, they hide under the nebulous “operational reason” to commit this disservice. Not even the enactment of the Passenger’s Bill of Rights by FAAN has improved the situation.
Some of the solutions the aviation experts proffered at the prime TV programme towards repositioning the sector include the need to allow private equities into the sector and concessioning of the airports to private management companies. Already, with the demise of the Nigerian Airways, only private airlines operate commercial flights in the country. They also suggested that the country needs to move away from its present encumbered airports to smart airports that are fully automated. It is also imperative for the new ministers overseeing the sector to allow the different agencies under it namely, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, FAAN, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Accident Investigation Bureau, Nigerian Meteorological Agency and Sky Power Aviation Handling Company to operate unfettered. The industry can do with less bureaucracy and as such the staff ratio should be more of professionals cadre than the administrative cadre.
I have yet to come to terms with the rationale given by the Nasarawa and Ekiti state governments for wanting to construct airports in their states. There are too many airports operating below capacity in Nigeria and I am of the opinion that Abuja and Akure airports can adequately service passengers from these two states. We do not need another white elephants!
Follow me on twitter: @jideojong

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Solomon Dalong, don't be Minister of football

I have a long list of people worthy of being congratulated on their recent achievements. The first is the newly appointed Nigeria's Minister of Youths and Sports, Hon. Solomon Dalong. Others are the record breaking Jighere Wellington of Nigeria who on Sunday, November 8, 2015 emerged the new Scrabble champion of the world ( the first African) after defeating Lewis Mackay of United Kingdom 4-0 in a Best of Seven series in Perth, Australia. Nigeria also emerged as the best team of the championship as five of its six representatives finished in top 50 players of the tournament with Ayorinde Saidu and Emmanuel Umujose placing 16th and 17th, respectively. I also congratulate the Falconet who qualified for next year's FIFA U-.20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea by beating South-Africa 3 –1 on aggregate, also last Sunday. Lastly, my heartfelt felicitations go to the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria who defeated the African champion, Mali 2-0 in an energy-sapping final last Sunday to win the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Chile. In winning the trophy the Golden Eaglets made history as the first team to win the championship five times and the second country, after Brazil, to take the title back-to-back.

Nigeria first won the cup in 1985, exactly 30 years ago, when President Muhammadu Buhari was military Head of State. At this year's tournament, the duo of team captain Kelechi Nwakali and our prolific striker, Victor Osimhen did themselves and the country proud by winning additional two individual laurels each. Kelechi was voted the Most Valuable Player of the tournament while Victor was the second MVP. Victor who set a new world record as FIFA U-17 highest goal scorer with 10 goals won the Golden Boot Award while Kelechi won the Bronze Boot for being the third highest goal scorer. These young lads are following the footsteps of their senior colleagues, Kanu Nwankwo and Wilson Oruma who in 1993 won the Most Valuable Player and Highest Goal Scorer awards respectively. All these giant strides have given Nigerians something to cheer in spite of the gloomy economic situation plaguing the country. Appreciations are in order for the National Sports Commission and Nigerian Football Federation on these successes.

Team Nigeria's recent victories at the Under-17 FIFA championship in Chile as well as that of Scrabble championship in Australia are coming on the heels of similar feats performed some two months ago by Team Nigeria's contingents to the 2015 Afrobasket in Rades, Tunisia as wells as 11th African Games in Congo Brazzaville. It would be recalled that our teams to the two competitions did the nation proud by coming first and second respectively. It was a sweet revenge when Nigeria's D'Tigers beat its arch-rival and several times nemesis in Basketball, Angola 74-65 in the final of Afrobasket 2015 on August 30 to claim the team's first-ever continental championship. It was also a double victory because; aside being crowned African champions, the Nigerians also qualified for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Furthermore, Chamberlain Oguchi scored 19 points and was voted the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Another high point of the competition for Nigeria was that it produced two out of the five best players in the tournament. At the eleventh African Games in Congo Brazzaville (September 4 to 19), Team Nigeria placed second with 47 (Gold), 56 (Silver) and 44 (Bronze) medals behind Egypt's 74 (Gold), 56 (Silver) and 63 (Bronze). These are no mean feats!

As the new Sports Minister, Barrister Solomon Dalong settles down to task in his exalted office, I wish to give him a number of unsolicited pieces of advice. Please sir, do not be Minster of Football. How do I mean? It's on record that successive holders of that office have always shown their bias and preference for the round leather game of football to the detriment of other sports. Football gets better funding, better support and better appreciation than all other sports. This is not good enough. Boxing gave Nigeria her first world title through Hogan 'Kid' Bassey. Athletics have not fared badly; Nigeria's Power lifters have been breaking World Records both at Paralympic Games as well as African Games. Table-Tennis has also done Nigerian Sports a world of good. Yet, it is football that Nigerian sports administrators promotes best as they crowned it an unofficial 'King of Sports'. As much attention and support as is being given to football should be extended to other sports who’s Federations are serious.

Second, the new minister should take sports as business and not just as socials or mere means of recreation and entertainment. Sports globally are multi-million dollars businesses capable of contributing meaningfully to a country's Gross Domestic Products and National Income. The value chain in sports is very long and need to be properly harnessed for optimum benefits. Management of stadia alone is a money spinner as spectators pay to watch competitions by their favourite teams and individuals. Sports marketing and sponsorship deals are also honey pots in sports. There are media rights too. Sports like Golf, Basketball, American Soccer, Boxing, Athletics, and Lawn Tennis are contributing hugely to United States of America GDP all because the country's sports managers are maximising the potentials of those sports. That's what Nigeria needs to do under Dalong.

The media right owner of Barclays Premier League in the United Kingdom is making a lot of money granting licence to TV and Radio Stations to transmit live matches of Premiership Games. Coaching, Managing players and athletes, Sports betting, Sports promotion, Lotto, and sales of sports merchandise and Sports administration are all big businesses and goldmines that should be tapped into under the new Sports Minister. Hitherto, all the country's national and state stadia have been badly managed and it stands to reason that there is an urgent need to either partly or wholly privatise all of them to enhance better service delivery. Additionally, the Minister should deal decisively with issue of corruption in our sports administration. That is one key reason private sector involvement in sponsorships and promotions have been very negligible. I learnt the Honourable Minister has pledged to sanitise the sports sector, that is the way to go and I wish him well in that herculean assignment. On a lighter note, since Alhassan Yakmut who is the Director-General of the National Sports Commission and the new sports minister are from Plateau State, we now have 'Plateau United' (which is the name of the football club from the state) in Nigeria's sports administration. Goodluck to them!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Maximising Nigeria’s solid minerals potential

A recent news report on the African Independent Television on Nigeria’s solid mineral industry got me thinking. Nigeria is too rich to be poor. Our only poverty, to my mind, is poverty of the mind to do the right thing. How can a country so richly blessed in natural resources be complaining of being broke? Countries like Cuba, Israel and Japan do not have a fraction of the natural endowments of Nigeria, yet they are developed countries by virtue of their ability to think out of the box. I know that many countries envy Nigeria and will like to trade position with us for the gargantuan natural resources at our disposal. They are ashamed for us; indeed mock us, for our inability to harness these God’s gifts for our national development. They term our experience a resource curse. Are we cursed or are we the cause? My humble submission is that we are the cause, and not that we are under any curse.
From time immemorial, successive administrations in this country have been parroting the same thing. They all pledge to diversify the country’s economy and wean it off its eternal dependence on a monoculture – oil. They promise to make agriculture the focal point of the economy. They talk of agric-business. Towards this end, they launched all manner of schemes such as Green Revolution, Back to the Land, and Operation Feed the Nation. They also pledged to focus on exploration and exploitation of Nigeria’s vast solid mineral deposits. Sadly, the initiatives have turned out to be largely a lip service.

My research findings on the state of Nigeria’s solid mineral sector were overwhelming. Did you know that this suffering motherland has 44 mineral resources many of which are in commercial quantities? Nasarawa State goes by the appellation “Home of Solid Minerals”. Indeed, it is, as it is, one of the most endowed states in Nigeria in terms of the availability of economically and commercially viable natural resources. These include clay columbite, ilmenite, mica, barytes, pyrite, galena, limestone, sodium chloride, ephalerite, silica sand, granites, and tantalite. Others are sphalerite, talc, gemstone (tourmaline, aquamarine and sapphire), halcopyrite, topaz, cassiterite, emerald, heliodor, amethyst, quartz, coking coal, marble, and iron ore.
Did you know that solid mineral explorations preceded oil and gas explorations in the country? While organised mining began in 1903, oil was discovered in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in 1956. Have you heard that the commercial value of Nigeria’s solid minerals is estimated to run into hundreds of trillions of dollars, with 70 per cent of these buried in the bowels of Northern Nigeria?
In 2012, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Steel reportedly said that from our precious metals, specifically from gold exploitation alone, Nigeria was losing N8tn ($50bn) annually. Sad, very sad! Experts are of the opinion that at the moment, mining of minerals in Nigeria accounts for only 0.3 per cent of its GDP due to the influence of oil resources.
According to NEITI audit report on solid mineral operation in Nigeria, there are six buying centers, nine dredging companies, 11 exporters of solid minerals, 14 medium scale mining companies, 35 commercial quarries, 54 construction quarries, eight quarries for manufacturing giving a total of one hundred and 37 activities in the solid mineral sector of the Nigerian economy.
A report on the Physical and Process Flows in Nigeria Solid Minerals Industry 2011 prepared by Haruna Yahaya & Co. (Chartered Accountants) reportedly indicates that there are no adequate records of operations in the sector. It further reveals that though the Nigeria Minerals and Mining Act 2007 requires that any exporter of solid minerals must request permit to export minerals, in defiance to the Act, there is no available evidence of request for permit or approval to export minerals by the companies.
The report further says, “The informal players are mostly artisan miners, medium scale operators and illegal miners who hardly keep any record. Some of the minerals mined in Nigeria are exported out of the country by both formal and informal players. There are no official records from the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development on the actual volume of minerals exported out of Nigeria within the period under review.” Isn’t this mind-boggling!
Experts say that development of mineral resources is the foundation upon which an industrialised economy is built, and this is essential if Nigeria is to reduce over-dependence on the oil industry – a sector which, despite the revenue it generates, provides employment for just six per cent of the Nigerian labour force. At present, the Federal Government owns, controls and monitors the exploitation and exploration of natural solid mineral resources. However, nothing stops the various states where these solid minerals are located from applying for licence to explore and exploit them just like private investors currently do. Quite unfortunately, low level capacity to manage solid mineral exploration, lack of political will, and corruption have made this option to be unsuitable to them.
It will be recalled that government-owned solid mineral exploration companies in the past have had to be sold off completely or concessioned to private investors. The unpleasant stories of Ajaokuta Steel Complex, Aladja Steel Rolling Mills, Osogbo Steel Rolling Mills and Oluwa Glass Industry in Ondo State still rankle.
It has been suggested that a simplification of the procedures for obtaining mining licences is key to future development of the solid mineral sector. In the past, efforts to generate growth in the industry had allegedly been thwarted by bureaucracy and the absence of a focused federal policy. Therefore, the emphasis should be on providing transparent procedures that will help develop an industry led by the private sector. Tax concessions, deferred royalty payments, availability of social infrastructures such as good roads and rail network, electricity, pipe borne water, security, and reliable dispute adjudicatory systems are among the incentives that can encourage investment.
While President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration works at that, it is also important for the regulatory bodies in the solid mineral industry to enforce punishment against legal and illegal miners who are daily causing environmental degradation in their host communities. In the earlier referenced AIT news report, there were footages of how artisanal miners dug over 300 mining pits in an Ijesha community in Osun State. A similar story was reported at a limestone mining site in Kogi State. All licensed miners must be forced to adhere strictly to their corporate social responsibility initiatives while the illegal miners must be apprehended and prosecuted in courts for their illicit acts.
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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Still awaiting Buhari’s dividends of democracy

By the time you’re reading this, all things being equal, the long-awaited cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari would have been inaugurated. As such, the President would have the full complement of lieutenants that would help him run his government. Since Buhari’s inauguration on May 29, 2015, Nigerians have hoped that he would hit the ground running. So far, he hasn’t, and his media aides say he is trying to clear the Augean stable. Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, had this to say in a widely published article entitled, “A new sheriff is in town”, sometime ago: “Some people say the sheriff did not hit the ground running, as he has yet to constitute his cabinet in 100 days. And I usually ask such people: When you hit the ground, and you land in mud, how do you begin to run immediately? You can only sink deeper, if you attempt to run. The thing to do is to first clear the mud, till you get to terra firma, and then you can begin to run.” I hope after five months in the saddle, the President is now on a firm ground and has sufficiently cleared the mess of his predecessors for him to now deliver on his electoral promises.
It would seem our elected representatives do not realise the urgency that the dire economic situation of this country desires. It took our senators a whole month to screen and confirm 36 ministerial nominees and it has taken the two chambers of the National Assembly about five months to sort out the election and appointment of their principal officers as well as committee leadership and membership. In spite of the long time it took for these to be done, they have not been devoid of bickering with some members rejecting key positions allotted to them. Surprisingly, at the state level, many governors are just inaugurating their cabinet in the last one week or thereabout. Perhaps, they are using the Federal Government as a guide. Now, I do hope that as the dust gradually settles about who gets what and where at both the executive and legislative arms of government, we can start to see some concrete steps being taken to deliver dividends of democracy to the citizens.

For me, there are some urgent steps I want the President and his cabinet to take. One is for the Federal Government to come up with its economic blueprint. This has taken too long in coming and Nigerians and foreign investors alike will like to know the present administration’s policy direction. You’ll recall that former President Olusegun Obasanjo came up with the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy better known as NEEDS. We have also had Vision 20:2020 which aims to make Nigeria one of the 20 most industrialised countries in the world by 2020. That is barely in five years’ time. How have we fared in relation to that noble vision? The immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan came up with a nebulous Transformation Agenda. What shall it be for the Buhari administration? The country’s economy is haemorrhaging profusely due to lack of a well-articulated economic roadmap.
Another thing the Federal Executive Council needs to help the President to quickly marshal out is the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, the Fiscal Strategy Paper and 2016 budget. We are some few days into November and it’s barely eight weeks to the end of the year. Ordinarily, next year’s budget ought to be before the National Assembly by September in order to allow the lawmakers to do a thorough job of scrutinising the appropriation bill and pass it before the end of the year. Now, that seems implausible. Again, this will hurt the economy.
But I have some questions for the President. What is he still doing with about a dozen aircraft in the presidential fleet? When news filtered that he had sold off some of them some few weeks into his administration, his media team debunked it. Yet, I am of the opinion that given the parlous state of our economy, he needs to sell off most of the aircraft in the presidential fleet. Two, what is the take of the government on the report of the Steve Oronsaye Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Agencies, Commissions and Parastatals of 2012? I learnt that the Ahmed Joda transitional committee set up by the All Progressives Congress immediately after the election also suggested something similar to what the Oronsaye committee proposed earlier. What is Buhari’s implementation strategies for these reports which from all intents and purposes will help reduce the cost of governance substantially?
Also, what is the government going to do with the plethora of abandoned Federal Government projects that dot Nigeria’s landscape? May I remind the President that his predecessor in 2011 inaugurated the Ibrahim Bunu-led Presidential Projects Assessment Committee. On completion of its assignment, the committee reported that there were a staggering 11,886 abandoned projects that would cost an estimated N7.78 trillion to complete. That was then. Recently, the President and chairman of the governing council, Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria, Dr. Victoria Okoronkwo, estimated the cost of abandoned projects in Nigeria at N12tn. Listing the projects by geopolitical zones, Okoronkwo said the South-East has 15,000; South-West, 10,000; South-South, 11,000; North-West, 6000; North-Central, 7,000: North-East, 5,000 and Abuja, 2,000. I think these uncompleted projects should be audited and given the government’s lean resources, the white elephants among them should be auctioned and the proceeds from such should be used to complete the genuine and desirable ones that will have great impact on the people.
In addition, there is the need to bring in the Public Private Partnership to assist with getting private sector finance for some critical infrastructural projects. Thankfully, there is in existence the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission whose strategic objective is to accelerate investment in national infrastructure through private sector funding by assisting the Federal Government and its Ministries, Departments, and Agencies to implement and establish effective Public Private Partnership procurement framework.
It bears noting that the key to unlocking the transformation of the economy is for the government to support small and medium enterprises. By this I mean the need to ease protocol and procedures of doing business in Nigeria. The SMEs need low interest loan (single digit interest of not more than nine per cent); tax holidays, security and social infrastructures in order to incentivise them. It is the private sector, particularly the SMEs that can help the government to engage meaningfully the army of unemployed Nigerian youths. Our policy of import substitution and export promotion should be aggressively pursued. The administration needs to work with other arms of government and other levels of government if it hopes to bring about positive change in our governance system.
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Monday, November 2, 2015

INEC sensitizes Kogi women against vote trading

On October 16, 2015, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in collaboration with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) organized a one day voter education seminar for women of Kogi State. The event held at Idrinana Hotel in Lokoja had in attendance various women groups which include National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), National Association of Market Women, Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) as well as women NGOs. Goodwill messages were delivered by the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner for Kogi State, Hussaini Halilu Pai ably represented by the Administrative Secretary and IFES Deputy Country Director, Mrs. Uloma Osuala. 

Three papers were presented at the forum. The first was the Key Pre Election Messages delivered by Mrs. Blessing Obidegwu who is the INEC Deputy Director, Gender Division. . IFES Gender Advisor, Mrs. Mufuliat Fijabi presented a paper entitled “Importance of Women Participation in Elections” while Head of Legal Department, INEC Kogi State, Barrister Dangana gave a talk on “Vote Selling, Youth Violence and the Role of Women.” 

This writer moderated an interactive session entitled “Women and Elections in Kogi State: Challenges and Follow up Actions.” The day’s event was brought to a close with a drama sketch from Kogi State INEC Drama Troupe.  The storyline stressed the importance of Women’s Votes in the Kogi Governorship Elections.

The central messages emphasized during the roundtable were the need for women to come out en masse to vote in the upcoming November 21, 2015 scheduled gubernatorial election. The need for women to shun violence as well as to prevail on their husbands and children not to allow themselves to be used to foment trouble or perpetrate violence before, during and after the looming election. Thirdly is the imperative of issue based campaigns rather than that of personal aggrandizements.

It so happened that a day to the seminar (October 15), INEC had embarked on market outreaches to some of the major trading centers around the Confluence State as Kogi is popularly called. (This is because Lokoja, the state’s capital is the meeting point between River Niger and River Benue). According to Mrs. Obidegwu, on arrival at some of the markets, the women there were asking them for money and other gift items before they can listen to them. They had to explain to them that they are not politicians but staffers of the election management body.  This revelation made the October 16 sensitization forum to focus primarily on the need to educate the Kogi women against vote trading.

Barrister Dangana cited section 23 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended which forbids selling or buying of voters’ card to buttress his point. The section places a penalty of N500,000 fine or maximum of 2 years imprisonment or both on any defaulter.  In the course of moderating my session I called the attention of the participants to section 124 of the Act which forbids contestants and electorates alike from giving or collecting any form of inducements which is currently referred to as “stomach infrastructure” in local parlance to vote.  The penalty for breach as stipulated in subsection 4 of the clause is 12 months imprisonment or N500,000 fine or both.

It bears mentioning that accredited observers who witnessed party primaries held in Kogi State reported high incidences of vote buying of party delegates. In the party primary that held in Lokoja on September 14, observers alleged that while one of the front runners in the primaries gave each delegates N250,000 to induce them to vote for him, another aspirant who eventually won was reported to have gave each delegates N400,000 each. Thus, the highest bidder won.

In the course of the October 16 sensitization forum, we were able to let the participants know about the evils of vote trading particularly how it engenders underdevelopment or what is popularly referred to as lack of dividends of democracy. It is heart-warming that the drama sketch was able to amplify the views of the resource persons on this issue.

One key achievement of the forum was the agreement of the women groups present to form pressure group that will meet with the various party candidates in the election to demand for a social contract which will spell out what the contestants intend to do to uplift the women of the state in terms of appointments into key political offices as well as the development agenda for the state. The women also pledged their commitment to peace and credible poll. In closing, I wish to congratulate Professor Mahmood Yakubu on his appointment as the new chairman of INEC. It would be recalled that President Mohammadu Buhari on October 21, 2015 got the National Council of State to approve Prof. Yakubu as well as five others as national commissioners of the Commission.  I wish them all a peaceful, fruitful and successful tenure in office.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Let’s do away with fuel subsidy

Fuel subsidy came into Nigeria’s economic lexicon about mid-1990s when the country resorted to heavy importation of refined petroleum products aftermath of inability of Nigeria’s four petroleum refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna to work at optimum capacity. For more than two decades now, Nigerian state has been supposedly subsidising petroleum products as a mean of cushioning the harsh effect of the high cost of importing and distributing the refined products from overseas.  The argument then was that should the Federal Government totally deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry by leaving the pricing to the laws of demand and supply, the cost of the products will be very prohibitive and it will lead to high cost of living.

This does not necessarily have to be so.  However, in Nigeria, petroleum products are central to our lives. There is no household that is not using any of the products. For instance, those using cars, power generators, stoves, grinding machines, motor cycles, tri-cycles, vulcanizing machines, etcetera cannot avoid using premium motor spirit otherwise known as petrol, diesel and kerosene. Ointments and body lotions from by-products of petroleum products are also to be found in many homes. Aircrafts cannot also fly without Jet A1 or Aviation Fuel. Petroleum products are also used in construction industry not only to power industrial machines but also they are part of the ingredients used in road constructions. Our dependency on petroleum products is worsened by lack of electricity which in itself also depends on gas for the thermal stations to function. Gas is a by-product from crude oil. Unfortunately, while there is no enough fuel to power our thermal electricity companies, we still flare most of this gas thereby causing environmental degradation, ozone layer depletion and concomitantly, climate change. Thus, Nigeria’s energy crisis is a conundrum!

When the importation of refined petroleum products started in the 90’s it was to be for a short term. It was supposed to be a stop gap measure while turn around maintenance is carried out on the country’s refineries in order to enable them perform optimally. Alas! What is meant to be short-lived has become permanent. The TAM was not done and as such the country perennially embarks on wholesale export of crude oil to foreign countries only to import refined products back into the economy. This backward policy is fraught with many losses. Nigeria losses jobs, foreign exchange, and national pride.  Not only that, the effort of federal government to make petroleum products available to Nigerian masses at affordable prices had been taken advantage of by some saboteurs who indulge in all manner of sharp practices and malpractices.

Some of the fraudulent practices uncovered by different committees that have been set up to look into the fuel subsidy regimes shows that a lot of barons licensed by the Petroleum Products Pricing  Regulatory Agency (PPPRA)  to import fuel upon which government is made to pay heavy subsidy were short-changing the country. Many of them either under supply or did not supply any products at all. They nevertheless are able to submit fake documentations to claim subsidy. In short, the country has lost trillions of Naira to corrupt practices under the subsidy regime. Quite unfortunately, many individuals indicted by various probe panels of government (both legislative and executive) are still walking free as their prosecution has been very tardy. To rub salt on festering injury,  in spite of the supposed subsidisation of the products,  Nigerians are not getting the products at official government controlled price. While diesel has been fully deregulated, kerosene and petrol are still been subsidised. In most places, Kerosene sells above the N50 per litre official price while petrol also sells above the N87 per litre official price except at state capitals.

For many years, I was against the removal of fuel subsidy. I and my wife joined labour and civil society to protest and resist the January 1, 2012 increase in the pump price of fuel from about N65 to N140 per litre. With the benefit of hindsight and given all the extant sharp practices and fraud ridden subsidy regime, I hereby canvass for the full removal of subsidy on petroleum products. I am of the opinion that the best way to deal with the gargantuan fraud in the oil and gas sector of this country is to allow the forces of demand and supply to determine the price. For me, if the government does the needful by ensuring proper and genuine turn around maintenance on our ailing refineries, or better still, sell them off to private investors who will produce and refine locally in a short term, we would be off importation of petroleum products.

Also, with appropriate pricing regime, many of the licensed foreign and local investors who are supposed to have built private refineries but have refused to hitherto do so will be motivated to embark on the capital intensive venture. I am of the opinion that while those who are supposed to build refineries rather opted to obtain license to import refined petroleum products is due to the fact that they will not be able to recover their investment and make profit at the present subsidised price regime. Moreover, with mere trading in importation of fuel, many of them have been making super profits thereby joining the league of noveaux riches with private jets.

Though the removal of petroleum products may be painful and unpopular in the short term, however, it is the best option available if we are ever going to get out of the quagmire of the rot in the oil sector of Nigeria’s economy. The subsidy regime is not sustainable given the billions of Naira that Nigeria currently owes importers of the products. These marketers have on several occasion threatened to stop fuel importation if the arrears of debts owed them is not paid. Unfortunately, the money with which government can pay the subsidy is diminishing given the fall in the price of oil in the international market. Yet, Nigeria remains a monoculture economy with over 80 per cent of its national income coming from the oil and gas sector. The country also face unprecedented thievery of the crude and refined petroleum products across the country, especially in the Niger Delta region.

It is not yet late in the day for the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to come clean with the people, explain the parlous state of the economy to Nigerians and crave their indulgence on the imperative of having to remove fuel subsidy from 2016. I believe Nigerians are very understanding people and if there is sincerity of purpose on the part of government and there is clear demonstration of reduction of wastes and profligacy in government, the masses of this country will support the painful move. Therein lies our salvation from economic doldrums!

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja