Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Is President Buhari a provincial leader?


“The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to effect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies” -  Section 14 (3) of 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended. 

Love him or hate him, President Muhammadu Buhari is a man of destiny. The trajectory of his life’s odyssey clearly points to that. Mr. President has held different public offices from his youth to old age. He has been a Military Governor, Petroleum Minister, Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund, Head of State and now an elected president of the most populous country in Africa. Many would vouch for the president as an honest man hence the appellation of ‘Mai Gasikiya’ which means one who always says the truth in Hausa language. He is seen as an austere man who lives a Spartan life despite having held many privileged positions. However, many others have also alleged that PMB is a religious bigot and a provincial leader.  In trying to puncture the accusation of bigotry, for the four times he ran for presidential office, he always chose Christian running mates and twice even chose clerics – Pastor Tunde Bakare in 2011 and Pastor Yemi Osinbajo in 2015. However, president is yet to fully discharge the proof that he is not a provincial leader.

On his assumption of office, all the major appointments the president made were from the northern region with the exception of perhaps his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina and Group Managing Director of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Dr, Ibe Kachikwu. At the time Dr. Ogbonaya Onu was touted as being likely to be made Secretary to the Federal Government, the president decided to pick Engineer Babachir David Lawal from Adamawa State. The president’s Chief of Staff is also from the North. Now, news going round shows that the chunk of the national security and defence sector of Nigeria is dominated not only by people of northern extraction but also Muslims. Let’s take a count: The National Security Adviser, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Comptroller General of Customs, Comptroller General of Immigration, Comptroller General of Prisons, The Inspector General of Police, the Director General of the Department of State Security and the Commandant-General of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps.

Part of the grouse that Niger Delta militants have against President Buhari is the significant reduction in the annual budget of Niger Delta Ministry, Niger Delta Development Commission, the Presidential Amnesty Programme as well as the scrapping of the Maritime University in Delta State. The agitators believe that this was willfully done by the president as a payback for their lack of support for his presidential ambition during the last general election. They also pointed to the fact that while the president lashed out at the Niger Delta Avengers promising to mete out Boko Haram punishment to them, he was very reluctant to condemn the heinous crimes committed by some perceived Fulani herdsmen against the Agatus of Benue State and Nimbo people in Enugu State. That would seem like double standard.

Another recent development capable of convincing some doubting Thomas’s about the provincial inclination of PMB is the last week suspension  of former President Umaru Musa YarAdua tenured policy for Permanent Secretaries and Directors in the Nigerian civil service. The Federal Government had on August 26, 2009 through circular HCSF/O61/S.1/III/68 introduced the tenure policy for directors and Permanent Secretaries. The circular was signed by a former Head of the Civil service of the Federation, Mr. Steve Oronsaye.

Entitled “Tenure of Office for Permanent Secretaries and Directors,” The circular had read: “As part of the continuing reforms in the Federal Civil Service, Government has found it necessary to develop a policy that will renew and reinvigorate the service, restore morale of officers and unlock the creative potentials of hard-working officers. Accordingly, Government has approved that permanent secretaries shall hold office for a term of four years, renewable for a further term of four years, subject to satisfactory performance, and no more. In the case of directors, they shall compulsorily retire upon serving eight years on the post. This approval is without prejudice to the relevant provisions of the public service rules which prescribe 60 years of age and/or 35 years of service for mandatory retirement.”

While shedding light on the rationale behind that decision, the then  President's spokesperson, Olusegun Adeniyi said and I quote, "Ordinarily, the Public Service Rule prescribes three years as the maturity period for officers to earn their promotion to the next Grade Level, between GL.08 and GL.14, while the maturity period to move between GL.14 and GL.17 is four years. It follows simple logic, therefore, that an officer entering the civil service with a first degree would require a minimum of 27 years to attain the post of director (GL.17), leaving only eight years as maximum number of years that an officer could possibly spend on the two grades of director and permanent secretary. Unfortunately, available facts reveal that the records of some officers are not in sync with this model; and the real situation is that there are directors who have spent 10 to 12 years on post and still have more than five years to retirement; there are permanent secretaries who have been on the post for more than eight years and still have several years to retire, meaning a large number of hard-working and effective officers who could not be promoted due to lack of vacancies." This decision was roundly condemned by the northern oligarchs who were favoured by the status quo because of their rapid promotion to directorship and permanent secretary position.

This bold step is what President Buhari has reversed via a June 20, 2016 suspending the eight year tenure policy for Permanent Secretaries and directors in the Federal Civil Service with immediate effect. The circular was issued to all Ministries Departments and Agencies by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita. This is unfair to those civil servants who have been hoping to take over from their bosses after the expiration of their eight years directorship. The tenured service that has been suspended was primarily meant "to institute due process in the appointment of directors and permanent secretaries, arrest the succession crisis in the service, create vacancies, reinvigorate the system and boost the morale of qualified and deserving officers".  The president should therefore rethink this suspension order. On the whole, PMB should know that he is the father of Nigeria and should therefore lead the country by ensuring that there is no ethnic or religious dominance.

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ending the perennial crisis in Nigeria’s health sector


The parlous state of Nigeria’s health sector should be of utmost concern to all well-meaning compatriots. The country’s health indices are nothing to write home about. Preventable and treatable diseases continue to claim thousands of lives in this clime. Malaria, typhoid, dysentery, malnutrition, high blood pressure, diabetes, meningitis, tuberculosis, pneumonia and many others continue to present health burden to Nigerians. At present, my country has the highest infant and maternal mortality in Africa. A Demographic Health Survey in 2013 allegedly found that Nigeria contributes about 13 per cent of global maternal mortality, with estimated 36,000 deaths annually. James Entwistle, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria while delivering a speech at the launch of the Healthmagination Mother and Child Initiative on March 4, 2016 said there is  excessively high maternal, neonatal, and under-five death rates in Nigeria and said that there are 40,000 maternal deaths per year in Nigeria.

It is reported that less than 30,000 medical doctors are at present practicing in Nigeria while there are about 150,000 registered nurses nationwide.  Though the ideal Doctor – Patient ratio should be 1:600, in Nigeria average Doctor-Patient ratio is put at 1:53,333 while Nurse-Patient ratio is 1: 1,066. According to the 2015 World Health Organisation data, life expectancy at birth in Nigeria is 53 years for Male and 56 years for Female.

Nigeria’s health crises are self-inflicted. Many of our health facilities are obsolete and inadequate. Many of the primary health care centres across the country are not well resourced. There are no adequate personnel or equipment. Same applies to our General Hospitals and Teaching Hospitals. Many decades ago, a prominent Nigerian denotes our health centres as mere consulting clinics. These days, the consulting clinics are even more closed than open due to the incessant industrial actions embarked on by different unions in the health sector. As I write this piece, the Joint Health Sector Unions in federal tertiary health institutions are on a seven-days warning strike. The union in a communiqué issued on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 by its President, Biobelemoye Josiah said embarking on the warning strike was to press home their demands. This was coming on the heels of another strike by National Association of Resident Doctors. The NARD president, Dr Muhammad Askira, said there were issues yet to be attended to by government. He said:  ”Resident doctors who work in states of the country that were yet to be paid their salaries; skipping and all accrued arrears for doctors yet to be implemented in most hospitals in the country; unpaid December salaries of doctors in some federal hospitals, and, house officers’ entry steps have not been effected.”

The five day warning strike embarked on by NARD in May indirectly led to the death of my younger sister, Tolulope Brimah (nee Ojo) on May 19, 2016. She was on admission at the University College Hospital for an heart related ailment and was scheduled for medical procedures in the last week of the month. Unfortunately, on Wednesday, May 11, NARD went on strike and all in-patients at the hospital were forcefully discharged irrespective of their delicate state of health. My sister who was making steady progress ahead of the operation was one of those discharged involuntarily and from there on her health took turn for the worse till her death the week after. There are thousands of such untimely deaths recorded annually due to the recurring industrial crises in Nigeria’s health sector.

It was this unfortunate phenomenon that has hiked incidences of medical tourism in Nigeria. According to the Chief Medical Director, Genesis Specialist Hospital, Ikeja, Dr. Roger Olade, “It has been estimated that Nigerians spent $1.9bn on medical tourism in 2014.” Olade, who spoke at the inauguration of the hospital in Lagos in March 2016, noted that Nigerians paid over N320bn for surgeries and treatments in Dubai, India and the United Kingdom in 2014. He argued that the government had yet to enact policies that would support its best hands in medicine to return to practice in Nigeria. According to him, instead of wooing doctors in the Diaspora, the Federal Government, through its unfriendly policies, is frustrating those who want to practice in the country. True, so very true!

It has been reported that approximately thirty percent of trained medical personnel in Nigeria stay in country to practice. Many of them are in Europe, America, Middle East and other parts of the world practising. The brain drain is largely caused by lack of equipment, inhuman working conditions, insecurity, corruption and several other challenges. Why on earth should government be owing medical personnel salaries? Does it make sense to have doctors and medical personnel begging for food? There have also been incidences of doctors being kidnapped or beaten up by relations of hospital patients. Government routinely breach agreements reached with various medical unions with impunity and when they go on strike, they are threatened with mass sack as was the case with 14,000 resident doctors who were sacked last Tuesday before reasons prevailed and government rescinded that decision after the intervention of the House of Representatives leadership. This is very untoward!

I had thought that with the signing into law of National Health Bill by President Goodluck Jonathan on December 24, 2014, things will improve in Nigeria’s health sector. Unfortunately, almost two years down the line, it’s the same old story and lamentations. The Act, experts said, seeks to provide a framework for the regulation, development and management of a National Health system and set standards for rendering health service in the country. Some of the accruing benefits of the National Health Act include the provision of free basic health care services for children under the age of five, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with disabilities in the country.  Additionally, the law guarantees the universal acceptance of accident victims in both public and private health institutions. Interestingly and deservedly too, the law bans senior public officers’ use of public funds for treatment abroad, especially for ailments that can be treated locally.  This was part of the reason the recent trip by President Muhammadu Buhari to United Kingdom to see Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist for his hearing challenge generated a lot of furore.

Sadly, while there is low budget for health in Nigeria, some of the international partners helping out are having a raw deal as some of the funds were either embezzled or misappropriated. Such was the case with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, GFATM, an international financing institution that invests the world’s money to save lives.  GFATM reportedly suspended disbursement of funds for malaria, HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis in Nigeria this May 2016 following discovery of large scale fraud by recipient organisations in Nigeria. Executive Director, Global Fund, Mark Dybul, said “The investigation report found fraud and collusion in the amount of US$3.8 million.”

The way out of these crises are for government at all levels to increase funding for the health sector, ensure industrial harmony in the sector, fight corruption in the system, implement the National Health Act, incentivize Nigerians to embrace the National Health Insurance Scheme and provide enabling environment for private sector participation in health care delivery.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.

 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Edo 2016: Peaceful, issue-based campaigns are vital

The forthcoming September 10, 2016 governorship election in Edo State is one of the seven off-cycle elections in Nigeria. Other states with a similar fate are Anambra, Ekiti, Osun, Ondo, Bayelsa and Kogi. The reasons for this phenomenon are twofold. The first was as a result of judicial verdict arising from proved allegations of stolen mandate at the election petitions tribunals against the Peoples Democratic Party in Anambra, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun states. Second,the January 27, 2012 Supreme Court decision on the tenure elongation suit of five governors who won re-run elections after their initial victories had been annulled by the election tribunals. In the landmark judgment under reference, the apex court, in a unanimous decision, said the interpretation and intendment of Section 180(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is that no governor should spend more than four years as a tenure irrespective of whether his previous election into the same office was annulled after which he now won a re-run poll.
Post-2015 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has conducted the off-cycle gubernatorial elections in Kogi State on November 21 and Bayelsa State on December 5, 2015. Both elections were declared inconclusive due to reported acts of brigandage and electoral heists perpetrated by the political actors in both states. This 2016, aside from Edo State, INEC has also scheduled the Ondo State governorship election to take place on November 26, 2016. Since the release of the timetable for the two elections, political activities in the two states have gathered momentum. Some of the events that have so far taken place include the sale of nomination forms and conduct of party primaries by political parties. INEC has also scheduled the Continuous Voter Registration for the two states from today, Wednesday, June 22 to Sunday, June 26, 2016.
On Saturday, June 18, 2016, the All Progressives Congress in Edo State held its primaries to pick its governorship candidate. Though there were 12 aspirants that contested the sole ticket, Mr. Godwin Obaseki clinched the ticket with 1,618 votes out of a total ballot of 2,873 delegates from 192 wards who were accredited for the election.
 
Ahead of the contest held at Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City, there were allegations and counter-allegations about buying of Permanent Voter Cards from delegates by an aspirant, non-disclosure of register of delegates 72 hours to the poll, some of the delegates being on payroll of some of the contestants, financial inducement of delegates, assassination attempt on one of the aspirants and the adoption of open ballot by the Governor Aminu Masari-led electoral committee. It was reported that some of the contestants wanted open secret ballot system whereby voting cubicles are made available for delegates to make their choice in secret and cast their ballot in the open. The aggrieved aspirants felt the open ballot system adopted could lead to unpleasant repercussions for some of the delegates, particularly if they had collected money from the aspirants despite not wanting to vote for them. The most important thing was that the APC governorship primary held last Saturday went smoothly without any security breach or violence.
The Peoples Democratic Party held its governorship primaries in Edo State on Monday, June 20, 2016. There were three aspirants and at the end of the poll, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu was elected as the party’s torch bearer with 584 votes out of a total of 713 votes. The election was also very peaceful. However, unlike the APC which charged N5.5m as Expression of Interest and Nomination Fee, the PDP charged a whopping N16m for the same. Perhaps, that accounted for the reason behind the few contestants that showed up. Though there could be other political parties that could field candidates for the election, it will be a two-horse race between the ruling party, the APC, and its arch rival, the PDP.
Incidentally, both parties have had the opportunity to govern the state since 1999. The PDP ruled the state from May 29, 1999 to November 12, 2008. While Chief Lucky Igbinedion ruled for two terms of eight years with his tenure ending on May 29, 2007, Prof. Oserhiemen Osunbor was rigged in to take over from Igbinedion. However, the Court of Appeal kicked out the erudite Professor of Law in November 2008 paving the way for Governor Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria (now APC) to be sworn in on November 12, 2008 having been declared by the appellate court as the rightful winner of the April 2007 election in the state. Oshiomhole was re-elected for a second and final term in 2012 hence this year’s governorship poll to elect his successor.
Another thing both the APC and the PDP have done in electing their torch bearer for the election was to pick their candidates from Edo South senatorial district. Ahead of the party primary, a Committee of Concerned Elders Council had asked the national secretariat of the APC to stop six of the aspirants from Edo South from taking part in the primary over what it described as the disregard for Section 20 (2) (iii) of the party’s constitution which upholds the “principle of federal character, gender equality, geographical spread and rotation of office to as much as possible to ensure balance within the constituency covered.” The group had wanted the APC to zone the seat to Edo Central. The kernel of its argument was that while Edo South produced Igbinedion and the incumbent governor is from Edo North, that of the Edo Central was cut short by a court ruling which upturned the election of Osunbor in 2008.
A number of things will heighten tension as campaigns begin in earnest at the aftermath of the successful and peaceful party primaries. One of them is the fact that the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, is from Edo State. He will want to deliver his state to the party to show his popularity, after all charity begins at home. Two, Edo State is the only APC state in the South-South geopolitical zone. The party tried to win Bayelsa in December 2015 but couldn’t. The APC will therefore want to hold tight to that “lone-goal” victory while the PDP will want to poach it to have a clean sweep of all the states in the zone. Third, Edo is one of the oil producing states and as such the APC will not want to let go of it without a fierce battle. Fourth, the September 10 election is a referendum on the performance of the incumbent governor whom his admirers nicknamed “Otokinado” (One who talks and does).
My charge to all the candidates for the forthcoming Edo governorship election is to make their campaigns peaceful and issue-based. As the primaries were held without skirmishes or violence, so should the campaigns. Candidates should eschew the use of inflammatory language and mudslinging. There should be no killings, destruction, kidnappings and other orchestrated social vices during the campaigns. The voters should not sell their PVCs and those who have not registered to vote should take advantage of the continuous voter registration starting from today to enlist on the register. Those who have registered but have not collected their PVCs should do so now before it’s too late. There is also now a window of opportunity for those who want to transfer their registration details to or from Edo State as well as those who have lost or damaged their PVCs to get replacements.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Plights of Nigerian Albinos


"The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda pledges to leave no one behind. That includes people with albinism. The cycle of attacks, discrimination and poverty must be broken" - Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

On Monday, June 13, 2016 the International Albinism Awareness Day was celebrated globally. Nigeria was not an exception. There were media advocacy and symposium organised by The Albino Foundation, a non-governmental organisation established since 2006 to fight the cause and protect the rights of persons living with albinism.

According to the United Nations “People with albinism face multiple forms of discrimination worldwide. Albinism is still profoundly misunderstood, socially and medically. The physical appearance of persons with albinism is often the object of erroneous beliefs and myths influenced by superstition, which foster their marginalisation and social exclusion. This leads to various forms of stigma and discrimination. In some communities, erroneous beliefs and myths, heavily influenced by superstition, put the security and lives of persons with albinism at constant risk. These beliefs and myths are centuries old and are present in cultural attitudes and practices around the world.  On 18 December 2014, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming, with effect from 2015, 13 June as International Albinism Awareness Day.”

UN is on point with the above observations. Albinos which Yorubas called ‘Afin’ while Hausa people call them ‘Bature’ meaning ‘White man’ are endangered species in Africa, nay Nigeria. They face a lot of maltreatments, molestations, discriminations, stigmatisations, ostracism and persecutions due to the myths and superstitions about them.  In Nigeria and several African countries like Tanzania, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burundi, and even South Africa, albinos are highly discriminated against to the point of being murdered. It is reported that in Tanzania, some witchdoctors are making the ignorant populace believe that they could prepare them good luck charms with body parts of albinos. Thus, there is massive hunt for their genitals, hair, skin, limbs and so on.

In Zimbabwe, there is also an erroneous belief that sleeping with an albino cures HIV/AIDS carrier of the disease. Thus, many of the albinos in Zimbabwe are being raped for that purpose which is a total fallacy.  In Nigeria, the belief is that they are accursed people and bring bad luck. Hence they are often ostracised. In some communities here, it is a common belief that a child born with albinism is conceived when a woman had intercourse while she is menstruating or in the afternoon. Others are of the opinion that an albino is a punishment or a curse from the gods due to wrong done in the family. These are all fallacious beliefs which have been disproved by science.

What actually is albinism? According to Healthline, “Albinism is a rare group of genetic disorders that cause the skin, hair, or eyes to have little or no colour. Albinism is also associated with vision problems. According to the National Organisation for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, about 1 in 18,000 to 20,000 people in the United States has a form of albinism.” There are two broad types of albinism. They is Oculocutaneous Albinism.  This has four subtypes and affects the skin, hair, and eyes. The second type is Ocular Albinism. This occurs as a result of a gene mutation on the X chromosome and occurs almost exclusively in males. This type of albinism only affects the eyes. People with OA have normal hair, skin, and eye colouring, but have no colouring in the retina (the back of the eye). Albinism, according to medical research, is caused by a defect in one of several genes that produce or distribute melanin. The defect may result in the absence of melanin production, or a reduced amount of melanin production. The defective gene passes down from both parents to the child and causes albinism.

Nigeria, our dear country, has her fair share of albinos or persons with albinism. News report has it   that there is an estimated six million Nigerians with that genetic disorder. According to TAF, over 600,000 Nigerian albinos suffered discrimination from their families, schoolmates and peers. There are cases of killing of albino children (infanticide), failure to enroll albino in schools as well as not giving special attention to pupils and students who are suffering from albinism in terms of getting them to sit close to blackboard due to their eye defects. Other daunting challenges faced by albinos are employment and workplace discrimination. Not only are albinos denied employment opportunities (perhaps due to their visual impairment), the few who manages to even get employed are equally discriminated against. On August 15, 2015, one 23-year-old albino, Ugochukwu Ugogbua, allegedly committed suicide at his Festac Town home in Lagos due to the discrimination and stigmatisation he suffered from the society.  

There are two major health challenges albinos suffered. They are eye impairment and skin cancer. It is said that too much exposure to sun usually make their skins freckled and if not urgently treated do lead to skin cancer. In 2008 the Federal Government reportedly asked the National Hospital Abuja to treat albinos’ with skin cancer free while it pays. Unfortunately, this laudable programme under which over two thousand albinos have benefitted was cancelled by the National Hospital Abuja in September 2015 due to unpaid N50m medical bill accumulated on those treated for skin cancer. This is saddening!

The good news however is that at the symposium organised to mark the 2016 International Albinism Awareness Day, the Chief Medical Director of National Hospital, Dr. Jaff Momoh, gave directive that the free cancer treatment for albinos should re-commence with immediate effect. This is a noble gesture. However, government should clear off the N50m debt owed NHA while public spirited Nigerians should equally help out. Meanwhile, the representative of the Minister of Education at same event talked about a Ministerial Action Plan on Education which includes some positive actions by the ministry for persons with albinism. Again at the programme, the Central Bank of Nigeria says it has set aside two per cent of its Micro Small Medium Enterprises for Persons with Albinism to access.

It behooves you and I to stop discrimination against albinos. They are not accursed or punishment from gods. Their body parts are useless if used for any charms. Sex with them will not cure anyone of HIV/AIDS infection. They are all unfounded superstitions! In case you have an albino child, don’t throw him or her away. All you need do is protect the child against sun and cater to his or her special academic needs.

Jide is Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Buharimeter, NASS and FG school feeding programme


Thursday, June 9, 2016 is a day to remember in the annals of governance in Nigeria. On that day, three important events took place, all in Abuja. The first was the town hall meeting held at Sheraton Hotels by Centre for Democracy and Development on Buharimeter, which is an online platform designed to track implementation of all the 222 campaign promises made by President Muhammadu Buhari. The second is the celebration of first anniversary of the eight National Assembly while the third is the launch of the federal government Home Grown School Feeding Programme by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.

Starting with the Buharimeter Town Hall meeting which I attended, it was heartwarming to have five of the cabinet ministers of President Buhari coming to give account of their stewardship. In attendance were: Minister of Budget and Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma; Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe; Minister of Environment, Hajiya Amina Mohammed; Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the minister in charge of Works, Housing and Power, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fasola, SAN. The meeting was moderated by human rights activist, Barrister Ayo Obe and ace broadcaster Mr. Imoni Mac Amarere of Africa Independent Television.

The five ministers took turn to address the gathering made up of members of the civil society and the media. They all spoke robustly about what they have been doing since their inauguration on November 11, 2015. The town hall meeting was highly interactive as participants took the ministers to task about their party’s campaign promises and the slow delivery on those promises. They asked them probing questions and sought clarifications on some of the things in the public domain which were not clear to them.

 I listened with rapt attention as Fasola reeled out his plans and activities since assumption of office. The minister talked about challenge with electricity supply which he blamed on vandalisation of gas pipelines, the metering challenge with electricity distribution companies, high debt profile of electricity consumers, efforts being made in strengthening transmission lines and many other initiatives. On housing, he spoke about model mass housing being planned. He asked whether there could be anything like low cost housing when there are no low cost building materials or low cost labour. He also repeatedly asked whether Nigerians prefer rapid result to sustainable result. When asked if he is not overwhelmed by being in charge of three key ministries in one, he answered that he is not because he has a Minister of State as well as two permanent secretaries and a crop of highly skilled and dedicated staff to work with. He reminded the attendees that as governor of Lagos State he had a bigger task overseeing over twenty ministries and over fifty agencies.

On her part, Minister of Environment talked about the various initiatives of her ministry and the recent flag off of the cleanup of Ogoniland; Minister of Information spoke about how government is dealing with the security challenges and successes recorded so far. He flagged the security challenge posed by the drying up of Lake Chad to the seven countries whose citizens are depending on the lake for their livelihood. He also defended the government when accused of inadequate information. According to him, apart from regular press conferences and press releases, his ministry has also organised four town hall meetings across the geo-political zones to inform the public about what Buhari administration is doing.  Minister of Agriculture spoke about the issue of grazing reserves and ranches as panacea to incessant herdsmen and farmer clashes as well as his plan to end rice importation in two years’ time following his proposed programme of rapid expansion of local production. The Minister of Budget and Planning also talked about the 2016 budget as well as the robust coordination of all ministries.

On the first anniversary of the National Assembly, it is important to note that at inauguration on June 9, 2015, the two chambers of the NASS were embroiled in power tussle with the current leadership emerging against the preferred candidates of the leadership of their political party, the All Progressives Congress. It took a while before the entire principal officers of both chambers were eventually elected or appointed. NASS has also embarked on several recesses to the chagrin of many Nigerians who believe that the elected parliamentarians are not alive to their responsibilities. The current trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki on false asset declaration charges  by the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the investigation of his wife for corruption by the Economic and Financial Commission are some of the things that dents the image of Nigerian parliament. There was also the issue of padding of 2016 budget with constituency projects not proposed by the executive arm as well as the double emoluments being received by some of the former governors, now Senators, who are already on life pensions and other welfare packages and still get paid as legislators.

On the whole, the Senate passed only 11 bills in one year. Senator Babajide Omoworare who is the chairman of Committee on Rules and Business said the bills were among the 300 bills brought before the Senate. He equally said the Senate passed 96 landmark resolutions, confirmations and received 159 petitions.  In the House of Representatives, Speaker Yakubu Dogara said the House passed 85 bills out of the 685 bills received. It is important to note that the conference committees of both chambers still have to sit to harmonise the bills before it will be sent to the president for assent. In this this second year, Nigerians would like NASS to pass critical bills such as the Petroleum Industry Bills and several anti-corruption bills before it. Nigerians are also hoping to have the breakdown of the federal lawmakers N115bn in this year’s budget as well as effective oversight of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on June 9 launched the strategic implementation plan for the national home-grown school feeding programme. The plan is expected to run till 2020 and will form the cornerstone of the nationwide Home-Grown School Feeding programme which when fully realised will provide a meal a day to over 24 million primary school children.  According to the presidency, under this scheme the children will benefit from nutritionally balanced school meals which will reduce hunger and improve education outcomes; farmers will benefit from improved access to school feeding markets and communities will benefit from new catering, processing and food handling jobs. According to the Vice President, “not only will the Home Grown School Feeding programme help our pupils become better students, it will also boost the local economies, and create new jobs along the way.” Osun and Kaduna State are the two states already running similar programmes.

The Federal Government said that N93.1bn had been appropriated for the first phase of the scheme to take care of 5.5 million pupils in 18 states from three geopolitical zones. The FG school feeding programme is reportedly meant for Primary 1 to 3 pupils while the state governments are expected to cater for pupils in Primary 4 to 6. Unfortunately, many states have allegedly claimed not have money in this year’s budget for the welfare programme.  More so, given their parlous financial status which has made payment of workers salary difficult. The other issue is whether FG is not putting the cart before the horse as this programme is bound to increase school enrolment. This will likely overstretch the existing inadequate school infrastructures. Furthermore, is there any policy or legal backing for this laudable  initiative such that a new administration will not be able to discard it? How do we ensure accountability and transparency in the project? There are indeed more questions than answers.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Good governance as panacea to Niger Delta crises


Rebellion cannot exist without a feeling that somewhere, in some way, you are justified – Albert Camus

For decades, the Niger Delta region has been enmeshed in all manner of crises – political, social and economic. The volatility of the region arose from absence of good governance in many of the over 500 communities making up the area. There are six states making up the Niger Delta geo-political zone. They are Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Edo and Delta States. Outside the zone, other oil producing states include Ondo, Imo, Abia, Anambra and recently, Lagos. I have the privilege of doing my National Youth Service in Delta state and thereafter have been to all the oil producing states on official assignments. What you see in many communities there is poverty in its absolute form. There are no good roads, potable water, electricity, hospitals, and other social amenities. Upon all these, the ND environment is highly degraded as a result of inhuman attitude of many of the multinational oil companies operating in the region. This is heart rending as this is the goose that lays the golden egg for the nation. The oil wells of Niger Delta create the commonwealth upon which the bulk of the country’s national income is derived.  

The ecosystem of ND is destroyed due to decades of oil spillage without proper remediation steps by the international oil companies. This resulted in loss of means of livelihood by the farmers and fishermen of the ND as the soil, having been degraded can no longer be cultivated for any farm produce. The water too is polluted with the aquatic life destroyed by the highly toxic oil spills. Thus, those professional farmers lost their means of income. Because of environmental degradation, the people of Niger Delta do not have clean water to drink. Take for instance the United Nations Environment Programme report which says the water in Nsisioken-Ogale-Eleme in Eleme LGA contains cancer-causing Benzene (carcinogen), which is 900 times the World Health Organisation’s standard for water contamination. As with water, the ND people are also faced with a lot of air pollution due to the gas being flared by the IOCs who are engaged in oil explorations in the region. Government has announced different end dates for these IOCs to end gas flaring but such directives have been largely ignored.

For so long, the international oil companies operated with impunity in the region. They constitute themselves into parallel government. They despoil the environment, engage in cosmetic remedial actions if at all they did, refuse to develop their host communities, fail to pay appropriate taxes and royalties, sponsor divisions in many communities, abuse expatriate quota, discard our local content laws and engage in all manner of sharp practices and malpractices. They jettison international best practices or minimum operational standard in Nigeria.  They use their home governments to mount pressure on Nigerian government to soft pedal in holding them to account.

Truth be told, these IOCs are not the only guilty actor in the Niger Delta crises. The political elites, particularly the Niger Delta bourgeoisie are also part of the problem. Likewise many of the community leaders.  Information has it that these leaders armed their youths to deal with their opponents especially during the electioneering campaigns. The welfare packages from some of the IOCs are also diverted for their own personal aggrandisements. It is noteworthy that at least three former governors of ND have been convicted for corruption in Nigeria and Britain.

The let down from the IOCs, traditional rulers and political leaders of Niger Delta gave birth to different kinds of agitations. This was pioneered by Isaac Adaka Boro in the 70s. His rebellion group was quickly dismantled by the government forces. In the late 80s and early 90s, Kenule Saro-Wiwa engaged the powers-that-be in nonviolent agitation for the betterment of ND.  He used his intellectual prowess as a playwright, poet and orator to draw attention to the deplorable situation in his Ogoniland and the Niger Delta region. Many of us will remember ‘Bassey and Company’ a satiric play produced by Ken Saro Wiwa and aired on Nigerian Television Authority for many years.

Ken led many street protests, addressed many rallies and embarked on series of nonviolent actions to bring about positive change in ND. Rather than listen, the powerful forces among the political elite in cahoots with some of the IOCs framed him and eight others for the murder of four Ogoni chiefs. Against international appeals for their release, the Gen. Sani Abacha regime in 1995 summarily tried Ken and eight others and had them hanged. That action turned Nigeria into a pariah nation as the country was suspended from Commonwealth and Canada even closed down its embassy in Nigeria in protest for many years.

It was the Abacha’s inordinate political ambition of wanting to transmute from a military Head of State to a civilian president that fuelled the Niger Delta agitation for development. It was reported in the media that during the ‘One Million Man March’ organised by the group known as Association for Better Nigeria to drum up support for Abacha, the youths of Niger Delta who were bussed in to Abuja to partake in the solidarity march saw the palatial buildings in Abuja, the well paved roads and other social amenities in the Federal Capital Territory and returned to the creeks to start agitating for the development of their region like the FCT. Of course, having realised that Ken Saro Wiwa did not achieve much through the nonviolent agitation, the new crops of agitators decided to go violent. That is what led us to the challenge we currently have on our hands with the emergence of Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta and at present, the Niger Delta Avengers.

I have to put on record the efforts of different levels of government to develop the Niger Delta region. These include the payment of 13 per cent derivation fund to the oil producing states, the ecological fund, the establishment of the Federal Ministry of Niger Delta, the setting up of Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission and later Niger Delta Development Commission, the Amnesty Programme for ND militants, various Corporate Social Responsibility programmes of the IOCs, establishment of Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, the recent flag-off of the cleanup of the Ogoniland and the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill from which host communities are supposed to enjoy 10 per cent of revenue derived from the sale of oil drilled from each community.

Why then is the country still experiencing violent agitations from the Niger Delta militants? Because there is no good governance. Despite these various initiatives, the people of Niger Delta are still living in misery and squalor. They are yet to experience dividends of democracy and development. That is the missing link government and IOCs need to fix.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Nigeria and trial by media syndrome


Last Wednesday, precisely on June 1, 2016, I was among the resource persons at a roundtable organised for judicial correspondents of Nigerian media. The event held at Rockview Hotel, Abuja was put together by a non-governmental organisation known as Law, Media and Social Justice Development Initiative. The themes of the roundtable were “Reporting Court Proceedings by the Media: Uses and Abuses” and “Justice Development in FCT Judiciary.”  Among the dignitaries that graced the occasion were Hon. Justice Ishaq U. Bello who is the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court (he came in company of five other justices of the FCT High Court), Mr. Waheed Odusile, who is the National President of Nigeria Union of Journalists, Prof. Paul Idornigie, SAN, Chief J. K Gadzama, SAN and Barrister Charles Odenigbo who was the Chief Host. There were five papers presented. I spoke on the topic “Trial by Media: Understanding Implications through Case Studies”

In my presentation I defined the media as well as did an overview of legal framework for media practice in Nigeria before going to discuss the main issue.  According to Wikipedia, “Trial by media is a phrase popular in the late 20th century and early 21st century to describe the impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person's reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt or innocence before, or after, a verdict in a court of law.” The problem with this syndrome or phenomenon according to Ugur Nedim, a lawyer,   is that it is a collision between the right to a fair trial on one hand and freedom of speech and public interest (including ‘open justice’) on the other. While the public has a right to know if politicians are involved in less than ethical behaviour, there comes a point where excessive media coverage could impact on a fair trial. Finding this balance often proves elusive.”

To buttress the negative impact of this practice of trial by media, I cited  an opinion article published in 2012 by  Urvashi Singh of Singh Associates, India who said  “Media has now reincarnated itself into a ‘public court’ …and has started interfering into court proceedings so much so that it pronounces its own verdict even before the court does. It completely overlooks the vital gap between an accused and a convict keeping at stake the golden principles of ‘presumption of innocence until proven guilty’ and ‘guilt beyond reasonable doubt’. A school of thought believes that trial by media is a contempt of court. They opined that it is tantamount to scandalising, prejudicing trial, and hindering the administration of justice. This phenomenon is not peculiar to Nigeria, it is a global challenge.

In trying to discuss how this syndrome plays out in Nigeria, I quoted Nigerian Tribune editorial published on March 16, 2016 entitled “Corruption and trial by the media.”  The newspaper, which is the oldest surviving print medium in Nigeria having been established by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1949,  opined that  “Between the anti-corruption agencies and the media, there appears to be a symbiotic alliance which ensures that, rather than in the law courts where the prosecution and the accused go through the rigour of marshaling evidences for and against conviction, conviction is not only ten-a-dime on the airwaves and on the pages of newspapers, it is offered in a  peremptory, at-the-drop-of-a-hat manner which should bother society.”

The editorial went further to state that “These days, there is a predictable pattern to the media conviction of accused persons: media organisations are given the minutest details of allegations against the accused a few days before their arrest, the accused are subsequently arrested and, almost immediately, likely charges fly about in the media. The circus is in turn enlivened on the day of the arraignment through a hyped feast on the case by a multiplicity of Nigerian media organisations that are thirsty for ‘exclusive’ stories.”

Some of the instances trial by the media or prosecution via ‘court of public opinion’ had been perpetrated are mostly in corruption cases. These include trial of Bank Chief Executives such as Cecila Ibru, Erastus Akingbola, Francis Atuche, in 2009. The Femi Otedola versus Faruk Lawan fuel subsidy probe saga; trial of immediate past National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki and beneficiary of largesse under him especially PDP chieftains and military high command including ex-Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh and several military top shots.  There is also the case with the current trial of Senate President, Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. It is noteworthy that trial by media also takes place in murder cases as well as any other matters involving high profile individuals especially politically exposed persons.

How is this trial conducted?  There are several ways media practitioners do this. It is done via editorial, news report, features story,  vox populi, opinions of columnists and public affairs analysts. It is also done through the use of social media such as blogging, tweeting, posts on Facebook, parade of suspects on camera and many more. This trial by media exposes perpetrators to libel suits as it is in most cases defamation of character or character assassination of the accused. It is instructive to note that trial of accused persons in the ‘court of public opinion’ is not rooted in law and as Hon. Justice Ishaq Bello pointed out at the roundtable, the conclusions reached by the public most times will be at variance with that of the legally constituted courts whose decisions will be arrived at after considering the weight of evidence provided by the prosecution team.

My recommendations on the way forward include: The need for Nigerian anti-corruption agencies, especially Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to  stop leaking vital evidences and charges to media houses and learn to engage in diligent prosecution of suspects; The need for our media practitioners to use appropriate language of reportage in reporting cases of alleged corruption; Imperative of training and retraining of Nigerian Journalists on how to report on judicial matters;   Legal counsels should stop maligning judges when they grant press interviews after court sessions; and lastly, media regulatory agencies should be alive to their responsibilities by ensuring that appropriate sanctions are meted to any media house indulging in trial by media.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.

  

 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Buhari’s N500bn social intervention programme

 “For too long, ours has been a society that neglects the poor and victimises the weak. A society that promotes profit and growth over development and freedom. A society that fails to recognise that, to quote the distinguished economist, Amartya Sen, ‘poverty is not just lack of money, it is not having the capability to realise one’s full potential as a human being.’”
–President Muhammadu Buhari in his Democracy Day speech on May 29, 2016

Hearty congratulations to Nigerians on the 17th anniversary of Democracy Day celebration held last Sunday, May 29, 2016. My felicitations also go to the All Progressives Congress, the new party in power at the federal level and most of the states as well as President Muhammadu Buhari on his first anniversary as a civilian president.
For the records, it is the first time Nigeria will have 17 years of uninterrupted civil governance since obtaining independence from Britain in 1960. The First Republic lasted barely five years (October 1, 1960-January 15, 1966). The Second Republic was truncated by the military junta after four years of civil rule (October 1, 1979-December 31, 1983). The Third Republic was even inchoate as the transition from military to civil rule initiated by the military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, from 1990 to 1993 was aborted with the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that would have ushered in the government of the late business mogul, M.K.O. Abiola. We are now in the Fourth Republic which started with the return to civil rule on May 29, 1999 when Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar relinquished power to President Olusegun Obasanjo after the 1999 general election.
President Buhari is the fourth president of Nigeria in this Fourth Republic and the second  former Head of State to be twice lucky to govern the country, after Obasanjo. Since coming to power after the presidential election of March 28, 2015, which saw him defeat an incumbent president, which is yet another unprecedented feat in Nigeria, Buhari, who rode to victory on the mantra of change, has been having to contend with a lot of cynicisms and snide remarks especially from a majority of Nigerians who expected their lives to be a lot better than under the previous administrations.
They rightfully wonder why they are still experiencing a high cost of living rather than high standard of living. They yearn and ask for impactful development and not mere rhetoric. Nigerians, one year into the administration of Buhari, are still hoping for uninterrupted and affordable electricity supply, cheaper petroleum products, good roads, employment opportunities, security of lives and property, potable water, cheap health care services as well as quality and affordable education. These are basic rights and not privileges.
Quite unfortunately, what Nigerians have been experiencing under the this government are increased electricity tariff, payment of stamp duty charges on banking transactions, and an astronomic hike in the price of petrol from N86.50 to N145. For the most part of the last one year, there were fuel queues at most of the retailing outlets all over the country with the product selling well above the official pump price. This was in spite of government paying about N1tn in subsidy claims on the vital product. Even with the hike in electricity tariff, the electricity situation has remained largely deplorable in most cities and communities across the country. Instead of more people getting employed under this administration, there are records of more job losses. Inflation is about 12 per cent now, the national currency, naira, is weak against other international currencies and the exchange rate has hit the roof in an unprecedented manner with one American dollar exchanging for about N320.  Nigeria also ranks poorly in the international index of Ease of Doing Business.
In fairness, many of the governance challenges faced by the Buhari administration are inherited from preceding administrations.  Some others are foisted on the country by external forces beyond our control. One of such is the dip in the price of crude oil in the international market from the Olympian height of over $100 per barrel in 2010 to the nadir of about $30pb in December 2015.  The administration has been churning out different policies and programmes to tackle the challenges. The government has recorded enormous success in decimating the capacity of the Boko Hram insurgents ravaging the North-East since 2009. Many high-ranking government officials (military and civilian) are also in courts answering corruption charges after their investigation and arrest by the anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission as well as the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The Buhari government has also implemented policies such as Treasury Single Account and the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System of public servants under which financial leakages have been plugged.  Recovery of stolen wealth is also one issue the government has been pursuing vigorously both within and outside the country.
By far, the most exciting plan by the Buhari administration in the last one year is the launch of the N500bn special intervention programme otherwise known as the palliative measures to cushion the economic hardship many Nigerians are going through. According to the President, while unveiling the scheme last Sunday, “I am happy to formally launch, by far the most ambitious social protection programme in our history. A programme that both seeks to start the process of lifting many from poverty, while at the same time creating the opportunity for people to fend for themselves. In this regard, N500bn has been appropriated in the 2016 budget for social intervention programmes in five key areas.”
“We are committed to providing job creation opportunities for 500,000 teachers and 100,000 artisans across the nation. A total of 5.5 million children are to be provided with nutritious meals through our school feeding programme to improve learning outcomes, as well as enrolment and completion rates. The conditional cash transfer scheme will provide financial support for up to one million vulnerable beneficiaries, and complement the enterprise programme – which will target up to one million market women; 460,000 artisans; and 200,000 agricultural workers, nationwide. Finally, through the education grant scheme, we will encourage students studying sciences, technology, engineering and maths, and lay a foundation for human capital development for the next generation.”
Since this plan was first made public on December 22, 2015, as part of the 2016 Federal Government budget, I have been very ecstatic about it. I have been praying that these social safety programmes will be fully implemented. If the eight million people targeted under this scheme are positively impacted as envisaged, it will have ripple effect on the entire economy. If faithfully executed, it will be Buhari’s and the APC’s redemption song. About five months have been lost to the protracted budget brouhaha. This programme, to succeed, must have the buy-in of states and local governments including the private sector; otherwise, it will be dead on arrival. I do hope by December 2016, we will be singing a melodious song about this intervention and not a dirge.
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