Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The fuss over 2016 UTME

The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board was established in 1978 to deal with the problems associated with the conduct of concessional examination by the then existing federal universities. By August 1988, JAMB was empowered to conduct matriculation examinations for entry into all polytechnics and colleges of education in the country and to place suitably qualified candidates in the available places in these institutions. Over the years, the Board has initiated various reforms to bring its activities in line with modern trend in the conduct of matriculation examinations.
When JAMB kicked off matriculation examination in 1978, it was based on Paper and Pencil Test. Under this system, candidates were to shade the correct answer out of options usually given. It is called multiple choice or objective examination. This system of examination was fraught with many sharp practices and challenges. Under the PPT, it was easy to cheat. Candidates colluded with supervisors through monetary inducement to dictate correct answers to them. When that was not done, the examination supervisors were compromised to allow mercenaries (paid agents, usually undergraduate students) to sit for the exam on behalf of the candidates. Also, because of the short time given for the examination, many candidates were jittery and in the process shaded wrong answers; by the time they realised their mistakes and wanted to erase in order to pick the correct option, they sometime overdid it and damaged the exam sheet. In addition, the result of the PPT took long time to be released, sometimes taking up to three months.
However, JAMB under the current leadership was very dissatisfied with the PPT which the Registrar, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, claimed made the examination to be  more of a war, with candidates bolting away with question papers while  parents in cahoots with  tutorial centres operators connived to perpetrate all manner of malpractice. This led the Board to introduce Computer Based Test in 2013.The examination board started off the exercise using the three modes of Dual-Based Test, Paper Pencil Test and Computer-Based Test.
JAMB on its website highlighted 32 advantages of the CBT.  They include: Improvement of the Board’s service delivery; reduction of incidences of breaches of examination security; making Nigeria operate global best practices; improves security of the testing enterprise;  is reliable, robust and flexible. Others are: It allows subsequent changes to an answer without the uncertainty of knowing whether a poorly erased answer might invalidate the new selection; immediate score reporting; ability to track and display the time remaining on the examination; and it is one of the recent innovative approaches to assessments by Examination Bodies. Indeed, result of the CBT  is almost immediate as candidates get to know their scores in a matter of hours.
Like every innovation, the CBT has not been without hitches. The 2016 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination was held from February 27 to March 19. Over 1,5 million candidates enrolled for the examination. As it turned out, there have been allegations of incompetence and inefficiency levelled against JAMB. On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, hundreds of candidates who sat for the UTME and their parents publicly protested in Lagos over what they described as the many problems facing the CBT. There were allegations of frequent system trip-off while the examination was going on at some centres leading to loss of time before reconnection with JAMB’s server, multiple scoring, bonus marks of between 40 and 60 for some candidates, reduction in the marks of some exceptionally brilliant students, posting wrong results to some of the candidates, and many others.
As reported in The PUNCH of March 16, 2016, a candidate, Maryam Animashaun, expressed disappointment with the conduct of the examination as she claimed that she received three different results from JAMB. Animashaun, who sat for the examination at the College of Education, Oro, Kwara State, was quoted as saying: “I am confused. I do not know what to do now. The first alert I received on the telephone from the board with regard to the examination showed that I scored 218. The second alert read 186, while the third one read 286. The surprising thing now is that I cannot print any of the results. On the website, the board claimed that I did not sit for the examination.”
In a robust response to many of the complaints and allegations, Ojerinde admitted to some technical errors which he claimed were negligible. He said, “There are few challenges associated with the conduct which are expected with any new technology which we constantly admit but believing that with the active support of all, we will gradually get it perfected. In an examination of over 1.5 million candidates, it is expected that there will be a few outcry here and there but when you look at the percentage of complaints vis-√†-vis the success, one will comfortably say we are on the right track.” Ojerinde said less than one per cent of candidates and CBT centres in the 2016 UTME had challenges which the Board was doing everything to overcome.
The Registrar also said JAMB would reschedule examination for candidates who missed the UTME, adding that, it relocated 59, 000 candidates in 15 states because of problems in some of the centres. He observed that “of the 1,546,633 candidates that sat for the 2016 UTME, 145, 704 had issues of multiple results which have been resolved by the Board.  This challenge was reportedly only associated with the candidates that sat for this examination on Saturday, February 27, and some candidates of Monday, February 29, 2016. Ojerinde said the Board was looking at some of the issues raised during the examination but claimed that most of the excuses brought up by the candidates were flimsy. He equally informed the public that the Board found out that some of the over 500 centres used for the CBT were compromised by the operators, leading to the invasion of mercenaries and bandits in Uromi, Edo and Lagos states.
My take on the brouhaha trailing the 2016 UTME is that JAMB should be given opportunity to perfect the use of the CBT. Going back to Paper and Pencil Test is not an option in a 21st century society. Even some secondary schools are now using computers for their terminal examinations. No student in a contemporary world should consider computer illiteracy as a bliss. Education stakeholders should team up to support JAMB to succeed in the onerous task at reforming the country’s examination process.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Child brides and baby mothers’ syndrome in Nigeria

The phenomenon of child marriage is gaining ascendancy in Nigeria. More troubling is the fact that many of these child brides are abducted and forced into marriage. Kidnapping and indeed child abduction is not new in Nigeria. It has a long history. Many of the victims were kidnapped for ransom, trafficked to be used as sex slaves or house helps, forced into marriage or used for money ritual and other diabolical purposes.

This newspaper featured on its front page last Sunday, March 13 the story of Ifesinachi Ani, a 15 year old SS2 student of Government Secondary School, Apo Resettlement who was abducted in Abuja and taken to Zaria, where she was reportedly converted to Islam and married off. The linkman to the abductors, Baba Abdul, who has been arrested by the police, claimed that he sold the girl to scouts allegedly sent by a prominent northern Emir. The AUTHORITY on Sunday had reported the sinister activities of a band of syndicate abductors whose primary objective is to lure Christian teenagers and minors from the southern parts of the country and force them to embrace Islam and marry them off.  The act is allegedly carried out through all forms of subterfuge, including deceit, hypnotism and fetish methods.

Recently we have heard of the case of Ese Oruru who was abducted from Bayelsa to Kano before she was rescued after media pressure championed by The PUNCH was mounted on her abductor. Unfortunately, she’s said to have been impregnated before help could come her way. . Saturday Sun of March 5, 2016 similarly featured the story of Ifeoma Nichodemus, now Aisha, who was abducted in Zaria since May 2014. Also, The PUNCH of Wednesday, March 16 informed the public about the release of three teenage girls who were abducted in Bauchi. SUNDAY PUNCH of March 6, 2016, had reported that Blessing Gopep, 13, was abducted by two men identified as Iliya and Umaru, both living in Alkaleri, Bauchi State. On November 19, 2015 Linda Christopher was abducted by one Mallam Shagari in Tarsha Durumi village, while Progress Jacob, 13, was abducted by Mallam Musa in the Yelwa, Sabon Kaura area, both in Bauchi State, on her way back from church on January 3, 2016. Mercifully, due to public outcry, these teenagers were released by their abductors and had been reunited with their families. The over 200 Chibok school girls who were abducted since April 14, 2014 and similarly forcefully converted to Islam have not been found till date despite international pressure on Nigerian government.

The above are just a tip of the iceberg. So many of these abductions are yet to come to national limelight. I salute the courage of the media houses and non-governmental organisations who have been championing the release of these victims.  Truth be told, there is no law in Nigeria that forbids inter-tribal, inter-ethnic, and inter-faith marriages. What the law forbids is child marriage and forceful conversion to another religion. Nigeria, it needs be emphasised, is a secular state. One of my sisters is legally married to a Muslim who is taking good care of her and never forced her into Islam. He takes them to church and brings them back when services close. An uncle of mine who was a Muslim is also married to a staunch Catholic lady from the South East and lived happily together for decades before he passed on few years ago. He never forced his wife to convert to Islam. Even two former governors of Lagos State, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN are both married to Christian wives though they are Muslims. Same with the incumbent Oyo State governor, Senator Isiak Abiola Ajimobi. They never converted their wives to Islam. That is the way it should be. 

What are the likely implications and consequences of these shameful acts of child abduction and forceful conversion to another religion? Both are criminal offences under the Nigeria legal system. The Nigerian Constitution duly recognises the country as a multi-religious society with no state religion. The Child Rights Act of 2003 sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years. Thus anyone who marries below that age is involved in child marriage. Furthermore, abduction or kidnapping is a criminal offence under our penal code.

Now, child abduction, forceful conversion to another religion and marriage below the legally permissible age has a number of implications. More often than not, it truncates the academic pursuits of these child brides as they usually drop out of school and because their abductors also put them in the family way they often never have the opportunity of going back to school.

Health wise, because these child brides soon transformed to baby mothers and are immature to carry pregnancies at such tender age, they are often susceptible to Vesico Vaginal Fistula.  VVF is an abnormal fistulous tract extending between the bladder (or vesico) and the vagina that allows the continuous involuntary discharge of urine into the vaginal vault. It makes the victims stink. Baby mothers, more often than not, are delivered of their children through caesarean section popularly known as CS in medical parlance. Even when they allegedly have ‘normal delivery’ they often have tear during childbirth. Because of the horrific experience of forceful abduction, conversion and marriage, these child brides are traumatised and socially maladjusted. They are likely to have inferiority complex and low self-esteem.

The solution to this menace lies with all and sundry. Parents need to take good care of their children, gain their confidence and make them trust them. They need to train their children to be contented and on the right moral and religious values. When their daughters are abducted or defiled, they should not keep quiet and just pray about it. They should seek help from the security agencies, the NGOs and the media. Government, civil society and media should embark on civic education on the issue of child bride, forceful conversion to other religion as well as child marriage.   Government should ensure that security agencies are well resourced to protect the Nigerian society and prosecute those found to have been involved in these illicit acts.

Friday, March 18, 2016

March 19 re-runs and battle for supremacy in Rivers

Since the emergence of All Progressives Congress in July 2013 and the decampment of former Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi to the party with many of his commissioners and members of the state house of assembly in 2014, the political landscape in Rivers State has dramatically changed. Amaechi who hitherto had been having a running battle with the ex-president Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency was practically ran out the Peoples Democratic Party. He was constantly being antagonised by his former Chief of Staff, Chief Nyesom Wike who was then the Minister of State for Education now the Governor of the State. At some point under the former governor, now Minister of Transport, all the three arms of government were in crises.

The state House of Assembly had to be shut down after the emergence of two factions in the assembly with both claiming leadership. Also, Amaechi’s appointment of the President of the Customary Court of Appeal, Justice Peter Agumagu as the Chief Judge of Rivers State pitched him against the National Judicial Council who opted for Justice Daisy Okocha for the position. Eventually the judicial arm, just like the legislative arm of the state was shut down. In fact, the incumbent governor was sworn in by the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State, Justice Kate Abiri on May 29, 2015 because of the protracted crisis in Rivers judiciary. It will also be recalled that the former governor had a running battle with the Rivers State police particularly under the leadership of Mbu Joseph Mbu as the Commissioner of Police in the state.

It needs be understood that prior to the emergence of APC, Rivers State used to be a de facto one party state though a de jure multi party entity. The PDP ticket is the most fiercely contested for because whoever got it during the party primaries is almost assured of winning at the general elections. Before its current political crisis, the oil rich state has a long history of militancy and cultism. Before the Federal Government amnesty programme of 2009, a lot of kidnappings for ransom, oil vandalism, illegal bunkering and allied economic crimes were the order of the day.

According to former Justice Kayode Esho’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission while submitting its report to former governor Rotimi Amaechi on March 11, 2009, “Rivers State is saturated with cults and cultism. The Government itself acknowledged the existence of 100 cults, we listed additional 16 cults, and it is one of or recommendations that all these cults should be proscribed”, said Esho, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria while presenting a 572 page report of the Commission to the Rivers State Governor.  It is an open secret that these cult groups were never disbanded largely because they were creation of the River State political elite who arm them to deal with their political enemies.

The proliferation of cult groups as well as arms and ammunition are what has made the state volatile for some time now.  These armed bandits became useful ahead of the 2015 General Elections where politicians across the political divides in the state used them to unleash terror on the state. It was alleged that no fewer than 100 persons were killed in election related violence ahead of the last general elections. Among the horrific killings before last year’s elections was the case of a former Chairman of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Council of Rivers state, Chief Christopher Adube, who was assassinated in his Obrikom home in the LGA on April 3, 2015. He was murdered along with three of his biological children: Lucky, Joy and John, as well as a family friend, Mr. Iyke Ogarabe, and his driver, Samuel Chukwunonye.

The 2015 General Elections held in Rivers State was so violent and a complete electoral heist that the judicial review of the process won the state a trophy for electoral infamy. The election petition tribunals had to order re-run of the entire three Senatorial districts, 12 Federal Constituencies and 22 State House of Assembly elections. The governor was only saved by the Supreme Court after the tribunal and court of appeal had nullified his election. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Rivers state re-run elections will hold in 22 out of the 23 Local Government Areas and in a total of 4,442 Polling Units across the state with a total of 2,538,535 registered voters. INEC is deploying a total of 26,402 poll workers to conduct the elections.

Ahead of the next Saturday’s re-run election, uneasy calm envelope the state. According to news report, no fewer than 32 persons had been murdered in the state ahead of the coming elections. In Omoku on February 12 this year, no fewer than 24 APC members were allegedly killed. Most gruesome was the March 5 murder of APC Ward Chairman, Franklin Obi who was beheaded. He was murdered alongside his wife and 18-year-old son, Bestman, at his residence on Rutachi Street, Omoku. On March 7, in Buguma, Asari-Toru Local Government of Rivers State, Ofinijite Amachree, aka Kpom Kpom, was killed and burnt, after clashes between APC and PDP supporters. In the same town, Godstime Ifuroiyala was shot dead and his remains set ablaze. A former lawmaker in the fifth House of Assembly and member of the APC, Hon Monday Eleanya from the community was shot dead in Port Harcourt on February 11.

All these murders were show of desperation by political class in Rivers State who are locked in supremacy battle over who controls the levers of power in the oil producing state. The main culprits are the chieftains of PDP and APC within the state. While PDP is trying to consolidate its hold on power, APC is trying to wrestle power in order to maintain some measure of relevance in the state as well as the South-South region. It is noteworthy that out of the six states in the region, only Edo State is being controlled by the APC. The party therefore wants to make inroad into the state. The oil resource of the state is also a major attraction. Rivers is one of the states with highest oil revenue. APC having lost the Bayelsa gubernatorial election in January this year would like to reverse its electoral misfortunes in Rivers State. Truth be told, it will be an uphill task for APC, though not insurmountable. The simple reason being that, the Rivers people may not have forgiven APC for dislodging their son-in-law, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan from the presidential seat last year. 

As Rivers people file out next Saturday for the court re-runs, the security agencies need to be on top of their game. They need to be pro-active by doing more of intelligence gathering, mop up operations and prevention of breakdown of law and order before, during and after the polls. Those murderers already apprehended must be duly prosecuted in the courts. INEC must also be very impartial and ensure that next Saturday’s election will stand integrity test to avoid another round of annulments at the tribunals in due course.

Follow me on twitter @jideojong

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Making Nigerian schools safe

On February 25, 2014, fifty-nine school boys of Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State were murdered in cold blood by suspected Boko Haram insurgents. Before then, from 2009 when the activities of the extremist group turned violent, several schools have been razed in North East Nigeria particularly in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. However, the abduction of over 200 school girls from Chibok, Borno State on April 14, 2014 nudged the Federal Government of Nigeria to take a drastic step to make security of Nigerian schools a priority. Thus, in partnership with the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Mr. Gordon Brown and   a coalition of Nigerian business leaders, the FG established “The Safe Schools Initiative” on May 7, 2014, during the World Economic Forum Africa in Abuja. The objective of the SSI is to urgently protect schools across the country from future attacks and kidnaps.

The SSI is being complemented by other development programmes such as the Presidential Initiative for the North East that focuses on medium to long term development projects within the region, and also a Victims’ Support Fund targeted at providing emergency relief and other support to families whose lives and livelihoods have been devastated by the crisis.

Given the enormity of resources needed to implement the SSI, a trust fund domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria was set up with $10m contribution from FG. A separate Multi-Donor Trust Fund was also established within the UN system .This MDTF is being managed by the UNDP, UNICEF and UNOPs. Since then, many donors have supported the noble cause. According to the former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as at February 2015, US Government through the United States Agency for International Development has donated $2m into the MTDF. Other donations as reported in Leadership of February 20, 2015 include another $2m from the government of Qatar, through the Qatar Foundation; two million euros from Germany, and $1m from the African Development Bank.

Other donors include Norway with $1.5m, given through the UNICEF and the UK with one million pounds in technical assistance. She said the initiative also received $10m by a coalition of Nigerian Business Leaders.  

Well, much of the efforts at the SSI have been justifiably concentrated in the North-East region of Nigeria where the activities of the insurgents have been most pronounced The Initiative has relocated some of the pupils in the terrorists’ areas of operation to safer environment, awarded them scholarship and provided them with learning materials. Be that as it may, given the February 29, 2016 abduction of three female students of Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary in Ikorodu, Lagos, it is imperative that the Safe School Initiative be fast tracked with nationwide coverage.  Truth be told, there would be many more similar attacks on schools by some undesirable elements. Indeed, many schools have been invaded in the past by burglars and armed robbers looking for what to steal.

Obviously, the responsibility of making our educational institutions safe cannot be solely borne by government. Nigerian school system has been deregulated with both the public and private sector being major players. While government is expected to provide the overall security architecture to make our schools safe, private entrepreneurs in the sector must roll up their sleeves and key into designing and customising their homegrown security plan. Among other things, two prong engagements must be pursued. There is the” hardware” and the “software” approaches.

By hardware approach, all public and private schools from primary to tertiary levels must acquire some security gadgets to protect students, staff and the institutions facilities. Scanning machines, closed circuit camera television monitor, perimeter fencing, adequate illumination of school environment, recruitment of security personnel, visitors sign-in register and badge, clearing of school premises of bushes and debris, routine foot and motorised police patrol of school areas have all become high priority. On the software side, security education for all staff and students has become very desirable. They need to be properly and routinely counseled by experts drawn from the security agencies such as the Police, Department of State Security, Nigerian Army, Civil Defence, Nigeria Fire Service and other paramilitary organisations.  The security education should be expanded to include safety and security from fire, flood and diseases. Thus what is being advocated is a robust and comprehensive security and health education.

Security experts have said that students, particularly those in day schools, should learn to move in group. School buses with plain cloth security personnel should also be provided at affordable cost for day students. There is a need to adequately publicise telephone numbers of security agencies that staff and students of schools can call when under attack. Late-coming, loitering and wandering of students around town during school hours should henceforth attract stiff punishments.

Though the focus of safe school initiative is protection against external attacks such as Islamic insurgents, armed robbers and kidnappers; however, there is enemy within the school that has to be dealt with. That is cultism. The phenomenon of campus cultism has festered so much that hundreds of lives and properties worth billions of naira have been lost to the menace. It used to be restricted to tertiary institutions – Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and Universities, these days; it has spread its ugly tentacles to secondary schools. Many teenagers have been initiated into cult groups. While cult attacks have primarily been against rival groups, their breach of campus peace creates psychological fear on the entire school environment. School administrators and security agencies need to work collaboratively to rid our schools of this menace. 

That said, what can bring lasting peace and security to our school environment is positive turnaround of the economy. The current economic doldrums has heightened security concern. Thousands of employees have been sacked while millions of unemployed graduates are roaming the street in search of non-available jobs. These have made our youths to resort to desperate measures hence turning to crime and criminality for survival. This is why introduction of dole or social safety net is desirable for unemployed youths. Unfortunately, Buhari administration has said that it is no longer under consideration.  Finally, proper home training and well-resourced security agencies will go a long way to making our schools and indeed society safe.

Jide is Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Imperative of buying ‘Made in Nigeria’

For some time now, successive Nigerian governments have been mouthing the slogan of “Buy Made in Nigeria”. Unfortunately, it has been more of clich√© or lip-service. Even government officials do not buy into this idea. Goods and services in the presidency, legislative assemblies and most of the Ministries, Department and Agencies are still exotic. The vehicles, dishes, computers, furniture, and even consultants engaged by these MDAs and presidency are mostly foreign. There is this erroneous believe that everything imported is good and more durable than locally made products. This is a fallacy!

While there are some products that cannot be sourced locally, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others that are available in our domestic markets. There is no better time to genuinely start to patronise locally manufactured products than now. With the dwindling oil prices in the international market and the scarcity of international currencies like Dollar, Pound Sterling and Euro, it has become imperative for us to look inward and try to boost our local economy by patronising goods and services available within our boarders. 

Government at all levels needs to spearhead this campaign. Our political office holders have to lead by example. It should be a policy to have a dress code for our elected and appointed government officials to only wear clothes made in Nigeria. Our local fabrics are good enough and could be designed into any style. Same for our foot wears. Menu served at government official and social events should have 80 per cent local content. Official vehicles should be those manufactured or assembled in Nigeria. Likewise office and home furniture should be sourced from our local market. Government consultants and contractors should have 70 per cent local content made up of Nigerians both within and in Diaspora. What this means in essence is that in supporting local content, Nigerians in Diaspora should be given even consideration with their Nigerian based counterparts.

Nigeria foreign policy should have local content too. When the country is making donations to support sister nations in need, the assistance should be sourced locally.  For instance, if Nigeria is helping another African country with food items, such should be purchased from local market. When we are supporting other country’s election as we recently did in Burkina Faso, Niger Republic and Benin Republic such products should be those manufactured or assembled in Nigeria. It would be recalled that just last Saturday, February 27, 2016, the Federal Government donated 15 Hilux vehicles and 100 motorcycles to the Independent National Electoral Commission of Benin Republic to enable it conduct credible presidential election, today, March 6. Earlier on September 1, 2015, the Federal Government donated 20 Hilux vans to Burkina Faso to assist the country conduct its general elections held last October.

There are several advantages to buying our locally manufactured products. First, it will reduce pressure on demands for foreign exchange. This is because the prices of these products are denominated in Naira. Two, there is a multiplier effect to buying ‘Made in Nigeria’ products. It will generate employment opportunities as the manufacturers, dealers and retailers are kept in business. Those employed in this sector will, in the process, be economically empowered to take care of their dependents. This will concomitantly reduce poverty and crime.  

The added advantage of locally made products is that they are customised for the environment. Many vehicles imported into the country are manufactured in temperate climate to suit the cold environment of where they are produced. Nigeria is in tropical region with the climate very hot. Thus, products not manufactured with this factor in mind are usually not durable. The good thing is that products manufactured in Nigeria are mostly those that will do well in tropical climate. Furthermore, genuine spare parts of products manufactured in-country are readily available at affordable prices. Compare that to spares that have to be imported using foreign currencies. It not only costs more but takes longer time before repairs are made.

The time is ripe for all and sundry to key into this policy. It has worked in the entertainment industry and can succeed in every other sector. Some twenty years ago, foreign films and music dominated Nigeria’s entertainment industry. Hollywood and Bollywood films from America and India alongside the Chinese films saturated the Nigerian market. Our television stations hardly show local films which they condemned as being sub-standard and inferior to their foreign counterparts. Today, the story has changed. Nigerian film is at present occupying a pride of place not only in the country but in the entire African continent. They are now exported and earn their producers and artistes good foreign exchange. Same with our music industry. Nigerian music not only dominates our airwaves now but the entire social circles. There are Nigerian parties where local music genres are played throughout. Nigerian music is to be found on the shelves of major marketers abroad. They equally dominate airwaves of many radio and television stations across Africa. During my recent visit to Uganda, my colleagues from over twenty African countries kept asking me about Nigerian artistes. Some sang their music, some name actors and actresses they like. They inquired about stories they have heard or read about them and whether such reports are true.

A lot need to be done to get Nigerians to buy our locally made products. Manufacturers of these products must be supported with incentives like low interest (single digit) loans, tax holiday, easy access to land, and provision of uninterrupted and affordable electricity, good road network and adequate security.  Standard Organisation of Nigeria, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control as well as other regulatory agencies need to redouble their effort to ensure that quality products are produced for the consumption of Nigerians.

Our research institutes need to be well resourced in terms of funding; personnel and equipment to enable them live to their assigned responsibilities. The research outputs have to be patented and mass produced for domestic and international consumption. Intensive awareness creation about the availability and advantages of patronising ‘Made in Nigeria’ products needs to be carried out through both orthodox and unorthodox media channels. National Orientation Agency, Ministries of Information and Communication as well as publicly owned otherwise called government owned media must take the lead on this. While government may not totally ban the importation of foreign goods to Nigeria, high taxes should be put on them to make them prohibitive.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Nigeria’s padded census, voters register, payroll and budget

Nigeria is a country of conundrums. Some of my compatriots are very adept at undermining any noble projects and exercises, all in a bid to gain undue advantage or self-enrichment.  The monster called corruption manifests in diverse ways though many people think of it in financial or monetary terms. Quite alright, bribery, kickback and financial inducements all form part of corruption. However, there are many more ways corruption rears its ugly head than in terms of Naira and Kobo.  Padding or bogus additions of figures is one of such corrupt practices rampant in Nigeria.

Nigeria last held its national census in 2006. Before then, there have been countrywide enumeration in 1952/53, 1962/63, 1973 and 1991. All of these have been enmeshed in controversies. This is because national headcount is a political and economic instrument. Political in the sense that it gives voting advantage to a more populous community. It also forms the basis of creation of state and local government council. It is equally one of the yardsticks for delimitation of electoral constituencies particularly State Houses of Assembly and Federal House of Representatives. Economic wise, it is the census figure that is used for national planning and resource allocation. Thus, during enumeration exercise, many political and community leaders work hard to compromise the census officials to allocate higher figure to them than the number of people physically counted.

 Little wonder that people are incentivised by their communities to travel to their place of birth to be counted during census rather than being allowed to be enumerated at their places of residence. The question about whether Northern or Southern Nigeria has more population remained unresolved, all because of allegation that some of the enumerators posted to some parts of the country over count while some others under count . Lagos state was one of the few states who kicked against the 9,113,605 population figure ‘allocated’ to it during the 2006 census.  The national census tribunal sitting in Abuja in June 2013 was to later vindicate the state by nullifying the 2006 census figures in 14 of the 20 local government areas of the state.

National Population Commission has expressed interest to use a biometric based census for the next exercise. It says the headcount would be centralised and synchronised with working technology, where if anybody registered twice, the system would take one. NPC said the biometrics will capture the face, iris, 10-finger digital signature and perhaps the voice of the person being enumerated.

Nigeria had the last national voters’ registration exercise in January 2011. Since then, there had been several continuous voters’ registration exercises’.  The VR was biometric based with the Independent National Electoral Commission using Data Capturing Machines to take and store the photo and fingerprints of the registrants. Even at that, the VR database is still largely bloated. INEC used the Automated Fingerprint Identification System software to weed out multiple registrants and there were millions of them. As at February 2015, the figure stood at 68,833,746. Despite that, INEC was not convinced about the integrity of the database hence the introduction of machine readable, chip-embedded Permanent Voters Card and Smart Card Reader. It would be recalled that INEC insisted since the 2015 General Elections that only those who possess the PVC will be allowed to vote.

To further validate the lack of trust of INEC in its VR Database, the commission since 2011 had introduced a cumbersome voting process called Re-modified Open Secret Voting Systems whereby accreditation of voters will take place between 8am – 12:30pm in 2011 and 1:30pm in 2015 while voting will commence after the end of accreditation. The whole essence of this incongruous novelty is to prevent multiple voting. It is also one of the reasons behind restriction of movements on Election Day. Politicians had compromised some Voter Registration officials to pad the Voters Register with multiple registrants or fictitious names believing that it will be business as usual where they could indulge in multiple voting. Even when PVC was introduced, some of them were stolen in some states while they also purchased some. It is noteworthy that the introduction of PVCs and SCRs has greatly assisted to reduce electoral fraud.

Padded payroll is not new in Nigeria, what is new is the use of technology to expose the fraud which manifests under the phenomenon called ghost workers and pensioners. For several years now, Nigeria public servants have been subjected to untold hardships through the numerous staff audit and identification parades.  The Buhari administration decided to use new technologies called Bank Verification Numbers and Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System to track the actual number of its workforce. Through these measures, the Federal Government in the last few months has been able to eliminate 23,846 non-existing workers from its payroll and saved N2.29bn in its monthly salary bill. FG in a release by the Special Adviser on Media to Minister of Finance, Mr. Festus Akanbi on February 28 said it planned to undertake periodic checks and utilise Computer Assisted Audit Techniques under its new Continuous Audit Programme.

The phenomenon of ghost workers or padded payroll is not limited to the federal government. Many states and local governments are faced with similar challenge. As reported in Sunday PUNCH of February 28, 2016, Benue State Government said it had uncovered 1, 061 ghost workers who were previously on the payroll of public schools in the past administration. This was revealed on Friday, February 26 in Makurdi, the state capital by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Titus Zam, while handing over the responsibility of the payment of staff of public schools to the State Universal Basic Education Board. According to him, the staff audit conducted by the state government ascertained 23,441 genuine staff as against 24,502 the administration met on ground which has saved funds hitherto expended on ghost workers.

Padded procurement estimates and over-invoicing are other ways by which many procurement managers defraud their companies whether private or public. The Bureau of Public Procurement have saved the country trillions of Naira by downwardly reviewing incredible cost estimates submitted to it for certification by government ministries, departments and agencies. The recent controversies over the 2016 Federal Government budget is also a pointer to how Nigerian politicians, aided and abetted by their civil servant accomplice, defraud the country of billions of Naira every year. The budget which was heavily padded had been appropriatiately described as a national embarrassment. 

Again, this is not a practice limited to the federal government but a malpractice which like octopus spreads its tentacles across all tiers and strata of Nigerian society.  My take is that while introduction of technology may be useful to reduce this sharp-practice,  stringent measures such as adequate punishment for the perpetrators and tighter control measures including effective supervision are needful to rid the country of this corrupt practice.

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