Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The vanishing culture of volunteerism in Nigeria

According to “Volunteerism is the policy or practice of volunteering one's time or talents for charitable, educational, or other worthwhile activities, especially in one's community.” Volunteers are driven by passion to leave a noble legacy of service to humanity. Talking about the power of volunteerism, United Nations Volunteer Programme observed that  “People the world over engage in volunteerism for a great variety of reasons: to help to eliminate poverty and to improve basic health and education, to tackle environmental issues, to reduce the risk of disasters or to combat social exclusion and violent conflict. In all of these fields, volunteerism makes a specific contribution by generating well-being for people and their communities.” UNVP went further to emphatically state that attainment of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 is impossible without people offering free services to support it.

Indeed, national development is unattainable without some measure of volunteerism. This is because government alone cannot bring about desired development. Neither is the organised private sector whose motive of establishment is purely profit making. This is why there is need for non-governmental, not-for-profit organisations better known as NGOs to bridge developmental gap. The NGOs comprising of Community Based Organisations, Faith Based Organisations, Foundations and the wider civil society play critical roles in any country’s developmental agenda. 

Aside the aforementioned UNVP, other examples of voluntary organisations include but not limited to Voluntary Service Overseas which is an international development charity with a vision for a "world without poverty" and a mission to "bring people together to fight poverty".  There is also International Red Cross Society whose affiliate in Nigeria was founded in 1960 and has over 500,000 volunteers and 300 permanent employees. Other examples of voluntary organisations include the social clubs like the Boys Scout, Girls Guide, Boys Brigade, Dangote Foundation, MTN Foundation, Rotary Club, Lions Club, and many more.

Individuals can also go it alone. Helping disaster victims through voluntary blood donation or moving victims to hospitals is one of such ways.  Whistle-blowing is also act of volunteerism. Helping the physically challenged and the aged to cross busy roads, assisting with traffic control when there is congestion, supporting the rebuilding of dilapidated public infrastructures such as schools or hospitals, offering scholarship to indigent pupils and students, offering pro-bono services as a lawyer, giving free medical support to people in hard-to-reach rural communities, fixing bad roads with personal resources, providing free security services are some of the ways individuals can key into acts of volunteerism.

I was one of the two guests invited to discuss “Volunteerism and National Development in Nigeria” on a programme entitled “The Hub” on Galaxy Television, Ibadan last Friday, February 17, 2017. The programme hosted by Daisy Olowu has as a co-discussant, Mr. Babatunde Vaughn. In the course of the interaction, it was discovered that the culture of volunteerism is vanishing in Nigeria. The reasons are not far-fetched. One of them is that the economic meltdown has incapacitated many people from offering voluntary services. Take for instance Party Agency. Party Agents in an election are supposed to be volunteers who would protect the interest of the party at different levels of the electioneering process such as electoral materials distribution points, Polling Units and Result Collation Centres. Unfortunately, unless the party or candidates are willing and ready to pay for the services of this crop of agents, they will decline to serve. That is why it’s only affluent political parties and candidates that are able to deploy party agents at elections.

Another example is that of National Youth Service Corps. It is supposed to be a voluntary service but many of the mobilised corps members hardly provide the services expected of them during the year-long exercise. The mobilised youths considered the monthly allowances paid by government as too paltry and the conditions of service too unsavoury; hence they cook up all manner of excuses to dodge offering of quality service even if they are mandatorily mobilised.  It would seem the core value of service to humanity has taken a new meaning considering the way and manner youths of today placed primary importance on pecuniary or financial gains. Even when they pretend to offer voluntary services, they tend to look for ways to exploit the situation. There are those who under the pretext of helping disaster victims scout for what to pilfer from the victims of such unfortunate incidents. I was shocked to learn of how some individuals and organisations who raise funds and source materials purportedly to help internally displaced persons divert such resources for their personal aggrandizement. This is preposterous!

People are making a career of Non-Governmental Organisations today when in actual fact, with the exception of administrative staffs who are working full time; others are supposed to have their primary jobs and only volunteer part of their free time to work in the NGO office. Thus, aside economic depression, high rate of unemployment had affected people offering volunteer services. Since no other jobs are available to them, they decided to make a career of enrolling for volunteer service. I must hasten to say that offering voluntary service as an intern is a capacity building initiative and can prepare a volunteer or intern for better employment opportunities; however, the primary motive of a volunteer should be altruism or selflessness. Where the motive is different, such service does not qualify to be voluntary.   

It is important for more Nigerians to embrace volunteerism. As espoused in this piece, it’s an act of service to humanity. Everyone can volunteer something. You can volunteer your time, energy, money, skills and many other resources.  It’s all about making our society a better place to live.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How Nigeria can end fuel importation by 2019

On February 7, 2017 Mr Ibe Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources said Nigeria will stop importing refined petroleum products by 2019. He made the disclosure at a public hearing on the review of petroleum pricing template for Premium Motor Spirit organised by the House of Representatives. The minister said, inter alia, that the country currently refined eight million out of the 20 million litres of petrol being consumed locally. He also espoused that the country is borrowing a leaf from other Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries by planning to stop export of crude oil in the near future and substituting that with export of refined petroleum products.  Good thinking, I dare say!

I was guest on ”Burgami” a popular radio programme on Vision 92.1 FM Abuja last Thursday to discuss the feasibility or otherwise of this laudable effort. Without mincing words, I am of the firm believe that it is doable and possible to stop importation of refined petroleum products even before 2019 if the political will is there. There are conditions precedent to realising that ambition. It needs be emphasised that when Nigeria delved into importation of refined petroleum products in the early ‘90s, it was supposed to be a temporary; stop-gap measure pending the time the country’s four refineries will undergo the mandatory turn-around maintenance better known as TAM in industry parlance. Ironically, for over two decades, we never got round to carrying out the needed TAM due to acts of sabotage fueled by greed arising from the introduction of subsidy regime meant to ensure that the petroleum products are readily available and at affordable prices.

This subsidy regime created emergency fuel importers who indulged in all manner of malpractices and sharp practices to milk the federal government. Many a time, these importers make bogus claims aided and abetted by some scoundrels in civil service. The futile attempt by government to ensure that there is uniform official price for petroleum products across the nooks and crannies of Nigeria brought about further distortion in the supply chain of the much needed products. Of all the previous attempts to deregulate the oil sector, it was the last effort in May 2016 that is close to a semblance of deregulation. The government had then set the maximum limit to N145 per litre from N87. However, there is latitude of price differentials allowed across all filling stations. There are fuel stations now selling at below N145.

Back to the issue at hand, one of the surest ways to end fuel importation is to ensure that the needed TAM is carried out on our government owned refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna. Once we can get the refineries to work at optimal level, we would be one leg out of fuel importation. Again, there is need for proper deregulation. Market forces of demand and supply must be allowed to determine prices of all petroleum products.  The N145 per litre has become unrealistic now due to the scarcity of foreign exchange to enable fuel importers to bring in refined products. Depot price which was around N130 as at May 2016 has jumped to N142 per litre. By the time other ancillary cost such as transportation is added it becomes unrealistic to sell profitablly at N145 per litre. As I write this some fuel stations in South East and North Central Nigeria have stopped lifting fuel from the depots or alternatively buy at N142 and sell for about N150 which is above the approved control price.

If the downstream sector of the oil industry were to be fully deregulated, petrol marketers would have been able to sell at a cost recovery price. With the volatility of the exchange rate with Naira being very weak against international currencies, it will be foolhardy of government to expect fuel importers to sell at below the high exchange rate under which they imported the products. It is noteworthy that the over centralisation of the price coupled with subsidy regime which makes fuel importation an attractive option to building new private refineries were some of the reasons that many of the licensed investors refused to build new refineries. To the best of my knowledge only Aliko Dangote has braved the odds to build a private oil refinery located in Lagos.

If we are to exit importation of refined petroleum products in 2019, the Petroleum Industry Bill currently before the two chambers of the National Assembly needs to be quickly passed into law. The non-passage of the bill has held up multibillion dollar investment in both the upstream and downstream sector of our oil and gas sector. The let’s-wait-and-see attitude of foreign investors in the oil industry was due to the cloud of uncertainty currently enveloping the sector. The passage of the bill, which will be highly beneficial to oil producing communities, is expected to reduce militancy in the Niger Delta region. Just last week, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State decried the large scale vandalism of oil and gas infrastructure in the state which accounts for loss of about 250,000 barrels of oil per day.

Pipeline vandalism and illegal oil bunkering have to be decisively dealt with if we are to stop fuel importation by 2019. Trucking of petroleum products hikes the cost price of the products apart from the high risk of the haulage due to the highly inflammable nature of the products. Thus, transportation through pipelines remains the cheapest means of distributing petroleum products. However, in a situation where stealing of petroleum products at an industrial scale takes place as is currently the situation in this clime, it will be difficult to attain self-sustenance in the production of refined products.

Corruption is another menace that plagues our oil and gas sector.  Imagine the huge amount allegedly stolen or recovered from former petroleum minister and Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation. That is just a tip of the iceberg. Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative has repeatedly published report of high level of fraud and corrupt practices in the country’s oil and gas sector. As earlier hinted, some cabal currently profiting from importation of refined petroleum products will not want their honeypot smashed. Thus, it should be expected that they will fight tooth and nail to ensure that we do not wean ourselves off importation of refined petroleum products.

In order to sustain the relative peace in the Niger Delta, federal and state government must sustain the amnesty programmes initiated to lure ex-militants away from the creeks where they indulge in pipeline vandalism, illegal oil bunkering as well as kidnapping for ransom. The $1billion cleanup of Ogoniland which was flagged off by the Buhari administration last year must be vigorously pursued. If the government can do all the aforementioned, there would be calmness in the Niger Delta region, inflow of the Foreign Direct Investment into our oil and gas sector, expansion of the refining capacity of petroleum products for domestic consumption and export and that will mean saving of our foreign exchange, earning of more FOREX and economic prosperity for the country as a whole.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Buhari’s health and the demand for good governance

This is an interesting time in Nigeria. The most trending news in the country since January 19, 2017 has been that of the purported vacation of President Muhammadu Buhari in the United Kingdom which his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina said will also entail routine medical checkup for the number one citizen. The 10 day vacation was to be from Monday, January 23 - February 5.  It would be recalled that the president in June 2016 had similarly gone to UK to see Ear, Nose and Throat specialist for a nagging ear infection. No sooner had the president left for the current holiday than the rumour mill agog with the news of his alleged death while some other news said he is terminally ill and is on admission in a London Hospital. Expectedly, his media team rose in stout defence of the president, debunking the news of his death or ill health. Pictures of his meeting with Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, as well as another one in which he  and his wife were relaxing were leaked to and published in the media.

That temporarily doused the mounting tension about the president’s state of being. However, when on Sunday, February 5 the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity issued another press release stating that his principal will no longer be coming home to resume work as scheduled based on medical advice by his doctors to wait for the results of several medical tests he did, many Nigerians started to insinuate that there is more to the president’s health than the public is being informed. I was on two media platforms last Monday - WE 106.3 FM and Silverbird Television - to discuss the implications of the emerging conundrum concerning our dear president.  

I am of the opinion that there are good and bad sides to the issue at hand. The good thing is that unlike what happened in 2009/2010 when former President Umaru Musa YarAdua went on medical vacation to Saudi Arabia without transmitting a letter to the National Assembly empowering his then Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to act as president while he was  away attending to his debilitating health, this time around, President Buhari duly observed  the provision of  Section 145 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) by transmitting a letter empowering Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President to the National Assembly. This ensures that there is no vacuum in governance and therefore no need for another invocation of a Doctrine of Necessity as it happened in 2010.

On the flip side however, whether the president has gone on normal vacation or medical tourism, it leaves a sore taste in the mouth that a government that recently launched “Change Begins with Me” campaign with fanfare and with a strong advocacy around the need for Nigerians to patronise locally made goods and services will gleefully announced to the world its president’s penchant and preference for foreign vacation spots and Medicare. I quite agree with the notion that it is the prerogative of the president to determine where to spend his annual vacation. However, I am one of those who strongly believe that the president should have shown exemplary conduct by identifying with our tourism potentials by spending his annual vacation at any of the numerous tourist sites that dotted Nigeria’s landscape. That would have been a big boost to the “Buy Made in Nigeria” campaign.

Even in terms of Medicare, same applies. Billions of Naira are being yearly voted to equip and run the State House Clinic in Aso Rock, News report has it that what was earmarked for the clinic in 2016 and 2017 budget cycles are more than what was voted for many of our teaching hospitals. I should think that the State House clinic should have been able to handle a ‘routine medical checkup’ of our president. Buhari should have done the needful to ensure that the requisite equipments that can take care of his medical history are procured to prevent his frequent medical trips abroad. It is an indictment on the federal government that none of our teaching hospitals is good enough to take care of the health needs of our president and other high and big political office holders.

Need I remind Nigeria’s ‘constituted authorities’  that Ariel Sharon who was a former Prime Minister of Israel and Fidel Castro, the late president of Cuba while alive with terminal sicknesses were never flown out of their respective countries for Medicare abroad. Their countries doctors managed their health challenges successfully for many years before they eventually died.  In our own case we have had a former president and ex-first lady died at different foreign hospitals only to be flown back home for burial. Is Nigeria a cemetery?

As I write this, rumour mill is on a rebound as video clip of our president being in intensive care unit of a hospital in UK is gaining traction. It is right and just to know the health status of our president. It has been demanded that he should grant press interview to any media of his choice or address Nigerians from his holiday spot in UK if indeed he is ‘hale and hearty’ as the Acting President said about him last Monday.

Meanwhile, the biting economic recession faced by Nigerians has made thousands of people under the auspices of ‘’Enough is Enough’ and #IStandwithNigeria  to protest in many states of the federation including UK.  The protesters justifiably demanded for good governance and higher standard of living. The protest which was supposed to coincide with President Buhari’s resumption of office however could not make maximum expected impact due to the postponement of the resumption date of the president. However, despite the many controversies that trailed the planned protest particularly as the mastermind of the plot and celebrated pop star, Innocent Idibia, better known as Tuface cancelled the protest due to security concerns, nevertheless, the symbolic act of the several thousand that took to the street to protest the grinding poverty, unemployed and maladministration should not be lost on the government at all levels. Something urgently needs to be done to prevent a Nigerian spring reminiscent of the Arab spring. A word is enough for the wise.