Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A recall of Nigeria’s political economy issues in 2017

“It has been a tough year for Nigeria and I hope next year will be a much more prosperous one,” - President Muhammadu Buhari on December 25, 2017
Compliment of the season! It’s barely four days to the end of the year and what a year it has been! I recently joined the Arise TV as an in-house analyst and on Christmas day we had a one hour documentary on the issues that defined the outgoing year. There were so many things tabled for discussion but time was so insufficient that many of them had to be shelved for discussion on another day. For me seven key issues defined Nigeria in 2017. They are the 154 days of medical tourism by the president, the restructuring debate, the budget imbroglio, the herders versus farmers faceoff, the economic recovery and growth plan, the lingering fuel scarcity, the party politics and preparation for 2019 General Elections.  All these can be subsumed under politics or economy.
In the outgoing year, President Muhammadu Buhari was out of the country on medical tourism for a cumulative 154 days during which he did the needful by sending a letter intimating the National Assembly of his travel and empowering his Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President. This was very much unlike the scenario that played out under the administration of ex-President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who failed to either transmit a letter to NASS or empower his Vice, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to act in his absence. This oversight led to the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity by the federal lawmaker which effectively resolved the issue before there was a constitutional amendment to make it mandatory for president or governors to hand over to their deputies when on leave.
The absence of the president generated a lot of furore with many arguing that as acting president, the Vice-President does not have unfettered executive powers. It is however interesting to note that Osinbajo effectively and judiciously utilised presidential powers while his principal was away attending to his failing health. This ensured that there was no vacuum in governance. The Acting President did a lot including embarking on conflict mediation missions around the country – in Niger Delta, in Southern Kaduna – and hosting dialogue sessions with political, religious and traditional rulers. He initiated and signed four executive orders targeted at ease of doing business including the launch of the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme aimed at increasing tax awareness and compliance, as well as grant tax payers a time-limited opportunity to regularise their tax status without penalty. The Acting President signed the 2017 appropriation bill into law and inaugurated two newly appointed ministers.
While the opposition party and a section of the civil society made heavy weather out of the president’s absence, with many claiming he’s on life support and is brain-damaged, some other flew the kite that the president has indeed died. All said, the President on August 19 made a triumphant return to the country and had effectively taken charge of governance of the country and even making many foreign trips.
In the outgoing year, the budget remains a knotty issue. The country is still bogged down with late presentation and passage of the appropriation bill. The financial estimate is also widely reported to be heavily padded by both the executive and the legislative arm of government. Indeed, a whistleblower, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin published many sordid details about the unwholesome practice by his colleagues in the parliament, especially the leadership of the national assembly. After some media frenzy the allegations quietly died. The 2017 budget was signed mid-year on June 12, 2017 and the capital vote release has been haphazard and uninspiring. In the first five months of the year, only N450bn was released by the Ministry of Finance with additional N750bn probably released last week. This has caused a lot of economic dislocation and negatively affected delivery on completion of major infrastructural projects. Indeed, much against the stipulation of Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper which should guide the budget proposal were  submitted late like the budget itself. The 2018 budget was submitted in November and news filtering in from BudgIT, a civil society watchdog on budget matters shows that the budget like the ones before it is heavily padded with bogus and   bloated estimates. The attempt to go back to January – December budget cycle has also been thwarted.
In 2017, the National Assembly worked assiduously to complete work on constitutional review exercise. The two chambers in July passed constitutional amendment bills. Unfortunately, they rejected the bill on devolution of powers while the 36 state houses of assembly are yet to vote on consequential amendments to finalise the exercise. Just last week, the Speakers of the SHA met with the Nigerian Governors who advised them to go and hold widespread consultations including public hearings before they will vote on the constitutional amendment bills transmitted to them by NASS. That has effectively stalled the amendment process.  The non-passage of the devolution of powers bill coupled with the push for referendum on self-determination by the Nnamdi Kanu led Indigenous People of Biafra and the launch of Operation Python dance by the military in the South-East culminated in the strident call for political and economic restructuring of the country.  The discussion on restructuring led to heated debate when some Arewa youth groups gave three months quit notice to Igbos living in 19 Northern States of Nigeria to leave by October 1. The ruling All Progressives Congress which had pledged devolution of powers in its electoral manifesto in response to the call for restructuring set up a Mallam Nasir El-Rufai committee to look into what should be the  party position on the issue.
On April 5, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari launched his economic blueprint which is tagged “Economic Recovery and Growth Plan”. ERGP seeks to achieve a seven per cent economic growth by the year 2020. The plan equally promised diversification of the economy, ease of doing business, increase oil production, reduction of inflation, effective collaboration between the public and private sector, as well as between the federal and the state governments. It also hopes to leverage on science, technology and innovation and building of a knowledge-based economy.  To an extent, this plan is working as its implementation has led to the country exiting economic recession with bold attempts at diversification of the economy (Nigeria started exporting yam in 2017 and improved local production of rice has led to significant reduction in the importation of the staple food).  Indeed, in October this year, World Bank reported that Nigeria had moved up by 24 points in the ‘Ease of Doing Business Index’  from 169th position on the 2017 ranking and also 170th position on the 2016 ranking to 145 in the World Bank’s 2018 report. This is heartwarming!
Unfortunately, the herders versus farmers’ faceoff took a turn for the worst in the outgoing year with some state governments such as Benue, Taraba and Ekiti passing anti-open grazing laws. The menace got to Olympian heights in Southern Kaduna, Adamawa and Benue with hundreds of lives lost and property worth millions of Naira destroyed while thousands became internally displaced. . Adequate federal government response to this threat to food security is still being awaited.
On March 9, 2017, two years ahead of the next general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission announced the dates for the 2019 general elections. The commission said the next presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on February 16, 2019 while governorship and state assembly polls will take place on March 2, 2019. The commission, apart from holding a credible and successful governorship election in Anambra on November 18, 2017 also embarked on nationwide Continuous Voters Registration and distribution of Permanent Voters Card exercise while registering a cumulative 26 new political parties bringing the total to 67 registered parties in Nigeria. The People’s Democratic Party was also largely able to resolve its protracted leadership crisis with the holding of an elective convention in Abuja on December 9, 2017. There have also been a number of defections and cross-carpeting by political heavyweights across the country with the most significant one being the recent dumping of the ruling APC for PDP by ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
The year is ending on a gloomy note for many Nigerians due to the recent resurgence of the hydra-headed monster known as fuel scarcity. Indeed, it was a bleak Christmas for most Christians last Monday as many had to observe a self-imposed curfew due to their inability to source fuel to power their automobiles and power generators. This has not only impacted negatively on the ease of doing business but also on the social lives of the citizenry. The question on the lips of most Nigerians is, when shall we overcome this perennial challenge?
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Sunday, December 24, 2017

2018 Budget: Another unfolding messy proposal

A public affairs analyst, Jide Ojo, also told Sunday Sun that the yearly quagmire in the budgetary process occurs due to lack of political will by the government to do things right.
  He said: “For me, the problem is lack of political will to do the right thing. We cannot say that we don’t have competent hands in a country of 180 million people that can deliver a sound, foolproof, and credible budgetary process. But it’s like there is too much politicking in that process because of inherent corruption. A lot of people want to take maximum advantage of that exercise to enrich themselves, communities and cronies. I mean in all good conscience, how could  you say that a country like Nigeria with experts in all spheres of human endeavour cannot assemble a committee of experts that will plug and deal with all the issues we perennially have with our budgetary process?  We have been told that the 2018 budget is allegedly padded. The bottom line is that those estimations are from the executive. How did they come about them? Why is it that items are perennially being repeated in the budget when they are not consumables? Why do you have very bogus figures budgeted annually for the same things year in year in year out? And by the time it gets to the legislators, they will also do their own padding with the zonal intervention projects and all that. And where does that leave the masses?” he queried.
  Ojo said the trend causes a dislocation in the economy that leaves the masses worse off despite huge capital votes in the budget every year. “This has brought about a dislocation in the economy. We have so many uncompleted projects across the country. We have over 11,000 uncompleted projects in this country as we speak. The 11,000 I’m talking about were as at 2011/2012; I’m not talking about the 2017 data. But the issue is that when capital releases come late or there is no sufficient cash backing for projects, eventually it leads to abandonment.  And once you abandon projects you are tying down your capital because the uncompleted project cannot yield any productivity; it remains unproductive until it is completed and put to good use. Many of them have turned out to be white elephant projects. So, invariably there is a lot of socio-economic dislocation arising from flawed budgetary process,” Ojo said.
  He added: “Now, Nigeria is just exiting recession. So, we are not far from suffering a relapse and sliding back into recession with the kind of economic dislocation we currently have on our hands. We just heard that they have released  additional  N750 billion to the initial N450bn  for implementation of capital projects in 2017 budget. At what time of the year? The bottom line is that everything will now be done in a rush. The attempt to go back to the January to December budget cycle is a mirage. The NASS has come out to say that there is nothing they can do to make the budget ready in January. So, we are now looking at the vicious cycle of having the budget passed may be by April or May 2018,” he added.
  To overcome the challenge, he called for an overhaul of the entire budgetary process that must be rooted in total adherence to the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007. “We need to overhaul the entire budgetary process from start to finish. There has to be total obedience to the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007. The Act provides that by August/September, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework /Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP) should be sent to the NASS and approved. After that, the president will present the budget latest by October so that the legislators will have at least three months to work on it and then pass it. I believe that if we start obeying the Fiscal Responsibility Act, we will get it right. This year, the MTEF/FSP was not sent to the NASS until early November and as at the time the president presented the 2018 budget, the NASS was yet to finalise legislative duties on the MTEF/FSP. I don’t know whether they have even passed it as we speak. Also, under remittances by revenue generating MDAs should be checked and there should be stiff penalties for defaulters, because those are monies outside the Federation Account that cannot be appropriated for.
  “All of these are causing so much overlap and confusion within the system. So, we need to streamline things; we need to bring in the needed expertise from wherever in the world to get things right and they don’t have to be foreigners. We have Nigerians in the Diaspora that can be invited to come and help us shape up the budgetary process if need be. We say we are doing zero budgetary process and for the third year running, there is still so much confusion associated with it. So, we need to streamline things. We need to make scapegoats of those who are involved in budget padding. We need the political will by the president and then the NASS to do the needful by putting Nigeria’s interest first and not their own self-serving interest. That’s the only way they can help this country,” Ojo noted.
  The budgetary process has been a subject of controversy since the Buhari administration came into life. Buhari had signed the first budget of his administration on May 6, 2016 after months of bickering between the executive and the legislature. Former Chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives, Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin, later raised allegations of padding against the leadership of the House, leading to his suspension for a period of 180 legislative sitting days in September 2016. The story was not too different in 2017 as the Presidency had accused the NASS of introducing more than 400 ‘strange projects’ into the budget while slashing allocations to key federal agencies and projects before belatedly passing it in May. The dissension over the 2018 budget is just beginning to unfold. Although the end result cannot be foretold, Nigerians certainly hope the issue would be resolved in the best interests of the country.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What Nigerians with disabilities want

"People with disabilities are also people with extraordinary talent.  Yet they are too often forgotten.  When people with disabilities are denied opportunities, they are more likely to fall into poverty -- and people living in conditions of poverty are more likely to develop disabilities.  As long as societies exclude those with disabilities, they will not reach their full potential and the poor in particular will be denied opportunities that they deserve." - Paul Wolfowitz, Former World Bank President.
According to United Nations Covenant on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”  From time immemorial, PwDs form the bulk of Nigeria’s community of beggars. Perhaps because many of them are destitute – poor, feeble, dependent and never-do-well – they rely heavily on handouts from the rest of the society.
In recent years however, we now have many PwDs who are educated, enlightened, cosmopolitan and high net worth individuals.   From the rank of these elite PwDs came the strident voice for change. There are now many Disability Person Organisations. Some of these DPOs are managed by able-bodied while many others are run by PwDs themselves. Examples of these are the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, Cedar Seed Foundation, Association of Lawyers with Disabilities in Nigeria, Centre for Disability Rights and Development, Voice of Disability Initiative, Deaf Resource Centre, Child Care Trust, National Association of the Blind, Hayat Foundation, Albino Foundation and the umbrella body, Joint National Associations of Persons with Disabilities.  
Scholars said that Disability is both a cause and a consequence of poverty due to limited access to education, employment, medical care, nutritious food, and accessible environment. Other causes of disability are trauma, genetics, disorder, malnutrition, environmental hazards, natural disasters, traffic and industrial accident, civil conflict and war. According to World Bank and  World Health Organisation report 2011, there are about one billion persons with disabilities on the face of the earth; 80 per cent living in developing countries.  It is estimated that only 5 per cent of adults with disabilities are literate while more than 98 percent of Children with Disabilities have no access to preparatory and elementary education. Depending on the context, living conditions and the definition of disability used in a given country, 15 to 20 per cent of the population has disability issues. In Nigeria, there are an estimated 25m PwDs. Perhaps due to the eight yearlong acts of insurgency in the zone, North East hosts the highest proportion of persons with disabilities and South West the lowest proportion.
There have been numerous efforts on the part of the Nigerian government to ameliorate the sufferings of PwDs. According to Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Nigeria signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol on May 28, 2007 and October 27, 2008 respectively. The Convention seeks among other things: “To promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”  On July 14, 2010, Nigeria signed the International Labour Organisation  Convention on the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment of (Disabled) No. 159 of 1983. This Convention makes provision for employment of persons with disabilities without discrimination.
December 3, 2017, marks the silver jubilee of the observance of International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The annual observance of the IDPD was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3 in 1992. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness  on the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. In the course of celebrating this 25th edition, I was privileged to attend two dialogue sessions by DPOs in Abuja. The first was the media dialogue on Nigeria Disability Bill organised by the Centre for Citizens with Disabilities on December 5. The second was the National Dialogue on Disability Rights and Inclusive Development in Nigeria” organised by Cedar Seed Foundation in partnership with JONAPWD, Centre for Democracy and Development and CCD last Monday, December 18. While the first event was primarily meant to educate media practitioners on the imperative and importance of the Nigeria Disability Bill, the second event has a rainbow coalition of participants from both the government and non-government sector.
At the second event were eminent personalities including the wife of the Governor of Kogi State, Barrister Amina Oyiza Yahaya Bello whose Hayat Foundation is working with the State House of Assembly to pass Disability Bill come 2018. There was also Dr. Cally Cussons who has transformed himself from a Very Ordinary Disabled Person to a Very Very Important Personality working as  a consultant to multinational organisations like Shell, Governments, International Development Agencies like UNIDO, MDAs, Private Companies, Groups and Individuals.
What does the Nigerian community of PwDs want? According to one of them, Lois Auta  who  is also the Executive Director of Cedar Seed Foundation, , “It is important to note that majority of persons living with disabilities lack access to information, and largely unaware of their rights. The concomitant effect is that their rights are abused on a daily basis by the governments, private sector and other citizens, with no remedies. They also lack access to public infrastructures, public policies, employment, education, transport systems, ICT infrastructure, housing, health care delivery and the electoral system largely excluded the PwDs.  Conversely, the Nigerian society continues to view disabilities issue from a social welfare perspective, merely confining PwDs to individuals seeking for just basic needs of life. But truth be told, we are tired of the charity model. We want the social model where we can enjoy our full rights as citizens through inclusive policy process.  We are simply asking for all barriers hindering us from living a productive life to be removed. As individuals, we have all our stories of triumphs and defeats as PwDs. We are living witnesses to how social, economic and political barriers have impacts on our abilities to harness our potentials in life.”

It is saddening that while eight states including Lagos, Ekiti and Plateau have all passed the Disability law, Nigerian presidents have twice refused to assent the Nigerian Disability bill as passed by the National Assembly while ongoing effort since 2015 seems to have been stalled after the harmonisation committee of the National Assembly adopted the Senate version on December 6, 2016. The bill has been adjudged missing and should urgently be found and sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent. That is the least expected of All Progressives Congress government of change. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Is politics really not for the poor?

“Politics is not a game to be played by the poor. A poor person has no role in politics. A poor man cannot win election in Nigeria, how will you campaign. If you are poor, stay in your house.”  – Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, former Minister of Works and Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe is a political juggernaut. A former senator and minister as well as governorship aspirant in Lagos State. I watched him on Politics Today, a political programme of Channels Television anchored by Seun Okinbaloye on Friday, December 1, 2017. The topic was the chairmanship tussle of the Peoples Democratic Party. The party’s elective convention is due next Saturday in Abuja. The political tactician answered the questions posed to him deftly. He revealed that he was backing Chief Olabode George for the chairmanship position because the man has sacrificed a lot for the party. He described a move for a consensus candidate from Lagos or the south-west as undemocratic. In his opinion Jimi Agbaje who is from Lagos State as George should not be persuaded to step down neither should any of the other four other aspirants from the south-west. He said if the chief loses, he will congratulate the winner because it is about service. Then he was asked about the rumored plan by some aspirants to bribe the delegates. To this he said though Chief Bode George’s camp is not planning to bribe delegates, however, politics is not for poor people.  He said “they will not buy (delegates) but it is not going to be on empty hand. Politics is not played on empty stomach.”
I have had a lot of people make that assertion which I consider fallacious or what my philosophy professor in the university will call fallacy of overgeneralisation. Do you need money in politics, yes! Whether as a party or as an aspirant cum candidate, one needs money among several other resources. Money qua money will however not deliver electoral victory. Nigeria’s political history is replete with stories of men and women of little means who end up being ‘giant-killers’ in politics. How much did Senator Osita Izunaso have before he defeated the maverick billionaire businessman cum politician,  Senator Francis Authur Nzeribe in Imo West senatorial election of 2007? Nzeribe then was a two time senator while Izunaso was a member of House of Representatives.
How much did Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau has in his bank account before he defeated the then incumbent, Governor Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso in the 2003 governorship election in Kano State?  History tells us that Shekarau was a retired civil servant, a former teacher. How much was his salary to have been able to defeat an incumbent? Was Alhaji Lam Adesina a moneybag when he defeated other candidates to win the governorship seat of Oyo State in April 1999? This was a retired school principal whom many knew of his poor status to the extent that he was said to be a distinguished member of ‘free readers association’, a name given to those who gathered at newsstand to plead with vendors to read newspapers free.
Was Mallam Aminu Kano not poor when he won the Kano East federal seat as a candidate of Northern Elements Progressives Union in 1959?,  Was Alhaji Balarabe Musa a millionaire when he won the governorship election of 1979? If money and plenty of it is all you need to win elections in Nigeria as asserted by Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe, why did the Anambra people not vote for business mogul Ifeanyi Ubah as their governor in 2013? Why was he defeated in the PDP primary in 2017? Owelle Rochas Okorocha is a billionaire who wanted to be president of Nigeria and had vied on several occasions to realise that ambition but never did. He eventually had to go to his home state of Imo to contest gubernatorial election in 2011 and got lucky and won. He is currently serving out his second and final term as a governor.
Ahead of 2015 general election, no political party had the humongous cash at the disposal of Peoples Democratic Party. It would be recalled that on December 20, 2014 ahead of the 2015 General Elections, PDP organised a fundraising dinner where a princely sum of N21.3bn was garnered. This huge sum, we are told, are to be expended on the election campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan as well as party administration. This is aside the supposed N12bn allegedly realised from sales of expression of interest and nomination forms from aspirants wanting to contest on the platform of the party  in 2015. On top of this is the $2.1bn arms procurement fund part of which was reportedly diverted for electioneering purpose by the immediate past National Security Adviser and the $115m raised by former Minister of Petroleum Resources part of which was allegedly used to bribe election officials.
Despite the financial ‘war chest’ deployed into the last general elections; PDP suffered its worst defeat in 16 years. The party not only  lost the presidential seat to the hitherto opposition All Progressives Congress, it also lost its majority in the Senate, House of Representatives, governorship and the State Houses of Assembly. The misfortune of PDP in spite of the financial muscle it deployed to prosecuting the 2015 elections is a pointer to the fact that there are other variables beyond money that guaranteed electoral success.

Some of them include the aspirants courage,  social capital that is, his or her antecedents, political experience, activities within the party, political platform under which he or she is contesting, religion, ethnicity, tribal affiliation, power rotation agreement, political network and of course money. Many people are in political office today because they read the signs rights. They joined the political party most popular in their area. Senators Ibikunle Amosun and Abiola Ajimobi both contested for governorship seat under All Nigeria Peoples Party in Ogun and Oyo State in 2007 but fail to realise their ambition because the party was not well known in the south west.   But the duo got lucky in 2011 when they decamped to Action Congress of Nigeria ahead of 2011 elections.  Courage was what paid off for Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. He contested for APC primary in 2015 with a more popular aspirant and former governor of the state, Prince Abubakar Audu. He came second, lost all hopes of becoming governor until Audu died midway into the election. The party pushed his name forward as runner up in the primary and pronto, he became elected governor of the confluence state. To me, a poor but courageous man can win elections, if the odds favour him or her. It is a game for all those who dare to believe in the power of their dream.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Will Buhari deliver on new national minimum wage?

Last Monday, November 27, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated a 30-member tripartite National Minimum Wage Committee for the negotiation of a new National Minimum Wage for Nigerian workers. The inauguration held inside the council chamber of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, has in attendance governors and senior government officials. All Progressives Congress governors, Rochas Okorocha of Imo, Rauf  Aregbesola of Osun, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi and Simon Lalong of Plateau as well as Peoples Democratic Party governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers and Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe, are  members of the committee.
The president said the inauguration of the committee followed the recommendation of a technical committee put in place after the increase in the price of petrol in 2016. He also said the current minimum wage being used in the country has already expired. (It was supposed to be reviewed every five years). After the completion of the work of the committee, an executive bill would be sent to the National Assembly “to undergo scrutiny before being passed into law”.
By its tripartite nature, the committee is made up of persons from the public sector, (federal and state governments) and the private sector made up of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture and Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises. The committee has a former Head of Service and Minister of Housing, Ama Pepple, as chairperson, while the current Minister of Labour and employment, Chris Ngige, will serve as deputy chairman. The chairman, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission, Richard Egbule, will serve as the secretary of the committee.
Other members of the committee are Udoma Udo Udoma, Minister, Budget and Planning; Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Finance; Winifred Oyo-Ita, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation; and Roy Ugo, the Permanent Secretary, General Services, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The Director General of Nigeria Governors Forum, Asishana Okauru, will serve as an observer. On the Trade Union side are the President, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Ayuba Wabba, who leads a team comprising Peters Adeyemi, Kiri Mohammed, Amechi Asugwuni and Peter Ozo-Eson. The Trade Union Congress is led by its President, Bobboi Kaigama, and other members including Sunday Salako and Alade Lawal. The President, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Igwe Achese, is also a member. On the employers’ side are Olusegun Oshinowo, Director General, Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, as well as Timothy Olawale and Chuma Nwankwo. The Director General, Federation of Construction Industry, Olubunmi Adekoje; Chairman, Kaduna East Branch, Manufacturers Association, Ahmed Gobir; and Francis Oluwagbenro also from MAN are members.
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 current one being reviewed was in 2000 with effect from May 1, 2001. Then, the wage was set at a paltry N5,500. It took 10 years to have this benchmark reviewed through a collective bargaining mechanism. Nigeria Labour Congress said the Union 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 showed 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 considered 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 four cabinet ministers, three state governors and representative 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 former President Goodluck Jonathan on March 23, 2011.
That was the update from the last exercise. Now, Nigerian workers are demanding for N56, 000 new minimum wage. Is that realisable given the current comatose economy where the extant N18, 000 minimum wage are not paid as and when due? The last exercise took about two years to conclude. How long will the current effort take before a new minimum wage comes into force? Is there a genuine intention on the part of the current administration to upwardly review the workers minimum wage? If yes, why did it take the Federal Government almost two years after the astronomic increment in the pump price of petroleum products as well as expiration of the last minimum wage before the new review committee was inaugurated? Is wage increase the solution to workers plight in Nigeria?
There is no gainsaying that with the astronomic rise in the cost of living, Nigerian workers are right to demand for wage increase. However, this may ultimately be counterproductive. If not carefully handled, it will lead to spiral inflation and low purchasing power. Even without increase in workers’ pay, the cost of food, housing, education and other essential services are increasing. This will worsen with a publicised wage increase. Furthermore, with about two-thirds of states and most of the Local Governments  not being able to pay the current N18,000 minimum wage what assurances are there that they will honour a new wage increase agreement? In July 2011, the governors gave two preconditions for them to pay the new wage increase. These are: review of the current revenue allocation formula in favour of the state and the removal of subsidy on petroleum products. Only one out of these two conditions was met. Even at that, since 2015 they have collected bailouts and Paris Club refunds in excess of N2tn, yet many of them are still unable to pay the N18,000 minimum wage.

Can the Federal Government initiate move to review the revenue allocation formula in favour of states to enable them pay the proposed new minimum wage? If the government at all levels will fix the infrastructural gap through the provision of low cost housing, good road network, quality and affordable education and health services, agrarian revolution that will bring down the cost of foods, improved and affordable electricity supply and other essential social amenities, these will help reduce the cost of living and improve the standard of living of Nigerians generally and workers in particular. Thus, irrespective of their small wage, the purchasing power will be high and they will be able to live decent lives. Will Buhari deliver on the new minimum wage before 2019? Doubtful, very unlikely!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Are Nigerian food vendors merchants of deaths?

Every living thing – human beings, animals and indeed plants - need food and water to live. They are one of the basic necessities of life, the other two being clothing and shelter. Ironically, many Nigerians are being fed with poisons in the name of food. A visit to our foodstuff markets will reveal to discerning minds that many of the raw food offered for sale are not fit for human consumption. They are either adulterated or contaminated.
Nutrition experts said many of the chemicals used to preserve most of the foods on sale in Nigeria are dangerous to human health. Some of the poultry products on sale in our markets are preserved with poisonous chemicals. An April 29, 2016 report in Thisday newspaper entitled “Imported Frozen Poultry Product as a Silent Killer” stated that “Medical experts have noted that these imported products are poisonous because smugglers use formalin, to preserve and keep them fresh from neighboring countries till it gets to Nigeria. Formalin is a cancer causing chemical capable of initiating liver and kidney diseases.” Even local butchers have been accused of using formalin to drive away flies from their meat while some fruit sellers used it as well to preserve their fruits from going bad quickly. I have also watched a clip where some frozen chickens were being injected with steroids to increase their sizes.
In order to reduce or totally prevent post-harvest loses, many commercial farmers use all manner of toxic pesticides and insecticides to preserve their grains. Some of the chemicals applied are supposed to be for six months or a year but in situations where there are huge demands for such grains, they are prematurely brought to the market for sale. With the toxicity levels of these products still high, they end up posing health challenges to consumers.     
Some  plantain and banana sellers are alleged to be using ashes and carbide to forcefully ripen their products. This is a dangerous practice as it constitutes health hazards to consumers. Many women who go shopping at the local markets will bear me witness of the many adulterated products being offered for sale. It ranges from rice, to beans, garri, yam flour, cassava flour, grinded pepper, egusi, groundnut oil, palm oil to honey and all sorts. Only experienced women and men know how to spot the difference between the fake and the original.
Some canned foods are not left out. They are either fake or expired; yet they are offered for sale to unsuspecting members of the public. Same goes for many of the bottled drinks. There is a raging controversy that many of the soft drinks contain certain amount of pesticides. Early this year, a Lagos High Court ruled that high levels of benzoic acid and additives in some soft drinks could pose a health risk to consumers when mixed with ascorbic acid, commonly known as Vitamin C. There is also the fear that the sugar contents of many of the soft drinks produced for consumption in Nigeria is too high and makes consumers prone to obesity and diabetes.
Due to epileptic power supply, many of the restaurants, cafeteria and bukataria (some call them cholera joints) operating in Nigeria are said to use all manner of preservatives whose chemical compositions may not be health friendly. That’s why some of the meals offered for sale there have funny taste.  As I write this, despite the warning by Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh for Nigerians to stop the habit of cooking moimoi (beans paste) with cellophane (nylon) bags, the practice is still sustained in many households.
It will be recalled that Ogbeh made the disclosure on June 2, 2016 when he spoke at the public hearing on Food Security Bill, organised by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development in Abuja. According to him, cellophane bags contain a large dosage of dioxins that are harmful to health. He advised lovers of the delicacy to make use of leaves in the preparation rather than cellophane, adding that leaves do not contain such poisonous substance.
 Ogbeh, a farmer with decades of experience, said beans and grains preserved with over dosage of pesticides by farmers and sellers had killed many unsuspecting Nigerians. He also said the consumption of (pure) water in sachets exposed to sun at over 28 degree Celsius was poisonous and its consumption responsible for many cases of kidney and liver failure among Nigerians. The minister said poorly boiled meat could cause tuberculosis. He warned further that the wrong application of fertiliser by farmers has also led to consumption of poisonous foods. “Unknown to many farmers, there is specific fertiliser for specific crops in specific states in line with soil texture’’, he said. Despite this timely warning more than a year ago, Nigerians still carry on with scant regards for food safety.
Food safety is very important but our people cared less about it. Often times, I see women using road sides to dry cassava flour and grains such as guinea corn, maize, rice and the likes. This is a dangerous practice. It is the mishandling of our food that led to many instances of families dying or having running stomach after meal. It would be recalled that in June 2015, the local gin, popularly known as ogogoro reportedly killed 70 people in Woji and Gokana communities of Rivers State. Nnanna Onyekwere, the Director Public Health Services, Rivers Ministry of Health, while confirming the deaths told the News Agency of Nigeria in Port Harcourt that two of the survivors had visual impairment. The deaths were recorded as a result of contamination of the locally brewed drink.  It is most disheartening that our government is trying to promote genetically modified organism better known as GMO food consumption. It is widely believed that they are unsafe.
It is imperative for Nigerian health officials responsible for food safety and security to redouble their efforts to educate Nigerians about the dangers of some of the foods and drinks being consumed in this country. National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Ministry of Health, especially Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Environmental Health Officers or Sanitary Inspectors, National Orientation Agency and Nigerian media among others have a big role to play in sensitizing, the public and confiscating as well as arresting  anyone who imports or locally manufactures dangerous foods and drinks. There is no gainsaying that many of the itemised unwholesome practices in the handling of Nigerian foods are what is responsible for the rise in incidences of cancer, kidney, heart and liver failures, hypertension, diabetes and indeed premature deaths. A stich in time saves nine!

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Why Ndi-Anambra should ignore IPOB

Anambra, the Light of the Nation, is set to witness the election of a new governor come next Saturday, November 18, 2017. The Independent National Electoral Commission had on February 23 this year published the timetable for this looming election. The 10 months advance notice is now down to 72 hours before the D-Day. Such is life; it’s a day that is not set that does not come.
What will happen on Saturday? Will the over two million Anambra registered voters heed the call of Indigenous People of Biafra and boycott the election or will they turn out en-masse? Will the incumbent Governor Willie Obiano retain his coveted seat as the number one citizen in the state or will he be dethroned? Will the election be concluded on the first ballot or will it be inconclusive? Will the poll be peaceful and credible or will there be violence and electoral heist? I am not Nostradamus, the man who saw tomorrow. However, I will appeal to the good people of Anambra to allow for peaceful, credible and successful election that will be exemplary.
Anambra is allegedly the state with the highest number of Billionaires. A state renowned for its commerce and industry is also the home state of political heavyweights like the first President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, First Senate President of Nigeria Nwafor Orizu. Leader of Biafra, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the home state of literary icons like Prof. Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi ,  Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Philip Emegwali, Prof. Dora Akunyili and Prof. Chike Obi;   the home of former Secretary General  of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the state of business mogul, Sir  Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu  who was the first Nigerian millionaire and first president of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. It is also the state of  ace highlife musician, Chief Osita Osadebe.
According to INEC,  Anambra State is made up of  21 Local Government Areas, 326 Registration Areas (Wards), 4,608 Polling Units,  while 2, 158, 171 registered voters are expected to participate in the election. About 23,000 ad-hoc staff will be deployed to conduct the election while the Nigerian Police is deploying about 26,000 personnel to maintain law and order during the poll.  Since the announcement of the election date on February 23, a lot of activities have been undertaken by different stakeholders.
On the part of INEC, the commission has conducted  voter education, recruitment and training of poll workers, monitoring of the conduct of political party primaries, conduct of Continuous Voter Registration Exercise, spearheading the meeting of Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, accreditation of election observers, party agents, and  journalists, meeting with different stakeholders like the political parties, civil society organisations and the media as well as procurement of both sensitive and non-sensitive election materials. The CSOs working on election have observed the CVR exercise including distribution of Permanent Voters Card and transfer of voters registration details on request by voters. CSOs have also been grossly involved in the conduct of Security Threat Assessment, Voter Education as well as recruitment and registration of election observers with INEC.  They have also partnered with the media to conduct debate for some of the frontline candidates in the election. On the part of security agencies, they have been doing mapping of flashpoints and hotspots, profiling and deployment of personnel for election security.
Now, all seems set for a hitch free gubernatorial election in Anambra State come next Saturday. Unfortunately, IPOB over the weekend has been issuing conflicting orders to the people of Anambra State. The first was to threaten anyone who comes out to vote on Saturday with death. This initial hardline stance was later moderated to call for total boycott by the voters. This development is very disheartening. It is heart-rending because in the last two gubernatorial elections in the state, voters turnout had not been impressive. In 2010, the turnout was a mere 17 per cent of the total registered voters while in 2013 when the last governorship poll was held, the voters turnout was 24  per cent. That happened when there was no subtle threat by IPOB. What will now happen with the IPOB’s order of mass boycott?
It is important for Ndi-Anambra to know that, in as much as voting is not compulsory in Nigeria; it is their inalienable right to exercise their franchise. They should stop being arm-chair critics. This is the time to either reward the incumbent governor with a second term in office, if he had governed well or vote him out of power, if he has misruled them. Interestingly, Anambra is making history next Saturday by fielding the highest number of candidates in any election since Nigeria started electoral democracy in 1922. There are 37 candidates vying for the governorship position. Of that number, five political parties are fielding female governorship candidates while eight other political parties are having female deputy governorship candidates.  In truth, these 37 candidates are made up of contenders and pretenders. In actual fact, going by popularity, visibility and campaign expenditure,  there are just about five serious contenders in the election and these were the ones that featured in the CSO led  political debate moderated by Channels Television last Sunday, November 12. They are the candidates of All Progressives Grand Alliance, All Progressives Congress, United Progressive Party, Peoples Democratic Party, and the Progressives Peoples Alliance.
As the Election Day approaches and campaign ends tomorrow, political parties and candidates contesting the election should eschew malicious and unfounded rumor peddling. The fake news peddled by one of the party chairmen last week that two lorry loads of sensitive election materials were moved to a hotel in Awka should be disregarded and withdrawn by the person who made the unsubstantiated allegation.   INEC needs the support of all the election stakeholders to guarantee and deliver peaceful and credible election. Poll workers must resist the temptation of being financially induced to perpetrate electoral fraud by politicians. Contestants and their supporters must also eschew violence before, during and after the elections. Security agents on election duty must be very professional. They should stick to their duty of providing election security. Political parties must join INEC and CSOs to mobilise voters to come out and vote. The electorate too must conduct themselves in orderly manner at the Polling Units. Those who have no PVC or not willing to vote should not bother coming to the precinct of the PU. Party agents too must ensure orderly behavior at their Polling Units while accredited journalists should be factual and embrace conflict sensitive reportage. May the best candidate win!

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Dry season and the need for safety precautions

As the rainfall recedes and dry season takes over in Nigeria, a mixed grill of emotion is palpable. Those whose houses are prone to flood and have therefore gone to take refuge elsewhere are joyful to return home with the cessation of rain. Also gone is the blowing off of rooftops by windstorms, the marshy roads, the excessive wetness and other negative things associated with the rainy season. Now we are effectively in dry season. Should we rejoice?
Well, yes. We should be happy that the dry season is here. The harvest season for the farmers is here. Time of plenty and cheap food is here. Time of festivities, celebrations and partying has come Time of vacationing has dawned. However, dry season brings with it harmattan haze. Now, the fog and dew of harmattan makes visibility poor. Indeed, many flights are cancelled for that single reason as many pilots will not dare to fly blind; same with vehicular traffic. Poor visibility arising from harmattan smog has been responsible for many road crashes. It is ironic that some drivers who could not see up to 50 meters ahead of them will still be running at top speed because of the false sense of security that they are familiar with the road. What if the vehicle coming in opposite direction is not familiar with the highway as you are? It is therefore important for drivers, especially commercial drivers, to be extra cautious driving through the harmattan fog.  It is advisable that they drive with their headlamp and hazard lights on. This will indicate to other road users that a vehicle is coming their way.
A huge challenge posed by dry season is the numerous fire outbreaks associated with it. Annually, billions of Naira is lost to fire disasters in Nigeria. Wildfires are very common this season and any careless handling of fire this period could spell doom for many farmers. Smokers should beware of how they dispose off their cigarrete butts.  Those who are in the habit of hunting for bush-rats should take caution not to set farmlands on fire in order to smoke out rats and rodents. In our homes, everyone must be thought about safety and security. Many homes now use cooking gas especially in urban centres. This is an inappropriate time for children to be playing with matches in the kitchen or near cooking gas. Anything that is highly inflammable can cause major fire disaster, if not handled with care.  Over the weekend, a house in my neighbourhood was gutted by fire. Luckily only a part of the building was razed as sympathisers quickly moved in to assist in putting off the inferno.
Gas stations, fuel depots and public and private buildings should ensure that they have fire extinguishers handy as a first aid in case of fire outbreak. All electrical appliances not in use should be switched off and removed from the sockets to prevent electrical sparks from power surge. Nigerian Fire Service should be proactive by embarking on massive public awareness campaigns on prevention of fire outbreaks, evacuation tips in case of fire disasters and how to contact fire service in an emergency. The Fire Service at all tiers of government must be well resourced to rise up to the challenge of rapid response to emergency during this season. The media should partner the Fire Service in carrying out this fire safety and security campaign. Many of our radio and television programmes should centre on how to prevent and respond to fire disasters with experts from the Fire Service invited to come and educate the public. National Orientation Agency also owe it a duty to partner with the Nigerian Fire Service to embark on public outreach through road shows across our market places, motor parks and  other  public spaces to educate the masses on dangers and prevention of fire disasters.
It behooves the Federal Road Safety Corps to also carry out public enlightenment programmes at our motor parks to educate the commercial drivers on how to drive when there is harmattan miasma. This should be stepped up to radio and television programmes.
It is noteworthy that dry season is not only associated with high incidences of fire disasters; it also brings about outbreak of certain types of diseases. These include meningitis, catarrh, cough, sunburn, conjunctivitis, stomach ailments, skin diseases like heat rashes and rabies. The dust of the dry season can also trigger asthma and bronchitis attacks. A lot of people and animals will also experience dehydration while the excessive heat can cause sleeplessness.  It is therefore important for parents and guardians to ensure proper clothing for family members and other preventive measures in order to stay healthy this season.
Another thing that dry season triggers is the migration of animals. Because many rivers and streams will dry off likewise the vegetation, animals will foray to wherever they can get green pasture and water for their consumption. It is therefore very likely that many cattle herders will move their herds to where they could get food and water. This may cause spike in the herders and farmers clashes as the famished cattle may not discriminate between the farmers cops and grass in their incursion. Am flagging this issue so that relevant authorities can start mapping out preventive measures that will help to preempt this foretold conflict.
As we hold our parties this season let us be mindful of how we handle fire and combustible materials. Let us take heed of the dangers inherent in this hot, dry season. Let all relevant government agencies such as the FRSC, NOA, Nigeria Meteorological Agency, Nigeria Fire Service, and the Nigeria Emergency Management Agency get prepared, like Boys Scout, to play their role of sensitization, prevention, rapid response and rescue. I must warn that Nigerian public should do away with the dangerous culture of fiddling  with fireworks this Yuletide season. Safety first, safety always!  
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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The birth of North East Development Commission

“I expect that the expeditious coming into force of the commission will remedy the long years of under-development suffered by the region. The recovery and redevelopment of the zone devastated by terrorism is expected to last decades.” – Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Speaker, House of Representatives.
News broke last week that President Muhammadu Buhari has assented to the North East Development Commission bill passed by the National Assembly. I congratulate the Speaker of House of Representatives and Senator Ali Ndume who are the lead sponsors of the bill in the two chambers of National Assembly. I equally felicitate with all sons and daughters including residents of the beleaguered North East Nigeria on this well-deserved federal intervention. The lamentable development situation in that geo-political zone is well known. Even when there was no Boko Haram insurgency, NE has always lagged behind in human development index.
In May 2015 Senator Abdul-Aziz Murtala Nyako did a concept note calling for the establishment of North East Development Commission. In that paper, the Senator quoted the National Bureau of Statistics 2010 data to buttress his campaign for the establishment of NEDC. According to him, “NBS’ 2010 Statistics show that the North East of Nigeria has the worst socioeconomic conditions in the country. Its average absolute poverty rate put at 69 per cent is above the national average of 60.9 per cent. This characterizes the Zone as having the highest rate of poverty in Nigeria.” The Senator did not stop at that. He quoted other credible sources such as the United Nations Children Fund and West Africa Examination Council. While the national average of Out-of-school children in primary school as at 2011  is 26.3 per cent, that of NE region stood at 44.8 per cent; also while the country’s national average  of  Out-out-school children (Junior Secondary School as at 2011) is 25.7 per cent, that of NE zone was 49.6 per cent. Similarly, as at 2012, while the national average percentage of candidates with five credits and above including Mathematics and English was 30.9 per cent that of NE stood at mere 8.72 per cent.  It is that bad!
Before the 2009 kickoff of hostilities by the insurgent group better known as Boko Haram, NE used to be peaceful with majority of the inhabitants of the six states that made up the region namely Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Taraba  and Bauchi engaging in agriculture. The geo-political zone has also produced many political juggernauts, academic giants and business octopus. Among them are the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa from Bauchi State, former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence, Gen. T.Y Danjuma from Taraba State, ex-Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar from Adamawa State, and incumbent number four citizen and Speaker of House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara from Bauchi State.
The Presidential Initiative for the North East in its 2015 – 2020 Economic Reconstruction and Redevelopment Plan succinctly captured the situation in the NE when it stated thus: “In the past, the North East region was renowned as a bastion of commerce and trade with prominent local enterprises and well established trade routes across the Sahara. It was known for its large agricultural potential, with 80 per cent of the population engaged in farming and contributing significantly to the regional and national GDP…….Over the past two decades however, the region has regressed with low education levels, access to healthcare/ other basic amenities and low GDP per capita. A once promising zone now trails the other regions of Nigeria across all socio economic indicators.”
As the Chief Executive Officer of Forward in Action for Education, Poverty and Malnutrition, a non-governmental organisation headquartered in Bauchi, I bear testimony to the gross underdevelopment of the NE geo-political zone. Our intervention which covers eight thematic areas namely  education, peace and conflict management, gender and disability issues, water and sanitation, nutrition, health, Orphans and Vulnerable Children as well as Democracy and Good Governance has been able to impact positively on the zone with funding support from many international donor agencies. Yet, our intervention, just like several others in the zone is like a drop in the ocean because there is so much to do but the resources are very limited. It is thus heartwarming that North East Development Commission will help scale up and speed up development in the zone.
Press release from the Office of Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly matters – (Senate) Senator Ita Enang says NEDC will among other things: Coordinate projects and programmes within the Master Plan for the rehabilitation, resettlement, reconciliation, reconstruction and sustainable development of the NE  Zone in the fields of infrastructure, human and social services, including health and nutrition, education and water supply, agriculture, wealth creation and employment opportunities, urban and rural development and poverty alleviation. It will also liaise with Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies, States and Development Partners on the implementation of all measures approved in the Master Plan for the stabilisation and development of the NE by the Federal Government. Assess and report on any project being funded or carried out in the NE by any Federal Ministry, Department and Agency or company that has an agreement with the Federal Government, and ensure that funds released for such projects are properly utilised.
Other functions include: To liaise with other stakeholders on the tackling of humanitarian, ecological and environmental problems and degradation that arise from natural causes, insurgency and industrial activities in the NE Zone.  Seek humanitarian, human, material, technical and financial support from Development partners (local or international) and NGOs with a view to developing the NE Zone. Co-ordinate civil-military confidence building and stabilisation measures and also activities that lie within the civil-military interface especially before, during and after military and security operations; and Act as the focal point to coordinate and harmonise all other interventions programmes and initiatives that the FG  is involved with in the NE  Zone.
This is a very wide mandate and I do hope the bureaucrats who will manage this new commission will learn from the pitfall of Niger Delta Development Commission which over the years has been embroiled in all manner of controversies including allegations of corruption, project abandonment and inefficiency largely as a result of political intrigues.
NEDC is coming at the right time as the commission should be able to get its first budgetary allocation from the 2018 budget the president will be presenting soon to the National Assembly.  Now that we have the new commission, will the TY Danjuma led Victim Support Fund and the Presidential Initiative for the North East still be existing alongside the new commission or will they be merged with NEDC? I expect them to be dissolved into the new commission. For NEDC to succeed better, the insurgency in the zone must be halted; otherwise, whatever is done at the epicenter of the crisis may be tantamount to mopping a leaking roof.  
Lastly, I will enjoin Federal Government to prioritise national development rather than continuing to set up regional intervention agencies. Recall that the bid to set up South East Development Commission was botched at House of Representatives earlier in the year and other regions too may soon be justifiably angling for intervention agencies.  

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

FG’s criminal abandonment of government projects

Anyone living in Nigeria needs a shock therapy from time to time, unless perhaps one does not listen to news or follow up with trending stories. Few days back I learnt from the news that there are over 500 abandoned federal government projects in Akwa Ibom State alone! The revelation was made by a Commissioner in the State. How could that be? But then, I remember that this is Nigeria where anything goes. A Sunday, June 28, 2015 report in the Daily Trust says that the Director of Administration of Chartered Institute of Project Management of Nigeria, Mr. David Godswill Okoronkwo stated in an exclusive interview with the newspaper that there are approximately 56, 000 abandoned government projects across the country. He listed them according to geopolitical zones. In his words,  “South-east has 15,000, South-west, 10,000: South-south, 11,000: North-west, 6,000: North-central, 7,000: North-east, 5,000 and Abuja, 2,000.” All these projects were estimated at N12trn.
Earlier on March 4, 2010, former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated 20 man Ibrahim Bunu led Presidential Projects Assessment Committee to among other things take inventory of all federal government projects, assess level of funding, and project status. The committee on June 2, 2011 submitted its report to the ex-president. It made an inventory of 11,886 on-going projects (as at then) with N7.78tn estimated cost out of which FG had paid N2.696tn to contractors leaving a balance of about N5tn. Volume one of the report shows that of the geo-political zones, South-South zone had 1,755 projects amounting to N2.1tn followed by North Central zone with N630bn with 1,844 projects. The last in ranking is North East zone with 466 projects amounting to N98bn.
A July 2, 2017 report in The Guardian on Sunday says that Akwa Ibom Integrity Group published over 300 projects abandoned by the Niger Delta Development Commission in the State. Leader of the Group Chief Okon Jim alleged that the Commission abandoned a total of 121 rural roads, 75 classroom blocks, 69 rural water schemes, 43 mini-electrification projects among others across the state.
While the bulk of the abandoned projects are those initiated by the federal government. State governments and indeed local governments are equally complicit in this ignoble and criminal game of abandoning projects. Just last Sunday, October 22, 2017, The Nation newspaper published a features story where it detailed how seven states namely Abia, Rivers, Niger, Ogun, Plateau, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom states wasted billions on uncompleted projects. The newspaper cited the example of the Monorail Project in Rivers State, which was conceived and began by the former governor of the state, now Minister of Transportation, Chibuike  Rotimi Amaechi, in his first tenure as governor in 2008. It was designed to cover 12 kilometres at the cost of N50bn. Unfortunately; it was abandoned at the point of 2.6 kilometres when the former governor completed his second tenure in office. Sources said the work already done as at then, which was described as Phase 1A, gulped N33.9bn.
Other abandoned projects in the seven states with their estimated contract sum as published by the newspaper include: Minna Airport City awarded at the cost of $600m, Minna five-star Hotel – N19.6bn, Abia International  Hotel – N6bn to complete and would need about $25m to expand,  Jos Main Market — N5bn to rebuild, Bayelsa Hotel —N13.9bn, Ibom Tropicana —N33bn, Ibom Specialist Hospital (completed but shut down)—N41bn.
Is it not very heart rending that a country with high level of infrastructural deficit will initiate these plethora of capital projects and abandon them? Why start a project you do not intend to complete? What’s the value for money in this mindless pastime of our administrators?  Who benefits from this criminal neglect of capital projects?
The Ibrahim Bunu led Presidential Projects Assessment Committee blamed mass failure of public projects over the years to corruption, inadequate budgetary provision, poor project conceptualization and institutional mediocrity. Bunu noted that following the committee’s in-depth assessment of many of the projects, “there is indeed evidence of large scale, widespread institutional mediocrity, deficiency of vision and a lack of direction in project management, which result in poor conceptualization, poor design and faulty execution. Needless to add that this has resulted in avoidable loses of billions of naira to the government.” Considering the fact that this report was submitted to federal government six years ago, why has there been no conscious effort by the immediate past and indeed the present administration to have a paradigm shift on capital projects initiation and implementation?
From the initial statistics earlier reeled out in this piece, it would be noted that non-completion of capital projects has been continuing with reckless abandon even under this present Buhari administration. This is sad! I would have thought that President Buhari would have demonstrated courage to implement the PPAC report knowing that government is a continuum. What I thought this current administration would have done different would have been to categorise the abandoned and uncompleted federal government projects to those it can fund, those that are white elephants that needs to be auctioned off to the public as well as those it wants to complete through public-private-partnership. In fact, government can use the proceed from those auctioned abandoned projects to complete the viable ones it needs resources to complete.

If Buhari had concentrated energy and resources on completing most of the thousands of abandoned projects it would have bridged the infrastructure deficit of this country and would have had a lot more to showcase in terms of projects completion in its two and half years in office. For me this is a low hanging fruit that should be plucked. Of what point is the craze to initiate a new project when you’re not sure of completing it in the lifetime of your administration?  As experience has shown, successors are hardly interested in completing the projects of their predecessors even if they belong to same political party. This is untoward. Many of the abandoned project sites have been taken over by weeds, delinquents and reptiles thereby posing environmental hazards to law abiding members of the public. This unwholesome practice should be discontinued by all tiers and arms of government. If you can’t get the resources to complete a project, simply get the private sector to build, operate and transfer or better still, auction it off.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Oyo Government laudable move to curb noise pollution

The recent move by the Oyo State government to enforce the law banning noise pollution in the state is a commendable one.  Indeed, it’s long overdue. It will be recalled that in March this year the State House of Assembly had invited the Commissioner  for Environment and Water Resources,  Isaac Ishola and his counterpart from the  Information, Culture and Tourism Ministry  Toye Arulogun to explain why the law banning noise pollution is still being observed in breach. The duo explained their efforts and challenges and were informed by Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Hon. Michael Adeyemo to use the force of law to make defaulters to comply if dialogue is not yielding positive results. Section 58 of the Oyo State Environmental Sanitation and Waste Control Regulation (No. 6, Vol. 38 of 2013) is targeted at curbing noise pollution of religious houses and entertainment outfits.
On August 15 this year, the two commissioners addressed the press to update the public on how they are faring with the enforcement order. At the inter-ministerial press briefing in Ibadan, the Commissioner for Environment gave a two-week ultimatum to churches, mosques, as well as clubs and restaurants to remove their outdoor speakers or face prosecution. The Commissioner further explained that the state government was committed to reducing the noise level in residential areas to 45 decibel at night and 60 decibel in the afternoon within five meters radius. He also disclosed that some places of worship had been sealed up for noise pollution, while no fewer than 372 environmental offenders have been prosecuted in the last one year.
Commissioner Ishola was quoted as saying “We are giving churches and mosques with external speakers two weeks to remove them. You don’t use religion to disturb others. I am a Christian and I have supervised the locking up of three churches for disturbing their neighbours with noise. If I can do that against churches I will do it against mosques and other places.” The commissioner equally enjoined all owners of vehicles and motorcycles to take them for emission test at the offices of three consultants approved for the exercise. He said: “If you own a vehicle, motorcycle or generator, it must be subjected to gaseous emission test. The essence is not to make money for government, but to control gaseous emission believed to be one of the major causes of cancer and other ailments. The ministry has two mobile courts that would sit during the day and we have arranged that magistrates’ courts should also try environmental offenders.”
I wonder why it took the intervention of the State House of Assembly to ginger the Commissioner for Environment in the Pacesetter State to wake up to his duty. The law had been there since 2013 but was not enforced. I am a resident of Ibadan and know the inconvenience I and my family have had to endure from the religious houses that envelope us during their diurnal and nocturnal services. Anytime churches around my house have vigil, I know for certain that there will be no sleep for me that night. This is because of their loudspeakers which are usually tuned to the highest decibel for maximum reach. What these perpetrators does not know or chose to ignore is that they are constituting environmental nuisance and it shows that they do not love their neighbours.
Am very glad to learn of the latest enforcement action by Oyo State Ministry of Environment.   It would be recalled that Lagos State government set the pace in Nigeria in 2010 by banning religious houses from mounting outside speakers. The level of noise pollution allowed in the state is between 55 decibel during the day and 42 to 45 decibel at night. Noise pollution refers to undesirable levels of noises caused by human activity that disrupt the standard of living in the affected area. Researchers said indoor and outdoor noise pollution sources include car alarms, emergency service siren, mechanical equipment, fireworks, compressed air horns, barking dogs, audio entertainment systems, electric megaphones, and loud people.
In case you do not know, noise pollution impact negatively on human health. Experts warned that it can cause annoyance and aggression, hypertension, high stress levels, hearing loss, sleep disturbances and loss of concentration. Others are tinnitus which can lead to forgetfulness, severe depression and at times panic attacks. In animals, noise can increase the risk of death by altering predator or prey detection and avoidance, interfere with reproduction and navigation, and contribute to permanent hearing loss. Sociologically speaking, high noise pollution can aid security breaches. Criminals such as armed robbers, kidnappers and rapists can perpetrate their heinous and fiendish acts with impunity under the cover of noise which will make it impossible for victims to get help as their shout will be drowned by the din around them. Thus, noise pollution does more harm than good. In fact, I see no good in it. Why must we disturb the peace of our neighbours and our environment in the name of practicing religion, marketing or enjoying ourselves?
It is imperative for all and sundry to support Oyo State government and indeed all governments that have passed legislations against noise pollution to ensure compliance with the law. It behooves the Oyo State government to adequately sensitize the citizenry on the dangers of pollution.  In sane societies, religious houses and entertainment centres are encouraged to acquire acoustic furniture, internal speakers and erect padded walls to minimise noise. The government also needs to publish where infractions against the laws can be reported including their phone numbers and e-mail addresses. In addition it should set up monitoring team to enforce compliance.

 National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency as well as State and Local Government Environmental Protection Agencies need to belt up and partner with National Orientation Agency and Nigerian print and electronic media to sensitise Nigerians on the dangers of environmental pollution in general and noise pollution in particular. Beyond the use of traditional mass media, as individuals, we can use the social media (Twitter, Facebook, SMS, WhatsApp, Blogs) to educate other people who may be unaware of the hazards of noise pollution.  Protecting our environment against pollution is our collective responsibility. We must endeavor not to be part of the problem but must do everything to be part of the solution; the change vanguard.