Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Stemming ethno-religious extremism in Nigeria

The growing religious and ethnic intolerance being displayed in Nigeria is both scary and heart-rending. Some clerics now openly call for jungle justice against Fulani cattle herders and Islamic jihadists. To justify his call for Christians to bear arms, one of the pastors quoted Luke 22:36 where Jesus told his disciples that “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Another said the fight between David and Goliath was not a fiction and as such Christians should be ready to fight. But doesn’t the Bible say in 2 Corinthians 10:4 that, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds”? If indeed Jesus’ speech in Luke 22:36 was to be taken literarily, why did he rebuke Peter at the  Garden of Gethsemane, when he slashed the  ear of Malchus, one of the priests’ servants with a sword? Jesus ordered Peter in Matthew 26:52 to “Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”
As the saying goes, there is no smoke without fire and Albert Camus opined decades ago that “rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that somewhere, in some way, you are justified.” The murder of hundreds of people in Southern Kaduna recently has brought about public outcry especially by many Christian groups and preachers. This is because of the predominance of Christians in that part of the country. News reports have it that some cattle herders are in the habit of invading communities in Southern Kaduna where they lead their cattle to graze on the farmlands of the indigenes and any attempt to resist this provocation leads to murder  of people in those communities and razing of their property. It will be recalled that similar gory tales have been told of many communities in Adamawa, Nasarawa, Plateau and Benue states particularly the Agatu people.  This act of aggression has even spread to southern states like Enugu, Delta and Edo. In many of these instances, Christian farmers are more at the receiving end from the predominantly Muslim cattle herders.
Two things are involved in this face-off. It has ethno-religious connotation. As noted in the preceding paragraph, the aggressors are usually the Fulani herdsmen while the victims are majorly Christian farmers. It also has an economic underpinning. The cattle herders want their animals to feed in lush and green pastures which are only available far from their homelands. Even at that, must they destroy others in order to live? There is a general belief and perception that President Muhammadu Buhari being a Fulani, cattle owner and Muslim is treating this burning issue with kid’s glove. Many aggrieved people feel the President has not brought his might to clamp down on these fiends who take delight in destroying other people’s means of livelihood and lives. Until the Boko Haram insurgents started to kill and maim fellow Muslims, there was an initial suspicion that the terrorist group was being sponsored by some Islamic groups within and outside Nigeria to destroy Christianity. It will be recalled that the insurgents started their attacks in 2009 by killing security agents and Christians as well as destroying churches. It was not until mosques and Muslims became their objects of attacks that it was clear to everybody that the Boko Haram jihadists were our common enemy.
Truth be told, Nigeria’s security agents have not demonstrated fairness and professionalism in the way and manner they have been handling the challenge posed by the marauding cattle herders against the farmers. Last April, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State broke down in tears after the attack on Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of the state where about 40 people were murdered by some cattle herders. According to him, he had held a security meeting with relevant heads of law enforcement agencies in the state when he got intelligence that the community would be attacked. Unfortunately, rather than ward off the invasion, the security agencies were caught napping while the aggressors had a field day. In spite of the deployment of military men and mobile policemen to Southern Kaduna, the killings of the indigenes by these aggressors are still being reported albeit on a lower scale.
The essence of governance is security and welfare of the citizens. It is because the government had not been able to take proactive measures to nip these attacks in the bud that has prompted many Christian groups and their leaders to call on Christians to defend themselves. Government and indeed security agencies need to hone their intelligence network to prevent or arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of these heinous acts against humanity. There have been many commissions of enquiries on this issue. Why have they not implemented the White Papers on such inquiries?  I abhor violence and do not see a lasting solution in preachers indulging in hate speeches and calling on their followers to bear arms either for self-defence or reprisals. As the saying goes, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will make everyone blind and toothless.  Usually, when we resort to self-help, it is the innocent that gets to pay for the sins of the perpetrators.
We need to know that Muslims are not the enemies of Christians in Nigeria. Cattle herders are not the enemies of farmers in this country. The Fulani are not the enemies of other ethnic groups neither are the Northerners up in arms against the Southerners. Our common enemies are the few extremists among all the groups. The bigots who are in the minority are our problem. They and their sponsors are the ones we must join hands to expose and deal with according to the laws of the land, not through resort to self-help and jungle justice. We must learn from the aftermath of the political cum religious war ravaging the Central African Republic as well as that of the genocidal war in Rwanda. With the country’s economy already in recession, the country can least afford a full-blown ethno-religious war. It therefore behooves the government at all levels to play their critical role of welfare and security.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Antidote to illegal migration of Nigerians


You possibly have seen the picture of black people lined up by a wall in a place supposedly in Libya. It was said that many of them are Nigerians who are about to be shot for illegally migrating into Libya.  Two friends sent it to me on WhatsApp. This was what the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa was reacting to last Monday when she said “While the authenticity of the pictures and tapes in question cannot be verified, it is a known fact that Libya has been executing alleged black illegal immigrants for years.” That North African country has also been deporting Nigerians back home steadily for some time now. I have seen footage of many dead persons in the Sahara Desert as they tried in vain to illegally migrate through North Africa into Europe. Virtually every week, there are reports of many Nigerians and people of African descent who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to illegally migrate from Libya to Europe

News report has it that Illegal migrants from Nigeria, account for 21 per cent of the total 171, 299 immigrants that braved the Mediterranean odds to arrive Italy in 2016. Figures from the Italian Interior Ministry as at November 2016 estimated the record of Nigerian arrivals at 36,000, with most of them claiming they were running away from Boko Haram insurgency or Niger Delta crisis. The flow of Nigerian immigrants to Italy via the Mediterranean backdoor allegedly began in 2008, declined for five years but began to soar again from 2013.

There are hundreds of thousands of Nigerians living illegally abroad. Some may have entered legally but remained in their host countries illegally after the expiration of their visa. There have been sportsmen and women, musicians and other entertainers on tour, people on holy  pilgrimage to Israel and Saudi Arabia who simply bolt away on arrival at their countries of destination because of the erroneous believe that the streets of such countries are paved with gold. There have been many students who went to study overseas but refused to return home on completion of their studies. Reading ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche was an eye opener for me in this respect. 

 

Many Nigerians tell incredible lies with forged documents in order to seek asylum in Europe and North America. Many of these illegal migrants not only end up doing menial jobs they would never have done in Nigeria in order to survive in their host countries, several  of them also fall victim of xenophobic attacks. Prisons of South Africa, Malaysia and China among other countries are filled with Nigerians who are illegal migrants who also involve themselves in anti-social activities such as drug peddling, internet fraud, human trafficking, prostitution and many more

It is believed that the main motivating factor for illegal migration and indeed brain drain is pecuniary interest. Many of those who risked their lives and life-savings to embark on the search for Golden Fleece or greener pasture do so with the hope of a better life abroad. Unfortunately, only an infinitesimally few out of the lot get lucky in those climes. Majority of them being illegal migrants cannot get good jobs even if they have genuine academic certificates from Nigeria. They are perpetually watching out for police raids which are regularly carried out and during which many of them have had to be repatriated back home when caught. Those are even the lucky ones. Thousands of others get dumped in the prison or simply murdered and declared missing. What a life!

With the assumption of office of Donald Trump as the 45th American President last Friday, January 20, 2017, many illegal migrants from Nigeria are already jittery about their fate under the new regime. The new POTUS has not minced words about his plans to deport millions of illegal migrants to America back to their countries of origin. Yes, while we are justified to blame the hawk for wickedness, we must also condemn mother hen for exposing her children to danger.

Nigerians will not ‘check out’ like Andrew in the popular television advert of the 1980s if the conditions at home are salutary. Under succeeding administration, things continue to move from bad to worse. There is untold hardship in the land, high dependency ratio, deplorable state of social infrastructure, shrinking job opportunities, inclement business environment, high level corruption, social inequalities and injustices and many others. Self- preservation is the first law of nature. Therefore, one cannot be too harsh on those who want to venture outside of the shores of Nigeria in search of better life.

It behooves our political leaders to fix the rot in our society so that my compatriots will reduce their inordinate quest for greener pasture outside the country. Nigeria is too blessed to be poor. Our population is optimum given the enormity of our untapped potentials in many spheres of life. Our arable land can conveniently feed this over 170 million population if the right policies are put in place and implemented faithfully. Look at the enormous potentials in our solid mineral sector. That sector still has illegal miners as the major players in the industry. The opacity in the management of our oil and gas sector has made many analysts to conclude that we are suffering from resource curse. For over fifty years that we have been engaging in oil and gas exploration, Nigerians are yet to see significant tangible benefits of being an oil producing nation. Sixth largest exporter for that matter!  Simply put, our monies have not been made to work for us. Our tourism potential is second to none in Africa with about hundred tourism destinations many of which have been neglected and allowed to become decrepit.

This is a country so blessed with good weather conditions all year round and which rarely experience natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami, typhoon, hurricane landslide, etcetera. Nigeria’s major challenge is effective management of our God given resources for the overall benefit of the populace. Buhari administration must do things differently in order to inspire the confidence of Nigerians in his government. Thus far, the PMB government is yet to wow Nigerians with memorable positive achievements. The administration has been loud on rhetoric and short on delivery, giving credence to the eternal words of Mario Cuomo, former New York Governor who said that “politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose”. If there is high standard of living in Nigeria, am sure many of us will stop risking our lives to go and hustle illegally abroad. Nigerian government at all levels must make the country livable for all and sundry, then and only then will this craze to travel abroad willy-nilly abate.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Jammeh, save The Gambia from avoidable bloodshed!


Today, January 18, 2017 marks the last day of legitimacy of Yahaya Jammeh as the President of The Gambia. From tomorrow, Thursday, January 19, the megalomaniac dictator who calls himself His Excellency, Sheikh, Professor, Alhaji, Doctor ceases to be the president of his country. Since 1994 when he ousted the first president of The Gambia, Sir Dawda Jawara in a coup as a Lieutenant, Jammeh has ruled his country with iron hand and a lot of repression. He curtailed human rights and was fingered in a lot of atrocities including drug and arms trafficking. He has won four controversial presidential elections but surprisingly lost his fifth attempt on December 1, 2016. Though he initially conceded defeat and actually called to congratulate the opposition candidate, Adama Barrow, Jammeh changed his mind a week later and unilaterally declared the election which he has initially praised as being rigged-proof, null and void. Though he did not declare himself the winner of the poll, he has called for a re-run.

Since his volte-face action, a lot of efforts have been made to appeal to him not to plunge his country into avoidable crisis. Economic Community of West African States leaders, in particular, Mrs. Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson of Liberia who is the current chairman of  ECOWAS, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, immediate past Ghanaian president John Dramani Mahama who lost election a week after Jammeh’s electoral defeat as well as Sengalese President Macky Sall had embarked on several diplomatic shuttles  up until last Friday, trying to persuade Jammeh to honourable and peacefully leave power but he has consistently rebuffed all overtures.  Nigeria’s House of Representatives even passed a motion last week asking the country to offer him asylum. Morocco too has similarly offered him asylum, yet he remained adamant claiming that he would not step down until there is judicial review of his case at the country’s Supreme   Court. Ironically, the court which relied on Nigeria and Sierra Leone majorly for her judges do not at present have sufficient judges to form quorum. In fact, Emmanuel Fagbenle, a Nigerian judge is not only the Chief Justice of The Gambia but is also the lone judge of the apex court.

Last week, the Chief Justice had urged the aggrieved parties to settle out of court since the earliest time the court can have full complement of judges to sit over the political matter is May 2017. Initially, it will seem Jammeh agreed to that option by naming a mediator. However, he has gone further to ask the country’s parliament to extend his tenure in office as well as pass an amnesty bill which will ensure that no one involved in the political impasse from November 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017 is persecuted or prosecuted. This bill is meant to shield the autocrat and his accomplices from answering for their political and economic crimes. Furthermore, Jammeh’s party, Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction attempted last Monday to stop the inauguration of the president elect, Adama Barrow. Fortunately,   the country's Supreme Court refused to hear the application for an interlocutory injunction seeking to stop the inauguration.

Since all appeals have fallen on Jammeh’s deaf ears, African Union and ECOWAS leaders have decided on a number of actions. First is to go ahead with the inauguration of Adama Barrow as the third president of The Gambia tomorrow. Concomitantly, is the non-recognition of the dictator as The Gambia’s president from January 19. The weightiest option being considered is the ECOWAS military intervention force in The Gambia. Already, the Chiefs of Defence Staff of Nigeria, and some other West African Countries like Ghana and Senegal have started planning the troops deployment to flush out Jammeh from his presidential villa. All these have heightened tension in the tiny West African country of about 2 million people. Thousands of people have been fleeing from the country’s capital Banjul to the provinces and to neighbouring countries to seek refuge. The chairman of The Gambia’s Electoral Commission, Alieu Momar Njai was among those who first took to their heels while the country’s Information Minister, Sheriff Bojang and Foreign minister Mrs. Neneh Macdouall-Gaye have also resigned. Jammeh’s goons had reportedly shut down a number of radio stations and arrested some journalists and opposition political leaders before and after the December 1, 2016 election. 

On Monday, January 16, 2017, I was on Nigerian Television Authority news at 12 noon to analyze this ugly development in The Gambia. My take is that I fully endorse military action against Yahya Jammeh in as much as he has scorned all entreaties from the ECOWAS leaders. He has made his choice to go the way of Laurent Gbagbo of Cote D’Ivore who in 2010 plunged his country into a needless civil unrest leading to his capture with his wife and party youth leader. He’s currently being tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. I am a pacifist and would rather not want war in The Gambia, a poor country managing to survive on peanuts and tourism. However, Jammeh must be taught a lesson to respect the wishes of his people. A rat that challenges the cat to a duel must prove its superiority.

What more can West Africa and indeed Africa do for this megalomaniac? He’s been offered asylum so he could be in company of the infamous  African presidents like  Idi Amin of Uganda who fled to  Saudi Arabia  after his ouster in 1979,  Ben Ali of Tunisia who like Amin  took asylum in  Saudi Arabia after the 2011 Arab Spring, Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia who became a  refuge from law  in Zimbabwe after his removal from office in 1991, Hissiene Habre of Chad who fled to Senegal in 1990  after his ouster by the incumbent president Idriss Deby, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire who was toppled by Laurent Kabila forces in 1997 only to die as a refuge in Morocco  as well as Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso who in 2014 ran to Cote D’Ivore after the peoples uprising of that year.

If Yahya Jammeh is not very careful and retrace his step before it is too late, he may end up like Saddam Hussein of Iraq or Moamar Ghadaffi of Libya or Samuel Doe of Liberia. He would be lucky to have Hosni Mubarak of Egypt’s treatment. I urge The Gambian people to stand up to Jammeh and take their destiny in their hands. Rather than run away, they should mobilise like the Burkinabes did in 2014 and march on the Jammeh’s presidential villa and chase him out.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The criminal neglect of Nigeria’s Fire Service


“Today’s Federal Executive Council approved the procurement of some fire-fighting equipment. The last time equipment were procured was sometime in 1996.The equipment in the inventory today were those procured between 1985 and 1996, and since then there was no procurement.” -  Interior Minister, Lt. Gen.  Abdulrahman Dambazzau (Retd.) on January 4, 2017.

When I heard the above statement in the news last Wednesday, I shuddered. This is flabbergasting! For twenty years Nigeria did not improve or increase the paraphernalia of the Federal Fire Service. Yet, many of us tongue lash and molest firemen when they come late for rescue operation or are unable to deal efficiently and effectively with emergency situation when summoned. We do these in anger and ignorance of the numerous challenges this very important government agency has to contend with. I was quite aware that things are bad with the country’s Federal Fire Service but I never knew it’s this deplorable.

This is a country that has to contend with numerous fire and other disasters on daily basis. Yet, for two decades there was no new addition to the tools of the primary agency responsible for the management of fire disasters .This, to say the least, is criminal, condemnable and heart-rending! Imagine hundreds of lives that have been lost to fire disasters. Contemplate properties worth billions, if not trillions, of Naira annually lost to infernos. As early as we are in this New Year, several fire disasters have been reported in the media. How can successive administration be so wicked as to neglect the country’s fire service? Could it be because it is not a revenue generating agency like the Immigration and Customs services which are also under the Ministry of Interior? Perhaps, it’s because of the establishment of the National Emergency Management Agency.

How well can a badly maintained twenty year old vehicle perform? If the federal fire service is treated with disdain, one does not need to be a soothsayer to know that state fire services will not fare any better. Little wonder when disaster such as building collapse and fire incidences occur, the fire services of construction and oil companies are often called to help out with rescue operations since the decrepit facilities of government fire agencies cannot do much.

About seven years ago, in an article entitled “Nigeria Fire Service and Disaster Management Challenge” published in Daily Independent of November 19, 2009; I said inter alia that “The scorecard of Nigeria fire service is very dismal. The agency has become an anathema, a byword such that the phrase fire brigade approach has been coined in Nigeria to describe late response to issues or assignments and unconventional work ethics. Among the many challenges of the Service are: shortage of fire stations, lack of effective communication system, shortage of water supply, obsolete equipment, poor training, shortage of manpower, lack of welfare package for officers and men of the fire service (this include attractive salary and insurance policy) and road traffic jams.” What has changed since then?

In October 2009, the first National Fire Conference was held in Abuja. At the end of the meeting, the following resolutions were reached: The immediate implementation of the report of the committee on the reorganisation of Fire Services in the country as approved by the Federal Executive Council and ratified by the Council on Establishment; review of the present fire fighters training modules for continuous professional development; establishment of more fire stations to reduce response time during emergencies; improved water supply within the metropolis with hydrants located at not more than 100 metres along the reticulation lines as well as for every fire station to have a water tanker of not less than 10,000 litres capacity as an interim solution.

Others include: improved communication system for better management of emergencies for enhanced safety delivery and to expedite action on the three-digit toll-free national emergency number; better surveillance of the country’s water ways; improved fire fighters personal protective gears and accident insurance policy; Joint training/simulation and mock exercises for all disaster responders to enhance operational co-operation, command and control; approval of a proposed National Fire Safety Code and improved funding by government for the  Fire Services at states and federal levels.

During the conference, it was revealed by the then Comptroller General of the Federal Fire Service, Mr. Olusegun James Okebiorun, an engineer, that plans are afoot to set up a National Fire Academy, which will be the official fire training institution for the country with its main campus in Abuja. Through the academy, future fire-fighters will engage in practical and hands-on equipment training to meet international standards and the institution will offer various levels of training for crew command, watch command, station command and brigade command. Other activities to be undertaken in the academy are fire ground operations, search and rescue operations, fire prevention, fire protection, fire investigation, records keeping, supervising techniques command and control and fire service administration. Seven years down the line, how many of these resolutions have been implemented?

Lip service and lack of political will to do the right thing has been our bane in Nigeria. Talk is cheap they say. Walking the talk remains a daunting challenge. It is commendable that the Buhari administration has decided to strengthen the Federal Fire Service with a lifeline of N4.6bn for the purchase of new fire-fighting equipment. This is a step in the right direction and an exemplary conduct for the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory to emulate. The budgeted sum may be a far cry to what the FFS need but if similar or greater amount is earmarked for the Service in the 2017 budget under consideration it will help to reposition the country’s fire management agency.

It is high time the law setting up the fire service is reviewed to allow for private sector participation. I believe the organised private sector has a role to play and should be properly involved. Nothing stops the country from having licensed private fire service companies where people can pay for efficient service. I challenge the Nigeria Fire Services to wean themselves of the albatross of tardiness and emergency operations. Prevention, as the saying goes, is better than cure and that should be the watchword of our fire services. They need to carry out more public enlightenment campaigns using conventional and non-conventional media platforms on how to forestall fire disasters and steps to take in the event of fire incident before the arrival of firemen. Inspection of public and private buildings for possession of genuine firefighting equipment and compliance with National Fire Safety Code should be made paramount. Defaulters should be severely punished. There is no two ways about it, Nigeria fire services need to be well resourced!

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Pulling Nigeria out of recession


It’s a brand new year. Congratulations to compatriots and readers across the globe on the successful crossover into 2017. The fad is for individuals to set resolutions and for corporate bodies and governments to have plan for every New Year. As is well known, Nigeria is in economic recession and pulling the country out of that quagmire remains a daunting challenge. I have been reflecting on how this beloved country can overcome this Herculean task. Fair enough, the federal government has set out details of what it wants to do to revamp the economy in its N7.3tn budget estimates for 2017 which is currently before the National Assembly. However, even if the FG gets everything right, without a corresponding unflinching support from other tiers of government, the country will not get out of her economic doldrums.

In my estimation, there are about three things that need to happen before Nigerians will start to experience better life. The first is the imperative of cooperation among the three arms of government viz. the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The second is a more coordinated and effective inter-governmental relations among the three tiers of government viz. federal, states and Local Governments while the third solution is the effective private sector participation in economic governance. 

Starting with the first. President Muhammadu Buhari came to power 20 months ago on the mantra of ‘change’. The president won a pan-Nigeria mandate because of the social capital he has amassed in the course of his previous public service as a soldier, Military Administrator, Minister of Petroleum Resources, Head of State, and Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund. He has built a reputation as an incorruptible and an upright public officer.  Among the masses of Northern Nigeria, his nickname is ‘Mai Gaskiya’ which means one who says the truth. The point is, coming to power as a civilian president; can we say that the president’s lieutenants have the same integrity quotient? If no, can a tree make a forest? For there to be positive change, all the president’s cabinet ministers, aides and heads of government agencies and institutions must have a shared vision with the president and buy into his change agenda. The current controversies surrounding some of the key presidential aides and heads of institutions do not inspire confidence.

The Nigerian constitution has spelt out the roles and responsibilities of each arms of government. Failure of the three arms to work in synergy will be counterproductive to our economic recovery plan. Take for instance some very vital bills such as the  constitutional amendment bill,  Petroleum Industry Bill, Nigeria Railway reform bill, Tax reform bill and several others which ought to have been speedily passed by the National Assembly but on which the legislature is filibustering. Even delay in confirmation of key government appointees is unhelpful. If the judiciary also decides to be the cog in the wheel through delayed justice and  miscarriage of justice all the efforts of other arms of government to impact positively on governance will come to naught. It is heartwarming that the presidency has decided to weed out corrupt judges and lawyers from the bench and the bar. What am saying invariably is that the president or the presidency alone cannot revive the economy without the support of the other organs of government.

The second solution lies in inter-governmental relations among the three tiers of government. Many a time most public commentators beam their searchlight on federal government while being non-challant to events at the state and local government levels. It is true that the chunk of federation resources goes to the federal government which at present receives about 56 percent while state government and the local government councils get 24 and 20 percent respectively. It is noteworthy that the FG is also saddled with greater responsibilities than other tiers of government. A case of the adage that ‘the bigger the head, the bigger the headache’. Be that as it may, the impunity that takes place at sub-national level is mind-boggling. Imagine the current situations where governors operate as Emperors. Many states budgets are not available to the public for scrutiny. The state Houses of Assembly who ordinarily should act as checks on the excesses of the executives are in many cases mere rubber-stamp institutions whose members kowtow to the whims and caprices of the governors. The state judiciary too does not fare any better given the undue influence of the executive governors on its members.

Being a federal system, albeit a warped one, the FG needs the support of the other tiers of government before any meaningful national development can be achieved. For instance; the land use act has vested all lands in the state government to be held in trust for the people. This power is being serially abused by state governors. Getting them to approve land titles especially, Certificate of Occupancy is a nightmare in many states. This impacts negatively on ‘Ease of Doing Business’ as many investors who wants land for their businesses are facing daunting challenges.  States and local government needs to complement the FG in the provision of infrastructures such as good road network, schools, health centres, sporting facilities, pipe born water, electricity and other amenities. Even in terms of job creation, these tiers of government have greater responsibilities than the federal government. The current situation where states and local governments owe months of salary arrears has put any meaningful economic recovery plan in jeopardy. 

The present effort at diversification of the country’s revenue base to non-oil sector needs the buy-in of the states and local governments. For example, in the ‘Green Alternatives’ launched last year as the roadmap for the country in the agricultural sector, states and local governments have a big role to play. The strategic partnership between Lagos and Kebbi State which has led to the production of LAKE Rice is a pointer in this direction. Furthermore, the N500bn federal government social intervention scheme which has been rolled into the 2017 budget has carved huge responsibilities for the states and local councils. For instance, the school feeding programme needs the collaboration of the states to succeed. It is unfortunate that the 774 local governments has been severely emasculated by the imperial attitude of the governors who through the infamous joint state and local government account have been usurping the roles and responsibilities of these local councils who are dependent on the governors for lifeline. Economic and political independence of local government are very necessary to pulling the country out of its current economic morass. 

On a final note, the private sector needs to be incentized to play complementary role to that of the three tiers of government if we are ever going to get out of recession. There is need for private sector support especially through the small and medium scale enterprises. The SMEs are the engine of economic growth. They are the largest employers of labour and all levels of government must partner with them. Government needs private sector funding and expertise in order to turn the economic fortunes around. What is needful for the government is to provide the enabling environment for businesses to thrive. There is need for business friendly policies such as low interest rate, access to land, low taxes, security and efficient and effective adjudicatory systems for resolution of industrial disputes.

 In essence, getting Nigeria out of recession needs a multi-prong, multi-stakeholder approach.

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OJO: Policy flip-flop worsened economy in 2016

Jide Ojo is a development consultant, author and public affairs analyst. In this interview with CHIJIOKE NELSON of The Guardian, he noted that apart from the oil crisis-induced economic challenges, wrong policy options and erratic changes worsened the situation.

How would you describe the business outlook at the beginning of 2016?
At the beginning of 2016, there were a lot of promises by government to improve the business climate, especially the ‘Ease of Doing Business’. However, the sourcing of foreign exchange, the floating exchange rate, the high interest rate on loans, the lingering challenge of availability and affordability of electricity, the soaring incidences of crimes and criminality, and the slipping of Nigeria’s economy into recession, have all impacted negatively on the country’s business environment. This year, there are more businesses, which shut down than new ones created. There was a lot of divestment. This has worsened unemployment and poverty in the country.

In your assessment, what went wrong?
The policy flip-flop on the exchange rate; lack of feasible and comprehensive economic blueprint; revenue shortfall to finance the 2016 budget; inability to meet Nigeria’s OPEC oil quota and 2.2mbpd estimated for the year due to incessant vandalism of oil and gas pipelines by Niger Delta militants and lack of strong economic team, all combined to impact negatively on Nigeria’s economy in the outgoing year.

Could some of the challenges be avoided?
Indeed, some of the problems are avoidable. Economic team made up of experts and economic blueprint are non-negotiable for a country in recession. A firm implementation of sound economic policies is also desirable.

There seems to be a continuum in the nation’s budget processes. What is your take?
The 2016 budget was premised on zero-based budgeting, which is a novel budgeting process. This is yet to be perfected, as this year’s budget was plagued by the issue of ‘padding’ both by the executive and legislative arms of government.  The late passage of the budget, which came into operation in May 2016, has necessitated the extension of the lifespan of the implementation by the National Assembly to one calendar year and that means it will be operational till 2017 May. Perhaps, this encouraged the presidency to again submit the budget for the 2017 late (presented to NASS on December 14 while that of 2016 was presented on December 22, 2015.) This does not augur well for the country’s economy and is one of the lingering challenges the executive ought to have avoided. The president has said that 2017 budget will be zero-based like that of 2016. In these aforementioned respects, it can be safely said that there is continuum in the nation’s budget process.

Do you see any difference in the level of fiscal governance between the past and present administration?
Well, to the extent that there is an effort to curtail waste through the establishment of the ‘Efficiency Unit’ in the federal civil service; attempt to weed out ghost workers through the IPPS (biometric verification of workers identity); enforcement of the Treasury Single Account and the attempt to sell off some of the aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF), as well as, giving out some to the Nigerian Air Force thereby reducing cost of maintenance of the PAF; and the increase of capital expenditure in 2016 budget to 30 per cent of the national budget,  one can say there is significant change in the public finance management.

What do you want the authorities to immediately address?
Restiveness in the Niger Delta region, which has led to ceaseless attacks on oil and gas facilities need to be resolved. There is the need to improve significantly electricity generation; transmission and distribution with proper metering of electricity customers, so as to finally eliminate estimated billing systems. Ease of doing business needs to be taken seriously. In this regard, a number of things need to be done. These include the need to incentivise the private sector through a good investment policy; easy process of land acquisition with all title documents including the certificate of occupancy (C of O), access to single digit loans and improvement in general security of lives and property. The government’s anti-corruption war must be fought without let or hindrance and without minding whose ox is gored. The buy ‘Made in Nigeria’ campaign must be sustained and implemented to the letter with the government at all levels contributing their quota. Leadership by example is important.

What is your outlook in 2017?
Economically 2017 will be a tougher year despite the proposed N7.3t budget of growth and recovery. Nevertheless, if the aforementioned recommendations and proposals are faithfully implemented, the country shall start to see light at the end of the dark tunnel. The political will to do the right thing by all arms of government from the legislature to the executive to the judiciary will get the country out of the economic doldrums. Nigerians must join hands with government at all levels to see to the successful implementation of the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign. We all must imbibe right ethical values and do the right thing.
http://guardian.ng/business-services/ojo-policy-flip-flop-worsened-economy-in-2016/