Sunday, January 31, 2016

Dasukigate and the limitation of money politics

In November 2015, news broke that the Office of National Security Adviser un­der the leadership of Col. Sambo Dasu­ki (Retd.) has been used as a conduit pipe to fund the failed re-election bid of Pres­ident Goodluck Jonathan. It has been al­leged that part of the sum of $2.1bn meant for the procurement of arms and ammu­nition to fight insurgency, particularly in North East Nigeria was funneled into the presidential campaign of former President Jonathan in the lead up to the 2015 Gen­eral Elections. The Dasukigate otherwise known as Armsgate has thrown up many revelations. Aside the diversion of funds for election purpose, fraudulent arms contract deals have also been uncovered by the mil­itary audit panel set up by incumbent Presi­dent Muhammadu Buhari to look into arms procurement in the last eight years.
A January 15, 2016 press statement is­sued by Senior Special Assistant to Pres­ident Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said a number of of­fences were outlined by the military pan­el established to audit the procurement of arms and equipment in the Armed Forc­es and Defence sector from 2007 to 2015 against 17 top military brass, both serving and retired, as well as against certain other non-military individuals and companies. Such breaches as identified by the Audit Committee included “non-specification of procurement costs, absence of contract agreements, award of contracts beyond au­thorised thresholds, transfer of public funds for unidentified purposes and general non-adherence to provisions of the Public Pro­curement Act.” It added that “the procure­ment processes were arbitrarily carried out and generally characterised by irregulari­ties and fraud. In many cases, the procured items failed to meet the purposes they were procured for, especially the counter insur­gency efforts in the North East.”
On the political angle, billions of Naira was also allegedly distributed by Col. Das­uki as National Security Adviser for political patronage. In his Statement of Witness/Ac­cused Person reportedly filed in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory and published in The Nation newspaper of De­cember 14, 2015, the NSA purportedly ad­mitted to have handed N10bn given to Peo­ples Democratic Party presidential primary convention delegates to former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs, Waripamowei Duda­fa and the Aide-de-Camp. He reportedly said the money was given out by the two aides, on the directive of Dr. Jonathan. The ex-NSA was also alleged to have author­ised the payment of N380m for further disbursement to members of the House of Representatives as campaign contribution.
The newspaper equally quoted the for­mer NSA, now on trial for corruption, to have said that: “In respect of funds given to Amb. Bashir Yuguda between December 2014 and 2015, I authorised the payment of N1.5bn from the Office of the National Se­curity Adviser for political campaign in the last elections. I remember paying DAAR Communications the sum of N2.120bn from ONSA for media activities for the Presidential Campaign 2015.”
Indeed, some of those who collected the monies have admitted. They include Chief Olu Falae, chairman of the Social Demo­cratic Party who admitted to have collect­ed N100m for his party to mo­bilise support for the re-elec­tion bid of Pres­ident Jonathan. Former Governor Rashi­di Ladoja of Oyo State who is a leader of Accord Party has also admitted receiving N100m on behalf of his party for similar purpose. The National Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh is also standing trial for collecting a sum of N400m from ONSA for undis­closed business. Even former PDP chair­man, Haliru Bello and his son Abba Bello have been arraigned in court for collecting the sum of N300m from same source. De­tails of the fraudulent disbursements is still unraveling with several persons and com­panies already charged to court for collect­ing largess from the ONSA.
However, the most instructive lesson from all of these sordid details unfolding is the limit of money in ensuring elector­al victory. It would be recalled that on De­cember 20, 2014 ahead of the 2015 Gener­al Elections, PDP orgainsed a fundraising dinner where a princely sum of N21.3bn was garnered. This huge sum, we are told, are to be expended on the election cam­paign of former President Goodluck Jon­athan as well as party administration. This is aside the supposed N12bn allegedly real­ised from sales of expression of interest and nomination forms from aspirants wanting to contest on the platform of PDP in 2015.
It is most unfortunate that with all these humongous resources deployed into the last general elections; PDP suffered its worst defeat in 16 years. The party not only lost the presidential seat to the hith­erto opposition All Progressives Congress, it also lost its majority in the Senate, House of Representatives, governorship and the State Houses of Assembly.
A number of companies have also dragged the former ruling party to court for defaulting in paying for rendered ser­vices. For instance, The PUNCH of Janu­ary 12, 2016 reported that an Abuja-based firm, Twinkle Nigeria Limited, has sued the Peoples Democratic Party and some mem­bers of the party’s 2015 presidential cam­paign committee for their alleged failure to pay a N350m fee for the job it executed for them. Earlier, a company, Silon Con­cepts Limited had sued the PDP and Ah­madu Ali before the High Court of the FCT last year for their alleged refusal to pay it an outstanding N70m balance of the cost of the services it rendered during the Jon­athan campaign.
The misfortune of PDP in spite of the fi­nancial war chest it deployed to prosecut­ing the 2015 elections is a pointer to the fact that there are other variables beyond money that guaranteed electoral success. It will also be interesting to see the content of election expenses report of PDP to the In­dependent National Electoral Commission as stipulated in S. 92 (3) and election contri­butions report as specified in S. 93 (4) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is Buhari’s anti-corruption war a ruse?

The magic wand that secured President Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral victory in the March 28, 2015 presidential election was his anti-corruption antecedents and pledges. While he was a Head of State between January 1, 1984 and August 27, 1985, he set up several military tribunals to summarily try elected politicians of the Second Republic (1979 – 1983). Many of them were found guilty of graft and abuse of office and sentenced to long years of imprisonment. The electorate in 2015 wanted change from the deepening rot in governance and decided to vote for a man who they perceived had done it before and who had promised to do it again. That was how Buhari, on his fourth attempt as presidential candidate, was able to do the impossible in Nigerian history by defeating an incumbent President!
President Buhari has been in the saddle for the past eight months and expectations are high. Since his inauguration on May 29, 2015, Mr. President has taken a number of bold steps aimed at fighting corruption. They include the sacking of some purportedly corrupt heads of some government agencies such as Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, among others. He also decided to enforce the Treasury Single Account initiated by his immediate predecessor in office. He has also been junketing across the globe seeking help and signing bilateral and multilateral agreements with some countries for the repatriation of the country’s stolen wealth.
Just last week Tuesday, January 19, he signed the Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal and Commercial Matters treaty, which will allow the United Arab Emirates government return monies hidden or invested in banks and real estates in the country. Since his second coming, all the anti-corruption agencies have become energised. Many past and present political office holders including ex-governors, lawmakers, ministers, commissioners and indeed a former National Security Adviser had been dragged to court to answer corruption charges.
We heard that some former top government officials have, of their own accord, decided to return part of their loot to government coffers. Nigerians await the official announcement of how much has been voluntarily returned, who collected the returned loot and where it is being kept. While it may be true that this administration, through its anti-corruption agencies, has charged many to court for corruption, it has been doing much of media trial than actual prosecution. Furthermore, very vital documents which should have been used to prosecute those arrested for corruption are finding their way into the public through various media outlets. There have been much of name-calling, labelling, spurious statistics of corrupt officials and how much they stole being bandied around.
Take for instance the recent alarm raised by the Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that 55 well-placed Nigerians stole a whopping N1.34tn between 2006 and 2013. At a press conference he addressed in Abuja on Monday, January 18, to mark the beginning of the war against corruption in Nigeria, the minster was quoted as saying that, “Out of the stolen funds, 15 former governors stole N146.84bn; four former ministers took N7bn; 12 former public servants both at federal and state levels stole over N14bn; eight other Nigerians in the banking sector made away with N524bn, while 11 businessmen cornered N653bn.” How reliable are these figures? These are mere allegations that have yet to be proved in court. Moreover, they are sweeping statements devoid of details of the identities of those being accused.
Now, for a government that says it’s committed to fighting corruption, I found it difficult to reconcile that stance with the humongous amount allocated to the State House in this year’s budget. How on earth can a supposed austere government justify the purported increment of the capital budget of the Presidency from N4.3bn in 2015 to N19bn this year? What defence has the Presidency for voting a whopping N15bn as security vote; N3.2bn for the State House Medical Centre; N5bn for the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System; N3.63bn for purchase of BMW saloon cars; and N800m for a website, to mention but a few? Why is the Buhari administration sustaining the profligate legacy of the past administration by voting monies for sponsorship of pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia and Israel?
A government that was voted to power on the mantra of change cannot rule the way of it predecessors and expect people to believe that it is different. Albert Einstein said it is insane to do things the same way and expect a different outcome. Given that a chunk of the 2016 budget will be financed through loans, then I expect to see none of those ridiculous and incredible budget sub-heads. If at all there is any justification for them to be there, under this zero-based budgeting, I do not expect the mind-blowing sums earmarked for them.
To expose the wrong priorities of this present administration, while increasing the budget for the Presidency, the total vote for nine anti-corruption agencies is put at a mere N27bn according to The Nation of January 12, 2016. The newspaper reported that, “The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, for instance, had about N13.8bn allocated to it in 2011. It suffered a decline to N10.6bn in 2012, N9.8bn in 2013, N10.2bnin 2014 and N10.4bn last year. The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission received N3.6bn in 2011, N4bn in 2012, N4.5bn in 2013, N4.6bn in 2014 and N4.9bn last year. For the Code of Conduct Bureau, it was N1.4bn in 2011, N3.9bn in 2012, N2.9bn in 2013, N2.8bn in 2014 and N2.3bn last year. The Code of Conduct Tribunal was allocated N359.6m in 2011, N461.2m in 2012, N517.1m in 2013, N512.6m in 2014 and N806.9m last year. The Fiscal Responsibility Commission got N336.8m budget last year; the Bureau of Public Procurement had N1bn and so did the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The Public Complaints Commission had N2.5bn and the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation had N3.2bn.”
The Chairman, ICPC, Mr. Nta Ekpo, was reported to have cried out that the anti-graft agency had been unable to successfully carry out its statutory responsibility of fighting corruption due to insufficient funds. Nta stated this on Friday, January 15, 2016 when he hosted members of the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes headed by Senator Chukwuka Utazi in his office. The ICPC boss reportedly told his visitors that the yearly budget of his agency was insufficient to carry out its responsibilities and fight corruption. He said, “In 2015, the commission proposed N9.5bn, but N4.9bn was appropriated, while N4.2bn was released. Note the differentials between the amount budgeted and actual release.
If the anti-corruption agencies of government are starved of funds, how can this administration win the war against the monster? I laughed at the recent order by the new Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs Service, Hameed Ali, and Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Burutai, that all their personnel should declare their assets. While it may be a good idea, the question is: What follows? How will the CCB whose mandate is to verify these declared assets go about that operation in the face of dwindling financial resources for its operations? This administration, if it is serious about fighting corruption, should have ensured that the anti-corruption agencies are well-resourced starting from this 2016. It needs be emphasised that this administration will be judged, not on the number of media trials it conducted or indeed number of persons charged to court for prosecution but the number of persons convicted.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The unfair treatment of SIECs

Election is very central to democracy and there are two election management bodies saddled with that Herculean responsibility in Nigeria. They are the Independent National Electoral Commission and State Independent Electoral Commission. Both were established by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended in 2010. While INEC takes care of elections into the office of the President, Senate, House of Representatives, Governor, State Houses of Assembly and the six Area Councils of the Federal Capital Territory; on the other hand, SIECs are to conduct elections into the offices of the Local Government chairman and councilors. Section 197 of the Nigerian Constitution says that each state shall establish its own State Independent Electoral Commission.

The idea behind the establishment of SIECs is to ensure that INEC is not overburdened and that in tandem with our federal structure states are empowered to take responsibilities for the conduct of elections into LGAs which are under their direct supervision. In fact, some scholars are of the opinion that Nigeria has a warped federal structure due to too much centralisation. For instance, in the United States of America, though there is a Federal Election Commission, its job is to administer and enforce federal campaign finance laws and not to conduct elections as that is essentially the responsibilities of each state. Thus, since there is a state judiciary, state tax board, state civil service, state sports council, there is nothing wrong with having a state electoral management board.

Many people have accused SIECs of conducting fraudulent elections and have therefore argued for their disbandment. Their functions, they suggested, should be taken over by INEC. What such people do not know or choose to ignore is that ‘cutting off the head is not the solution to a headache’. The challenges being faced by these electoral commissions are daunting and need to be addressed. Some of the problems of SIECs include the overbearing influence of the state chief executives, that is, the governors on the commission; inadequate funding for its activities; dearth of technical know-how on a complex and complicated exercise like election; and partisanship.

The first challenge SIECs face as highlighted above is the undue meddlesomeness in their activities by the governors. They are disbanded at will and are not properly funded to conduct elections into local government when they fall due. At present, many SIECs have had to severally postpone elections into their LGAs due to lack of funds for them to do so. As against the letter and spirit of Section 7 of the constitution which says that local government should be democratically governed, many state governors rather than funding their SIECs to conduct elections took the unconstitutional options of appointing caretaker committees and sole administrators to run them. This is a setback for democratic consolidation.  

Second, most of the SIECs are manned by versatile and accomplished persons from various fields of human endeavours. Among them are professors, justices, permanent secretaries, ambassadors, engineers, architects, etcetera. Good as these is, they lack the technical depth of election management. Arising from lack of proper funding, there is no resource made available to them to go for training in election administration courses and for those who are supported to go for these trainings, they could not practice what they have learnt as they are unable to apply such newly learnt skills to conducting their own elections. In addition, in some of the states, the SIECs are not adequately staffed. Beyond the board comprising the chairman and between five to seven commissioners which the Constitution stipulates in the Third Schedule and a handful of key staff, other personnel are on secondment from state ministries and cannot be said to be permanent staff of the commission.  Many of them are posted out immediately after the elections. This lack of permanence robs them of opportunity to garner needed experience on election administration.

The crises of confidence that have led to boycott of local government elections in many states is the allegation of partisanship against some of the board members of SIECs by the opposition political parties. This has resulted into litany of litigations. Opposition political parties accuse governors of appointing members of their parties as SIEC board members against the express provision of Section 200 (1)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution which states that they should not be members of any political parties. If this accusation is true, it will erode the trust and confidence that the actors and stakeholders in the electoral process should have in the EMB.

Now, it needs be understood that all the aforementioned challenges are not insurmountable if there is a political will to do so. In fact, INEC was in a similar quagmire until 2010 when a combination of legal and administrative reforms as well as appointment of credible electoral board members under the leadership of Prof. Attahiru Jega was made. The 2010 constitutional and electoral amendment gave INEC the much needed administrative and financial independence. INEC is now among the government institutions whose funding is a first line charge on the consolidated revenue fund. This is needful for SIECs too.

In addition, INEC at present enjoys a lot of technical support from the international donor agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development, United Kingdom Agency for International Development, Open Society Initiative for West Africa, European Union, Frederich Ebert Stiftung, United Nations Development Programme including several embassies. While a couple of these development partners have offered some technical support to few of the SIECs, majority of them do not consider the EMB important for their aid. This is a wrong assumption. Democracy begins from the grassroot and local government is the closest governance level to the people in the communities. Support to SIECs in form of capacity building for their staff, voter education, research and documentation, procurement of Information Communication Technology gadgets needed for election management, election planning  and election security will go a long way to improving the credibility of elections into the local government areas.

Finally, the onus is on state governors to let SIECs perform their statutory functions unfettered. They should ensure that SIECs under them are well resourced in terms of equipment, manpower and funding to enable them conduct local government elections as at when due. They should desist from arbitrarily dissolving SIEC boards and dictating electoral outcomes to their election managers.
Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Nigeria's theiving military elite

Fifty years ago, on January 15, 1966, the Nigerian military staged the first coup in the country led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. Last Friday, January 15, was this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day. President Muhammadu Buhari and top military officers and other high ranking government officials marked the day in Abuja with the laying of wreaths in honour of the “unknown soldiers” who fought gallantly to keep Nigeria united. There were prayers for the repose of their souls, the release of pigeons as well as fundraisers for the legionnaires. One of the key reasons the five Majors, the masterminds of the January 15, 1966 coup, took over the rein of government from the elected civilians of the First Republic, is corruption. They accused the politicians of graft, nepotism, election rigging among other vices.
Over the years, Nigerian military elite ruled for an added period of 28 years out of the country’s cumulative 56 years of nationhood. In fact, this Fourth Republic has been the longest that civil rule has been sustained. From 1999 to date, Nigeria has had five general elections in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. Truth be told, military credentials in governance have been worse than those of the civilians they torpedoed in 1966, 1983, and 1993. The soldiers were never accountable to the public, did not have respect for the rule of law; no checks and balances; and governed by proclamation via decrees and edicts and were bigger thieves than their civilian counterparts. Even if none of their thieving had been proved in any court of law, the one committed by the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, is on record as being preposterous, mind-blowing and unprecedented. Till date, some of the stolen funds traced to Abacha are still being returned to the country’s coffers 18 years after his mysterious demise in 1998.
If the esprit-de- corps of the military did not allow the Nigerian public to have irrefutable facts about their looting of government treasuries, the recent armsgate or better still Dasukigate has given the Nigerian public irrefragable facts about the military elites’ penchant for stealing. In the last few weeks, the media have been regaling the world with how a whopping $2.1bn meant for procurement of arms and ammunition to combat insurgency had been diverted for personal aggrandisement and electioneering. At the epicentre of this whole corruption scandal is the immediate past National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.).
The hen has come home to roost. It is now patently clear why Dasuki went to Chatham House early last year to call for the postponement of the February 2015 General Elections using the Independent National Electoral Commission’s unpreparedness as an alibi. Dasuki said INEC had not distributed enough Permanent Voter Cards and as such should postpone the polls. Meanwhile, as of the time he said that, about 20 Local Government Areas were under the control of Boko Haram terrorists. He never made an issue of that. Even when Prof. Attahiru Jega, then INEC chairman, said they were ready to go ahead with the elections, Dasuki wrote to the INEC leadership that the security agencies would not be able to guarantee security for the polls because of the counterinsurgency operations going on in the North-East.
Yes, the six weeks postponement afforded INEC time to better its earlier shoddy preparations. However, recent revelations have shown that most of the monies doled out to opposition political parties like the Accord Party and Social Democratic Party as well as some of the chieftains of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party were made during those six-week period. It can thus be said that though the ostensible reason for the shift of polls was INEC’s unpreparedness, the actual reason was to buy time and use slush funds to get former President Goodluck Jonathan back to power. Indeed, the “removal” of President Muhammadu Buhari’s academic certificates and military credentials from his military file was to get the former Head of State technically disqualified by the courts. Had that been achieved, Jonathan would have won the 2015 presidential election and the current armsgate would never have blown open as it would have been treated in the usual PDP way as a “family affair”.
Now the jigsaw puzzle has fallen into places. While a chunk of the funds meant for the purchase of the arms to fight insurgents were diverted for illegal election, the larger part was spent to buy obsolete weapons at highly inflated prices. A statement issued on Friday, January 15, 2016 by the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said a number of offences were outlined by the military panel established to audit the procurement of arms and equipment in the Armed Forces and the defence sector from 2007 to 2015 against 17 top military brass, both serving and retired, as well as against certain other non-military individuals and companies.
Such breaches as identified by the audit committee included “non-specification of procurement costs; absence of contract agreements; award of contracts beyond authorised thresholds; transfer of public funds for unidentified purposes and general non-adherence to provisions of the Public Procurement Act.” It added that “the procurement processes were arbitrarily carried out and generally characterised by irregularities and fraud. In many cases, the procured items failed to meet the purposes they were procured for, especially the counterinsurgency efforts in the North-East.”
Shehu stated further that the Nigeria Air Force capriciously bought non-recommended helicopters at vey exorbitant prices. Besides, the helicopters were not even air worthy. The report also revealed that under the former Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall Adesola Amosu, the NAF bought four Alpha Jets also at inflated prices but of the number, only two were delivered. The NAF also reportedly paid out over N4.402bn for contracts not executed. The audit committee was said to have uncovered insider dealings by military officers in procurement activities undertaken by the Office of the National Security Adviser and the NAF. The officers were found to have misused or abused their offices for personal gains by influencing award of contracts to private companies in which they have substantial interests. The First Interim Report of the Committee on Audit of Defence Equipment established that the sum of N643bn and $2.1bn interventions were received for defence procurements by the Defence Headquarters and the services between 2007 and 2015. Shehu’s statement said of this sum, the nation spent N29bn and $2bn on the NAF procurement activities alone.
Given the highlighted sharp practices and malpractices, any wonder Nigeria has failed woefully to win the war against insurgency? How would we have won when the sustenance of that insurrection is the conduit and honey pot for top military brass of Nigeria? I am in agreement with human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, that all those court-marshalled and dismissed for mutiny and desertion in the Nigerian Army should be granted state pardon and reinstated into the armed forces. It is the thieving military elite that should be court-marshalled and also prosecuted in civil courts. They should be made to forfeit their loot to the Federal Government. I await the report of the audit panel on the procurement for the Nigerian Navy to fight militancy in the Niger Delta. But for the 2010 amnesty programme which led to about 60,000 militants laying down their arms, the relative peace in the Niger Delta region would have been a mirage as the so-called Joint Task Force were just unwilling to decisively prosecute that campaign, probably for the same reasons the Nigerian Air Force sabotaged the insurgency war in the North-East.
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Monday, January 18, 2016

Nigeria's 2016 budget of fraud and self-aggrandisement

As at the time of writing this piece last Thursday, the Federal Government 2016 budget presented to the Nation­al Assembly on December 22, 2015 have been reported missing by the Senate. My initial re­action is that this must be a crude joke. Howev­er, when Senate President had to set up a com­mittee to find the missing document, reality dawned on me. This is incredible and prepos­terous! How can a sensitive document like a nation’s appropriation bill develop wings and flew away from the hallowed chamber of the Senate? On Wednesday, January 13, House of Representatives Speaker, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara asked Clerk of the House to display the House’s copy of the budget.
The FG 2016 budget has been a subject of intense controversies since it was presented late last year. For me, the document is a mixed grill of the good, the bad and the ugly. In par­agraph six of his budget speech delivered by President Muhammadu Buhari, he stated: “This Budget proposal, the first by our Gov­ernment, seeks to stimulate the economy, making it maore competitive by focusing on infrastructural development; delivering in­clusive growth; and prioritising the welfare of Nigerians. We believe that this budget, while helping industry, commerce and investment to pick up, will as a matter of urgency, address the immediate problems of youth unemploy­ment and the terrible living conditions of the extremely poor and vulnerable Nigerians.” Re­ally?
In paragraph 17, PMB said his government adopted “a zero based budgeting approach, which ensures that resources are aligned with government’s priorities and allocated efficient­ly. This budgeting method, a clear departure from previous budgeting activities, will opti­mise the impact of public expenditure.” We shall soon see if this is true.
Some of the good things I found in the budget proposals are as follows: pursuit of macroeconomic stability by achieving a real GDP growth rate of 4.37 per cent and man­aging inflation. This is to be done by align­ing fiscal, monetary, trade and industrial pol­icies. Ratio of capital to recurrent expenditure is also reported to be 30:70. This is unprece­dented!
Am also thrilled by FG plan to partner with State and Local Governments to recruit, train and deploy 500,000 unemployed grad­uates and NCE holders. Equally laudable is the intention of the FG to provide financial training and loans to market women, traders and artisans, through their cooperative soci­eties. Also, the plan to work through the of­fice of the Vice President with various devel­opment partners to design an implementable and transparent conditional cash transfer pro­gramme for the poorest and most vulnerable.
Many public commentators, including my­self, have since queried how the FG intends to fund all these laudable programmes. Pay­ing 500,000 teachers alone will almost con­sume the entire budget, let alone the free meal for public primary school pupils and payment of the N5, 000 social security benefits to the unemployed as promised by the APC during the presidential campaign. Another poser to the president is: when is the commencement date of these goodies or freebies? What will be the cost sharing formula among the three tiers of government and have the states and lo­cal governments made provisions in the 2016 budget for their share? How are we sure that these laudable programmes will not be abused by those to be saddled with implementation? These are genuine fears as N1.84tn will be sourced from local and foreign borrowings.
Indeed, the N820bn oil re­lated revenue ex­pected in 2016 was based on wrong assump­tion that oil will sell at $38 per barrel. A barrel of crude oil at present sells below $30. Even the non-oil revenues of N1.45tn comprising Company Income Tax, VAT, Customs and Excise du­ties, and Federation Account levies, as well as N1.51tn from independent revenues may altogether not be realised unless the leakag­es in the country’s revenue system is proper­ly sealed.
The ugliest and most painful thing about the 2016 financial estimates is the waste and ostentatious lifestyles it tends to guarantee for ‘people in government’. My friend and fellow columnist, Eze Onyekpere who is also the Lead Director of Centre for Social Jus­tice, Abuja in an article entitled “Of Buha­ri’s 2016 budget of frivolities (1)” published in The PUNCH of Monday, January 11, 2016, exposed some of the ridiculous spending fed­eral government intends to make in this year.
At the State House Headquarters: the sum of N107.252m is earmarked for welfare pack­ages; N89.172m for the purchase of Canteen/Kitchen Equipment and N764.671m for con­struction/provisions of recreational facilities. Furthermore, the sum of N1, 652,416,807 is provided for rehabilitation and repairs of elec­tricity; N326, 084,876 is for wildlife conserva­tion while N268, 900,000 is for computer soft­ware acquisition. Again, N387, 980,200 is for general renovation of “the guest house” while a princely sum of N45m is for complete fur­nishing of the entire rooms in the guest house.
The sum of N272, 646,891 is for the upgrad­ing of mechanical and electrical underground power line supplies to the State House whilst N322, 421,971 is for linking of cable to driver’s rest room at Villa admin. N213, 873,953 is for linking of cable from guest house No.9 Gener­ator House to Gate. The sum of N618, 604,265 is for the installation of electrical light­ings and fittings in the State House, whilst N191, 592,132 is for electrical installation of distribution boards and other cables. N3.63bn is set aside for the purchase of BMW saloon cars; N158m is for the purchase of 33-seat­er coaster buses, while N204m is for the pur­chase of 16-seater Toyota Hiace coaster buses.
For the SGF, the sum of N823, 267,218 is for welfare packages; N1, 710,322,610 for the purchase of security equipment whilst N396, 795,997 is for rehabilitation and repairs of electrical components. N115bn (no break­down) is earmarked for the National Assem­bly. All the above did not include the billions to be used to maintain the 10 aircrafts or more in the Presidential Fleet.
This government is setting aside humon­gous amount for welfare packages, wildlife con­servation and recreational facilities as well as wanting to buy exotic cars at ridiculous sums of money thereby depleting our lean foreign exchange. Given the above scenario, can it be said that this current administration is differ­ent from the past ones?
•Jide is the Executive Director of OJA De­velopment Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter @jideojong

Thursday, January 14, 2016

CBN policy banning sale of forex to BDCs

I write to commend the Monday, January 11, 2016 CBN decision to stop the sale of foreign exchange to the Bureau De Change operators and the lifting of ban on bank customers who hitherto had been barred from depositing foreign currencies in their domiciliary accounts. I am of the opinion that these steps have been long overdue. I think CBN ought to have stopped the sales of FOREX to BDCs long ago given the fact that it was not an international best practice, in fact Nigeria is the only country where such is done worldwide. Second, the BDC in spite of the CBN noble intention had refused to support the stabilisation of the Naira. Rather, they are blinded by their own personal ambition for super profit.

Imagine a situation where they buy Dollars at about N197 per dollar only and  sell same to ordinary Nigerians  at N250 per dollar or more. No wonder, as CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele observed that there was an exponential increase in the number of those seeking to obtain BDC operating licence with close to 150 fresh requests every month. Today the number of operators has risen from a mere 74 in 2005 to 2,786 as at January 2016. This is despite the CBN policy in 2014 that the BDCs should recapitalise from N10 million to N35 million and in addition make a mandatory caution deposit of N35 million, also from initial N10 million. This ought to have shown CBN long ago that the BDCs are playing games with the FOREX purchased from the apex bank, more so as Naira continued a free fall in spite of the initial devaluation. Information has it that Nigeria foreign reserve had lost about $3.8 billion since mid-last year when CBN announced a recovery to $31.8 billion.

On the lifting of ban on deposit of FOREX into bank customer’s domiciliary account, this is equally laudable.  The ban has caused untold hardship on genuine bank customers who are not involved in the sharp practices CBN governors mentioned in his press statement.

What is needful at this point in time is for CBN to strengthen its monitoring and evaluation unit and ensure that both the BDCs and bank customers operating domiciliary accounts are not allowed to abuse its policies any longer. As it has indicated, the CBN should deploy more resources to monitoring the autonomous sources BDCs are to procure their FOREX to ensure that no operator is in violation of our anti-money laundering laws.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja

The electoral bloodbath in Bayelsa

“Sadly, however, the election was conducted at the price of several lives lost and mayhem visited on many communities by mindless brigands clearly summoned by those who do not respect the democratic process and have equally scant regard for the sanctity of lives and property”
– Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State in a press statement on January 10, 2016
I am saddened, and greatly grieved, by the electoral bloodbath in Bayelsa State last weekend. How come a civil exercise metamorphosed into a war? Are Nigerian politicians ready for democracy? Can it be truly said that politicians contest elections in this clime to serve? How long shall we continue to shed human blood on the altar of elections? Will the victims of electoral war in Nigeria ever get justice? Will the arrowheads and masterminds of the January 9 and 10, 2016 electoral violence in the state ever get caught and prosecuted for this heinous crime against humanity? So many questions begging for answers.
The Independent National Electoral Commission had done the needful by giving a fair chance to the registered voters in Baylesa State to choose their governor for the next four years. It mobilised scarce financial resources to prepare for the election. It sought help from the security agencies including the armed forces to help secure the environment and provide logistical support given the difficult topography of the largely riverine state. The electoral body, aside from conducting extensive voter education and peace education, even rallied the 20 political parties and their candidates to sign a peace accord on November 10, 2015. The political gladiators gladly did but as it turned out, they observed the peace pact in breach.

Ahead of the January 9 supplementary election in Southern Ijaw and about 106 other Polling Units spread across six local governments except Opokuma/Kolokuma, there were cases of kidnappings, bombings, harassment, hate speeches, wild allegations and all forms of underhand tactics by the two dominant political parties and candidates in the race, that is, the Peoples Democratic Party whose candidate is the incumbent governor, Dickson and the All Progressives Congress whose candidate is former governor Timipre Sylva. Among those kidnapped were the centenarian mother of the running mate to Sylva, Elder Wilberforce Igiri and the younger sister to the governor, Nancy Keme Dickson. The younger brother to the deputy governor-elect, Pastor Beinmopre Jonah, was assaulted by unknown gunmen last week and is currently on a danger list in the hospital. In the early hours of Thursday, January 7, there was a bomb attack on the house of the Speaker, Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Mr. Konbowei Benson, in Korokorosie, Southern Ijaw LGA.
About five persons were reportedly murdered in the lead up to and during the inconclusive December 5, 2015 election while this newspaper on January 10, 2016 reported that more than 10 people were allegedly killed in the supplementary election. They include four policemen, two soldiers and about six civilians. Additional six persons were also reportedly shot dead in a post-election gun battle between supporters of the PDP and the APC in Peremabiri community of Southern Ijaw. Also gunned and mortally injured was the Paramount Ruler of the community, Chief Progress Neverdie. Senator Ben Murray Bruce said some of the innocent victims included Nicholas Sampson, Oweiga Clement, Opiriye Iyala, Princewill Takubo.
In its preliminary report on the supplementary election released on January 11, the Transition Monitoring Group observed high levels of violence in many of the polling units. The group said, “Widespread instances of ballot box snatching, damage of ballots and stealing of ballot papers hindered the counting and announcement of results at many PUs in Southern Ijaw.” The madness did not spare the accredited observer groups as the TMG claimed that the high level of harassment and intimidation meted out to its observers made it impossible for them to fully observe elections in Ekeremor, Nembe and Southern Ijaw.
There are several implications of the Bayelsa bloodbath on the electoral process. One of them is the voter apathy it generated. INEC called for supplementary poll in areas where elections could not hold or election results were cancelled due to anomalies on December 5. Southern Ijaw Local Government Area has 17 wards, 425 PUs and 120,827 registered voters. An additional 38,000 registered voters in 106 PUs across six Local Governments of Brass, Ekeremor, Nembe, Sagbama, Yenagoa and Ogbiawere also provided opportunity to participate in the election. Thus, a total of 158, 827 were to take part in the supplementary election of last Saturday. Unfortunately, only about a quarter of that voting population came out to vote in the election.
Even overall, about 30 per cent voter turnout was recorded. According to the Returning Officer, Prof. Zana Akpagu, the total number of registered voters in Bayelsa State is 654,493, while 242,114 voters were accredited for the election. 232,167 votes were cast with 225,520 being the number of valid votes, while a total of 6,647 votes were rejected.
Another implication of the bloody poll is that Governor Seriake Dickson’s victory at the poll is tainted. It’s a pyrrhic victory. It also shows that politicians are not to be trusted. The APC and the PDP that were the major actors in this theatre of electoral war were part of those who signed the peace deal ahead of the election. Were they compelled to do so? The enormous financial cost borne by Nigerian taxpayers who funded INEC and security agents who synergised to conduct the election should also be factored in. Did Bayelsans and indeed Nigerians get the value for the money spent on the election? INEC and other government properties destroyed by political hooligans will still be replaced by public fund. Who then is the loser?
I am of the opinion that the security agents did not live up to expectation in Bayelsa. If indeed after more than a month given it by INEC to perfect its act and provide solid security for the conduct of the supplementary poll, and in spite of deploying about 5,000 security officials for the election, there was still a lot of bloodletting, then their performance leaves much to be desired.
In sum, let me quickly react to the claim of Mr. Dennis Otiotio (APC Bayelsa agent) who alleged that INEC erred by returning Dickson as the winner of the election despite an alleged 53,000 cancelled votes when the difference between the governor and Sylva was 48,146 votes. He quoted Section 26 of the Electoral Act 2010 to back his claim. He was being clever by half. He should go and read sections 26 (4) and 53 (4) of the Act which gives INEC discretionary power to overlook such and order returns to be made. The APC rather than heating up the polity should gather necessary materials and proceed to the Election Petition Tribunal where it can legitimately ventilate its grievances up till the Supreme Court.
One thing that must not be waved off is the need for security agents in collaboration with INEC to identify, arrest and prosecute the masterminds of the electoral mayhem in Bayelsa. If that is not done, impunity will fester and mind you, INEC has 78 court ordered re-runs to conduct this year alone and that is aside the gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo later this year. The right signal thus needs to be sent to the perpetrators of violence that it will not go unpunished.
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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Bridging the 17 million Nigeria housing deficit

Government will lead the aggressive intervention to increase supply, by undertaking construction of public housing and formulate policies that will invariably lead to private sector participation and ownership to reduce our housing deficit. – Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fasola (SAN) in his inaugural ministerial press briefing on December 8, 2015.

According to the renowned American Psychologist, Abraham Harold Maslow in his hierarchy of needs theory, there are some basic physiological needs of human beings. Of these, three are basic. They are food, shelter and clothing.  In Nigeria, there is an estimated 17 million housing deficits. It must be stated that most of the shortages are in the urban centres. Little wonder some Nigerians live under bridges and some ramshackle makeshift contraptions just to shield them from the inclement weather and protect them from potential dangers. It is the dream of many Nigerians to cease being tenants and own their homes. While some realise this lifelong ambition, many do not.

The challenges of owing private homes in Nigeria are many. The first major one is land acquisition. Land Use Act of 1978 in section 1 says: “Subject to the provisions of this Act, all land comprised in the territory of each State in the Federation are hereby vested in the Governor of that State and such land shall be held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians in accordance with the provisions of this Act.” Vesting land proprietary in governors or government and making it as part of our Constitution have been viewed as a great impediment to availability and affordability of houses to Nigerians.

According to Vanguard of August 6, 2013, some of the experts have this to say about access to land in Nigeria.  An Estate Surveyor and Valuer, Mr. Stephen Jagun was quoted as saying that “there would be no meaningful growth in the real sector if land continues to be under the firm grips of state governors.” According to him, “Land has become so expensive because unlike what used to obtain, you could buy a piece of land from either the community, an individual or from even a company and you go and register that title at the Land Registry. Once it is registered, it becomes a bankable document. Today, it is not so; you go and pay the usual fee and you take the document that they give to you and the survey plan to the government who will then issue you a certificate of occupancy, C of O.”  He went further: “At the end of it all, it is just double payment, and the C of O is a document that one waits ages for. The whole process has failed. The Military which promulgated the Land Use Decree said the reason they did so was to make land accessible to more Nigerians than before. But from our own experience, the reverse has been the case.”

The Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, NIQS, Mr. Olayemi Shonubi however was of the opinion  that whether the Land Use Act remains in the Constitution or not, what is important is that land should be easily accessible to those who are genuinely interested in investing in housing production. The newspaper quoted him as saying that “Beyond the legalistic issue of how long it takes to amend an Act that is part of the Constitution, most states particularly Lagos, Ogun, Rivers and FCT Abuja are charging outrageous amounts of money as consent fees and transfer of mortgages because they view land as their own black gold and a resource they must maximise to boost their internally generated revenues.”

That apart, there is also the contentious issue of quackery in procurement of land titles. Many unscrupulous elements in government’s Ministry of Lands and Housing and their outside collaborators issue fake land title deeds to unsuspecting members of the public. This has caused a lot of tension and litigations on many acquired lands. Beyond government and its officials, there are also a lot of sharp practices and malpractices on the part of traditional land owners popularly called ‘Omo Onile’ among the Yorubas. They sell same plot of land to several persons. This is very rampant in South West Nigeria, especially in Lagos where land acquisition is at a high premium. Many have been killed, maimed and duped over land matters. Even when one acquires land genuinely, some of these land grabbers and touts ask for huge sums before any structure can be erected on a land that has been properly acquired.

Another potent problem with building personal house in Nigeria is the prohibitive cost of building materials. The cost of cement, sand, granite, planks, iron rods, locks, nails, roofing sheets, ceiling materials, paints, tiles, and other sundry items have compounded challenges of home ownership in Nigeria. Many who manage to build houses in this country have had to take cooperative or bank loans at high interest rate to do so.

This is the more reason why government intervention in the housing scheme is desirable. Unfortunately, our mortgage finance system is still fraught with a lot of challenges. The National Housing Fund, the Federal Mortgage Bank, the National Housing Policy, the Federal Housing Authority are all in need of reforms to make them perform optimally. In the past, many federal and state housing schemes have been abandoned. I recall that the government of former President Shehu Shagari made mass housing one of its cardinal electoral promises. They were never completed in many states. In Oyo State, the Ajoda New Town Housing scheme was similarly abandoned by the State Government.

Well, it needs be stated that private property developers have been trying to fill the gap by building mass housing and shopping malls all over the major urban centres. However, due to the aforementioned challenges, the cost of acquiring property from these private sector businessmen is very prohibitive as they are not charity organisation. They have to recoup their investment with a margin of profit.  At the end of the day, there are many houses that are unoccupied in city like Abuja because the cost of rent, lease or acquisition is not pocket friendly. 

This is why the government has to intervene in the provision of affordable mass housing schemes. In his maiden media chat, the Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fasola, SAN made a commitment to do the following: Complete on-going Federal Housing projects; get land from the Governors in all states and the FCT to start 40 Blocks of Housing in each state and FCT as well as consider the re-design of existing housing roof types to make them ready to receive solar panels for electricity without damaging the roof or cause leakage during installation.

 According to the minister “We expect State Governors to play a critical role here, by providing land of between 5-10 hectares for a start, with title documents, and access roads or in lieu of access roads, a commitment that they will build the access roads by the time the houses are completed. We see this leading to potential delivery of 12 flats (homes) per block and 480 Flats (homes) per state, and 17,760 Flats (Homes) nationwide, for a start.” He cited his experience in Lagos where on every one hectare of land it is possible to build 8-10 blocks of houses which will generate at least one thousand employments.

One major worry expressed by the minister is sustainability. In his words, “But we must be clear that sustainability is critical to solving the (housing) problem. One component of sustainability is that we must be able to repeat what we do, which means that we must recover the cost of houses, even if there is no profit, so that we can build more.” Sound logic!

To assist government to bridge the gap of housing deficit, information at my disposal shows that Lafarge Africa Plc has come up with a solution called the Aluminum Shuttering. According to the world's largest building materials manufacturer, this technology will produce lots of houses at an increased speed and reduced cost.  Using this new building technology, Lafarge reportedly commissioned a prototype Studio Apartment in Lagos state. This apartment was allegedly constructed within 12 days. It has one room, toilet with bathroom, a kitchen and cost N1.5 million. This is a commendable initiative which federal government should study and adopt if found to be genuinely cost effective, durable and safe.

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

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Nigerians’ poor tax compliance and solutions

With the dwindling income from sale of crude oil, it has become imperative for government at all levels to scout for alternative sources of income to fund development projects and programmes as well as oil the wheel of governance. There have been several suggestions on how to boost the internally generated revenue of government. These include right investments and policies in agriculture, solid minerals and sports. Cross-cutting benefits will accrue to government from all private and public investments in the identified areas in form of tax. An online source defines tax as “a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits, or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions.”
According to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, which is the Federal Government agency in charge of tax administration in Nigeria, some of the taxes operational in the country are: Personal Income Tax; Companies Income Tax; Petroleum Profit Tax; Value Added Tax; Withholding Tax; Education Tax; Stamp Duties; Capital Gains Tax and National Information Technology Development Fund Levy.
There are several advantages accruing to both government and citizens from payment of taxes. According to the FIRS, “The benefits derivable include but are not limited to: Providing sustainable finance and funding for governance, public and social services and economic development; Promoting civic responsibility, patriotism by citizens and social responsibility by corporate citizens; and Stimulating priority social and economic activities and sectors while discouraging less preferred ones.”
Others include, “bringing about the redistribution of wealth and bridging sharp disparities in living standards; Giving taxpayers the moral and legal right to demand (thereby engendering) a culture of accountability; Serving as a gauge for measuring the level, growth and health of economic units and economic activities; Individuals and corporate organisations are conferred with definite benefits, rights and privileges in the system based on their tax compliance status; and Tax compliance enables law abiding citizens to avoid the consequences, penalties and sanctions of non-compliance.”

In spite of the aforementioned benefits and importance, Nigerians are one of the world’s worst dodgers of tax. Tax evasion, though a global phenomenon, however is very rampant in this clime and is committed with impunity. Even when not totally avoided, many Nigerians do not pay the right taxes. Some Nigerians are also in the habit of procuring fake Tax Clearance Certificates when it is demanded of them.
This newspaper in a December 7, 2015 editorial quoted PricewaterhouseCoopers as saying that Nigeria has one of the world’s lowest tax revenues to GDP ratios. “Estimates vary; while PwC this year (2015) estimates Nigeria’s tax revenues at eight per cent of GDP, the World Bank put it at 1.6 per cent in 2012 and the Heritage Foundation at 6.1 per cent in 2013. But in Norway, which manages its oil wealth far more sensibly, tax revenues were 26.8 per cent (World Bank), South Africa 25.6 per cent and Mozambique 26 per cent.”
The PUNCH editorial under reference also made more startling revelations. It says 80 per cent of taxable adults never pay tax, as revealed at a recent Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria forum. Seventy five per cent of companies are not registered with the FIRS for the mandatory Companies Income Tax and 65 per cent of those registered are not up to date with tax filings. The newspaper also quoted the acting chairman of the FIRS, Mr. Babatunde Fowler, as saying that 200 registered oil and gas firms were not paying tax and that 35,650 corporate bodies had similarly failed to pay taxes. Not only that, the editorial also quoted a former FIRS chief, Sunday Ogungbesan, as having said in August 2015 that of the 450,000 registered companies once surveyed in Nigeria, only 125 were found to be paying tax.
What are the factors responsible for this high level of tax evasion or non-compliance? They are many. One of them is the multiple taxation of the companies operating in Nigeria. Private companies in the country complain that they are subjected to too many taxes by the three tiers of government namely; federal, state and local government. For instance, they pay huge customs duties on importation of their equipment and raw materials after which they still have to pay Company Income Tax, Education Tax and several other sundry levies. Meanwhile, due to lack of or shortage of infrastructure, they have to provide their own roads, electricity, water, and security.
With the exception of government workers whose Personal Income Tax is deducted from source under the Pay As You Earn scheme, it is practically impossible to assess the tax liabilities of many traders or those in the informal private sector. They deliberately underestimate their business value in order to ensure that they pay less tax. In many instances, private companies use the services of tax consultants some of whom assist these companies to under-declare their income and that of their workers to enable them avoid paying the right amount of taxes.
Besides, people do not want to pay tax because they have not seen or felt the positive impact of government in their lives. They see the wasteful spending and ostentatious lifestyles of political office holders. They read in the papers and hear on news how a few individuals holding sensitive government positions use their influential positions to corner huge resources for their personal aggrandisement. Thus, with high level of corruption in government, ordinary people feel that paying tax will be like “emptying their stream into government’s ocean of corruption”. So, it is obvious that lack of transparency and accountability in government are indeed a disincentive to voluntary tax compliance.
Moreover, unemployment and staff retrenchment also combine to rob government of tax revenue. It is impossible to tax someone who is unemployed. I quite agree with this newspaper in the aforementioned editorial when it observed that: “The critical missing links in our tax administration are efficiency, enforcement and punishment.” It is also on point with its suggestion that the government should be ruthless with tax offenders and roll out a more robust tax on luxury goods instead of a blanket increase in VAT. It cannot be overstated that there is a need for a strong synergy between the Finance Ministry, the FIRS and other revenue collecting agencies to raise revenues to the minimum 25 per cent of GDP recommended by the World Bank and that tax reforms will also ultimately require very strong backing and political will from President Muhammadu Buhari as well as stronger tax laws.
Aside from these however, government should make our money to work for us. Nigerians need to feel impact of government and see corrupt officials being severely punished for their act of greed and sabotage. Government should also not overtax companies operating in Nigeria.
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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Making 2016 a better year for Nigerians

Happy New Year folks! My prayer to family, friends and colleagues when­ever they are celebrating their birth­days is that ‘may they never experience a bet­ter last year’. Indeed, everyone should say that prayer. However, having a fruitful, success­ful, glorious, blissful and better year should not be a mere wishful thinking. It’s some­thing all and sundry who desire it has to work hard to achieve.
As it has become very obvious, govern­ment at all levels alone cannot give the cit­izen a better year. In Nigeria, the forecast is very scary. There are austerity measures in place with threat of pay cut or outright retrenchment facing government workers. Even some private companies have start­ed right-sizing and downsizing in order to reduce overhead and other running cost. We have already been told to brace up for increase in the price of electricity while the 50k or thereabout official reduction in the pump price of a litre of Premium Mo­tor Spirit pales into insignificance as pet­rol sells for far higher than official price in many nooks and crannies of the country. Naira as a currency is weak against inter­national currencies like dollar, pounds and euro; with it is the low purchasing power of our legal tender. Unemployment, inflation and poverty are on the increase while de­pendency ratio is high. There is high cost of living rather than high standard of liv­ing, as such wishing for a better new year seems like a mere rhetoric.
Nevertheless, at individual and corpo­rate level, we can still have a better year. How? By imbibing the following tips. As a government and a people, we must em­brace the culture of prudence and mainte­nance. We need to eschew frivolous, lav­ish and ostentatious spending. The era of throwing away what can be easily repaired should be done with. Our legendary lack of maintenance culture, I dare say, has been our major undoing as a nation. We build gigantic projects but earmark little or no fund for servicing and maintenance of those projects. It is true of our public fa­cilities like roads, hospitals, power trans­mission lines, public water pipes, elevators of public buildings; recreation centres e.g. National Art Theatre in Lagos, stadia, et­cetera. We are a wasteful nation that loves to spoil a ship for a ha’p’orth of tar. At indi­vidual and family levels, it’s the same sor­ry sight. We thrash things that can be use­ful if we just spend a little to repair them. Drain pipes of many homes, locks, sockets and many electronic and electrical appli­ances in many apartments are condemned when timely repairs could have salvaged them. Sad, very sad!
To have a better 2016, we must, as a gov­ernment and people, do away with our exot­ic tastes and buy ‘Made in Nigeria’ products. Imagine how many jobs will be created, for­eign exchange saved and value addition that we would have by patronising our indige­nous entrepreneurs. There is no gainsaying that vehicles manufactured or assembled in the country are customised to conform to our tropical climate and as such will last longer than imported foreign cars manu­factured in temperate regions. The value chain includes the spare parts manufac­turers who will ensure that there is a ready supply of genuine spare parts for these cars. Meanwhile, many foreign cars are difficult to fix when spoilt because of non-availabil­ity of genuine spare parts locally. A sim­ilar scenario plays out in our agricultural sector. Take for instance our rice industry. Our local rice, be it Ofada or Abakaliki, has been certified by health practitioners to be more nutritious than the foreign polished rice imported into the country. Patronis­ing local rice manufacturers will mean that more farmers will be encouraged to culti­vate more hectares of rice plantation. This will reduce unemployment and poverty.
Having a better 2016 also means helping the security agencies in their onerous task of securing our various communities. We need to report suspected terrorists and night ma­rauders in our midst to the law enforcement agencies. This we can do through anony­mous petitions if we are afraid of exposing our identities. Failure to assist the security agents will endanger the lives of everyone in our society.
Sanitising our environment of filth and dirt will make us have a better and healthi­er society. We need to stop this reckless atti­tude to our environment. Our waste dispos­al technique should be environment friendly. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, so says an adage. We should learn to tidy our environ­ment by sweeping regularly, ensuring that the drainage is not blocked, and bushes are cut before they constitute an environmental haz­ard. We should also stop building on flood­plains and stop dumping refuse in waterways.
Another unwholesome attitude we should do away with in the New Year is the road abuse. Digging across roads and building road bumps without permission from rele­vant authorities should stop forthwith. We should promptly report burst public water pipes to Water Boards or Water Corporations to enable them carry out quick repairs. In­dividuals and communities can also effect necessary repairs on decaying public facil­ities such as schools or health facilities af­ter obtaining the needed permission to do so from relevant government agency. That is a good community development initiative and a noble cause.
For Nigerians to have a better 2016, we must also play our roles as good citizens by paying our tax as at when due. This will aid national development. Public servants should also stop paying lip service to du­ties. They should shun indolence and tru­ancy and should play their role as patriotic citizen. This will increase national produc­tivity and development. Politicians who play ‘do or die’ politics also need to be more al­truistic and selfless by playing by the rules of the game rather than trying to subvert the electoral process. Elected and appointed government officials should work for public good rather than for self-aggrandisement.
Helping the less privileged, supporting noble causes, shunning crimes and crim­inality, respecting constituted authority, working hard and having unflinching faith in God are all the golden nuggets for a bet­ter 2016. It is that time of the year when we make New Year resolutions. Let us all resolve to play our role in making Nigeria a better place for all to live. Let us be the change we want to see in our country, com­munity and families. May God crown all our noble efforts this year with unparalleled suc­cess. Cheers!
•Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja. Follow me @jideojong