Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Nigeria’s legendary lip-service to quality education

Nigeria’s education system is in dire need of overhaul. Things are not just right in that sector. Unless something urgent is done to arrest and redress the rot in the system, the country’s future seems bleak. The leaders of tomorrow being prepared by today’s education authorities cannot sadly deliver global competitiveness. From the primary to tertiary level, the entire gamut stinks to high heavens.  Am not being uncharitable with my assessment, the deplorable situation is glaring for all to see. Strip of all pretensions and lip-service, the country’s education sector is in need of redemption.
From where do I start to analyse the rot? Have you noticed the avalanche of private schools currently operating in all nooks and crannies of Nigeria? Many of these schools operate in very unsafe, unhygienic, dilapidated structures. Many are also unlicensed and are populated by unqualified teachers who are paid pittance at every month end. In many private schools, both legal and illegal ones, there is often high turnover of staff because of the absence of good working conditions by many of the Shylock proprietors. The sad thing is that most of these schools were established primarily for pecuniary purpose.  In these schools, no teacher dare fail students. The creed is to help children to pass irrespective of whether they deserve to fail.  Where are the education inspectors who are supposed to monitor and ensure standard? In many instances, once their palms are greased, the assessment exercise is going to be predictably favourable.
There are public schools. I mean government owned educational institutions. However, the deplorable situation of most of them made parents to prefer sending their children and wards to private schools both within and outside the shores of the country. In public schools, the facilities are overstretched with more students enrolled than the carrying capacities of these institutions. Thus, it’s now common to see pupils and students learning under trees or dilapidated classrooms and lecture theatres. The teachers and lecturers are more on strike than at work. At present, the academic staff union of universities is in their third week of strike over government’s non-implementation of 2009 agreement entered into with the union as well as several other memoranda of understanding signed in-between.  
Let me cite some examples to buttress my point so that I don’t sound hyperbolic. In October 2016, a former vice chancellor of Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto, Professor Riskuwa Shehu disclosed that over 60 per cent of teachers in public primary and secondary schools in the state are unqualified. Shehu made the disclosure in Sokoto  at a one-day training exercise for field officers for a pilot survey on schools’ needs assessment under the State of Emergency on Education initiative. He added that more than half of the structures in the over two thousand schools across the state are also dilapidated. The good thing about the Sokoto episode is that Governor Aminu Tambuwal has declared state of emergency in the state’s education sector and  is trying frantically to clear the mess.
In February 2016, Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufa’i said that over 42 per cent of teachers in the State were unqualified. He stated this at the commissioning ceremony of a 1,500-seater capacity hall named after him at the Federal College of Education, Zaria, Kaduna State. The governor however said that despite the large number of unqualified teachers, he will not sack anybody, but will want them to upgrade their knowledge. Lest you think it’s all northern affair, in April 2017, Cross Rivers State detected 758 teachers with fake National Certificate for Education on its payroll. The revelation was made by the Chairman of the Cross River State Universal Basic Education Board, Dr. Stephen Odey.   He added that: “One of the shocking revelations was the case of a head teacher who transferred his late wife’s certificates to his new wife and made her a classroom teacher, while some security men and nannies who had acquired the basic teaching qualifications were promoted to classroom teachers.” Rather than punishing these culprits, the state government granted them amnesty by asking them to go back to school and get their genuine certificates.
Nemo dat quod non habet is the Latin word which means “you cannot give what you don’t have.”  There is no way unqualified tutors can impart knowledge into their students. Any wonder there is now mass failure of students especially in external examinations? Could the students’ general poor performance be the rationale behind the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board’s low cut-off mark announced last week for the 2017/ 2018 admission into Nigerian’s tertiary institutions?  I thought I was suffering from auditory hallucination when JAMB announced that education stakeholders including university vice-chancellors, polytechnic rectors and provosts of colleges of education in Nigeria had agreed to a cut off mark of minimum of 120/400 for university admission and 100/300 for admission into polytechnics and colleges of education. I read the defence of JAMB’s Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede in last Friday’s edition of this newspaper wherein he said that Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination “is not an achievement test. It is not a qualifying examination; rather, it is a ranking examination.”
With due respect to the stakeholders who endorsed these retrogressive cut-off marks, they are not helping Nigeria’s education sector. It is better for Nigeria to revert to the pre-JAMB era when each universities set guidelines and conducts its qualifying examinations. What is the whole essence of the purported ranking examination when these tertiary institutions are still going to conduct post-JAMB examinations at a fee?  If as Oloyede said, that with 200 marks as the lowest cut-off the admission quota are not being filled, so be it. We already have too many unemployed graduates such that if we don’t produce for the next decade we would not have any shortage.
There are estimated 10.5m out-of-school children in Nigeria and in order to incentivize them to get enrolled in school, the Buhari administration last year introduced the ‘homegrown school feeding programme’. Only about 17 states had commenced the scheme. Where this has commenced there has been exponential growth in school enrolment. However, there is no corresponding expansion of school facilities including classrooms, teaching and learning aids, and teachers. If the programme were well thought through, these should have been taken care off.

A recent discovery shocked me. While many states are complaining of lack of fund for education, many of them have failed woefully to provide the matching grant to enable them access the funds earmarked for them by the Universal Basic Education Commission. The fund totaling an approximately N60bn is idling away in the Commission’s account with the Central Bank of Nigeria. Ebonyi State has an unclaimed over N4bn followed by Enugu and Ondo with over N3bn each. As at March 31, 2017, only Borno and Rivers States have totally claimed their dues. What tenable excuse has the other 34 state governments and FCT have for not coming forward to collect this grant? If we’re going to get out of this morass, we need to do things differently from the way it is being done now by stop paying lip service to this all important sector. Government needs to properly fund education, curb examination malpractices and other sharp practices in the sector including admission racketeering, sex-for-marks phenomenon, fake teacher syndrome, and inconsistent policy framework.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Follow your passion

I got involved in media advocacy for development 27 years ago. Precisely in October 1990 when due to the pervasive misery in the land I took up the challenge posed by my lecturer at the University of Ibadan, Prof. OBC Nwolise to get involved in speaking out against the injustices, poverty, bad governance and underdevelopment in the country. He had challenged us in Advanced Level Extra Mural  class in 1988 that beyond the street protests, we can actually write opinions for publications in newspapers in order to ventilate our grievances. So to speak, Prof. Osisioma Nwolise nudged me into what has now given me identity; name and face recognition. My gratitude to the erudite scholar.
Twenty-seven years ago, I didn’t know I will earn my living in the development sector better known as Non-Governmental Organisation.  I didn’t even know I will one day become a development consultant. To God alone be all the glory for ordering my steps along the path that am now treading. My media advocacy and work as a consultant are mutually reinforcing. Yes, I may not have made money, stricto sensu  (a la late Professor Adekunle Amuwo)  from my media advocacy but I have gained a lot. My friend of life, Sheriff  Folarin, an Associate Professor at the  Covenant University is one of the many beautiful gifts media have given me. Our path crossed at the defunct Sketch Press in Ibadan in 1993. I have equally shared same platform with movers and shakers of Nigeria: Senators, House of Representatives members, University dons, media icons,  top security operatives including the incumbent Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim  K Idris,  and many more.

My voyage through the Nigerian media has enabled me to become an author with two books – “Nigeria, My Nigeria: Perspectives from 1990 – 2010” and “A Nation in Tow: Essays on Governance and Leadership in Nigeria”.  At present, I have over 700 published articles in about 25 print media and have made about 400 appearances in over twenty broadcast media.  What’s more, it has saved me from depression, boosted my self-confidence and self-esteem as well as my world view. My eternal gratitude to all media houses and personalities who have granted me opportunity to air my views on their programmes. Don’t get it twisted; it’s not the media that I am passionate about but knowledge impartation. Those who have been privileged to attend my numerous trainings will attest to this. Dear readers, what are you passionate about? Follow your passion; it may one day be your gateway out of unemployment and poverty and guarantee access to wealth. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Attention please, President Buhari!

Welcome back from your medical vacation dear President Muhamadu Buhari. Hearty congratulations on your miraculous recovery from your undisclosed ailment which has seen you out of the country for the better part of this year 2017. I pray that Almighty Allah will perfect your healing. Mr. President, it is heartwarming to listen to you last Monday during your official broadcast to the nation. Though am disappointed that  the much anticipated critical decisions that will energise governance  was not contained in your speech, yet it was not a vacuous statement. You did show grasp of the need to unite to solve our nagging problems inclusive of insecurity.
Since Monday, I have been guest of several media houses viz, Vision 92.1 FM, Nigerian Television Authority, Federal Radio Corporation of  Nigeria and Arise TV to mention but a few,  where on invitation, I have been analysing the importance of your homecoming, the gist of your national broadcast and agenda setting for you. Mr. President, it is just fit and proper for me to condense my thoughts into writing for posterity. First and foremost, I commend Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who as Acting President for the over hundred days of your absence held fort as a loyal, humble, conscientious and disciplined second-in-command. Prof. Osinbajo, among several other things signed the 2017 budget into law and dialogued with all major leaders of ethnic nationalities in a bid to quell the groundswell of agitation and threat to national security by some misguided elements among us. He also swore in the two newly appointed minsters and assigned them portfolios just as he appointed about 21 new permanent secretaries and assigned them to their new duty posts.
The Acting President also issued four Executive Orders aimed at facilitating ease of doing business as well as launching the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme on June 29.  At the rebound of Boko Haram insurgency, Prof. Osinbajo ordered the military high command to Borno State to take charge and contain the resurgence of the extremist group. These he did while ensuring that there is regular meetings of the Federal Executive Council and National Economic Council. Mr. President, I sincerely thank you for the trust and confidence you had in the Vice President which has ensured that there is no power vacuum while you’re away.
Now that you are back, I do hope you have convalesce well enough to fully resume duties and not getting back to work out of pressure from certain interest groups. I do know that that you have officially communicated the National Assembly about your resumption of duty in accordance with constitutional requirement. That makes me glad.    Let me now lay bare some issues that I consider need your urgent attention. As you have rightly pointed out in your national broadcast of last Monday, security remains a top priority. Aside from the rebound of Boko Haram, incidences of crime and criminality have been increasing at exponential rate. Kidnapping, armed robbery, rape, drug trafficking, ritual killings, fraud and many more have been on the rise with law enforcement agencies appearing overwhelmed. 
The other issue is the economy that is still in the doldrums. There is intolerable level of unemployment and poverty in this country. As the economy is in recess, many compatriots are slipping into depression. Suicide rate is increasing while psychiatrist hospitals are getting fuller by the day due to high incidences of mental illness plaguing the people. I stand to be corrected but the bulk of the promised social intervention programmes are yet to be implemented. Only about half of all the states in the country are currently enjoying ‘Home-grown school feeding programme’ of your government while the outstanding 300,000 graduates to be employed under the N-Power scheme are yet to be recruited two years into the noble scheme. Due to high cost of doing business arising from epileptic power supply, access to land and high interest rate on loan, not many new businesses are coming on board while many of the existing ones are folding up.  
Giving the fact that government at all level cannot absorb the teeming unemployed Nigerians, it’s important to incentivize the organised private sector through tax holidays, low interest rate on loan and provisioning of social infrastructure such as good roads, electricity, pipe-borne water, railway, etc. It is heartrending that your government celebrated two years in office without commissioning any tangible infrastructure. This should not be the case in 2018; otherwise, you and your political party may as well not bother to field a presidential candidate in 2019.
Sir, you set up the Senator Ken Nnamani Presidential Committee on Electoral Reform in October 2016. The Committee has since submitted its report to the Attorney General and Minster of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN for onward transmission to you. I doubt if he was able to present it to you before your departure to UK on medical leave. For whatever it is worth, please call for the report and do the needful on it even though the National Assembly is far gone in its constitutional and electoral act amendment effort.
It may interest you to know sir that despite several measures taken by your administration to combat bribery and corruption such as the whistleblower policy, Treasury Single Account, setting up of efficiency unit in the federal civil service and arrest and prosecution of some key government officials, the hydra-headed monster is still alive and well.  According to the 2016 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Nigeria is ranked 136 out of 176 profiled countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is ranked 28 out of about 50 countries. This is still unenviable for the giant of Africa. Just last week, a joint report by the National Bureau of Statistics and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes revealed that a total of N400bn was received in bribes by public officials within a period of one year. The NBS National Corruption Report stated that 32.3 per cent of Nigerian adults who had contact with public officials between June 2015 and May 2016 had to pay bribes to the government workers. This is very shameful and a pointer to the fact that many Nigerians are yet to imbibe the ‘Change Begins With Me’ philosophy of this administration.

Sir, I look forward to your receiving official report of the findings of the Vice President Osinbajo headed three man fact-finding committee set up to investigate the suspended Secretary to the Federal Government, Engr. David Bachair Lawal and Director General of National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayo Oke. It is important for the report of the committee to be made public as it borders on anti-corruption. In closing, the on-going strike by Academic Staff Union of Universities should not be allowed to linger. Everything humanly possible should be done to address and redress the university dons grievances.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Kenya 2017 election: Lessons for Nigeria

On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, Kenya held its sixth general elections since return to multi-party democracy in 1991. Declaring the result of the presidential election last Friday in its Nairobi headquarters, the chairman of the country’s electoral management body known as Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission of Kenya, Barrister Wafula W. Chebukati said the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubilee Party had a total of 8,215,963 votes representing 54.2 per cent to defeat his arch-rival Raila Odinga of National Super Alliance/ODM   who polled 6,815,971 votes representing 44.9 per cent.  Total voters turnout was 79.4 per cent. The controversies surrounding the elections are still unfolding with the claim by Odinga that the IEBC rigged the election in support of the incumbent, President Kenyatta. Some lives have reportedly been lost to post-election conflict with international community appealing for calm and calling for caution.
I have been privileged to discuss the recent political events in Kenya on different media platforms in the last one week or so. I have featured on Global Update and news analysis on three different Nigerian Television Authority stations, African Independent Television and Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria. The more I read about the elections in the East African country, the more I understand certain similarities and marked differences between Nigeria and Kenya. 
Like Nigeria, Kenya is a multi-ethnic, plural society. Another similarity with Nigeria is that it is a British colonised territory. It gained independence from Britain in 1963 while we got ours three years earlier. Kenya was a one party state from 1982 to 1991 but has since become a multi-party state. The country is not new to electoral conflict. Since 1992, all elections held in Kenya had led to bloodletting with the exception of those conducted in 2002 and 2013. In fact, the worst electoral violence took place in Kenya in 2007 when an estimated 1,300 lives were lost and over 600,000 persons internally displaced. In the lead up to the 2017 general election, on July 27, Christopher Msando, the head of ICT Unit of IEBC of Kenya was tortured and murdered by unknown assailants.  In Nigeria, electoral violence is a common phenomenon with several hundreds of lives lost.  It would be recalled that in 2011, close to a thousand lives were lost to pre and post-election crisis. 
Kenya, like Nigeria has bicameral legislature at the centre and unicameral legislature at the state / county level. Both countries have also been adapting electoral technology to enhance credibility of their elections. In Kenya, technology is deployed in the areas of voter identification, candidate registration, result transmission and presentation as well as biometric voter registration.
Similar to what obtains in Nigeria, Kenya is plagued by endemic corruption, high unemployment and poverty rate. According to Washington Post of Friday, August 11, 2017, “One of the reasons, analysts say that Kenya’s elections are so hotly contested is that the central government has been an enormously profitable political machine, awarding contracts across a large patronage network. A report from Kenya’s auditor-general last year said that about $200 million meant for the National Youth Service had been paid to fraudulent companies, including some with connections to politicians. The United States earlier this year suspended $21 million in health funding due to corruption allegations.”  According to the 2016 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Kenya is ranked 145 out of a total of 176 nations profiled while Nigeria is ranked 136. In sub-Saharan Africa, while Kenya is ranked 26, Nigeria is ranked 28. Unemployment rate in Kenya is officially put at 22.2 per cent.
Politically, out of the four past presidents of Kenya, three of them had been from Kikuyu tribe while one is Kalanjin. No Luo has ever been president in the over 50 years of the country’s nationhood. This is similar to the situation in Nigeria where out of the three major ethnic groups the Igbos are yet to be president of Nigeria. This has continually generated political tensions and is one of the bases for the strident call for restructuring of Nigeria at present.
As there are several similarities between Nigeria’s and Kenya’s political systems, so are there legion of differences.  For instance, the Kenyan Constitution requires there to be a general election on the second Tuesday in August in every fifth year. That is why the elections were held last Tuesday. In Nigeria, we not only have our general election every four years, there is latitude of five months within which our election management body i.e. Independent National Electoral Commission could fix election.  The constitution says elections into the office of the president, governors, National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) and State Houses of Assembly are to be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days to the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent. 
In Kenya, unlike Nigeria, all elections are held in one day. Thus, on the eight of this month, six separate elections - president, national assembly, female representatives, governors, senate and county assemblies – were held simultaneously. No wonder there was huge voter turnout. In Kenya, there is provision for independent candidacy. Indeed, out of the eight presidential candidates that participated in the country’s 2017 election, three of them ran as independents.  In Nigeria, for executive positions such as President, Governor and Chairman of Local Government and Area Council, a candidate has to score 25 percent of votes cast in  two-third of his or her constituency as well as majority of valid votes cast while for legislative positions, a winner emerge by simple majority. However, in Kenya, a presidential candidate need 50 per cent plus one vote as well as 25 per cent of votes cast in 24 out of the 47 counties for first-round victory. Otherwise, there will be a run-off.
In Kenya, unlike Nigeria, there is affirmative action for the marginalised groups.  Out of the 349 Members of Parliament, 290 of them are directly elected while 47 seats are reserved for women to be contested for while six Youths and six Persons with Disabilities are nominated into the parliament. In the country’s 67 member Senate, 47 of them are directly elected while 20 are nominated. Out of the 20 nominees, 16 are women, two are Youths and two are PwD.  History was made last week during the country’s general election. Three Kenyan women were elected governors after beating some of the seasoned male politicians. Joyce Laboso, Anne Waiguru and Charity Ngilu made political history by becoming the first women to be elected as governors in Kenya. Previously, all 47 counties were governed by males.
IEBC of Kenya has chairman and vice chairman. While the chairman, Mr. Wafula W. Chebukati is a man, the vice, Ms. Consolata Nkatha Bucha Maina is a lady. This is called twining in political circles. Out of the eight members of the Commission, three of them are women. Also, Kipng’etich Kones, the son of a late Cabinet Minister Kipkalya Kones, who ran in the Kenyan parliamentary election lost to his mother, Beatrice Kones.  Unlike Nigeria that has 36 states, Kenya has 47 counties which is their equivalent of our state.
While Nigeria’s polling hours is between 8am – 3pm, in Kenya, it is between 6am – 5pm.  No sitting president has ever lost an election in the East African country of 48 million people. This jinx has been broken in Nigeria in 2015. In Kenya, prisoners who are not on death row or serving life sentence are allowed to vote in the presidential election. There is also provision for out-of-country or diaspora voting. In the August 8 general election, Kenyans in five African countries viz. South Africa, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda were registered to vote and approximately 7,000 of them voted in the presidential election. There is also public funding for political parties in the country. In August 2010, Kenya’s new constitution designed to limit the powers of the president and devolve power to the regions was approved in referendum.

Where lies the political lessons for Nigeria? In the noble provisions highlighted above which guarantee inclusive electoral process.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Stemming soaring cases of mental illness in Nigeria

So many strange things are happening in Nigeria today that give goose pimples. Oftentimes, I ask myself if those who indulge in many heinous crimes reported in the country are normal. There is tendency for many people to think that only those in hospitals or invalids are sick. Indeed, there are millions of sick people who appear normal. They go to school, work and seem to be okay until when something snap in them and they commit a crime that many thought they are incapable of perpetrating. Then their true health status is revealed. Indeed, many Nigerians are mentally sick.
According to information gathered from the website of MedicineNet, ”Mental illness is any disease or condition that influences the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and/or relates to others and to his or her surroundings. Although the symptoms of mental illness can range from mild to severe and are different depending on the type of mental illness, a person with an untreated mental illness often is unable to cope with life's daily routines and demands.” Medical researchers have revealed that mental illnesses are caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
The serenity of the  town of  Ozubulu in  Ekwusigo Local Government Area of Anambra State was shattered last Sunday when a lone gunman marched into St. Philip Catholic Church in the town while the early morning mass was on. By the time the merchant of death fled the premises, he had  killed 11 worshipers and injured 18 others. Can the murderer be said to be mentally fit? Those who rape minors, I mean pedophiles, can they be said to be mentally stable? Can the fathers who are raping their daughters be said to be in full control of their senses? What about the parents that the Nigerian Army claimed are donating their daughters to insurgents as suicide bombers, are they okay?
So many things are happening all around us today that buttress the fact that we live in odd world full of lunatics in decent attires. There have been many reported cases of parents selling off their children because of hunger, people feigning their own kidnap, husbands using their wives for money rituals, servants organising kidnapping and robbery of their bosses among several other crimes.
One of the several mental disorders is depression. According to American Psychiatrist Association, depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. It causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home. Last Saturday, Federal Medical Centre Lokoja, Kogi State held its 2017 Annual General Meeting and the Scientific Conference Week of the Nigerian Medical Association of the state chapter. The theme of the conference was: “Economic Recession and The Rise of Depression”. At the event, a Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr.  Adeyemi Egbeola, decried the increasing rate of recession-associated clinical depression in Nigeria.
According to him, a significant association has been demonstrated between macroeconomic indicators in recession and clinical depression as a mental illness. He was quoted as saying that: “For every suicide committed, there is an average of 20 attempts (ratio 1:20), due to unemployment, self-rated mental health, debts, financial difficulties and other common mental health issues. Depressive disorder account for 80 per cent suicide and hopelessness is the most predictive indicator of suicide, a depressive thought pattern.
The psychiatrist asserted that “In 2015 from January to November, record show that 25, 267 patients were treated on mental health at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba Lagos, while the number increased to 53,287 in 2016 within the same period”. That is more than 100 per cent increase. Note that these are those who came to hospitals to receive treatment. There are millions of other people suffering from mental illness that are living in denial or lack family care to support their treatment. There are several unaccounted for who are patients at many herbal homes and faith clinics with the hope of getting cured there of their mental problems.
Am sure that by next year when statistics from all our Neuro-psychiatrist hospitals would be out, the number of patients may have quadruple from the current statistics. Why? Starting from July 1, 2017, the Federal Road Safety Commission, worried by the astronomic rate of vehicle accidents in the country, has commenced referral of certain categories of traffic offenders for  psychological evaluation. According to a statement issued on behalf of FRSC Corps Marshal, Dr.  Boboye Oyeyemi by Bisi Kazeem, the FRSC Corps Public Education Officer, the test would focus on four areas of violations including use of phone while driving, traffic light and route violations as well as dangerous driving.  The move, according to him, was necessitated by continued violations in the identified four areas despite efforts by the corps to change the behaviour of motorists through education and enforcement. Truth be told, many Nigerian motorists have become incorrigible on these traffic offences. 
The step by FRSC is therefore in the right direction. However, FRSC should also encourage relevant authorities to make sure that there are properly installed road signs. Many a time, motorists are not notified about roads that are ‘one way’. Many traffic lights are also malfunctioning and in need of repairs.
The phenomenal increase in the number of people with mental illness should worry our government at all levels. This economic recession is biting hard on Nigerian masses and they need succor. There is need to reduce the high level of unemployment and poverty ravaging the land. Many people are today taking solace in crimes and criminality due to inability to meet basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Many have become hypertensive and suffered stroke due to these aforementioned predisposing factors. There are those who have committed suicide due to too much economic pressure from their families.

Am also in agreement with the suggestions of Dr. Egbeola that government should also provide cheap, but effective medications while individuals are enjoined to live  healthy lifestyle, take adequate sleep, exercise, eat nourishing balanced diet, avoid smoking and consume alcohol moderately. Above all, there is need for family and friends to help those perceived to have mental illness by taking them to hospital for treatment while not stigmatising them. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

NASS potential failed constitution amendment bid

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
                                                                                                   – George Santayana
The most trendy news last week, aside the visit of some governors to our ailing president in London, was the fourth amendment of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria by the National Assembly. On Wednesday, July 26, Nigeria’s Senate amended a total of 28 items among the 32 listed for alteration while a day after the House of Representatives amended 21 out of 30 clauses voted on. Since that epochal event took place, I have been privileged to discuss it on some media platforms among them are the Nigerian Television Authority and Silverbird Television.
It has been mixed reactions to the amendment. While some commends the federal lawmakers, many others have condemned them.  Those in the latter category did so on the basis that the two chambers failed to agree to pass the clause on Devolution of Powers from the Exclusive Legislative list to the Concurrent list  and Affirmative Action for Women.  The Gbagyi people who are the indigene of the Federal Capital Territory are also unhappy that their bid to have a minister of their extraction in the Federal Cabinet was aborted by the House of Representatives. In total, about ten items which either of the two chambers of the federal parliament could not pass will not make the list that will be sent to the 36 State Houses of Assembly to vote on.
By my estimation, the items that failed in either chambers apart from the three aforementioned  include the bid to separate office of Attorney General of the Federation and State  from that of  Minister or Commissioner  of Justice; a bill for state creation and boundary adjustment to remove the ambiguity associated with the procedures; the citizenship and indigeneship bill for married women;  a bill that provide for a change in the names of some local government councils; a bill to amend the constitution to allow INEC conduct local government elections in states and the bill to remove certain Acts including the National Youth Service Corps, Land Use Act  and  national security agencies and the Public Complaints Commission from the constitution.
A number of things worry me about this onerous national assignment. My concern stems from some of the constitution amendment bills passed. In April 2015, the four year effort of the National Assembly to alter the Constitution for the fourth time was aborted by President Goodluck Jonathan who refused to sign the amendment bill due to what he called “irregularities and an attempt by the lawmakers to violate the doctrine of Separation of Powers”.  Jonathan in a seven-page letter listed about 13 reasons why he withheld assent to the amendment.  Unfortunately, the National Assembly was unable to exercise the power vested in them to override the veto of the president as stipulated in section 58 (5) of the Constitution.  Though I know that there has been leadership change both at the executive and legislative arm, I do hope NASS has taken cognisance of the concerns raised by the immediate past president and are ensuring that the extant attempt is in full compliance with section 9 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended in 2010. That section enunciated the provision for altering the Constitution.
Let me be more specific. NASS last week passed Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (Fourth Alteration) Bill, No. 2, 2017 (Authorisation of Expenditure)  which seeks to alter sections 82 and 122 of the Constitution to reduce the period within which the President or Governor of a state may authorise the withdrawal of monies from the consolidated revenue fund in the absence of an appropriation act from 6 months to 3 months.”  President Jonathan raised objection when this bill was passed in the 7th National Assembly as part of Constitution alteration. He said:  “I am of the view that this provision has the potential of occasioning financial hardships and unintended shut-down of government business, particularly where for unforeseen reasons and other exigencies in the polity; the National Assembly is unable to pass the Appropriation Act timeously. Our recent experiences with the process of passing the Appropriation Act do not justify the reduction of six-month time limit in the Constitution”. The former president was spot on! Recall that this year’s budget was only signed into law on June 12, 2017. Thus I foresee a situation where President Buhari may also object to this amendment. 
The passage of Bill No. 17 seeking to alter section 84 of the Constitution to establish the office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government separate from the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation was also one of the bills passed by the seventh National Assembly but objected to by President Jonathan. His concern then was that it did not address the funding requirements for establishment of the office. “It is necessary to clarify, for instance, who staffs and funds the office of Accountant-General of the Federation and from whose budget he will be paid since he serves the three tiers of government,” he opined.
I also foresee President Buhari and indeed governors picking hole with the passage of Bill No. 10 which seeks to alter sections 58, 59 and 100 to resolve the impasse where the President or Governor neglects to signify his/her assent to a bill from the National Assembly or withhold such assent as well as Bill No. 24 dealing with Procedure for overriding Presidential veto in Constitutional Alteration. The Bill seeks to among other things provide the procedure for passing a Constitution Alteration Bill where the President withholds assent. It will be recalled that these bills were passed in the last constitution alteration exercise and was kicked against by ex-President Jonathan on the basis that they were not passed by four/fifth of each chamber of the National Assembly. Jonathan had further noted that “However, assuming without conceding that the necessary thresholds were met by the National Assembly, there are a number of provisions in the Act that altogether constitute flagrant violation of the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in the 1999 Constitution and an unjustified whittling down of the executive powers of the federation vested in the President by virtue of Section 5(1) of the 1999 Constitution.”
I sincerely do hope that our lawmakers in passing the new alterations to the Constitution did reckon with the principle of separation of power as well as checks and balances among the three arms of government and among the three tiers of government. I am raising this red flag early in this exercise so that all the noble efforts of the lawmakers do not turn out to be a wild goose chase like the last one turned out to be with huge financial resources squandered. It will be recalled that in the recent past there have been altercations between the executive and legislature over the right interpretation of sections  171 and 69 of the Constitution over the appointment of chairman of Economic *and Financial Crimes Commission as well as recall of Senator Dino Melaye respectively.

As the constitution amendment exercise moves to the State Houses of Assembly, I plead that the state lawmakers will be guided by patriotic zeal and not the dictate of their respective governors. The entire constitution amendment process should be concluded before the end of this year in order to pave way for early implementation of the provisions which has to do with election such as timelines for pre-election dispute resolution, reduction in the age qualification for the offices of the president, governor, House of Representatives and State House of Assembly, increase in the number of days for conduct of by-election, independent candidature, de-registration of political parties, as well as ensuring that the court does not impose anyone who has not participated in all the electoral process as winner. Timely conclusion of this constitution and electoral act amendment will assist INEC immeasurably to effectively plan for the next general elections already scheduled for February 16 and March 2, 2019.