Sunday, May 29, 2016

The pains and the gains of Buhari's one year in office

It’s May 29! So soon the Buhari administration is a year in office. Exactly this day last year, President Muhammadu Buhari was inaugurated as the fourth executive president of Nigeria in this Fourth Republic after his epochal win of the March 28, 2015 presidential election. It was a tortuous journey to victory as it was the president’s fourth attempt at becoming a civilian president even though he has been privileged to serve as Nigeria’s Head of State from December 31, 1983 to August 27, 1985. The man Buhari though a professional soldier have had the privilege of serving in various government in different capacities. He had been a Military Governor, a former Petroleum Minister, a former chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund among others.  Though the incumbent president rode to electoral victory on the mantra of change, many people are still wondering if indeed the change has come.

If we go by ‘Buharimeter’,  an online platform set up by the Centre for Democracy and Development in collaboration with BudgiT to track the delivery of electoral campaign promises of the president, there are 222 of such pledges made out of which only one has been fulfilled, 37 ongoing and 184 not rated. The only promise the CSOs believed Buhari has fulfilled is the public declaration of his assets. Going by this assertion, one would tend to write off this government as a colossal failure. Not so fast! The man has four year mandate and has just been a year in office. He still has three more to go and a lot more can be achieved in the remaining years.  Indeed, this administration started on a lethargic note. The president was rather too deliberative. He head-hunted for members of his cabinet for six months! His ministers were sworn into office on November 11, 2015. If that was his making, the National Assembly did not help matters as the two chambers went through a protracted horse-trading in the election of their leaders.

President Buhari promised among other things to fight insurgency, corruption and unemployment. How has he fared on these counts? I would say fair. In his inaugural speech, Buhari ordered the relocation of the command and control unit of the military task force against insurgency to Maiduguri. He embarked on diplomatic shuttles to all the countries sharing international boundaries with Nigeria to seek their support in the fight against Boko Haram, the Multinational Joint Task Force Against Terrorism was retooled and well-resourced and today, the MJTF has recorded unprecedented success by recovering all territories lost to Boko Haram as well as degraded the capacity of the insurgent group to launch attacks.

As at February 2016, the total number of persons rescued by the Nigerian troops during the ongoing operations in the North East came to 11,595, Just last week, news filtered in that one of the 219 abducted Chibok girls, Amina Ali Nkeki , had been rescued from Sambisa forest. Well, while it might be true that Boko Haram had been weakened, unfortunately other crimes like kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, pipeline vandalism have soared in the last one year.  Of particular note is the emergence of Niger Delta Avengers who have been routinely blowing off oil and gas pipelines in the oil region.

On anti-corruption, it is on record that this administration has been baring his fangs against past and present corrupt leaders. Government spokespersons said that many people have voluntarily returned some stolen wealth into government coffers and that the president will name them in his speech today. Apart from that, many military top brass and political elites have been investigated, arrested and currently being prosecuted in courts on corruption charges. At present, a former National Security Adviser, former Chief of Defence Staff, high ranking military officials, former and present party chairperson and chieftains are all accounting for their stewardship in courts.

Even the current Senate President is standing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for false asset declaration. It is worth mentioning that the Peoples Democratic Party, majority of whose members are being tried for corruption, has alleged lopsidedness in Buhari’s anticorruption war.  PDP executive claimed that members of their party are being witch-hunted and selectively targeted in the current anti-corruption war. They alleged that some of the All Progressives Congress former governors have loads of corruption petitions against them at the Economic and Financial Commission, yet instead of prosecuting them, some of them were rewarded with ministerial portfolios.  They challenged the president to publicly name those who bankroll his election campaigns and order investigations into their finances and see if they would not be found culpable of corrupt practices.

Among other anticorruption measures put in place by the present administration is the enforcement of Treasury Single Account which was initiated by former President Goodluck Jonathan. According to Femi Adesina who is the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, “This intervention through the TSA provided greater visibility of government revenues and cash flows.  Between June 2015 and April 2016, the Federal Government TSA collection clocked N3tn.” Also through the use of Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System Nigerian government has been able to weed out thousands of ghost workers and saved billions of Naira. According to a May 25, 2016 news report, the Head of the Continuous Audit team of the Federal Government, Mr. Mohammed Dikwa said “Since we started the continuous audit programme, we have saved about N50bn and over 43,000 ghost workers have been removed from the payroll of the federal government.” That is no mean feat!

Buhari government has also been trying to cut down waste in government through the Efficiency Unit set up by the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, last year. A 65 per cent reduction in the allowances for refreshment and meals of top officials of government is in the offing while the unit had in a statement issued last month barred all top officials of government from flying first class while on official trips. In the area of the economy, Federal Government has been greatly challenged by the dip in the price of crude oil in the international market. In fact many states could no longer pay salaries of their workers. Despite that, President Buhari had last year directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to disburse N689.5bn as bailout to 27 states of the federation to enable them pay salaries.

Ironically, despite the aforementioned bold steps, what many Nigerians will remember Buhari for at this point in time is the increase in the cost of living occasioned by the recent hike in the price of petrol from N86.50 to N145 per litre. This in itself is a bitter pill needed to be swallowed in order to ensure product availability and cut off wasteful subsidy regime under which trillions of Naira was paid to fuel import cabal yet the product is not readily available at official pump price. I only hope the N500bn meant for palliative measures in the 2016 FG budget will be judiciously used.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The beginning of the end of PDP?

Formed in 1998 by a Group of 18 and later 34 eminent personalities which cut across different bourgeoisie class – military, business, political, bureaucratic elites, the political association known as Institute of Civil Society was later registered as Peoples Democratic Party by the Independent National Electoral Commission as a political party alongside the All Peoples Party (later transmuted to All Nigeria’s Peoples Party) and Alliance for Democracy. That was in 1998 December after the conduct of the Local Government election of that year. Since its formal registration, PDP has come a long way winning majority of seats at all levels of governance (federal, state and local government) in four out of the five electoral cycles viz. 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 before meeting its political waterloo during the 2015 General Elections it fell electorally to its arch-rival and political nemesis, All Progressive Congress which was formed in 2013.

Buoyed by its strings of contrived electoral successes, one of the party’s past chairmen, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, in 2008 boasted that PDP will rule Nigeria for sixty years.  Unfortunately, because the party did not know how to manage success, instead of 60 years, the party ruled for 16 years. In fact, there are not a few political analysts who are of the opinion that PDP never genuinely won any election; rather the party has always rigged to power. This extreme position may not be altogether true. PDP, I dare say, is the only true national political party the country has before the advent of APC in July 2013. The party has been able to win elections in all the six geo-political zones of Nigeria unlike its counterpart such as Alliance for Democracy whose electoral victories were mainly in the South West region; All Progressives Grand Alliance whose catchment area is South East region and ANPP whose electoral victories had majorly been in Northern Nigeria particularly in North West and North East.

In truth, PDP electoral successes had largely been through electoral manipulations. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka allegedly referred to the party as the “nest of killers” following series of political assassinations always witnessed ahead of any general elections. PDP has also been fingered as sponsoring political crises which degraded some of the main opposition political parties notably AD and ANPP.  It was alleged that the political machinations of PDP led to the loss of five out of six AD controlled states in the South West during the 2003 General Elections. Only Lagos State under Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as governor survived the PDP onslaught.  Similar thing happened to ANPP. From controlling about seven states between 1999 and 2007, ANPP electoral fortunes dipped when two of its governors Mahmuda Shinkafi of Zamfara State and sa Yuguda of Bauchi State were poached by the PDP after the 2007 elections.  The party also poached the two governors of Progressive Peoples Alliance, Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State and Theodore Orji of Abia State.

Opposition political parties are quick to always accuse PDP of rigging them out at elections. They often claim that PDP uses money and other states and administrative resources such as instruments of coercion to deal with other political parties. They allege PDP government uses the Police and other security agencies to intimidate and harass their chieftains and candidates across the country. In addition, anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission are sent after opposition elements under the 16 years of PDP presidency.  The party was severally accused of electoral heist with opposition elements always making a heavy weather of stolen mandate by PDP.

Truth be told, PDP was never a party of saints. It is a potpourri or amalgam of strange political bedfellows whose common interest was to capture power and share the spoils of electoral victories. The party’s unwritten philosophy is the use of Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means’. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, ahead of 2007 General Elections, openly said the polls were ‘do or die’ for him and his party, PDP.  Those elections were adjudged to be the worst in the political history of Nigeria as both local and international accredited election observer groups were unanimous in condemning the polls as being below international and regional standards.

The behemoth called PDP is now terribly sick and in the intensive care unit of Nigeria political hospital. The party is gasping for breath aftermath of protracted crises that has buffeted it.  Though the party has always been embroiled in internal war of attrition due to its high deficiency in internal democratic norms and ethos; however aftermath of the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2010, the party in trying to nominate its presidential candidate for the 2011 General Elections committed a big blunder by nominating President Goodluck Jonathan. This precipitated the current round of internal crisis.  Section 7 subsection 3 (c) of the PDP Constitution as amended in 2012, talks about:  “Adhering to the policy of the rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness.” The alternation of power at the national level was to be between North and South. A northerner was supposed to have been nominated to serve out the remaining one term of President Yar’Adua. Not doing that upset the apple cart. 

Many PDP chieftains from the North never forgave those who circumvented the PDP Constitution to allow a Southerner to come to power so soon after the eight years of Obasanjo presidency. It was part of the anger that culminated in the formation of New PDP in 2013 after former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and seven PDP governors walked out of the special convention of the party on August 31, 2013. Of the seven governors, only Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State was from the south. Five of the seven governors as well as Vice President Atiku Abubakr were later to join the opposition APC which had been registered by INEC on July 31, 2013. Since that time, APC became a Mecca of some sort with exodus of PDP chieftains into the party.

PDP never recovered. It was a depleted and divided PDP that went into the 2015 General Elections. By the time the polls were over, the party lost the presidency, lost its hitherto majority seats in Senate, House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly. Out of the 29 governorship elections held on April 11, 2015, PDP managed to win nine with most of them coming from southern Nigerian states of Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Abia, and Enugu. The other two governorship seats won by PDP were those of Gombe and Taraba States.  It was the party’s worst electoral victory since inception and the colossal loss made the party to hemorrhage the more as members left in droves after the general elections to join the new party in power, APC.

Now, the attempt to rebuild the party after the electoral fiasco has been largely unsuccessful. Many of the party chieftains have been arrested and are being tried in courts for corruption. Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu led a PDP post-election review committee to look into the crisis rocking the party and proffer solutions.   Unfortunately, the recommendations of the committee have been largely ignored. In the last three years the party has had about four chairmen. From the time Alhaji Bamanga Tukur was forced to resign in January 2014 and Alhaji Adamu Muazu took over only for him to be forced to resign after last year’s general elections and Prince Uche Secondus took over in acting capacity and had to be booted out via a court order after which from nowhere former Borno State governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff was smuggled in as the new chairman only to be removed last Saturday at the party’s controversial convention in Port Harcourt, River State.

It is patently clear that PDP is  on its way to political Golgotha. However, like a Phoenix, it may yet survive if all the varied interest groups pulling and pushing will sheathe their swords, reconcile and rebuild the party into a genuine and vibrant opposition party which will serve as a watchdog on the incumbent government in power.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Fuel price hike and lingering controversies

“There is no subsidy to remove because no provision was made for subsidy in the 2016 budget. Last year, the government paid out N1tn in subsidy, and that’s one sixth of this year’s budget. We can’t afford to pay another N1tn in subsidy”
—Alhaji Lai Muhammed, Minister for Information and Culture, while addressing the media on Monday, May 16, 2016.
Since the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, announced the hike in the price of Premium Motor Spirit popularly known as petrol last Wednesday, May 11, Nigerians have been sharply divided on the increase. While some support the move, others have kicked against it. In the past few days, I have been on several radio and television programmes to offer my candid opinion on this controversial matter. While many Nigerians who called in saw reasons with me on why we needed to support this move by government, a few others disagreed with some even calling me a government paid agent. Well, I take it in my stride as one of the risks of being a public affairs analyst.
In the last 26 years that I have been involved in media advocacy, I have written several articles on the conundrum being experienced in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector and how to resolve it. The issue is that successive governments have not demonstrated the political will to fix the problem; yet, it is the cash cow, the honey pot that feeds the Nigerian nation. However, what should be a commonwealth has been largely cornered by a few individuals for their own personal aggrandisement.
I had previously supported the subsidy regime to enable the Nigerian masses to access fuel at affordable prices. I changed my mind at the point in time that I realised that it had been counter-productive to solving the problem in the downstream sector of oil and gas industry. What the subsidy regime has brought about are emergency billionaires who simply trade in allocation papers. They are licensed to import fuel, however, they either undersupply or fail to supply products at all, yet get to make subsidy claims on the government. They are able to do this because they work in cahoots with some unscrupulous bureaucrats in the regulatory agencies. People should endeavour to read previous probe reports either by the National Assembly or the Presidency. We have been paying trillions of naira yearly on subsidy claims yet petrol and kerosene are only sold at the official pump price at few city centres in places like Lagos and Abuja.
What I found out was that some people who are licensed to lift fuel at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation depots do not have retail filling stations which ordinarily should be a requirement to be licensed. However, they are able to bribe the officials in charge of the allocation papers. These undesirable elements then simply sell the allocation papers to independent marketers who though have retail outlets but are denied allocation papers to lift fuel at the depots. These retailers having become a third party have to sell with a profit margin which then puts the cost above the official pump price. This is an open secret in the industry and is well-known to government. The regulatory agencies cannot do much to bring the culprits to book because some of their officials are part of the racket.
We have also been reliably informed that because the price of fuel in Nigeria is about the cheapest in West Africa, this has made smuggling of the product to neighbouring countries attractive. It is true that the Nigerian Customs Service ought to check this illegal act. Unfortunately, some of the officers and men of the NCS are part of the smuggling cabal. Once their palms are greased by the smugglers, they look the other way.
That apart, Nigeria’s international boundaries are porous. While speaking at the 2016 Comptroller-General of Immigration’s annual conference and stakeholders’ interactive forum in Lafia, Nasarawa State recently, the outgoing NIS Comptroller-General, Martin Abeshi, said there were 1,400 unmanned illegal entry points into the country. Smuggling of petroleum products could easily be done across any of these unmonitored entry routes.
Another sharp practice common with petroleum marketer, be it independent or major marketers, is hoarding. They do this to create artificial scarcity and therefore force up the price. Fuel is an inelastic demand as there seems to be no substitute to it. An NOI Polls conducted in the last week of April shows that 78 per cent of Nigerians buy petrol to power their generators, 58 per cent for cars, 28 per cent for motorcycles or tricycles and only five per cent for industrial use. What those figures tell us is that due to appalling state of electricity supply, Nigerians are compelled to buy fuel at any price to generate private electricity for their domestic and industrial use.  Part of the challenge of fuel supply is the routine vandalism of petrol pipelines. In the last two weeks, a group that goes by the name, Niger Delta Avengers, has blown off some Chevron, Shell and NNPC oil pipelines. This has compounded the challenge of local supply of both crude and refined petroleum products. It is said that due to the recent acts of vandalism, Nigeria is currently unable to meet its estimated 2.2 million barrel per day in the 2016 budget. Sad, so pathetic!
I will be too glad to buy fuel at N145 if the product will be readily available and I will not have to queue for hours on end as was the case when the product was sold at N86.50. I do not mind buying fuel at the new price if the savings government will be making will be channelled to fix our parlous infrastructure as well as provide some social safety nets for the suffering masses as promised.
It is heartwarming that N500bn has been earmarked in this year’s budget for welfare services. According to a press statement issued last weekend by Mr. Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media and Publicity, about eight million Nigerians are targeted for welfare provisions in the 2016 budget.
He listed them to include the payment of N5,000 monthly to one million extremely poor Nigerians for 12 months for which N68.7bn has been budgeted; soft loans for 1.76 million traders and artisans for which N140.3bn has been earmarked and payment of between N23,000 and N30,000 per month to 500,000 unemployed graduates who would be trained, paid and deployed to work as volunteer teachers, public health officers and extension service workers among other responsibilities.  I think what some labour unions and civil society organisations kicking against the fuel hike should do is to monitor the implementation of these welfare programmes.
Ultimately, the solution out of this protracted debacle in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector is the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, effective regulatory oversight, and incentivising the private sector investors to build and operate private refineries to complement the four moribund government owned ones in existence.

Menace of street begging

Begging is as old as human existence. Virtually everyone begs for one thing or the other given the fact that human resources are not infinite. People beg for assistance which could be in kind or in cash. In Nigeria, the phenomenon of street begging has become a popular culture. From the north to the south, east to the west, beggars are found on major streets and highway pleading for alms. These mendicants are also found at motor parks, market places, banks, vicinities of worship centres like mosques and churches, theaters and party venues. Many of them are in rags, filthy and unkempt.

However, there is another category of beggars who are called corporate beggars. They are well dressed and very articulate, even in English language. They usually come up with tales to hoodwink people to give them money. Some will say they travel from far distances to see relations whom they did not know have left their last known addresses and as such they are stranded and need to be supported with transport money to go back to their homes. Some will claim they have come to town for a job interview and do not have money to go back home. Some women even go to the extent of renting twins for the purpose of using them to collect alms. I have read stories of people who feign one terminal illness or the other to raise funds. There are also those with religious belief that it is their divine choice of work.

The rationales behind street begging are many. They include socio-cultural and economic. Some people are lazy and believe that the easiest way to making sweat-less and stress-less money is via begging for alms. In truth, so many beggars are alleged to have built houses, bought cars and train children from proceeds of begging. There are those who have the belief that God called them into begging as a vocation. They believe that alms given is a religious obligation as it paves way for God to answer the prayers of the givers. Details of this could be found in the Senegalese author, Aminata Sow Fall’s classic book entitled “The Beggars Strike”.

From the economic angle, there are many people who embraced street begging in order to stave away hunger and starvation. Some took to begging when they couldn’t get gainful employment or fall into bad times such as losing their jobs or suffering from natural disasters such as flooding, fire, earthquake, tsunami, etcetera. There are millions of people whom the Boko Haram insurgency in the northern part of the country have turned to beggars having become displaced from their communities where they ply their trades. There are also those who became beggars as a result of ill-health or physical challenges. Most of the street beggars are physically challenged. Some are blind, deaf, crippled, mentally challenged, etc.

Apart from constituting eyesores and nuisance, many of the street beggars are also alleged to aid and abet criminal gangs. Security agents claimed some of them serve as spies and armourer for some men of the underworld as people will not suspect them easily of being capable of being used for such vices. Some beggars have also been reported to be used as suicide bombers. These ignoble roles streets beggars are being made to play are part of the reasons some state government such as Kano, Edo Lagos including Federal Capital Administration have banned them from city centers. The latest state to prohibit street begging is Kaduna State where the governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai recently signed into law anti-begging bill.

In truth, begging should not be criminalised with the exception of those who try to use begging to commit fraudulent or criminal activities as highlighted above. However, banning street begging, as desirable as it will seems, need to be done with human face. Before the prohibition, government needs to have made adequate provision for the rehabilitation and welfare of the panhandlers. Water will and must find its level; banning street begging without comprehensive welfare packages that will take care of the basic needs of those involved in the trade will be counterproductive.  It will be an exercise in futility. Government must also provide enabling environment that will assist people who wants to engage in decent trade and handiwork to do so. If governments at all levels can provide employment opportunities and vocational skills for those beggars coupled with grants or interest free loans for them  to establish their own businesses, many of these mendicants  will surely embrace a more honourable work.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Imperative of peace and security to national development

There is no gainsaying that Nigeria is on tenterhook given the myriads of security challenges the country faces at present.  Everywhere you turn, security reports give goose pimples. It will seem banditry has become the order of the day.  Incidences of armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, and insurgency are daily dominating the headlines. Was it like this in the past? No! I recall with nostalgia the days of yore when life was blissful and peaceful in Nigeria. Those were days when farmers sell farm produce by using pebbles to indicate the cost while they go on with other chores and buyers buy and put the monies their for farmers to come later and pick.  That was when night life was devoid of fear and molestation and people can go partying till day break without let or hindrance. I am talking of a point in time when Nigerians were not living in fortresses and cages as they are wont now; that was when perimeter fence of a house was part of decoration which is optional and not mandatory as we have it now.

While every other crime may have been with us from time immemorial, pipeline vandalism, illegal oil bunkering, kidnaping for ransom and religious terrorism are all recent phenomena. Militancy in the Niger Delta region started in the 1990s. I have heard story about how Niger Delta youths began violent agitation for resource control after they were bussed in from the creeks to Abuja for the one million man march in support of late Gen. Sani Abacha’s transmutation into civilian president in 1994 or thereabout. It was alleged that when the youths saw the beautiful structures and amenities in Abuja they wondered why their region which is the goose that lay the golden egg (produce oil revenue for the country) is in deplorable condition. It therefore did not take too long before we started hearing of Egbesu Boys, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, Niger Delta Volunteer Force, Niger Delta Avengers  and several other amorphous organisations claiming to be fighting for the development of the region.  The trademark of these groups includes kidnapping for ransom, blowing off oil pipelines, illegal oil bunkering, and many others. According to Albert Camus, “Rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that somewhere, in some way, you are justified.”

The activities of "Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad” better known as Boko Haram took the violent dimension in 2009 when Mohamed Yusuf  who was the then spiritual  leader of the sect and some of his aides were extra-judicially murdered by security agents in Borno State. Since then, the group has unleashed unprecedented terror on the Nigerian state.  Thousands of lives and properties worth trillions of naira have been lost to the fiendish activities of the Islamic insurgents.  Before the advent of Boko Haram, the worst form of religious extremism Nigeria has previously experienced were a few isolated attacks by a religious group known as Maitatsine led by Mohammed Buba Marwa. The sect stirred up religious conflicts in Kano between 1980 and 1985. Among the latter day terrorist groups are the herdsmen who in the course of herding their cattle destroy farmlands as well as kill and maim the farm owners. They have done this in places like Agatu in Benue State and recently in Nimbo in Enugu State.   Heinous deeds of various cult groups on the campuses of our academic institutions as well as those of street gangs have combined to heighten tension in this country.

The activities of the aforementioned terror groups have constituted a great deal of security threat to our dear nation. These groups apart from instilling fear in the minds of average Nigerian have also got us on the black book of international community such that when you travel outside the shores of this country, one is profiled as a suspected terrorist.

Nigerian Constitution in section 14 subsection 2 (c) indicates that security and welfare of citizens shall be the primary purpose of government. Truth be told, government at all levels have been trying to provide some measures of security for the citizenry. The armed forces such as the army, navy, air force; intelligence forces such as Directorate of State Security, National Intelligence Agency and Nigerian Police as well as para-military agency such as the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps have all been established and deployed to provide security against internal insurrection and external aggression.

Some states have even gone further to establish neighbourhood watch groups or vigilante forces to provide some form of community policing. In this category is the Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF) which is working to assist the military to checkmate the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents in the North East region, especially in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno States. There is also the religious police known as Hisbah Corps in Kano State. The Abia State governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu recently revived the defunct Bakassi Boys to support the regular police to curb crimes and criminality. There are also Anambra and Ogun State vigilante services. Many companies, corporate organisations and communities across the country also employ private security guards to protect them and their properties.

The socio-economic cost of insecurity is gargantuan. As earlier mentioned, lives and properties have been lost to terrorists and bandits operating in Nigeria. Many victims have also become physically disabled due to injuries inflicted on them. People have also lost their peace as many now observe self-imposed curfew by refusing to go out at night. Above all is the retardation of national development. It is a trite axiom that there cannot be development without peace and security. Nigeria remains a crippled giant due to the activities of the purveyors of crimes and criminality. Resources that could have been used to provide social amenities such as roads, hospitals, schools, railway, electricity and the rest, are daily being deployed to fight terror and crimes. The ultimate solution to this daunting challenge is good governance. There is need to tackle illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and corruption. Highly desirable are justice and equity in governance as well as patriotism.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Nigeria’s 2016 ‘budget of change’

“As I said in my New Year message, living in the State House does not in any way alienate me from your daily struggles. I read the newspapers and listen to the TV and radio news. I hear your cries. I share your pains…. The budget is intended to signpost a renewal of our commitment to restoring the budget as a serious article of faith with the Nigerian people. This Administration is committed to ensuring that henceforth the annual appropriation bill is presented to the National Assembly in time for the passage of the Act before the beginning of the fiscal year.” – President Muhammadu Buhari while signing the 2016 Appropriation Bill on Friday, May 6, 2016

It is heartwarming that after protracted controversies on Nigeria’s 2016 Federal Government budget which was presented to the parliament on December 22, 2015 and passed by the National Assembly on March 23, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari eventually signed the appropriation bill of N6.06tn into law on last Friday. It is commendable that PMB has also ordered the immediate release of N350bn to reflate the economy through capital projects.

 Well, the next phase which is the most challenging is the implementation of the financial estimates. To my own mind, government must earnestly work round getting the needed fund for the about N2tn deficit. It is unfortunate that militants under the aegis of Niger Delta Avengers have commenced hostilities against Chevron and NNPC by blowing off some of the pipelines of these two corporations.  The oil and gas pipelines ruptured in Warri South West Local Government Area posed a major threat to Nigeria meeting its 2.2mbpd oil production estimate. The vandalised gas pipelines have also worsened the electricity generation plan of the government.

It is laudable that about 30 per cent of the budget is earmarked for capital projects. It is however essential that President Buhari ensures the prompt release of these capital votes which are meant to tackle the infrastructural deficits such as roads, railway, housing, power and many others. It is an open secret that notwithstanding what is appropriated for MDAs; cash backing has always been a problem as Ministry of Finance and Central Bank may claim not to have resources to implement the projects for which funds had been earmarked. Government must redouble its efforts to ensure that having lost Quarter 1 of the financial year 2016, all projects in the budget, especially ongoing ones, are properly funded.

PMB should endeavor to live up to his promises by  implementing his welfare programmes as contained in paragraphs 23 to 25 of his December 22, 2015 budget speech. These are:  FG plan to partner with State and Local Governments to recruit, train and deploy 500,000 unemployed graduates and NCE holders;  the FG plan to partner with State and Local Governments to provide financial training and loans to market women, traders and artisans, through their cooperative societies;  working  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.

This includes home-grown public primary school feeding and free education for science, technology and education students in Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.  Aside this, there is the need for the FG to provide adequate security for the citizenry in accordance with Section 14 (2)(c) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended which states that security and welfare of citizens shall be the primary purpose of government. The spate of crimes and criminality whether by armed bandits operating as robbers, kidnappers, herdsmen or terrorists must be checked.

The executive and the legislative arm must jointly work together to provide needed oversight on the performance of this year’s budget. Am glad to know that Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning had already drafted an implementation plan and a Monitoring and Evaluation framework for the budget.  Relevant committees of the Senate and House of Representatives must carry out genuine oversights on MDAs and not go on blackmailing and arm-twisting mission for personal aggrandisement as they are wont to doing. The media and civil society must also hold government to account on this financial estimate. As the saying goes, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Once bitten, twice shy is a popular adage, Federal Government must learn from the needless controversies over this year’s budget. It is laudable that the preparation for the 2017 budget has commenced in earnest as made known by Senator Udo Udoma who is the Minister for Budget and National Planning, The minister should however hurry slowly and made sure there is wide consultations with the relevant stakeholders. The current practice of sending memo to Ministries, Department and Agencies to submit their budget which is then harmonised by the Budget Office and thereafter presented to the National Assembly for passage is counterproductive.

As could be seen from the ruckus over the 2016 appropriation bill, the legislative arm is a critical stakeholder and should be accorded due recognition. A cripple may not be able to milk a cow but can easily spill the milk. National Assembly’s members’ interest should be reflected in subsequent budgets. Their desire to have constituency projects which they can use to impress their constituents as their democratic dividends should be taken seriously by the executive arm. While it may be true that legislative duties is not inclusive of project initiation and implementation, the norm in this clime is that electorates want more than lawmaking from their elected parliamentary representatives. They want roads, electricity, schools and potable water and cared less about who provides such amenities. Politicians want something to campaign for the next elections and it is tangible things like projects that they can use to convince their electorates that they have not been to Abuja to warm benches or count bridges.

Media and civil society input in subsequent budget is desirable. CSOs have emerged as partner in progress with government at all levels. It is important that their views on budget are captured and reflected in the country’s financial estimates. This will enrich the budgeting process and makes it all-inclusive. Now that the PMB administration has decided to adopt Zero Based Budgeting where every line item in the budget has to be justified, there is a need for the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning to thoroughly educate MDAs on that new budgeting method. Wider civic education on it is equally needful.

I will be most delighted to see subsequent national budget devoid of errors, padding, and brouhaha of 2016. Most importantly, I look forward to a budget whose implementation will align with the financial year framework of January to December.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Nigeria workers demand for N56,000 new minimum wage

The international workers’ day also known as May Day was celebrated last Monday. May 1 of every year has been dedicated since 1880s to celebrate the labour force globally.  In Nigeria, the day was marked with march past at stadia and symposia. Most significantly is the formal demand by Nigeria labour unions viz. Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress for a new minimum wage of N56, 000. This has been generating a lot of furore since it was made public. While a segment of Nigerian society believed that the workers unions are in order to demand for upward review of their wages; a sizable number of people have been castigating the labour unions for making unreasonable, ill-timed, and unrealistic demand. The latter group believed that with about 27 states allegedly owing backlog of salaries and pensions under the current minimum wage of N18,000; while many private enterprises are not able to break even let alone make profit due to the high cost of doing business in Nigeria,  it is implausible for  employers to pay the new minimum wage.

Labour unions have been stoutly defending their proposal for the new wage. They allegedly arrived at the new wage by multiplying the amount the federal government use in feeding a prisoner which is N300 per meal and N900 per day multiply by 30 days of a month in addition to housing, transport and other allowances. Also, since the last minimum wage came into force in March 2011 and it was meant to be reviewed every five years, workers not wanting to sleep on their rights, decided to push forward their case for the new wage. Furthermore, labour unions insist that despite dwindling oil prices and distributable income to the three tiers of government, if the chief executives, namely, the president, governors and Local Government chairpersons will readjust their priorities, they should be able to pay the new minimum wage. It is noteworthy that NLC/TUC are not under any illusion that government will adopt their proposal hook, line and sinker. They are not unmindful that the proposed N56, 000 is negotiable and that given the history of wage negotiation in Nigeria, it will take a long time to conclude hence, it is better to start early.

It is significant that since the last agreed minimum wage in 2011, state governors have been kicking against it and have on several occasions threatened to retrench workers if government will not review the revenue sharing formula to enable state and local government to earn more. Indeed, in November 2015, chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Alhaji  Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State who addressed the press after their meeting said that the N18, 000 national minimum wage promulgated into law in 2011 was no longer sustainable because of the fall in the price of crude oil. The governor also claimed that the national minimum wage was ‘imposed’.

For the records, the last minimum wage was not imposed. It is important to understand how the issue of the national minimum wage came about.  Nigeria joined the league of International Labour Organisation member countries that set minimum wage for their workers in 1981. The last time a minimum wage was set before the 2011 one was in 2000 with effect from May 1, 2001. Then, the wage was set at a paltry N5,500. It took ten years to review that benchmark through a collective bargaining mechanism. 

Nigeria Labour Congress made a demand for wage increase in 2009 after a thorough study of the salary of political office holders’ pre and post consolidation, as well as careful examination of the minimum annual wage levels in African countries. The study shows that Nigerian worker is among the least remunerated in the world. In the NLC estimated cost of meeting basic needs for a representative family done in February 2009, a sum total of N58,500 was arrived at. NLC however decided to demand for a new national minimum wage of N52,200 which the Union considers approximate least Minimum Annual Wage Levels in African Countries, the minimum cost of providing basic needs for the worker and his/her immediate family and the cost of living data.

In order to negotiate this request from NLC and TUC, federal government set up a tripartite committee made up of representatives from the government, labour and the organised private sector. On the part of the government were 4 cabinet ministers, three state governors and representatives of the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission. Labour drew its representatives from the NLC and TUC, while representatives of the organised private sector include Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association and those of Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture. The committee was chaired by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Alfa Belgore (Retd.).

Information has it that this committee met for over one year, dialoguing and negotiating with different stakeholders. It was reliably gathered that all the 36 State governors as well as the Nigeria Governors Forum were formally written to make input into the negotiation. While some of the governors were said to have recommended a minimum wage of about N20,000 and above, the Committee decided to propose N18,000 in order to make it easy for all concerned employer of labour to implement. It was also proposed that the new wage will apply to only organisation with a minimum of 50 workers in its employment. It was after this consensual agreement that the proposal was drafted into a bill and presented to the National Assembly for legislation. This bill was passed and signed into law by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan on March 23, 2011.

Enough of history! To my own mind, Nigerian labour unions are justified to request for upward wage review. The spiraling inflation, high cost of living and high dependency ratio due to mass unemployment have combined to make this imperative. Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo State during the May Day 2016 celebration announced increase of minimum wage in the state to N25,000. Impressive and exemplary!  Perhaps by the time the negotiation committee that will be set up will conclude their assignment, the economy would have rebounded  to enable the employers to pay whatever is collectively agreed upon. I am in total agreement with NLC submission that the economic problems facing the states were caused by “serial acts of corruption in the past, failure to save for a rainy day, high cost of governance (via employment of unneeded aides on criminally high salaries), unlawful and equally unacceptable severance packages for ex-governors and their deputies, cost of political expediency, failure to invest, etcetera.”

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Nigerians poor attitude to the environment

Nigerians are indeed a special breed. Our scant regard for the environment is legendary. All across the nooks and crannies of the country are people who, perhaps out of ignorance or mischief, treat their natural habitat with disdain. This is quite unfortunate!

All facets of our lives are replete with negative examples on how a civilised people should not relate with their surroundings.  Take for instance our solid waste disposal methods. I’m sure many of us reading this have seen and are indeed complicit in reckless waste management. Some of us empty our dustbins in the gutters thereby blocking drainage and causing flood. Many of us are also fond of the dirty habit of throwing our thrash through the windows of moving vehicles.  Open defecation is still the norm in many rural and urban communities as there is no provision of toilet facilities in many homes. A November 2015 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund revealed that over 50m Nigerians do not have access to toilets; therefore many of them ‘answer call of nature’ in the open. The report also revealed that Nigeria ranks among the five countries in the world with the greatest rates of open defecation. Preposterous!

 The report entitled, “Improving Nutrition Outcomes with Better Water, Sanitation and Hygiene”, pointed out the emerging evidence of links between inadequate sanitation and malnutrition among children.  It informed that “Nigeria loses over 150,000 children to diarrhoea annually. After pneumonia, it is the biggest killer of Nigeria’s under-fives; 88 per cent of diarrhoea cases in Nigeria are attributed to unsafe water and sanitation. Where rates of toilet use are low, rates of diarrhoea tend to be high. Intestinal parasites such as roundworm, whipworm and hookworm are transmitted through contaminated soil in areas where open defecation is practised. Hookworm is a major cause of anaemia in pregnant women, leading to malnourished, underweight babies.” Imagine that!

Still talking hygiene, it is a common sight in this country to see many occupied residential buildings overgrown with weeds and littered with used tyres, broken bottles and plastics. This is the ideal environment for breeding of mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, and other dangerous insects and reptiles. Little wonder we have failed to make appreciable progress in our efforts to roll back malaria. According to the 2015 statistics on the killer disease, there are an estimated 214m malaria cases globally resulting in 438,000 deaths.  90 per cent of the fatalities occur in Sub-Saharan Africa with 70 per cent of deaths recorded among children under five.  35 per cent of malaria deaths occur in just two countries: Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Aren’t we good at something!

Illegal felling of trees is commonplace in Nigeria. The trees are mowed for commercial or building purposes. They are cut off to be sold as planks, firewood or burnt off as charcoal. The saddening part is that there are no trees planted in place of the felled ones. This is largely responsible for the high level of desertification experienced in savannah part of the Northern Nigeria.  This has added to ozone layer depletion, global warming and concomitantly climate change. Same with the despoliation taking place in Niger Delta region occasioned by oil spillage and gas flaring caused by reckless and unethical oil exploration activities of the international oil companies. It’s not only the IOCs that are degrading the Nigeria’s coastal region; my compatriots indulging in pipeline vandalism for the purpose of illegal oil bunkering are also among the scoundrels. Several heart diseases and cancers have been traced to the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta region.

Drinkable water is in short supply in Nigeria. According to information gleaned from the website of Wateraid Nigeria, 57m Nigerians don’t have access to safe water; over 130m people don't have access to adequate sanitation, while over 25,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. The story does not end there. Did you know that much of the little pipe-borne water produced for our consumption in Nigeria is wasted through burst pipes? In the urban centres where government’s Water Corporation or Board managed to provide safe water, it is disheartening to see how this precious resource is wasted in many homes. Some people use a bucket of water for mouthwash while children are also allowed to play with it. Faulty water taps are left unrepaired for a long period.

Many customers still refuse to pay their water rates. I recall that in 2010, during my maiden visit to the United States of America, the hotel where I lodged gives a $5 voucher per day to customers who will not demand for daily change of bedspreads. These vouchers can be used to purchase gift items or food at the hotel restaurant.   The hotel is doing this to reduce the amount of water it will need for laundry and thereby saving the environment.

As a result of desertification and oil spillage, the ecosystem has been badly affected. Animals have been displaced from their natural habitat while fishes, crabs, shrimps that are natural source of protein have died off in many of the rivers of the Niger Delta. As a result of this, several thousands of people have lost their occupations and homes. Even the way we pollute our environment with noise and fumes leaves much to be desired of a civilised people.  Neighbours care less about the peace of their co-tenants as they put on their contraptions called electricity generators and play loud music on their electronic devices. This is bad!

Governments at various levels have embarked on some remedial measures. I recall that as part of the War Against Indiscipline launched by General, now President  Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in 1984 was the monthly environmental sanitation exercise which comes up every last Saturday of the month. Many state governors have sustained this over the years by extending it to our markets where a day is set aside every week for the cleaning of the market environment for about three hours. The setting up of Office of Environmental Health Officers popularly known in Yorubaland as ‘Wole-Wole’ at Local Government Areas has also helped to sensitise Nigerians on the need to sanitise their environment. Ministries’ of Environment have also been established at the federal level as well as in many states. At the National Assembly, both chambers have committees on environment.

Despite these government initiatives and those of the donor partners and civil societies, a lot still needs to be done on how to protect the environment. Federal and states ministries of information, National Orientation Agency, and Nigerian media must key into sensitising the country’s populace on how to be environment friendly.

Follow me on twitter @jideojong