Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016: The high and low points for Nigeria

It is three days to the end of 2016. In another 72 hours, we will be shouting Happy New Year 2017 with a lot of handshaking, backslapping, phone calls, text messaging and other expressions of joy for seeing the end of this year and the beginning of a new one. It is thus in order at this point in time to weigh in and consider how Nigeria and Nigerians have fared in the last 12 months. I must say that this is a subjective analysis due to the fact that it is my personal view of the situation on the ground. My analysis shall span different sectors such as the economy, politics, education, security, and sports.
In the outgoing year, the biggest news about the economy was the official announcement that the country had slipped into recession. The budget for the year was passed late having been embroiled in controversies over “padding” by both the executive and legislative arms. By the time the appropriation bill was signed into law in May, the economy was already in comatose with no capital release to the Ministries, Departments and Agencies. Even the huge debt owed the private sector particularly government contractors,  put at about N2tn, led to the sacking of many workers and shutting down of many businesses. The implementation of the budget has been hampered by shortfalls in the projected revenue both in the oil and non-oil sectors. The 2.2mbpd oil production projection in 2016 could not be met due to increased cases of oil and gas pipeline vandalism by Niger Delta militants.
Other problems that faced Nigeria’s economy in the outgoing year are high inflation which is over 18 per cent, weak naira against other international currencies like the dollar, pound sterling and Euro; inability to significantly improve electricity supply for both industrial and residential consumption as well as low oil price in international market.
Truth be told, it wasn’t all negatives for the economy in 2016. Some of the high points for the sector were government’s ability to resolve the lingering fuel scarcity plaguing the country. This came at a high cost to the consumers as the price of Premium Motor Spirit was increased from N87 per litre to maximum of N145 per litre. Even though this has orchestrated high cost of living, more so as many state governments are owing workers’ salaries while the workers’ union is now demanding N56,000 minimum wage, on the positive side, there is now price stability as against when the price was officially N87 but was selling at over N200 per litre at many retail outlets. Despite the lingering challenge of electricity supply, there is a modest improvement with many consumers testifying that they now have more supply than in previous years. However, huge customer debt, liquidity problem, vandalism of gas pipelines and metering of customers remain daunting challenges.
In the outgoing year, government has taken seriously the issue of diversification of the economy. Government is walking the talk on diversification into agriculture.  On July 20, 2016, the Federal Executive Council met and approved the Agriculture Promotion Policy (2016-2019). According to the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, the policy outlined all that needed to be done to achieve self-sufficiency in agriculture.  He said: “The document is entitled, ‘The Green Alternative’ and it outlines virtually everything we need to do, every policy we need to undertake to achieve self-sufficiency in agriculture and also to become major exporter of agricultural products.”
One of the low hanging fruits that have been plucked is the joint venture on rice production between Lagos and Kebbi states which has led to the production of LAKE Rice which is now on sale in Lagos State. Still on the economy, serious commitment to “Buy Made in Nigeria” as part of the wider “Change Begins With Me” national campaign launched on September 8 is commendable. Also, the commencement of the cleanup of Ogoniland by President Muhammadu Buhari this year will create jobs, help restore the environment and ultimately make agriculture practice possible again. It will also help tame militancy and youth restiveness in the Niger Delta in the long run.
The enforcement of the collection of N50 stamp duty on every bank transaction, bringing of more people and companies into tax net, weeding out of ‘ghost’ workers, plugging of some of the loopholes of revenue leakages and reduction in cost of governance are also noteworthy.
Politics in 2016 has been a mixed grill. Unlike in 2015 when there was a general election, in this year, only two off-cycle governorship elections, bye elections and court ordered re-run elections were held by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Though the two governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states were concluded on the first ballot unlike last year when Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections were inconclusive, vote buying and electoral violence, unfortunately, continue to mar our electoral process. One of the lowest points in our democratic consolidation enterprise was the bloodletting that took place in Rivers State both on March 19 and December 10 during the legislative re-runs. This happened in spite of huge security deployments. Despite two re-runs, elections could still not be held in two state constituencies in Etche Local Government Area.
Some states also held chairmanship and councillorship elections into their Local Government Areas. Abia State just held its own on December 21.
In spite of some states’ inability to fund the conduct of elections into their local governments, they are creating Local Council Development Areas. Two of such states that did this year were Osun and Ogun. The outgoing year had also witnessed more defections from the erstwhile ruling People’s Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress. Many chieftains of the PDP are answering corruption charges in courts while a lot of intrigues, bickering and legal tussles plagued the PDP which now has two factional leaders. The Ali Modu Sheriff and Ahmed Makarfi led-camps have been embroiled in a messy face-off which had prevented the party from conducting a successful party convention. Even the party congresses held in the year were mostly controversial.
The educational sector is still crisis-ridden. The Academic Staff Union of Universities embarked on a warning strike to press home the implementation and review of the signed 2009 agreement with the Federal Government.  The government through the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board in 2016 scrapped the Post-Unified Matriculation Tertiary Examination conducted by universities. Eight new private universities were given provisional licences in November. However, access to tertiary education remains a knotty issue. While there are spaces for admission at many of the private universities, the high tuitions demanded by them make them unattractive to indigent students. Ironically, only about 10 per cent of those who apply to public owned universities gain admission. In the outgoing year, many parents who could not source foreign exchange to maintain their children in academic institutions abroad have been forced to withdraw them and bring them back home for continuation of their education.
On job creation, the recent employment of 200,000 graduates under the government N-Power scheme will help address the issue of shortage of manpower in public schools as some of the new employees will be deployed to schools to teach.
The high points in Nigerian sports were the sterling performance of the Super Falcons who won the African Women Cup of Nations for a record eight out of 10 times as well as the commendable feat of the Nigerian paralympians to Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Twenty three paralympians participated in three events – para-athletics, powerlifting and para-table tennis – to cart away 12 medals (eight gold, two silver and two bronze) which placed them 14th position on the final medals’ table and number one in Africa.
Security wise, while a majority of Nigerians agree with the government that Boko Haram might have been decimated, there is however an increase in the cases of crime and criminality such as kidnapping, armed robbery and rape.
In 2016, there are heightened cases of unemployment and poverty even as government’s anti-corruption crusade has spread to the judiciary where seven justices and some senior lawyers have been arrested and arraigned for corrupt practices.
Will Nigerians experience higher standard of living or higher cost of living in 2017? Time will tell!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How realistic is Buhari’s 2017 budget estimates?

On December 14, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari presented financial estimates of N7.3tn to the National Assembly.  The financial plan was labelled as the Budget of Recovery and Growth. It is based on a benchmark crude oil price of US$42.5 per barrel; an oil production estimate of 2.2 million barrels per day; and an average exchange rate of N305 to the US dollar. The N7.298tn budget is a nominal 20.4 per cent increase over the 2016 estimates. However, 30.7 per cent of this expenditure will be capital. The fiscal plan will result in a deficit of N2.36tn for 2017 which is about 2.18 per cent of the GDP. The deficit, according to government,  will be financed mainly by borrowing, which is projected to be about N2.32tn. About 46 per cent of this borrowing, which translates to N1.067tn  will be from external sources while, N1.254tn will be borrowed from the domestic market.
Last Thursday, a day after the budget proposal was presented to the National Assembly, I had the privilege of reviewing the financial proposals on Politics Nationwide, a programme of Radio Nigeria (Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria) which holds every Tuesday and Thursday. To my own mind, the budget is a mixed grill of both positives and negatives. As the saying goes, there are two sides to every coin. Moreover, my training in development work makes it mandatory for me to always look at both sides of the coin. It is quite understandable that there are quite a lot of cynicisms about the budget and I quite subscribe to that. However, let me reel out a few things that thrill me about the budget.
I like the fact that Federal Government is walking the talk by emphasising the buy “Made-in-Nigeria and consume Made-in-Nigeria” philosophy. In paragraph nine of his speech, Buhari avowed as follows “…we will increasingly grow and process our own food; we will manufacture what we can and refine our own petroleum products. We will buy ‘Made-in-Nigeria’ goods. We will encourage garment manufacturing and Nigerian designers, tailors and fashion retailers. We will patronise local entrepreneurs. We will promote the manufacturing powerhouses in Aba, Calabar, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Nnewi, Onitsha, and Ota. From light manufacturing to cement production and petrochemicals, our objective is to make Nigeria a new manufacturing hub.”  Given the scarcity of foreign exchange to import goods, our choices are limited and it is inspiring that government is looking inward for a solution to our economic woes.
What the President said in paragraph 17 of the same budget speech also resonates with me. In trying to fast-track project implementation and procurement processes, he said he would be issuing some Executive Orders to ensure the facilitation and speeding up of government procurements and approvals. These Executive Orders, the President said, would widen the scope of compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act by the Federal Government-owned entities and promote support for local content in the Ministries, Department and Agencies.  In order to ease the business environment in Nigeria, the President said he had established  the Presidential Enabling Business Council, chaired by the Vice President with a mandate to make doing business in Nigeria easier and more attractive. For those of us who are familiar with the country’s poor rating on the “Ease of Doing Business”, this is a laudable and welcome development if the main aim is achieved.
It is also commendable that as part of measures to resolve the lingering issue of liquidity in the power sector, the Federal Government has made provisions in the 2017 budget to clear its outstanding electricity bills. The Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors had earlier in the year claimed  that government establishments, including the military and security agencies alone, owed the Electricity Distribution Companies  over N93bn. Payment of this gargantuan debt will definitely bring a fillip to the ailing power companies.
In paragraph 23 of the speech, the President also pledged to pay some of the debts owed local contractors. According to him, “One of such issues that the Federal Government is committed to dealing with frontally is the issue of its indebtedness to contractors and other third parties. We are at an advanced stage of collating and verifying these obligations, some of which go back 10 years, which we estimate at about N2tn. We will continue to negotiate a realistic and viable payment plan to ensure legitimate claims are settled.” Many domestic contractors have died or become terminally ill owing mainly to the non-payment of their entitlements many years after they had executed the contracts awarded them by the Federal Government. Many of these contractors who borrowed money at high interest rates from money deposit banks otherwise known as commercial banks have had their properties used as collaterals for the facilities confiscated by the banks when they could not repay the loans. Should these debts be settled, it will stimulate the national economy.
Paragraph 34 of the budget speech also caught my attention. According to the President, “Our efforts on cost containment have continued throughout the year. We have restricted travel costs, reduced board members’ sitting allowances, converted forfeited properties to Government offices to save on rent and eliminated thousands of ‘ghost’ workers. These, and many other cost reduction measures will lead to savings of close to N180bn per annum to be applied to critical areas including health, security and education.” I am also delighted at the jerking up of the budget for the judiciary from N70bn in 2016 to N100bn in 2017. That arm of government has been treated with disdain over the years through low budgetary provisions.
The President was on point when he observed that “Our Small and Medium scale businesses continue to face difficulties in accessing longer term and more affordable credit. To address this situation, a sum of N15bn has been provided for the recapitalisation of the Bank of Industry and the Bank of Agriculture. In addition, the Development Bank of Nigeria will soon start operations with US$1.3bn focused exclusively on Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises.”  The 2017 budget retains the allocation of N500bn to the Special Intervention programme. This is praiseworthy given the sloppiness with which the social schemes have been implemented in 2016. For instance, only 200,000 out of the 500,0000 jobs promised through the N-Power Programme have been delivered, the school feeding programmes has yet to take off while the payment of N5,000 to the poorest of the poor has yet to also commence.
With all the aforesaid, will the 2017 be able to deliver on its aim of economic growth and recovery?  I doubt. If wishes were horses, beggars will ride. All the aforesaid wish list will only impact positively on the lives of Nigerians when they are fully implemented. This budget proposal, just like in previous years, was submitted late to the National Assembly. The consideration and passage will only be done in the first quarter of next year. This is against the letters and spirit of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Even as of the time of the budget presentation, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper had yet to be passed by the legislature because of the many unrealistic assumptions made therein. Even the benchmark crude oil price of US$42.5 per barrel; an oil production estimate of 2.2 million barrels per day; and an average exchange rate of N305 to the US dollar seem very unrealistic. With the likely huge revenue shortfall in 2017, full implementation will be a serious challenge.
However, it is hoped that when legislative work begins in earnest on the budget, we shall not be treated again to the melodrama of 2016 when “padding” was the norm.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The shabby treatment of Nigeria’s Super Falcons

“Don’t forget that nobody even knew that the team would emerge victorious; if we were confident they would emerge victorious, all the federation would have done is to plan for process of participation and entitlement…”
– Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung
After two weeks of trading tackles (November 19 – December 3, 2016) Nigeria’s Super Falcons in Yaounde, Cameroon won the 2016 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations for the eighth time after beating host Cameroon 1-0 before a capacity 40,000 crowd. An 84th minute goal from Desire Oparanozie was all Nigeria needed to retain the trophy they won in Namibia two years ago, when they beat the same Indomitable Lionesses 2-0. To get to the final, the Super Falcons beat Mali 6–0, played 1–1 with Ghana and trounced Kenya 4–0 to get to the semi-final. In the semi, the Super Falcons defeated South Africa 1- 0, the same margin with which they beat Cameroon in the final.

Super Falcons have dominated this competition, winning all but two of the 10 editions of the tournament.  Arsenal Ladies forward, Asisat Oshoala, scored six goals to emerge the highest goal scorer at the sporting fiesta while three of Nigeria’s players – Osinachi Ohale, Desire Oparanozie and Asisat Oshoala – made the Africa best XI players. The Super Falcons’ team coach, Florence Omagbemi, also made history as the first woman to win the Africa Women Cup of Nations as both a player and coach.  A similar feat was achieved by late Super Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi, who was the second African to win Africa Nations Cup both as a player and a coach after Egypt’s Gohary.
The dominance of Nigeria in women’s football has never been in doubt as the record shows. In fact, due to the sterling performance of Nigerian ladies in women’s football, many of them, like their male counterparts, are now playing in big football leagues in Europe and America. They have equally dominated the African Women’s Footballer of the Year award. Nigeria’s Mercy Akhide blazed the trail in 2001 before Perpetual Nkwocha won the award a record four times in 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011. Cynthia Uwak won the award twice in 2006 and 2007 before Asisat Oshoala won it again in 2014. Thus, out of the 13 times the awards have been given out, Nigerian ladies have won it a total of eight times.
It is however heartrending that despite all the laurels and fame that Nigeria’s female footballers have brought to this country, they have not been duly recognised and rewarded for their efforts. Their matches are not transmitted live for Nigerians to watch all because the Nigerian Football Federation and the Sports Ministry never bothered to sponsor the live telecast of their matches or look for private sponsor. If it were to be the Super Eagles, they would go all out to ensure live transmission of their matches, even if it’s a mere friendly game. The ladies are also discriminated against in terms of match bonuses and allowances as they are paid less than their male counterparts. Also, there isn’t much celebration of women who won the CAF Women’s Footballer of the Year. Although since 1992, few male Nigerian footballers have won the African Footballer of the Year – Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Amunike, Victor Ikpeba, and Nwankwo Kanu – they are more celebrated than their female counterparts.
Worst still, after the ladies won the AWCON for the record eight times on December 3, 2016, they have yet to be paid their camp allowances and match bonuses. The NFF reportedly owes each player $25,000. As I write this, the ladies have refused to hand over the trophy they won in Cameroon and have actually refused to vacate their hotel in Abuja until all their entitlements are paid. Unfortunately, the beret-wearing Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, said they were not able to pay the ladies because they didn’t expect them to win the trophy. What a reckless talk! So despite being the defending champion and having won the competition a record seven times previously, Dalung wasn’t convinced of the ladies’ ability to conquer Africa.
It is not the first time such shabby and demeaning treatment would be meted out to the Super Falcons players. Hear Stella Mbachu. who was a former member of the team: “I can remember that such a thing happened after the team’s triumph in 2014 in Namibia. We were promised to be paid after we arrived in the country but we haven’t heard anything about it. The NFF has been unfair to female players.” Need I say more?
Young as they are, some of these female football players are breadwinners of their families.  And this is Christmas season, a festive period when Nigerians spend a lot. This maltreatment has exposed Nigeria to negative international news and one had expected that the Federal Government and relevant authorities would have done everything to sort out this mess promptly before it degenerates further. Unfortunately, it has been two weeks and all we hear is that government is looking for money to settle the ladies entitlements. This is very ridiculous, demotivating and condemnable. Lack of appreciation, care and support have been the main reasons many Nigerian athletes dump their fatherland for other countries where they are more valued.
It behooves Nigerian sports administrators to nip this ugly incidence in the bud by fully paying these ladies their due wages with apologies. These sports ambassadors are deserving of national honours and should be so recognised for doing the nation proud in football. Sports ministry and the NFF should, after this ugly episode has been put behind them, guard against future occurrence by ensuring that our national sporting teams are well resourced.
Twitter @jideojong

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Perspectives on Ghana and Gambia 2016 elections

Today, December 7, 2016, about 15.7 million Ghanaians are filing out to vote a new president and 275 members of parliament. Ghana, since the coming into force of her 1992 Constitution, has established herself as a bastion of democracy in Africa. The Electoral Commission of Ghana under the leadership of Dr.  Kwadwo Afari-Gyang was able to conduct successive peaceful and credible elections that have become reference points in the continent and the world at large. Unlike in Nigeria where chairman and members of the Independent National Electoral Commission holds office for a maximum of two terms of five years each, chairman of Ghana electoral commission has the same terms and conditions of service as a Justice of the Court of Appeal while the two Deputy Chairmen of the Commission have the same terms and conditions of service as are applicable to a Justice of the High Court according to Article 44 (2) and (3) of 1992 Constitution of Ghana. This security of tenure helps to strengthen the independence of the Ghana Electoral Commission

I was privileged to observe the Ghanaian presidential run-off election in December 2008. Since then, I have been fascinated by the country’s electoral process. Unlike Nigeria’s 13 member electoral management body, Ghana’s electoral commission consists of seven members. A  Chairman, two Deputy Chairmen and four other members. It should interest you to note that at present five out of the seven members are women. In fact, the chairman, Mrs. Charlotte Osei who was appointed in June 2015 is the first female head of the electoral commission of Ghana. One of the two deputy chairmen is a woman. Her name is Ms. Georgina Opoku Amankwah.  Out of the four other commissioners, three of them are women. They are: Mrs. Pauline Adobea Dadzawa, Mrs. Rebecca Kabukie Adjalo, and Hajia Sa-Adatu Maida. That is a good example of women empowerment.

There are other things that set Ghana apart. Aside being a multiparty democracy, it also have provision for independent candidacy as well as special voting or early voting for those who will be on election day duty such as election officials, journalists, accredited observers, security agencies and the like. All of them have had the opportunity of casting their ballot last Thursday, December 1. Voting age in Ghana is 18 same with Nigeria. However, 21 years is the minimum age to contest election as candidate. I recall that Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement is currently at the forefront of mobilising support under its #NotTooYoungToRun campaign to get Nigeria to lower age at which a citizen can stand for election. Ghana has already shown the way to go!

Another demonstration of inclusive and transparent electoral process in Ghana is that party agents and the electoral commission are allowed to put their seal on the transparent ballot box and record the serial numbers both before the commencement of the polls and after counting of ballot. Record cards are provided for party agents to document all the details of the elections in their booths including tracking of the number of voters in their polling stations. Party agents are also given complaint forms to document any irregularities observed in their polling booths.

Ghana returned to multi-party democracy in 1992 under Jerry John Rawlings. The 1992 constitution brought into force the 4th Republic. Today’s general election is the seventh general elections having previously held elections in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. The ruling party has won four of the last elections while the main opposition has won the other two. Interestingly and on a lighter note, all past and present president of Ghana since 1992 had been John. From 1992 to 2000 it was Jerry John Rawlings of the National Democratic Congress. From 2000 to 2008, it was John Agyekum Kufuor of New Patriotic Party. From 2008 to 2012, it was John Evans Atta Mills of National Democratic Congress. From 2012 to 2016, it was John Dramani Mahama. Who shall it be from 2016 to 2020? The answer is with Ghanaian electorate. It is worth noting that power has been oscillating between two parties NDC and NPP from 1992 to date. Though there are seven presidential candidates in today’s election, pundits have predicted that it is a two horse race between the incumbent Mahama of NDC  and old warhorse, Nana Akufo Addo of NPP who is contesting for the third time since 2008.

So much for political lessons from Ghana. It was a pleasant surprise last Friday when news broke that H.E. Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh lost his bid for fifth term as president to his main challenger, Adama Barrow. The megalomaniac Jammeh had governed Gambia autocratically since he took over power in a coup as a 29 year old Lieutenant in the Gambian Army in 1994.  The flamboyant outgoing president who had boasted that he would rule Gambia for a billion years, Insha Allah lost the election by about 50,000 votes. Mr. Barrow won 263,515 votes (45.5%) in Thursday's election, while President Jammeh took 212,099 (36.7%). A third party candidate, Mama Kandeh, won 102,969 (17.8%) according to Alieu Momarr Njai, the electoral commission chairman. Incidentally, the three presidential candidates were all born in 1965.

Barrow’s electoral feat did not come on a platter. It was made possible by a coalition of seven other political parties who backed him for the election. Without that, Jammeh would have had his way. Ahead of the election, Jammeh had bared his fangs. He locked up scores of political activists who protested against his government in April 2016. He barred European Union and ECOWAS observer missions from being accredited to observe the polls and ordered the internet and international telephone services shut on the day of election. He also clamped down on journalists. On November 8, officials from Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency arrested the director-general of Gambia’s state television and radio, Momodou Sabally, along with his colleague Bakary Fatty. NIA officers also apprehended Alhagie Manka, an independent photojournalist, on November 10. Sabally was allegedly picked up because the station broadcast video footage of an opposition candidate’s nomination at the time when the station was scheduled to cover an agricultural initiative led by the first lady, Zineb Jammeh.

Gambia has a unique way of voting for their president - instead of ballot papers, voters use marbles. In the 2012 election there were only two invalid votes when people placed their marbles on the top of the voting drums. The electoral loss of Jammeh is a moral lesson for all other sit-tight African leaders who wanted to die in power. It is clear that power belong to the people, they only hold it in trust for them. Gambians learnt the right lessons from Senegal, Niger, and Nigeria where opposition political parties teamed up to wrestle power from incumbents. It would be recalled that coalitions of political parties assisted Macky Sall to defeat Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal’s 2012 presidential election.

It is heartwarming that despite his well-known eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, Jammeh did not take a cue from his counterparts in DR Congo and Gabon and postpone the elections neither did he influence the outcome of the election to favour him. Rather he allowed the election to hold and abided by the result of the polls. He even called Adama Barrow to formally concede defeat. That is the hallmark of a statesman. Now that he has lost his bid to hang on to power, he would now have time to attend to his herbal medicine practice through which he had previously claimed to have found cure for AIDS and infertility.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ondo election in retrospect

The November 26, 2016 gubernatorial election in Ondo State had been won and lost.  The candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, SAN was declared winner by the Returning Officer, Professor Abdul Ganiyu Ambali, having polled a total of 224,842 votes to defeat 27 other candidates.  The Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Eyitayo Olayinka Jegede, who polled a total of 150,380 votes came second while Olusola Alex Oke of the Alliance for Democracy placed third with a total of 126,889 votes. Akeredolu won out rightly in 14 out of the 18 Local Government Areas of the state but had the required 25  per cent of valid votes cast in the entire LGAs of the Sunshine State. The state has a total of 1,647,973 registered voters and 584,997 were accredited for the election while a total of 580,887 votes were cast. A total of 551,272 votes were valid and 29,615 votes were rejected. 

Ahead of the election, during and after the poll, I had the privilege and honur of participating in a number of media analysis on several radio and television stations. I was guest analyst on Nigerian Television Authority, African Independent Television, Silverbird Television, Peoples Television and Radio Nigeria. Predictably, the election though keenly contested was peaceful, credible and conclusive.  Media and accredited observer reports shows that the Independent National Electoral Commission  did creditably well in terms of deployment and logistics as poll commenced in over 90 per cent of the 3007 Polling Units as and when due, that is , at 8 am. Sorting, counting, collation and announcement of results also took a shorter time. But for the results of Ilaje LGA which was late in coming due to the about five hours distance on water to the state capital, Akure, the entire exercise would have been wrapped up in 24 hours. Report has it that most of the 16,723 Poll Officials deployed by INEC for the election were very professional, having been well trained by the electoral commission.

Even though there were issues with fingerprint authentication of voters in few of the Polling Units (outgoing governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko was among those whose fingerprints could not be authenticated and have to be accredited with Incident Forms to enable them vote), however, verification of Permanent Voters Card by the SCR was flawless.

Most worrisome and a big minus to the credibility of last Saturday’s gubernatorial election was the ugly phenomenon of vote buying. There were several reported cases of bribe-for-vote. It was a demand and supply thing which Ondo people labeled “See and Buy” unlike in Ekiti in 2014 where it was termed “Stomach Infrastructure”.  Nobody should be under any illusion that it was only APC that was involved in this show of shame. As reported by this newspaper “It was observed that members of the All Progressives Congress, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Alliance for Democracy were giving money to voters at most polling centres visited across the state. Some polling units in Odigbo, Okitipupa and Ilaje local governments areas were given N450,000 while each voter got between N3,000 and N5,000.” (See Saturday PUNCH report of November 26, 2016 entitled “Vote buying allegations trail Ondo election)

I had warned ahead of the poll that section 124 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended has criminalised the act of vote buying as bribery and conspiracy. It says in section 124 (4) that any person caught in the act is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000 or 12 months imprisonment or both. Despite the grandstanding of the Inspector General Of Police that the Force will not condone the insidious act in Ondo as it did in Edo on September 28, the Police personnel on election duty allegedly watch nonchalantly as politicians openly engaged in vote buying in Ondo State. This is heart rending! If the Police who had the statutory power of arresting, investigating and prosecuting criminals watch with disinterest as legal provision is being breached, is it the Poll Officials whose primary duty is to conduct election that Nigerians expect to start running after those involved in vote buying?

It is sad that some hoodlums still tried to disrupt the election in few Polling Units despite the heavy deployment of security personnel to maintain law and order during the election. This shows the incorrigibility of the political gladiators and has made heavy security deployment to be a child of necessity during elections in Nigeria. I maintain that INEC did well by not acceding to PDP’s request for postponement of the election. If every party facing internal crisis were to ask for shift in the date of poll and have their request granted, the election will never hold. What happened to PDP in the Ondo gubernatorial election is a warning signal to all political parties that they risk losing their chances of winning electoral contests if they allow internal wrangling to bog down their preparations for the polls.  Any postponement of the election at the behest of PDP or any other political party for that matter would have increased astronomically the cost of the election and would have been unfair to other 27 political parties that fielded candidates for the election as they would have to raise additional fund for their campaigns. 

I give kudos to the security agents, accredited observer groups, the media and indeed the good electorate of Ondo State for supporting INEC to be able to conduct the gubernatorial election successfully last Saturday. It bears being emphasised that INEC alone cannot guarantee peaceful and credible election. I beseech stakeholders to continue to partner with the electoral commission   in the forthcoming bye-elections next Saturday in Lagos and Abuja as well as the court ordered re-run elections in Rivers State on December 10, 2016. INEC, like Ceaser’s wife, needs to continue to be above board and act in a way that will inspire the confidence of stakeholders in it.

All said, my hearty congratulations to the governor-elect of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN. The former Nigeria Bar Association president  has made a lot of promises during the campaigns. The time is here for him to match words with actions. Though the popular saying is that ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’, Ondo people, he should know, would not tolerate excuses when he comes to power in February 2017. He knows there are problems and he has promised to fix them. He should therefore spend the transition period to perfect his plans for the Sunshine State so that he can hit the ground running on assumption of office. The Ondo people will do well to constantly demand for the performance of those pledges he made during the campaigns.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Imperative of a peaceful and credible Ondo governorship election

It is 48 hours to the fourth off-cycle governorship election the Independent National Electoral Commission will be conducting after the 2015 general elections. In November and December last year, INEC conducted governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. Then, on September 28, 2016, it was the turn of the Edo State. On Saturday, November 26, it shall be the lot of the people of the Sunshine State of Ondo to vote their next governor who will take over the leadership mantle from the medical doctor-turned politician, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, popularly known as Iroko. Mimiko is serving out his second term having got judicial victory on February 23, 2009 almost two years after the April 2007 election in which INEC declared former Governor Olusegun Agagu as the winner. Both Justices Garuba Nabaruma and Umaru Abdullahi panels of the Electoral Petitions Tribunal and Appeal Court respectively had reversed Agagu’s victory and declared Mimiko the rightful winner of the 2007 governorship election.
Ahead of next Saturday’s poll, a lot of preparations had been made by different actors and stakeholders. INEC had cleared 25 candidates for the election. However, 22 of the lot could be classified as “Pretenders” or “Also ran” while only three are real Contenders. The three-horse race is among the candidates of the All Progressives Congress, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN also known as Aketi; the Alliance for Democracy, Olusola Oke and Jimoh Ibrahim of the Peoples Democratic Party. I can tell my readers for free that the next governor of Ondo State will be a lawyer. This is because the topmost three are all lawyers. Ironically, the three of them carry an albatross. Their nominations were contentious and rancorous.
There were all manner of allegations of substitution of genuine delegates and vote buying at the September 3 APC primary election in the state. This has pitted some party chieftains against the National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. In fact, the fallout of the APC primary was the defection of Oke, one of the aspirants who lost to Akeredolu, to the AD. Within weeks, Oke was able to pull the necessary political strings and after intense behind-the-scene horse-trading was nominated by the party as a replacement for the party’s initial candidate, Akin Olowookere. The nomination of the PDP has been the messiest. The case is still in court even a few days to the poll. INEC had initially recognised Eyitayo Jegede, SAN as the party’s candidate before the judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court Abuja compelled the commission to recognise and accept the nomination of Jimoh Ibrahim.

The replacement of Jegede has led to street protests in Ondo and the Senator Ahmed Markarfi faction of the PDP to which Governor Mimiko camp belong to had written to INEC seeking the postponement of the November 26 election. Mimiko himself had twice met with President Muhammadu Buhari seeking his intervention in a matter that is purely intra-party affair. It remains to be seen whether INEC will yield to this curious demand. As far as I am concerned, I do not think the PDP has a cogent reason to call for the shift of the election. The Supreme Court, as recently as in the election petition matter of Kogi election of November 21, 2015 had pronounced that people’s votes are to the party and not the candidate. That being so, even if Ibrahim wins next Saturday’s poll and Jegede is later affirmed by the court as the rightful candidate of the party, the former would have to leave the seat for the latter.
That was what happened in the case of Celestine Omehia and Chibuike Amaechi in Rivers State in 2007.
Any shift in the date of poll, so close to the Election Day, will impact negatively on the electoral process. Apart from the enormous financial cost to the candidates and other stakeholders, the Court of Appeal has adjourned the case sine dine that is indefinitely. The Nigerian constitution in Section 178 (2) is very clear that governorship election has to be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days to the end of the tenure of the incumbent. Thus, election cannot be postponed indefinitely without courting a constitutional crisis. Part of the electoral reform the civil society has been advocating is for pre-election matters to have a timeline for adjudication. It is quite sad that because politicians are unable to resolve their issues amicably internally, we now run a democracy by court order.
As part of the preparations, there have been a lot of campaigns by the political parties and contestants and it is heart-warming that there have been no serious security breaches during the campaigns. To the best of my knowledge, there have not been any death or destruction of property.  Only inter party skirmishes had been reported. The media has been awash with news of the campaigns and advertorials, posters, and jingles. Last Sunday and Monday, November 20 and 21 respectively, Channels Television and other Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria stations with support from the International Republican Institute and the United States Agency for International Development held debates for some selected candidates and their running mates.  It was interesting to hear the candidates of the PDP, AD and Social Democratic Party defend their political nomadism which some people termed “political jumpology” given the fact that they have changed political parties in their bid to be the governor of the state.
On the part of INEC, the commission has accredited observers, journalists and party agents; conducted a lot of voter education; published list of candidates; trained poll officials (INEC is deploying 16,723 personnel for the election); configured the smart card readers; distributed Permanent Voter Cards; activated the Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security; procured sensitive and non-sensitive election materials and held several stakeholders’ meetings. The accredited observer groups had also trained and deployed their members while also complementing INEC’s voter education exercises. The Nigeria Police had pledged to deploy 25,000 personnel for the election. It was reported on Monday, November 21 that security agents arrested a suspected “political thug”, Oluseun Ade, with three guns and five cutlasses.
As the 1,660,055 registered voters in Ondo State get to elect their new governor next Saturday, my appeal goes to INEC to do all within its power to deliver a credible election. It behoves the Ondo electorate, political parties and contestants to eschew violence and other unbecoming acts that can mar the election. May the best candidate win!
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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The many dangers of senseless debts

It is no longer news that the country’s economy is in recession. Many Nigerians are cash-strapped. This is as a result of salaries and wages not being paid as and when due, low patronage being experienced by those in business due to high cost of goods and services, non-payment of debts owed local contractors (this was estimated at about N7tn) and unemployment. This dire situation has made many to resort to borrowing to survive. However, many of us who are in the habit of incurring debts needs to watch it. The catch is not in borrowing but in repaying the loan. Yes, sometimes it is inevitable to borrow but in doing so we must think things through.

I borrowed a lot when I was on my housing project. Wisely, I avoided borrowing from the bank, cooperative societies, the Shylock money-lenders, or any of such. I borrowed at no interest rate from colleagues, friends and family members. Thankfully, after a long while, I have repaid all the loans.  I have at different times borrowed to do other projects and have luckily found ways and means of paying back. The moral of my personal story is to know where, when, and for what purpose one should borrow. A lot of my compatriots still incur debts to host one-in-town weddings, buy wonder-on-wheel cars, and throw lavish funeral and chieftaincy title parties or naming ceremonies. All these ego-massaging debts and vanities lead to heartache and spiral rise in blood pressure. 

As it is for individuals, so it is for government. Every government must think through and thoroughly analysed its desire to obtain loan or incur debt. The questions to ask include but not limited to: Are there alternatives to taking this loan? If we must take the loan, at what interest rate should it be? What is the repayment plan? From where should the loan be sourced – bilateral or multilateral organisations? What should be the moratorium?

Information from the Debt Management Office better known as DMO shows that States and Federal Governments' External Debt Stock as at June 30, 2016 was $11,261,887,684.00 with the Federal Government share of the debt portfolio standing at $7,607,500,252.76 while those of the state was $3,654,387,431.24. The three most indebted states are: Lagos with $1,431,474,719.70; Kaduna with $225,277,020.12 and Edo with $179,519,864.02. This is just foreign debt profile. Many of the states are reeling under heavy domestic debts. The question is, what did they use the obtained loan for? Payment of salaries? Overheads? White elephant capital projects or productive ventures?

Odilim Enwegbara, a renowned development economist and I were guests on “Issues of the Moment” a programme on Radio Nigeria last Thursday, November 10, 2016. The topic of discussion was “Foreign Debt and Nigeria’s Economy”. This was against the backdrop of the current attempt by President Muhammadu Buhari to get the Senate approval for $29.9bn external loan between 2016 and 2019. The argument has been canvassed that Nigeria’s debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio is small and that Nigeria is credit worthy and should go for foreign loan to fix critical infrastructure. While my co-panelist argued in support of the proposed loan, I was vehemently against it. 

My ground of argument against further loan includes the following: Previous loans have not been demonstrably used judiciously. Rather much of it was diverted to private pockets with little or nothing to show for the projects for which the loans were obtained in the first place. I was shocked to learn that Nigeria actually took loan to host FESTAC ’77 which was a jamboree. Two, government should account for additional revenue received from the increase in the pump price of petroleum products from N87 to N145 per litre, N50 stamp duty collection by banks on every banking transactions, looted funds recovered and Treasury Single Account savings. Three, government stands to rake in huge revenue from sales of white elephants embarked on that have become a drainpipe on our resources. Over 11,886 uncompleted federal government projects were discovered by Alhaji Bunu Sheriff presidential assessment committee in 2012. I have earlier canvassed for the audit of these projects to be done. While those that are liabilities should be auctioned off, those that will add value to our economy should be funded to completion from the proceeds of sales of the white elephants.

Four, with the current attempts by the federal government to reduce the cost of governance, bring more people into tax net, and block revenue leakages in the bureaucratic system, there should be more money at government disposal to be used for infrastructural development. Public-Private-Partnership infrastructural finance model is also a viable option and better than taking more foreign loan. Under the PPP, government could sign a Memorandum of Understanding or partnership agreement with private sector to Build, Operate and Transfer. This will enable the investors to recoup their investments with profit. Concessioning agreement  as is being mooted over some of the country’s airport will also ensure injection of private sector funds and better management of some of the hitherto government enterprises.   

It cannot be overemphasised that improving ease of doing business will attract foreign direct investment. Foreign and local investors can therefore be incentivized to take on the provisioning of the critical infrastructure like electricity, roads, water, refineries, schools, hospitals and many more. Proper commercialisation and privatisation will reduce government funding and make the need for foreign or domestic loan less attractive.  As earlier said, I am not convinced that Nigeria needs foreign loan at this point in time let alone the quantum of $30bn. Nigeria in March 2016 exited the Paris Club of debtor countries after paying $12.4bn in order to get a debt forgiveness or relief of $18bn. As the story goes, Nigeria originally borrowed about $10bn and still owes $30bn even after $17bn had been repaid! Such is the abracadabra of the multiplier effect of this booby trap called external loan. So much resource will be needed to service the debt (that alone will deplete our external reserve). Failure to service the debt will lead to the imposition of compound interest which may end up making our dear country to pay much more than the initially negotiated interest on loan.

That’s part of the reason I don’t support this foreign loan. Taking loans to fund social intervention schemes like school feeding programme or sponsorship of pilgrimage or building new government house or governor’s lodge will be counterproductive.  If we must borrow at all, I totally endorse the 10 point practical guide suggested by my colleague, Eze Onyekpere in his column in this paper on Monday, November 14, 2016 entitled “The $30bn presidential borrowing request (2)”. I do hope we think about the future generations of Nigerians before we accumulate gargantuan debt profile.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

2016 US elections: Lessons for Nigeria

It is the day after the widely publicised November 8, 2016 United States of America’s general elections. Though there were elections into 435 House of Representatives positions, 34 out of the 100 Senate seats, 12 governorship seats and a lot of partisan and non-partisan local elections and referenda, the most talked about was the presidential election. Deservedly so! POTUS or better still, the president of the United States of America is the most powerful political position on planet earth. By the time you’re reading this, citizens of America both home and abroad would have determined who their 45th president would be. While there are many presidential candidates, the real contenders were Senator Hillary Clinton of the Democratic Party and business octopus, Donald Trump of the Republican Party.  For more than a year, the duo had campaigned hard around the 50 states of the US soliciting for votes of the delegates to emerge flag bearers of their respective political parties before going into the main campaign for the November 8 presidential election.

I have been guest analyst on Nigeria Television Authority (Political Update) and Radio Nigeria (7am News on Monday, November 7, 2016) to discuss the just held US elections. I was also an accredited observer of the US mid-term election in 2010 where I had opportunity to watch elections held in Washington DC and Maryland. As a Political Scientist and election expert, I have been fascinated by the American electoral system. I am of the opinion that there are a number of lessons Nigeria can learn from that bastion of democracy. Let me say ab initio that the US system is not perfect.

What are the positives worthy of emulation from the American electoral system? First is the very inclusive and decentralised process. What do I mean? Apart from having about 150 registered political parties with many of them operating at different levels – federal, state and county (Many erroneously think there are two political parties in the US); the electoral system also have provision for independent candidates who contest without any political platform. There are also provisions for absentee ballot, early voting and out of country voting. Absentee ballot is for those who will not be around on Election Day. This is sent by mail, fax or could be downloaded from a dedicated website. About 20 states have provision for early voting for those who want. These are done at some few dedicated voting centres at a specified time of the day. Unlike the absentee ballot which can be mailed back to the election authority, in the case of early voting, voters have to go to the voting centres to cast their ballot ahead of the Election Day. Out-of-country voting is for Americans in Diaspora. It was reported that about 40 million out of the about 150 million potential voters had cast their ballot ahead of the November 8, 2016 general elections.

America operates a highly-decentralised political system with each of the 50 states responsible for the legislation and conduct of elections. It has neither a national electoral act nor does it have a national register of voters as each state has its database of voters. USA also uses advanced technology for its elections. There are all manner of provisions for e-registrations (about eight states have online registration of voters as at 2010), e-voting as well as the use of technology by the media for opinion polling, voter education and election result tabulation. With the conduct of exit poll, it is possible to project winner of a particular election even before the actual ballots are counted. Due to the highly decetralised electoral system in place in America, each state adopts different electoral policy and voting system. While some adopt combination of e-voting and manual voting, others have only e-voting. For instance, in Washington DC, voters have a choice of using touch screen or paper ballot while in Maryland, all voters use touch screen i.e. e-voting as at 2010.  While some states allow registration of voters even on the day of elections, others have a cutoff date.

In many states in the US, elections are held for 13 hours on Election Day, i.e. 7am - 8pm or 6am -7pm.This makes it convenient and possible for workers to cast their vote on their way to work, during lunch break or on their way from work. There is also no restriction of movement, no military road blocks or police checkpoints and no shutting down the economy as with our practice on Election Day here in Nigeria. It is possible to have election for this long because of adequate supply of electricity. It is also worth flagging the institutionalisation of staggered election in the US. While there is  general elections as was the case yesterday, there is also mid-term elections which are held into some partisan and non-partisan elective positions two years after general elections. In America, elections into Senate hold every six years and for House of Representatives, every two years. In the November 2, 2010 mid-term elections, polls were held into the entire 435 House of Reps positions, some Senate positions, some governorship positions, Board of Education positions, etc. There was also referendum as people vote on some constitutional amendments.

I also admire American electoral system for its high level of political accountability. As can be attested to in this year’s presidential campaign, the candidates of Democratic and Republican parties attended three presidential debates where probing questions were asked about their public and private lives. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were x-rayed by the American media and indeed electorates on their lives in public service, business and even families.

One thing Nigerians must know is that American election is highly monitised. A lot of resources are raised and spent on political campaigns especially advertorials. According to Cable News Network, Clinton spent $450,563,244.01 on her campaign while Trump spent $238,951,814.21 on his campaign. I must hasten to say that much of these resources were raised from small donations. There is also a culture of volunteerism in American political system. A lot of people who believe in the political philosophy, manifestoes or agenda of their political parties render pro bono (free) services to the candidates of the party.

I must, in conclusion, say that American electoral system is not all glitz and glamour. There are hitches and negatives here and there just that it pales into insignificance compared to our own environment here. One big minus in the just concluded American election is the overwhelming use of hate speeches and negative adverts by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Trump especially made a lot of reckless and ungentlemanly comments. He called his main challenger nasty, liar, crook and threatens to jail her if he wins the presidential election. Trump also said the election had been rigged and that he would not concede defeat. A Republican Party campaign office was also firebombed and there were disruptions at  some of the political rallies.

All said, I hope 240 years old jinx has been broken with the election of the first female president of America. This would mean three of the world’s most powerful countries of the world viz. Germany, United Kingdom and USA are effectively under women political control. I think the world would be better for it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Stop violence and impunity against journalists!

I pay tribute to the courage of all media personnel who put their lives on the line for the sake of truth, and I call for immediate action to secure justice in cases where journalists were attacked, harassed or killed.” -  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the 2016 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

Did you know that November 2 of every year has been declared by the United Nations as International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists? Did you know that there have been 827 known killings of journalists over the past 10 years and that of this number only eight per cent of perpetrators have been held accountable? Did you know that 2012 is the deadliest year for journalists with 123 journalists murdered in cold blood? Did you know that 2015 is the second deadliest year for journalists with 115 journalists assassinated including the 10 media workers murdered in the unprecedented attack against the French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris? Did you know that the majority of killings (36.5 per cent) occur in the Arab States, largely due to ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya? Did you also know that it’s been 30 years since the renowned Nigerian journalist, Dele Giwa was murdered in his home in Lagos and that his killers are yet to be found and brought to justice?

According to information garnered from the website of the United Nations;  worried by the growing incidences of crimes against journalists, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/68/163 at its 68th session in 2013 which proclaimed November 2 as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ (IDEI). The Resolution urged Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on November 2, 2013.

This landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It also urges Member States to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies. It further calls upon States to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference. 

The Paris Declaration of the 2014 World Press Freedom Day conference held at UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Headquarters states: “the continuing high level of killings of journalists’ calls for intensified action by international organisations, governments, media and other actors to give heightened attention to strengthening the safety of journalists and to bringing their killers to justice.” According to UNESCO, “In addition to killings, journalists are kidnapped, arbitrarily detained, tortured, intimidated and harassed, both on and offline. Freelance journalists are more vulnerable, as they often work without adequate protections that large media outlets provide. While the overwhelming majority of journalists who are murdered are men… women journalists face additional risks: gender-based threats, harassment, intimidation, violence and rape.”

Nigerian journalists have had their fair share of repression and oppression. One such incident happened in 1973. Minere Amakiri, then a reporter with Nigerian Observer, the old Bendel State owned newspapers had his head shaved with broken bottle on the orders of Alfred Diette-Spiff, the then Military governor of the State. His “crime” was that he dared to report on July 30, 1973 the plight of teachers on a day that fell on the birthday of Diette Spiff, who was then 31 years old. On October 19, 1986, Newswatch editor, Dele Giwa was murdered with a parcel bomb in his Ikeja home.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, (CPJ) between 1992 and 2013, ten journalists had been murdered in Nigeria with motive for their elimination confirmed while nine others were killed without clear or confirmed motives. Those who were killed with motives include:  Enenche Akogwu of Channels TV who was murdered on January 20, 2012, in Kano; Zakariya Isa of Nigeria Television Authority killed on October 22, 2011 in Maiduguri; Sunday Gyang Bwede and Nathan S. Dabak of The Light Bearer who were both stabbed to death on April 24, 2010 in Jos.

Other victims include Bayo Ohu of  The Guardian who was assassinated on  September 20, 2009 in Lagos; Samson Boyi of  The Scope who died on November 5, 1999 in Adamawa State; Sam Nimfa-Jan of  Details magazine who was killed on  May 27, 1999 in Kafanchan; Fidelis Ikwuebe a Freelancer who was murdered on  April 18, 1999  in Anambra State; Okezie Amaruben of  Newsservice who was shot by police on September 2, 1998 in Enugu  and Tunde Oladepo of  The Guardian who was killed on February 26, 1998, in Abeokuta.

The nine with unconfirmed motives include: Ikechukwu Udendu of Anambra News killed on January 12, 2013 in Anambra State; Nansok Sallah of Highland FM murdered on January 18, 2012, in Jos; Edo Sule Ugbagwu of The Nation who was assassinated on April 24, 2010, in an area outside Lagos, and Eiphraim Audu of Nasarawa State Broadcasting Service who was murdered on October 16, 2008 in Lafia. Others are:  Paul Abayomi Ogundeji of ThisDay killed on August 16, 2008 in Dopemu, Lagos State; Godwin Agbroko also of ThisDay who was assassinated on December 22, 2006 in Lagos; Bolade Fasasi of National Association of Women Journalists murdered on March 31, 1999 in Ibadan; Chinedu Offoaro of The Guardian killed on May 1, 1996 and Baguda Kaltho of TheNEWS who was assassinated on March 1, 1996 in Kaduna. “Because no one has been convicted of the murder of the journalists, Nigeria is ranked 13th on the CPJ’s 2015 Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where the killers of journalists walk free.”

Even though there is still violence against journalists under the present civilian administration, the worst era for media practice in Nigeria was during the 29 years of military junta. In the hey days of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) when pro-democracy forces coalesce to demand for return to civil rule after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, many newspaper houses were proscribed and journalists hounded into exile. Some were even jailed. These include people like Kunle Ajibade of TheNEWS and Chris Anyawu of The Sunday Magazine (TSM). Alifa Daniel, a journalist with The Concord newspaper then had his face bathed with acid in Kogi State.

Even under this democratic rule, several journalists had been molested, arrested and detained while carrying out their official duties. Charles Eruka, a senior correspondent with Channels Television was stabbed while covering political campaign in Okrika, Rivers State in the lead up to the 2015 general elections. Some newspaper houses had also been attacked by the Boko Haram insurgents in Kaduna and Abuja with the most prominent one being when the Abuja office of ThisDay was bombed on April 26, 2012. Also in June 2014, Nigeria military blocked distribution of some newspapers and indeed seized thousands of copies of some others under the guise of acting on security threat.

Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution says “The Press, Radio, Television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives……. and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people” It would seem from the above analysis that performing this onerous responsibility is tantamount to embarking on suicide mission for Nigerian journalists who not only suffer physical violence in the course of their duties but are psychologically and structurally assaulted both by their employers and the society at large. This must stop forthwith!

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The non-implementation of Nigeria’s National Health Act

“Non-implementation of the National Health Act 2014 which provides for not less than one per cent Consolidated Revenue Fund as basic health care provision fund has further worsened the travail of the health sector particularly at the grass roots, where the greater burden of the health disease resides. It has also added to the financial burden of the citizens in their quest to seek quality health care which in most cases is non-existent”
Nigerian Medical Association President, Prof. Mike Ogirima
As part of activities lined up to mark the 2016 Annual Physicians’ Week, the leadership of Nigerian Medical Association staged a protest march last Wednesday, October 26, to press for the implementation of the National Health Act 2014. It has been two years since former President Goodluck Jonathan signed the bill into law in December 2014. Unfortunately, the Act has been observed in breach since then.

Worried by this ugly development, the NMA has threatened a lawsuit against the Federal Government as well as embark on a bi-weekly protest march to Aso Rock if nothing is done by President Muhammadu Buhari.  Those who followed the developments that led to the passage of the health bill will know that it was a long and tortuous journey. It was only signed into law after its second passage by the National Assembly.
It is noteworthy that the implementation of the Health Act is vital to achieving Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria.  According to the NMA president, over 70 per cent of health care expenditure in this country is borne out of pocket. The NMA is right to be very emotional and concerned about the non-implementation of this critical Act. Ours is a country with very huge health infrastructure challenges. There are no enough health facilities and manpower. Many of our medical equipment are obsolete and health centres operate below capacity. It is on record that the 772 primary health care centres in the country offer sub-optimal services due to poor funding.
Tunde Ajaja In a features story in the Saturday PUNCH of October 29, 2016, entitled, “One physician to 3,500 patients, yet Nigerian doctors beg for posting”, narrated how despite the World Health Organisation recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients, (1:600) available record showed that in Nigeria, it is one doctor to 3,500 patients (1:3,500). This shows that the country has a huge shortfall of its required number of doctors. By the WHO standard, Nigeria with an estimated   population of 180 million needs at least 300,000 medical doctors. With a ratio of 1:3,500, it means Nigeria currently has about 51,428 doctors. This implies that the nation currently has a deficit of about 248,572. Ajaja quoted the NMA president as saying that there were about 87,000 doctors on the association’s register, out of which about 45,000 were practising in Nigeria, while the remaining, which is almost half, were either outside the country or dead.  Given that significant human resource deficit at the moment, and with the fact that only about 4,355 fresh doctors are produced yearly, it may take the country well over 50 years to meet up with the standard. Heart-rending!
The National Health Act 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 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. If this Act is implemented, it will help to achieve some of the Sustainable Development Goals especially SDG3 which talks about Good Health and Well-being by 2030.
At present, Nigeria has the highest infant and maternal mortality in Africa. A Demographic Health Survey in 2013 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 Chairman, Board of Trustees, Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria, Benjamin Anyene, was quoted in 2014 as saying that the implementation of the Act would save the lives of three million women and children over a five-year period.  At present, over 5,000 Nigerians reportedly travel to India, the United Kingdom and the United States for treatment while on the average, over $800m is reportedly lost annually by Nigeria to medical tourism. In the view of the former supervising minister of health, Dr. Khalliru Alhassan, the National Health Act would cause government’s savings in health care delivery to rise from N17bn in 2015 to over N211bn in 2025 if fully implemented.
The ex-minister observed 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.” He concluded that “The multiplier effects of this will holistically manifest in increased life expectancy of Nigerians, as well as increased productivity. It is the one singular instrument required to unlock economic goodness and health to Nigerians.”
If the National Health Act has all the aforementioned benefits and prospects and is the magic wand to turn around the deplorable situation in our health sector, why is this administration paying a lip service to its implementation? Do we prefer the extant situation where Nigerians embark on medical pilgrimages to all parts of the world just to be treated of their diseases? That itself has now been made near impossible due to the scarcity of foreign exchange and the economic recession. Thus, many Nigerians now die avoidably for lack of affordable medicare. I lost a younger sister to the cold hands of death on May 19 this year due to the warning strike embarked on by resident doctors to press home for improved working conditions.
If we intend to stem the deplorable health care situation which has necessitated the sick going to prayer homes instead of hospitals, it is high time the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari made the implementation of the National Health Act 2014 a top priority.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Before FG reintroduces toll plazas in Nigeria

For some time now there have been heated debates on how Nigeria can fix her deplorable road network. Many are of the opinion that government is not doing enough to give Nigeria drivable roads. It is perceived as a double standard for the law to empower Vehicle Inspection Officers to certify vehicles road worthy and impound rickety ones from plying the road while relevant government ministries, departments and agencies are not held responsible for the bad roads which in no small measures contribute to damaging vehicles that drive on such roads. There have been several agencies set up to undertake road maintenance at federal, state and local government levels. I recall the existence of Public Works Department as an agency under Ministry of Works and Transport in the 60s. More recently, we have Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA). Yet, a trip on some Nigerian roads is like embarking on suicide mission given the depth of despoliation on such roads. They are filled with potholes, gullies and failed portions while many bridges on them are near collapse.

Many have attributed the state of disrepair of Nigerian roads to inadequate funding for their maintenance. Up until 2004 when the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo abolished tolling on Nigerian federal roads and ordered the demolition of the various toll plazas across the country, additional income for road maintenance was accruing to government coffers through them. It was alleged that toll gates were cesspool of corruption as civil servants manning the plazas were involved in all manner of racketeering ranging from issuing fake receipts to motorist to diverting money realised to private pockets. Also, it was a form of gatekeeping for unscrupulous members of security agencies like police and customs who extort money from road users. Toll gates also cause hold-ups and congestions on highways with heavy traffic.

Anyway, since the coming into office of this new administration last year, it has been toying with the idea of reintroducing tolling.  The government got the backing of Nigerian Senate last Tuesday, October 25, 2016 when it passed a motion for the reintroduction of toll gates on federal roads. Senator Suleiman Nazif from Bauchi North moved the motion titled ‘Need for the Re-establishment of Toll Gates on Our Federal Highways,’ during plenary. Nazif said the fees will be used to maintain federal roads and construct deplorable ones. Brilliant idea that is long overdue! However, before all the legislative and administrative paperwork are done, let’s spare some thoughts to audit our past failures in this respect. The big issue is:  Will Nigerians get value for the money they are going to be paying? How will government tame the monster of corruption that led to the scrapping of the policy in 2004?

Not all roads are toll worthy and not all thoroughfares should be tolled. First and foremost my concern in this write-up is with federal highways.  I know for a fact that states and Local Governments are also empowered by law to charge toll on roads under their authority. Even airports charge toll on streets within their operational areas. It would also be recalled that during the tenure of Babatunde Raji Fasola as Governor of Lagos State, he built toll plaza on Lekki Expressway. Road is a social infrastructure and as such ordinarily there should be no charge to using it. However, economic meltdown has compelled a paradigm shift necessitating a modest charge for road usage.

There are different models that can be adopted for road construction and maintenance financing. Three models that I wrote about in my column on this page on November 22, 2015 in an article entitled “Nigeria’s Deplorable Highways” involves public-private-partnership (PPP). A quote from the aforementioned piece will say it better:  “I think it is high time government looked more towards the BOT option. By this I mean the Build, Operate and Transfer whereby private companies are allowed to build the roads using their own funds which they will 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 while they also jointly manage it. Their investments will also be recovered through payment of tolls by the road users. Even government can engage private companies to manage its road networks for it. I mean roads that are currently wholly owned by the various tiers of government. 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.”

The good thing with the reintroduction of toll is the concomitant likelihood of reviving Nigeria’s comatose weigh-bridges. Many a time, I ask myself if there is any enforcement of carriage capacity for many of the articulated vehicles popularly called trailers that ply our roads. Very often you’ll see these long vehicles including Lorries and cars carrying twice the size of what they are designed for. Weigh bridges are meant to checkmate this disobedience. It was heartwarming to read that the Federal Government would reintroduce the use of weigh bridges on the nation’s highways. The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fasola made the disclosure recently while answering questions from newsmen during the Made in Nigeria Summit 2016 at the Eko Atlantic City in Lagos. He said government has commenced repairs of some of them pursuant to flag-off of enforcement order. Now, the link between the toll plaza and the weigh bridges is that the former accommodates the latter. Many weigh bridges are cited at the toll gates and that makes for easy enforcement of the policy.

As federal government plans to reintroduce tolling, it is imperative to make them fully automated in order to checkmate fraud and avoid congestion which are the twin challenges associated with manual operation. This will involve the procurement of hi-tech, digitised equipment and sensitization of road users on how to use the facility. Security agents that will be deployed there should also mind their business rather than turning them to goldmines for collecting ‘family support’ from   motorists. Proper accountability and transparency in the administration of toll plazas are the irreducible minimum requirement that Federal Government owes Nigerians. In whatever guise we may call it, this is additional taxation and Nigerians will want to see a safe, passable, smooth road network with appropriate traffic signs and lights.