Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Flooding in Nigeria, a danger foretold!

The rains are here and in torrents, we are indeed at the peak period of the season. There is now widespread flooding across many states. This newspaper on Monday, July 24, 2017 published pictures of flooding in states like Rivers, Delta, Lagos, and Ogun. In Niger State, about 25 persons were reported dead as a result of flooding. A young man, whose name was given simply as Izuchukwu purportedly died in a flood at West End Road area of  Owerri  last Saturday  while a  member of the All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Lateef Ajikanle, was also allegedly  electrocuted when he mistakenly touched live electricity wire while trying to clear debris from the flood in his compound  on Bolaji Omupo Street, Somolu, Lagos State, also last Saturday.
On June 11, 2017 as a result of heavy flooding the bridge in Tatabu, Mokwa Local Government Area of Niger State collapsed. The bridge links Northern and Western parts of the country. Since then, more pressure has been put on Okene-Lokoja-Abuja road which is the alternative to the Mokwa-Bida-Abuja axis. As a result of heavy downpour, the Local Council election of last Saturday, July 22 could not commence as scheduled. Election materials and personnel were soaked in many Polling Stations while the turnout of voters was extremely poor. Early this month, most part of the highbrow residence of Lekki, Victoria Island, Ikoyi, and Ajah in Lagos were submerged in waer after hours of heavy downpour. Roads were closed, lights cut off and property worth billions of Naira lost to these flooding.
The bitter truth is that the worst is not yet over. Heavy rains will still be experienced till about December especially in coastal cities. How did I know?  In March this year, Nigeria Meteorological Agency better known as NiMET published its 2017 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction. It was quite revealing.  According to its Director-General, Prof. Sani Machi, cessation dates of the rains in 2017 are predicted to start from October 4 in the extreme north and reach the coastal states around December 25. “Extended rains of three to eight days are predicted for areas in and around Adamawa, Ogun, Edo, Niger Delta and low-lying areas such as Lagos. The cessation dates of the growing season are predicted to extend well into December over most coastal states of the Niger Delta”. There you are!
“A war foretold does not kill a clever and wise cripple”, so says an old adage. In the case of Nigeria, it is a case of “none so deaf as those who will not hear”. Yearly, NiMET publishes Seasonal Rainfall Prediction; unfortunately both the government and we the people largely ignore the weatherman’s prediction. We carry on lackadaisically. Take for instance the recurring flooding from the Ogunpa River in Ibadan. According to Wikipedia, in 1960, more than 1,000 residents were rendered homeless when the Ogunpa River  exceeded its banks. More than 500 houses were damaged in 1963 when the river again flooded the city. In 1978, official record confirmed that 32 bodies were retrieved from the ruins of the flood even as more than 100 houses were destroyed. It was the flood of 1980 that however gave "Ogunpa" a national and international notoriety. After about 10 hours of heavy, the city was virtually left in ruins. More than 100 bodies were retrieved from the debris of collapsed houses and vehicles washed away by the deluge.
In 2011, precisely Friday, August 26 another flood seized the Oyo State capital after a seven hour torrential rain. Death toll in the Ibadan flood was conservatively put by Red Cross at over 100 while properties worth billions of Naira were also lost to the ‘tsunami’. University of Ibadan alone claimed to have lost over N10 billion worth of assets.  News reports on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 quoted the then Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan, Professor Isaac Adewole, as having said that: “The major calamity suffered by the university include the washing away of the Fish Farm with different species of fish valued at about N300 million, flooding of the Zoological Garden leading to the death of animals, extensive damage of the Teaching and Research Farm and the destruction of books estimated to the tune of N2bn. Besides, many gigantic buildings, laboratories and expensive equipment were destroyed by the flood which equally pulled down the university fence and 13 electricity poles, thereby compounding the hitherto poor electricity supply to the institution.” Corroborating the V.C, Head of Department of Fishery, Dr Bamidele Omitoye, said that special species of fish such as claias gariepinus, heterobranchus bidorsalis, oreochromis niloticus and parachana obscura were swept away.
Has anything been done differently to prevent further flooding in Oyo State or Nigeria since that time. I sincerely doubt. Water channels are still being blocked by refuse dumps from many homes. People are still building on riverbanks and waterways. Though environmental sanitation is called for every last Saturday of the month, many residents only use the time to relax in their homes since there will be restriction of movements. It is high time government takes proactive steps to prevent further flooding than already experienced this year. Environmental Health Officers better known as Sanitary Inspectors need to go out to mobilise residents to clear water channels and drainages. Those who build on waterways should be given quit notice, relocated to safer environment while their illegal structures should be demolished.
Furthermore, town planning authorities should go round communities and carry out stress test on residential structures, Any dilapidated buildings, even if not on waterways should be pulled down in a controlled manner so that flood will not pull such houses down in a manner that can constitute danger to adjoining buildings. A lot of public enlightenments also need to be sustainably carried out on the dangers of blocking water channels with solid wastes.  I also advise that anytime there is heavy downpour electricity distribution companies should take a proactive measure to cut off light until when it is sure that the rains had stopped and that there is no complaint of any fallen electric poles or snapped cables which can constitute danger to residents. Electricity companies should also take preemptive step by ensuring that electric poles in their areas of operations are standing well and that there is no fallen electricity cable that can constitute danger to members of the public. There is no gainsaying that many people have been electrocuted during flooding.
Government at all levels should also put their disaster management agencies on high alert. With the best of efforts, there could still be flood. However, prompt response from agencies like the Emergency Management Agencies as well as Fire Service can mitigate the potential damage and destruction. Internally Displaced Camps should be readied to accommodate victims of flood disaster.  In addition to NIMET’s nationwide weather forecast, I enjoin each state government to also commission localised meteorological studies of their own for a more accurate and in-depth weather forecast. A stich in time saves nine!
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wanted: Agrarian revolution for economic development

If you cannot feed the world, feed yourself!  
- Dr. David Oyedepo, Chancellor, Landmark University, Omu Aran, Kwara State.
It was a great privilege and honour to be the guest of Landmark University during her just concluded 4th Convocation Ceremony held last week from Wednesday, July 12 to Sunday, July 16, 2017. Though I was not there for all the time but the two full days I spent in that citadel of learning was an eye opener for me.  I learnt a lot from some of the wisdom nuggets shared by Bishop David Oyedepo as well as the convocation lecture delivered by Mr. Mezuo Nwuneli as well as the keynote address by Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro. Since then, I have come to realise the full import of agriculture both for food security as well as economic development.
Erroneously, many of us look at agriculture as mere cultivation for food production, sales and consumption. It is more than that.  At Landmark, I learnt about agribusiness and agripreneurship.  It is noteworthy that all students in the university irrespective of their course of study had to learn about agriculture. The school is also the only one in Nigeria offering Certificate and Diploma in Agripreneurship. Did you know that there is no home in the world that does not contain agricultural products or by-products? Here I am not talking of food which is compulsory and is found in every home. What about the flowers, the trees, the furniture, the shoes, the bags, the belts, the clothes, the books, the newspapers, tissue papers, cartons, the drugs, cigars, cigarettes,  tobacco, wines, fruit juice, soft drinks  and several other daily needs at home? They are all agricultural produce and by-products.
Last Thursday, Mr. Mezuo Nwuneli who presented the convocation lecture spoke on “The Business of Agriculture: Benchmarking and Attaining New Frontiers  in Agricultural Development for Africa”.  In an illuminating speech, the guest lecturer spoke of business of agriculture. According to him Agribusiness encompasses the interlinked set of activities from the farm to the fork. It includes four key segments: Agricultural Input Industry for increasing agricultural productivity, such as agricultural machinery, equipment and tools; fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides; and irrigation systems and related equipment.
There is also Production and Processing for Agro-industry. Here he spoke about food and beverages; tobacco products, leather and leather products; textile; footwear and garments; wood and wood products; rubber products; as well as construction industry products based on agricultural materials.  Mention was also made of Agricultural Processing Equipment which includes machinery (cleaning, sorting and grading, milling, blending, packaging}, cooling technology, tools and spare parts. Lastly are the support services such as transportation logistics, marketing, and distribution, storage facilities (silos, cold room, warehouses); information technology services; and packaging materials.
Nwuneli reeled out a lot of statistics, graphs and survey reports to demonstrate the numerous challenges and solutions to Nigeria’s attainment of agrarian revolution. He noted inter alia that an average Nigerian spends 50 per cent of his or her earnings on food and that the country imports over 45 per cent of its food needs. He stated also that over the past 10 years, there has been a gradual increase in agribusiness investments in Nigeria. The ‘agripreneur’ noted that there are broad range of opportunities in agricultural production, processing, storage and distribution, financing, and inputs. He went into details of opportunities in cassava and tomato processing as well as integrated poultry.
The keynote speaker, Professor Suleiman Elias Bogoro made his own presentation during the main convocation event last Friday, July 14, 2017. He spoke on the topic “Revolutionizing Agriculture: A Catalyst for Up scaling Development and Transformation in Africa”. In the well-researched paper, Bogoro, a renowned Professor of Animal Science from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi who is also the immediate past Executive Secretary of Tertiary Education Trust Fund delved into the various government initiatives aimed at revolutionizing agriculture in Nigeria, their successes and challenges, as well as the roles of different stakeholders in the attainment of agrarian revolution in Nigeria, nay Africa.  
For instance he did an overview of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration under the immediate past Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina. According to the erudite scholar, “The overarching objectives of the ATA are to boost agricultural output, encourage private sector engagement, and create 3.5m new jobs in the farming sector. The ATA aims to boost farmers’ incomes by N300bn ($1.5bn) by increasing productivity, securing greater market access, and strengthening value chains. At the heart of ATA is the idea that agriculture should be a business rather than a development activity and that efforts to grow the sector require strategic direction rather than the pursuit of piecemeal disconnected projects.”. The speaker said ATA has achieved limited success with many of the objectives yet to be fully realized. Bogoro observed that the main policy thrust of the incumbent Buhari administration is “to embark on a massive and comprehensive reorganisation and revolutionalisation of the agricultural sector” 
The university don listed six actions required to spur transformational growth in Nigeria’s agricultural sector. They are: Consistence and high level policy attention. To him, “Agricultural reform and transformation will require policy stability and continuity that builds and improves on the progress already made. He also called for more investment in agriculture. In his view, Nigeria has not come close to meeting the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme guideline for African countries to spend at least 10 per cent of their budgets on agriculture. He challenged all tiers of government to get involved in the transformation agenda and that efforts should be made to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the three tiers of government for agricultural policy and delivery.
Bogoro called for more emphasis to be placed on research and development. He observed that Nigeria is home to 15 national agricultural research institutes and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture. Unfortunately, spending on these institutes has been very inadequate. Yet, there is need for greater emphasis on developing research that provides practical solutions to the problems faced by farmers.  He also called for the active engagement of smallholder as well as young farmers.   He equally stated that value addition on our agricultural commodities hold the key to increased incomes and reducing the huge post-harvest losses. To attain self-sufficiency in food production and processing, he opined that it is important to have infrastructure that will support production and accessibility to markets such as dams, irrigation facilities and silos.
The keynote speaker observed the preference of Nigerian policy maker for the crop subsector with little attention given to livestock and fisheries subsectors. This, he observed, is at variance with the practice in developed countries. He challenged Landmark University to develop Agro-technology Park similar to the popular Research Triangle of North Carolina in USA. The academic also lend his support to the proposed Agricultural Trust Fund.
Since I listened to the soul steering paper presentations of the two guest speakers, I have been having introspection of how to get involved in the agriculture value chain. I never knew there are boundless opportunities in that sector as I have been made to see. Even the elementary aspect which is food production is a money spinner. Like Bishop David Oyedepo said at LMU convocation last week, “Until life ceases to be, food will remain relevant. Food market will forever remain open. Get involved!”  
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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Osinbajo’s noble advice to African leaders

“The tragic consequences of wars and conflicts in Africa are self-evident. The millions killed and maimed, the millions displaced, children out of school, set us back decades economically and socially. Our resolve to end wars and conflicts in Africa is therefore our vote for a future of real growth and development for our continent.”
– Acting President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on July 3, 2017 at the 29th AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Africa Union held its 29th Summit last week and it was another rainbow coalition of leaders from the 54 African countries.  They   jaw-jawed once again to find lasting solutions to the myriads of challenges confronting the continent.  Nigeria’s delegate to the summit was ably led by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.  Incidentally, Nigeria, this July, officially assumed the one-month rotational chairmanship of the African Union Peace and Security Council. Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the AU, Mr. Bankole Adeoye, took over from Mr. Susan Sikaneta, the Permanent Representative of Zambia, who held the Presidency for the month of June.
It is important to state that “the Peace and Security Council is the standing organ of the AU for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts.  The PSC was established to be a collective security and ‘early warning’ arrangement with the ability to facilitate timely and efficient responses to conflict and crisis situations. The PSC’s core functions are to conduct early warning and preventive diplomacy, facilitate peace-making, establish peace-support operations and, in certain circumstances, recommend intervention in Member States to promote peace, security and stability. The PSC also works in support of peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction as well as humanitarian action and disaster management.”
Professor Osinbajo was at his eloquent and articulate best when he delivered his address on Peace and Security in Africa. Apart from the opening quote of this article which is an excerpt from the Acting President’s speech, he also said, inter alia, that: “We have no choice; peace, security and stability are fundamental to the realisation of sustainable development and to assure our people of decent and happy lives. As we move towards silencing the guns by 2020, our collective resolve must remain solid and steadfast to effectively tackle conflicts, terrorism, violent extremism and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.” My president, you’re indeed spot on!
Africa’s growth and development have been stunted and retarded as a result of plethora of senseless conflicts and wars. From the fratricidal hostilities in Somalia, South Sudan, Guinea Bissau, Libya, DR Congo and Central African Republic to the Xenophobic attacks in South Africa. The continent is also being plagued with terrorism and violent extremism in Sinai Peninsula of Egypt as well as the North Eastern Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Mali where Boko Haram insurgency is raging.  In the 1990s Nigeria deployed huge human and material resources under the ECOWAS Military Operations better known as ECOMOG in order to quell uprisings in Liberia and Sierra Leone. 
In all these bloodlettings, millions of lives were lost, many were maimed, huge refugee and internally displaced persons emerged and on many occasions, United Nations has to step in when AU cannot mobilise sufficient resources for its peace keeping operations. Out of the 16 Peace Keeping Missions currently being undertaken all over the world, nine of them are taking place in Africa alone. They are in Western Sahara, Liberia, Dafur, Mali, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Cote D’Ivoire, DR Congo and Abyei. That is to let you know the burden Africa has become to the rest of the world.
Due to the youth bulge in the continent, the frequent conflicts has led to the ugly phenomenon of child soldering where very young boys are conscripted to fight in a war that they do not understand the basis. As earlier mentioned, these conflicts have led to significant increase in the number of IDPs, refugees, out-of-school children as well as famine. The Acting President was on point  when he advised that as a first step, AU must ensure the full implementation of the African Peace and Security Architecture, especially the operationalisation of the African Standby Force and the Peace Fund.
It is unfortunate that since 1963 when Organisation for African Unity was formed before its metamorphosis into   African Union, the continent has no standby force. Funding has equally remained a potent challenge as the continental body continues to be starved of financial resources by member countries who failed to pay their annual dues.  Southern African Legal Information Institute research shows that five countries -- Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, and South Africa --cover at least 66 per cent of the member states' share of the budget. However, for years most of the AU's budgets and programmes have been financed by foreign donors, including the European Union, the US, China, the World Bank and the United Kingdom, according to available financial statements. While the AU's budget grew from $278.2 million in 2013 to $393.4 million in 2015, external financing also rose from 56 per cent to 61.7per cent in the corresponding years.
Hear our Acting President again, “We must redouble our efforts, and without equivocation avail the necessary resources, in order to successfully achieve the goals set out in Agenda 2063. We need to rekindle our political will and determination not to bequeath to the next generation of Africans the burden of wars, poverty and misery. It is therefore necessary for the Assembly to reaffirm the overriding importance of holistically addressing the root causes of violent conflicts in our countries.” One of the seven aspirations of Agenda 2063 which was developed in 2013 when AU celebrated its 50th anniversary is to have ‘a peaceful and secure Africa’.  Part of the milestones set under this aspiration is to ‘silence the guns by 2020’.  Is that feasible?
It is indeed a noble aspiration. However, barely three years to the attainment of that target, we’re still faced with the challenge of proliferation of small arms and light weapons which are smuggled into many of the armed conflict zones in Africa. These unlicensed weapons are difficult to mop up due to the porous international borders of many African countries coupled with lack of political will to act. Last Thursday, I was on Silverbird Television to discuss this issue and the moderator asked me how to address the root causes of conflicts in Africa.

My answer was that these have been well documented from many commissioned researches of African Union itself and those conducted by academics in ivory towers as well as civil society organisations working with regional and continental bodies like AU. They range from ‘sit-tightism’ by some African leaders to flawed elections, injustices, poverty, external influence (regime change policy of some Western countries), marginalisation, distrust, discriminations and lack of constitutionalism. What is to be done to address all these identified triggers of conflict? Good governance. QED. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Nigerian government’s amnesty for tax evaders

Last Thursday, June 29, 2017, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo signed an Executive Order birthing Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme known as VAIDS. The scheme outlines the federal government’s plan to increase tax awareness and compliance, and grant taxpayers a time-limited opportunity to regularise their tax status without penalty. Taking a cue  from similar actions that have been successfully implemented in South Africa, Indonesia and India in 2016, Nigeria’s government hopes to bring more people to the tax net,  increase government revenue and reduce borrowing to finance budget. 
Indeed the country’s narrative of tax compliance is very appalling and heart rending. Unlike several African countries whose Tax to Gross Domestic Product Ratio is average of 15 per cent, while that of many advanced countries is 30 per cent and above, Nigeria’s Tax to GDP ratio is mere six per cent. According to the National Bureau of Statistics figures, Nigeria has a taxable class of no fewer than 69 million people, out of which only 14 million are currently in the tax net. Also, only 214 of taxpayers, irrespective of status, pay N20 million or more annually, while about 900 taxpayers pay N10 million per annum. All the 214 taxpayers are based in Lagos while out of the 900 also paying N10 million, all but two are based outside Lagos.
The above statistics quoted by Acting President in his speech at the launch of VAIDS last Thursday shows that 55 million taxable Nigerians are not paying tax. Also huge chunk of high net worth individuals voluntarily paying tax reside in Lagos. This is not surprising as the State of Aquatic Splendour also known as Centre of Excellence is the economic nerve centre of Nigeria. Lagos is to Nigeria what New York is to America and London to United Kingdom.  It is however a lie peddled too far to say that there are no handful of high net worth individuals in all the states of the country especially Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Warri, Eket, Calabar and several other major cities. A further interrogation of those reported to have voluntarily complied with their tax obligations may also reveal underpayment.
Truth be told, Nigerian tax system is riddled with corruption. It’s not only individuals that evade tax; many companies operating in Nigeria either do not pay tax at all or under pay. Many tax officials and consultants are millionaires today as a result of sharp practices and malpractices. Many of them help their clients to commit tax fraud. They assist them to procure fake tax certificates and in other respect did under declaration of their income and concomitantly tax liabilities.  
There are several reasons why people and companies do not want to pay tax. One of them is the high level of corruption among Nigeria’s politically exposed persons. Many political office holders do not either pay tax or do not pay the right tax. Yet, they take advantage of the governance system to corruptly enrich themselves. A look at Nigeria’s yearly budget at all levels will reveal high level of wastages of the nation’s resources. Frugality is not in the dictionary of Nigeria’s political office holders. They live ostentatious lifestyles and care less about the suffering masses.
Look at the number of cars in the convoy of the president and governors. Until recently, about 10 aircraft were in Nigerian presidential air fleet which is maintained annually with billions of Naira. Two Saturdays ago, while discussing the 2017 Federal Government budget on a Radio Nigeria network pidgin programme, ‘Kontri Mata’, a caller asked me why huge resources are voted annually for purchase of cooking utensils in State House as well as purchase of cars, computers and building renovations every year. Nigerians are indeed averse to a situation of “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop”.
Multiple taxation has also been a disincentive to Nigerians and enterprises operating in the country. For instance, apart from paying import duty on imported hardware and raw materials, companies operating in the country are also faced with plethora of other levies, duties and taxes by all the tiers of government viz. federal, state and local. Individuals pay Value Added Tax on their goods and services, Personal Income Tax  (Pay As You Earn scheme). There is also a Withholding Tax and last year a N50 Stamp Duty on every transaction has been made compulsory for every current account holder in the Money Deposit Banks. Do we have accountability for revenues collected under these myriads of taxations? No! I can’t recollect government at any level coming out to tell Nigerians how much has been realised from the payment of the Stamp Duty since the enforcement began.
There is also insufficient education on tax computation. For instance, who is supposed to pay tax? What constitutes tax reliefs? Does a business woman or man pay tax on all sales proceeds or on profit? What is tax holiday? Good enough, every Thursday during this nine month amnesty period has been declared by the government as ‘Tax Thursday’ meant to create awareness among Nigerians. To my own mind, voluntary compliance with tax obligations will work when there is tax justice. Tax policy must be customer friendly. Already, there is high cost of living arising from increase in pump price of petroleum products, high electricity tariff, epileptic power supply, high cost of rent and transportation and low salary which again is not paid as at when due. Without tax pressure, there is already high incidence of suicide and incidences of mental illness. Government will do well not to push people more into depression.
Under VAIDS, tax amnesty will run for nine months, effective July 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, to give room for tax defaulters to voluntarily declare their assets and pay commensurate taxes. That is a fair deal. However, government should consider imposing high taxes on luxury items such as exotic drinks, clothes, and other non-essential items. It is also high time to issue Property Verification Number similar to Bank Verification Number. Owners of high net worth properties above certain threshold like N100m should be made to pay property tax.

There is no gainsaying that VAIDS is desirable as it will boost government revenue and reduce borrowing; however, issues bordering on corruption, lack of transparency and accountability as well as multiple taxation earlier raised in this piece should be critically examined and resolved within this amnesty period. The front horse is the one used by the back one to pace; therefore, change must begin with our leaders, in and out of government.