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Please bring back Chibok schoolgirls

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Please bring back Chibok schoolgirls

It was exactly five years on April 14 that 276 students of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, were kidnapped by the terrorist group, Boko Haram. While 57 of the girls escaped before they could be transported to the terrorists’ base in Sambisa Forest, a few others were rescued in the course of the last five years, while government was able to secure the release of 103 after an agreement with the insurgents.

 

The deal involved a ransom payment and the release of five Boko Haram commanders. However, 112 of the girls are still being held by Boko Haram and this fact remains a source of concern and anguish for well-meaning people all over the world. As things stand now, it appears as if the drive to secure the release of the remaining girls has waned significantly.

 

It was only during the fifth anniversary of the kidnap that some semblance of activity took place – spotlight was beamed on the issue again. Painfully, about 20 mothers of the kidnapped girls had died during the last five years. This obviously is directly connected to the heartbreak from having their children living in uncertain and precarious circumstances with dare-devil terrorists. Many of those still alive don’t have any hopes of seeing their daughters again.

 

They have accused government of abandoning them to their fate. The silence on the part of government has left many confounded as nothing seems to be happening in the effort to bring the girls still languishing in Boko Haram captivity back home.

 

The parents of one of the girls still being held by Boko Haram are not sure if their daughter, Hauwa, is still alive or if she was killed during one of the numerous bombings carried out by Nigerian Army, a claim that was made by the sect. She could also have died of hunger or disease, given that the army had blocked the group’s access to supplies. She might also have been converted to the group’s radical beliefs, or worse, may have been married off with a child or even more.

 

The scenarios are endless and also mirror the fears of the other parents. Although, Hauwa’s father, Musa Maina, do not know what has happened to his daughter, he is still hopeful. He said: “We heard that some parents were reunited with their daughters, but our daughter is yet to come back home. We aren’t losing hope, but we are appealing to government to invest more effort to bring back our girls and reunite us.”

 

Quite clearly, hope is the only commodity that is keeping these parents going, but government has a responsibility to ensure that the hope is translated into something concrete for these longsuffering parents.

But President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to bring the remaining girls back home as well as Leah Sharibu, the Dapchi Girl still being held by her captors. Although there have been scathing criticisms of Buhari in not securing the release of those still in the kidnappers’ den, the president says this is uncharitable and that he is working to reunite the girls with their families.

 

Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said recently that Buhari promised the parents of the girls when he met them, during his first term as president, that he would bring their daughters home.

 

“He is aware that this promise he made is the main reason the people of Chibok voted overwhelmingly for him in the February elections and although his government has so far succeeded in bringing back 107 of the girls, the president will not rest until the remaining are reunited with their families. President Buhari assures the parents that his administration is still on the matter,” Shehu said.

 

We are cheered by this assurance given by Buhari that he had not forgotten about the remaining Chibok Girls and their traumatised parents. However, we also want to task the president to go beyond these assurances, match words with actions and bring the girls back home. Five years is too long a time for those schoolgirls to have been left at the mercy of the murderous Boko Haram. Government must explore all avenues that are available to it to bring the girls back.

 

Nothing should be spared. No sacrifice is too much to reunite the Chibok Girls with their families.

 

It has been done once already, negotiating the release of the first batch, so it should not be too difficult to reprise the process that led to that original success. Government cannot afford to be too fastidious. It had already negotiated once as already alluded to, even paid ransom, so, what is stopping it from taking that route again? The most important thing in this whole unfortunate incident is bringing the girls back home safely and there should be no limit to what government can do in this regard.

 

Too much time had been allowed to pass already, so, government has to be very decisive. We can’t emphasise the urgency enough.

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Editorial

LASTMA fines and Lagos’ poor roads

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LASTMA fines and Lagos’ poor roads

One of the first actions taken by the new governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is the rearming of the Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA).

 

That action with the accompanying fines for traffic infractions have elicited varied reactions from Lagosians. For failure to wear seat beat while driving for instance, motorists are to pay a fine of N30,000; driving against traffic attracts a similar range of fine.

 

In some traffic offences, drivers are to pay as much as N200,000 while in others outright forfeiture of the vehicle is the punishment. Various lists have been thrown about since the new fine regime was introduced such that nobody is sure which is the authentic list. However, the fact that the government has not debunked or issued the authentic fine regime has in itself further exacerbated the situation.

 

The question that immediately arises is: why has the government not deemed it necessary to give the true position of things? To be sure, Lagos roads are in dire need of sanity.

 

The need to bring sanity to the roads cannot be emphasised enough. However, this effort must be done in a way that it conforms to the best standards and practices in the world. Quite often we are quick to refer to the United States of America, United Kingdom and other developed countries when it serves our purposes but conveniently look the other way when it doesn’t.

 

That is on the one hand. Is there any country in the Western world where traffic offences attract fines as high as N30,000 or N200,000 for traffic offences? Yet their transport and traffic control systems are sane. What method did they use? We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

 

These fines are ludicrous and that is putting it mildly. It is these kinds of actions that make us a laughing stock. On the other hand, Lagos roads are in a state of total decrepitude and disrepair in many parts of the metropolis. Commuting to and from work has been a nightmare for many Lagosians.

 

They have borne this terrible pain in the last one or two years in hopes that with the new government in place, especially since the last one had become distracted, things will get better. But nothing has been done to fix the roads.

 

If the argument is that the time is too short for any meaningful repairs to be embarked upon, why is it that the time was not too short to roll out a punishing regime of fines for traffic offences? The question to ask therefore is which shoud come first: repairing roads or rolling out draconian fines for traffic offences?

 

Interestingly, if the former course of action was embarked upon first, it would be easy to carry Lagosians along; it would naturally engender a feeling of support and empathy for the government. But starting out with the latter course of action has tended to have not only alienated residents, it has left them with a feeling of being insignificant. For a longsuffering people who went out of their way to vote Sanwo- Olu as their next governor, this is not the quickest way to repay them.

 

Undoubtedly, certain tough decisions would have to be made in time but when people are carried along, when they see that their welfare is important, they are more than willing to cooperate with government.

 

The immediate feeling that regime of fines elicited in the minds of residents is that, this is about making money for government rather than sanitising our roads. So, we ask, is this about generating funds for government? Is LASTMA a money-making agency first and foremost?

 

Again, we must make it clear that these draconian fines will only succeed in making LASTMA officials rich without the desired effect of sanitising our roads. As experience has shown, when you impose an unreasonably high fines for simple traffic infractions, the enforcers are the main beneficiaries. Those who give and those who take bribes will find creative ways to negotiate and circumvent the system. On the roads designated as ‘one way,’ there are no markers to so indicate.

 

So, motorists can drive into such roads innocently only to be swopped upon by officials who hide in some obscure corners. We insist that government must place markers or signs on roads for drivers to know when they are driving against traffic.

 

There are so many roads begging for attention. The Lagos/Badagry Express Road, a major link to the west coast of Africa, the Oshodi/Apapa Express Road are two roads that should quickly engage the attention of Sanwo-Olu to give succour to longsuffering Lagosians. It is not enough to claim that these are federal roads. Finally, it should be pointed that the brutal reality of death sentence has not stopped heinous crimes from being committed.

 

A majority of Lagosians now use the seat belts. How was that achieved? It wasn’t by imposing ridiculous fines. Government and its agencies must learn to carry out long term enlightenment campaigns and creation of awareness rather than applying brute force.

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Curbing renewed attacks on policemen

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Curbing renewed attacks on policemen

The renewed attacks on police formations in parts of the country evoked fresh concerns over criminals’ bravado and this requires an urgent and equally decisive action. The police must reciprocate with reasonable capacity to send a strong message to the criminals about police capability to protect themselves and the people.

This becomes more crucial because a defeated police, the most potent and visible internal security architecture, is a precursor to a country’s gradual collapse. These attacks also put on the front burner the need to address with all seriousness palpable laxity of police officers, station guards at their duty posts, low fortifications of police formations, inadequacy of firearms and even reintroduction of the traditional professionalism and alertness of police officers on duty.

Police officers and men must also come to the realisation that their self-preservation is essential if they must protect the nation. Hence they must have a clear understanding of their workplace hazards, understand limits of their ability and oil their emergency response procedures in preparation for any eventuality. In recent times, the media has been awashed with the paradox of attacks by daredevil criminals who unleash their bullets on policemen and even soldiers in cold blood.

These felons, in rare display of audacity, not only took the battle to the policemen, but they descend heavily on their formations with volley of bullets, overpowered them and cart away specialised arms, ammunition and communication equipment.

Though the Shi’ite incident at the National Assembly Complex in Abuja, which left serious injuries on policemen, is the latest, Rivers, Bayelsa, Imo, Delta are the hotbeds of such brazen attacks on these law enforcement agents.

It was preceded earlier by the unpardonable murder at a riverside town of Agudama- Ekpetiama in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. In a share pre-meditated stroke, some gunmen swooped on the station in Bayelsa, killed the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), a pregnant policewoman and two other cops.

The armed attackers, numbering about 10, rode in a speedboat, stopped at a road linking Agudama and Sabagraia and trekked to the police station about 3a.m. to pulverise them. And at a checkpoint around Ojoto Axis in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, two out of the mobile policemen on duty were attacked by some criminals in broad daylight and fled with their arms and ammunition. On the same day, some youths set fire to the Otoko Police Division, Otoko community in Obowo Local Government Area of Imo State over alleged killing of a25-year-old man by a policeman. Besides several attacks of the same nature in Bayelsa, it is on record that during the last elections in the state, a deputy commissioner was physically assaulted in an attack where a top lawmaker was fingered and no one has been jailed for this to send loud signals to others.

Earlier, several policemen, especially in Delta State, an area used to military deployments because of militant attacks, has little confidence in the policemen and it was not a surprise that the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of the C-Division, Asaba, Superintendent of Police (SP) Valentine Mbalu, was abducted by people suspected to be herdsmen recently.

This was followed a few weeks later by the murder of four policemen following attack by gunmen on farmlands said to have been forcibly taken over by herdsmen at Abraka in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State.

Going down memory lane, in 2014, the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, said that about 359 policemen were killed on duty between January 2014 and April 2016, while 272 others sustained various degrees of injuries within the same period during their intervention in civil conflicts. Another sad occurrence, a few years ago, was in Kogi State when the Ombatshe cultists waylaid government officials’ convoy and killed over 15 policemen and other security agents, leaving behind widows and fatherless children.

It is not only regrettable that these gallant officers and men have become cannon-fodders, paying the supreme price to enhance community peace and security in the country; it underscores how deep-seated the level of criminality in the country is. With these sadistic occurrences, daily incidents of killings of law-enforcement officials fuelled by arms proliferation, drug abuse, animalistic behaviour and fragrant disregard for law and order, we are not surprised that the nation is ranked number three in the global terrorism index, thus requiring urgent and productive action.

The reasons are legion – a nation whose police officers and men have become expendables cannot attract foreign direct investment, rather, it is pointing to the exit door of the few therein. We commend officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force for their significant roles in the protection of lives and property in the country, combating riots, maintaining law and order, even in the face of ebbing economy and spiralling unemployment, under-employment and job losses.

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Editorial

Sports need policy template under new minister

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Sports need policy template under new minister

President Muhammadu Buhari began his second term in office on May 29. There are high expectations in all spheres of Nigerian life that things should generally turn better. The first term recorded some hiccups as most of the ministers appointed by Buhari spent the entire term untouched. The former Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, is one of those who served full term with Mr. President.

The question is: How was he able to impact the sport sector? But, the former sports ‘supremo’ gave himself excellent marks for the tenure, which many people in the sports scene believed was almost a disaster.

It was instructive that Dalung mentioned the poor budgetary allocation to sports, which has been a problem also to his predecessors. We want to put it on record that Dalung, who as the longest sports minister in history, recorded so many crises under his watch. Many of the federations are in crises, including football, while the missing $150,000 of the Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN) is still a stain on his tenure. We hereby call on President Buhari to put a round peg in a round hole this time.

The sports sector needs someone who is not new to sports. The new minister of sports should have the background, face and tenacity to drive the ministry and bring in corporate Nigeria to complement government’s efforts to boost sports.

A Nigerian with rich sports pedigree from any part of the country can do the job. There are many people who can do the job at the moment, but party affiliation is another issue entirely.

We believe sport is a very wide area people overlook as mere recreation or a sector to keep fit and catch fun. We recall sadly that over the years, the Nigerian government has not taken sports sector seriously. This can be explained in various ways, but the most important one is the leadership of sports.

It is very ridiculous that the sports ministry, in most cases, has been given to whoever the president in power wants. Someone with a good background in heath is always named as minister of health, while someone with law background heads the judiciary and a person with sound background on education heads the education ministry. This has not been the case in sports in the past years and not a problem of the Buhari regime. A former sports minister, the late Solomon Akiga, saw Falilat Ogunkoya, an Olympian and former track and field star, but referred to her as a wrestler. Another former minister saw six-time Olympian, Funke Oshonaike and failed to recognize her. The case of Chief Alex Akinyele is still very fresh in the memory.

When he was named the head of the then National Sports Commission, he engaged about five people, mostly senior journalists, to educate him on sports. It is absurd that those who know little or nothing about sports find their way to head the Ministry of Sports.

This happens often, but not so in other ministries. It shows that government, over the years, do not care about what happens in the sport sector. If a prominent lawyer heads the ministry of justice, a reputable former athlete or noble administrator of sports should head the sports ministry.

This is the right thing to do, but such has not been the case in over two decades. The few exceptions are the appointment of Sani Ndanusa and Bolaji Abdullahi. Ndanusa was a former tennis federation boss before his appointment while Abdullahi has great knowledge of sports. Ndanusa did not do well and time was not enough for Abdullahi to execute his programmes.

We are convinced that there are many great Nigerians who can head the sports ministry and take the country’s sports to the next level. We acknowledge that President Buhari will have to follow the template of the party in the appointment of ministers. The other sectors are always manned by competent people in relevant fields.

The next sports minister should be somebody with relevant background good enough to make the numerous talents in Nigeria excel. We frown at the fact that there is no sports policy in the country for whoever is coming in to work with. We are however aware that there are various committees set up to produce documents in this regard.

The next sports minister should be brave enough to implement one of the reports on sports policy so the sector can enjoy a new lease of life. Sports require planning and the next minister must be the one that will get sponsors to boost sports and be ready to plan with a policy template rather than bank on the raw talents of the athletes to attain success.

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Poor talent hunt, bane of sports development

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Poor talent hunt, bane of sports development

Over the years, there have been persistent calls for a policy on sports. Administrators in Nigeria across all sports are always eager for results rather than development. At the highest level, which is the ministry of sports, there is also desperation for results with little or no plan for it.

 

For example, the National Sports Festival was in limbo for six years. After the Eko 2012 NSF, the next was Abuja 2018, which was a deliberate effort by the Ministry of Sports to break the long years of postponement for an event billed for every two years.

 

We observe that in every area of Nigerian sports, development is almost always secondary.

 

There is no plan to develop talents and bring them up to take over from the national athletes in respective sports disciplines. The Super Eagles players, who are currently participating in the 32nd edition of Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt are just from different clubs abroad with no input from the national coaching or scouting group of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

 

The country’s domestic league contributes almost nothing to the national senior team. Keeper Okechucku Ezenwa is the only home-based player in the team. However, there is something wrong with getting young athletes from the grassroots in respective sports.

 

Even where there are prospects, there are no plans to expose them and take them to the next level. In football, all the age grade events are no longer relevant to transit players to the Super Eagles.

 

When the U-17 and U-20 teams fail to do well, nobody hear about all the players no matter how talented they are individually or as a team. In the past, there were U-20 and U-17 national competitions where national coaches pick football talents from, but now, just a few of such events are being sponsored by private outfits.

 

This is however not enough for NFF to turn a blind eye on the competitions. There are secondary school football events sponsored by organisations, which NFF should take seriously.

There is also the Zenith/ NFF Future Eagles football project, which the football federation can reap from in terms of talents. It is however disturbing that none of the developmental projects have effect on the senior national team. In table tennis, Segun Toriola and Funke Oshonaike have been to the Olympics seven and six times respectively and this means there are no players better than them in the country.

 

These are ping pongers who have given their all and should be national coaches, but they are still very active in the sport since there are no competitions to bring out other players to take over from them.

 

Only last year, there was an African Wrestling Championship sponsored by River State Governor, Nyesom Wike, in which junior players took part.

 

We are aware it was an advantage because ordinarily, the Ministry of Sports would not sponsor junior athletes outside for such event, but the event that took place in the Garden City was a big exposure that brought out great talents.

 

Whether they would not be allowed to rot away is another issue entirely. Wrestling Federation boss, Daniel Igali, is an Olympic gold medallist and knows all it takes to get the best for the country, but the facilities are not there and funding has been poor. In tennis, many great talents have been neglected because they were unable to play in the circuits and garner points to move on as professionals and potential grand slam players.

 

Today, South Africa have top player like Anderson in the global tennis sphere and Nigeria have nobody. It is a big shame.

 

Handball, hockey, cricket, gymnastics, volleyball, squash, badminton, swimming and even basketball are other sports that the country has good potential at grassroots level, but there are no plans to bring them out. Funding is also very crucial. Sponsors are so very hard to find in recent time and the ministry is always reluctant to send athletes on national events.

 

There are many committees set up in the past to look into sports policy for the country based on how to fund and develop sports at various levels, but their recommendations have been left on the shelves of the sports ministry.

 

Only recently, the former Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, also set up a body headed by Godwin Kienka to prepare a book on national sports policy. This is still fresh and we advise the recommendations be evaluated and implemented to move sports forward rather than marching on same spot over many years. We make bold to say there is the need to adopt a sports policy that will be the bible of sports in Nigeria.

 

Only recently, three national teams, within 21 days, protested at international competitions over payments of bonuses and allowances. They are the U-20 national team, the Super Falcons and the Super Eagles.

 

It is a national disgrace that could have been avoided. The would-be minister of sports should look into this so that there will be a document to follow for funding, development of sports, preparation and participation of athletes for all national and international events.

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Before Shi’ites become Boko Haram

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Before Shi’ites become Boko Haram

The United States (U.S.), last week Friday, raised the alarm about impending protests by members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) otherwise known as Shi’ites in Lagos and Abuja. The U.S. government therefore warned its citizens in both cities to be wary and avoid possible areas of such protests.

The message was contained in a travel advisory issued by the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Nigeria. It warned that judging from the violent turn of such protests last week in Abuja and Lagos, there was therefore a great need for caution by its citizens.

Since December 2015 when the leader of the group, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, was arrested and detained by the Federal Government, members of IMN have been protesting in Kaduna, their base and Abuja, the nation’s capital, calling for the release of El-Zakzaky and his wife.

But mum has been the word from the Federal Government, who has ignored several court orders that granted bail to the religious leader. His case is not far from that of a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, who has been incarcerated since 2015 by government, despite several court orders granting him bail. Perhaps, because Dasuki is not a religious or political leader, his case has not attracted wide protests like that of the IMN leader.

We recall that last year in Abuja and Kaduna, tens of IMN members were killed during protests that turned violent over the release of their leader. At a time, tension grew high when rumour made the rounds that the IMN leader had died in detention. What the Federal Government did was to bring him out, show him on national television networks to prove that he is still alive. Since then, Elzakzaky’s lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has shouted himself hoarse, calling for the release of his client.

His cries have only hit the brick wall with government bent on holding the IMN leader in detention. But last week, after a lull in their activities, the Shi’ites regrouped in Abuja, took the National Assembly by storm and wreaked havoc.

In the process, some people lost their lives and some security agents were left injured. The protest extended to Lagos on Thursday. The message of the protesters remained the same: Free our leader, obey court order on El-Zakzaky.

The response from the National Assembly was the tough talks by lawmakers and the stoic stand of the Police and other security agencies on their readiness to crush the rebellion being cooked by the IMN members.

The Senate, for example, condemned the action of the Islamic group and called on the police to fish out the perpetrators.They lamented the desecration of a sacred institution of government, which must be respected by every Nigerian, irrespective of status.

The House of Representatives was more pointed in its submission, asking the executive arm to release the detained leader to avoid violence by his followers. But the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. Mohammed Adamu, warned the Shi’ites against testing the will of the Force, insisting that right to public protest must be done lawfully, without threatening the peace and security of others. “We are ready for them.

We will not explain our strategy, but we will make sure we don’t allow them disrupt the peace of the city,” Adamu said. We believe very strongly that the IMN case is not one to be treated with the highhandedness of the Police and other security agencies. We know for a fact that if the crimes committed by El-Zakzaky and his wife were not bailable offences, the courts would not grant him bail. Much as we do not subscribe to violence of any sort, we do not believe that his followers’ agitations are wrong in any way.

But what is wrong is the way and manner they have organised the protests, resorting to violence at the least provocation. It is important to point out at this juncture that the Federal Government has a duty not to allow IMN and its members degenerate into another Boko Haram in the North- West.

We recall that it was the highhandedness of security agencies in the North-East in the death of Mohammed Yusuf that led to the transformation of Boko Haram into a violent sect. Perhaps, if Yusuf was not killed by the police, the sect would have remained at the level it operated before that unfortunate incident. Granted that some bad guys have taken the insurgents’ initial intention beyond the normal, we believe that if nothing is done by the Federal Government to stem the tide of protests by IMN members, some bad guys can also take over the group and turn it into another violent group. What we believe is that in a democracy, all key stakeholders must allow the rule of law to prevail. In this case, the rule of law is to release El-Zakzaky.

The matter is already in court. That is the right place to settle the dispute. But the refusal of the Federal Government to release him is not serving the country any good. Rather, it is generating unnecessary tension for a country that is currently overstretched by all manner of security issues, ranging from Boko Haram to herdsmen, kidnapping, armed robbery and other vices. We therefore call on the Federal Government to do the right thing and save the country from another orgy of violence.

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Concerns over growing debt

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Concerns over growing debt

 

T

he Debt Management Office (DMO), last week, declared that the Federal Government and 36 states of the federation incurred N560 billion debt in the first three months of this year.

This, according to DMO, has brought Nigeria’s total domestic and foreign debt to N24.9 trillion as at end of March 2019.

Compared with the debt figure as of December 31, 2018, which stood at N24.387 trillion, the first quarter 2019 figure represented 2.3 per cent increase.

According to debt figures released by the DMO, the country’s total foreign debt stood at N7.8 trillion ($25.6 billion) while domestic was N17 trillion. Out of the total domestic debt, the Federal Government alone owed N13.1 trillion, while the 36 states and FCT are owing N3.9 trillion.

DMO stated that the debt which rose by N560 billion was accounted for largely by domestic debt which grew by N458.36 billion, while external debt also increased by N101.64 billion during the same period.

In servicing domestic debts alone, the country spent a total of N650 billion between January and March.

While a section of the citizenry sees nothing wrong with the accumulating debt currently put at over N24 trillion, others are, however, worried that the rate at which the federal and state governments are burrowing into various credit facilities, the future of the country is consciously being mortgaged. 

The fear being expressed is evident on the fact that considering the huge sum borrowed so far, there is actually no corresponding infrastructural development to measure up with it. This actually calls for concern as the Federal Government, especially under the current administration, has often make noise about borrowing to develop infrastructure.

With major roads across the country in their unprecedented worse state, and nothing to write about electricity supply as well as other public institutions begging for attention, one is left with no choice to really question the specific areas the funds so far borrowed has been channelled into.

As revealed by the alarming details, as at December 31, 2018, the debt profile had risen by N2.66 trillion from N21.725 trillion as at December 2017 to N24.387 trillion within the one year period with about 70 per cent of the 2018 revenue spent on servicing it.

The situation has become so appalling that even the International Monetary Fund (IMF), last year, expressed concern over Nigeria’s ability to service its external loans estimated then at over $18.9 billion, given the mono-product economy status and low revenue base.

Despite the semblance of a robust economy under President Muhammadu Buhari, the decision to deliberately pile up debts under the guise of infrastructure development and economic stimulation is already creating an enormous milieu of uncertainty.

While Nigerians actually believed that things were beginning to look up for the country especially with the rising foreign reserves, decelerating inflation and curtailed widespread corruption, the rising debt is casting doubt on the freedom of the future generation to decide to destinies.

The future of the country is obviously at stake if nothing is done urgently to cut down the rising debt profile, which the administration and a few others find very convenient to defend based on the simple fact that prevailing economic indices still allows for such projection.

Part of the feeble defence for this long-term entrapment remains the passionate attachment to sustainability even as the Federal Government has adopted a new debt management strategy, which has the objective of reducing the ratio of domestic debt in the portfolio, while the ratio of external debt increases – with a target of 60 per cent domestic and 40 per cent external.

In spite of this defence and plans to raise funds through issuance of Eurobonds, the fact remains that accumulating huge debt within a period of three years calls to mind this administration’s right to question the credibility of its predecessor, which only had a liability of N7 trillion accumulated in four years.

For an administration that came into power under the slogan of prudence and other cost cutting projections, it is indeed alarming that the sovereignty and future of the country is gradually being mortgaged by those who should know better.

While it is good enough to criticise former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration for borrowing to pay salaries, the indiscriminate approach in the current dispensation as regards borrowing to fund infrastructure which are not even there, is also becoming worrisome.

Even while the dust raised by the current debt profile is yet to settle, the Federal Government still seeks more loans from both the World Bank and any other institution willing to offer.

While not ruling out borrowing to develop the economy, we, however, advise that caution should be applied and such development spread over time instead of piling up debts to get everything done at once.

Rather than rush to do everything just to get the credit, institutions should be built to ensure that whoever takes over from the government of today continues from where it stops.

We also believe it is time the government put into use whatever has been recovered from corrupt public office holders.

We call on the state and federal governments to be cautious in their quest for more loans.

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Exiting fuel importation, subsidy traps

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Exiting fuel importation, subsidy traps

Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness, Mohammadu Sanusi II, recently raised the alarm on the fuel subsidy programme and its implications on the Nigerian economy. The warning was sequel to a revelation that the controversial subsidy gulped a whopping N1.5 trillion in 2018. When the statistics is broken down further, it shows that the Federal Government, through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is spending an average of N1.5 billion per day on fuel subsidy.

 

Sanusi, a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), postulated that going by this trend, the subsidy scheme was gulping almost all the earnings accruing to Nigeria from crude oil, our main foreign exchange earner. The country, Sanusi said, was on its way to bankruptcy and would indeed go bankrupt, all things being equal.

 

The banker and economist, who was addressing the 3rd National Treasury Workshop organised by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, said that the subsidy regime was unsustainable and advised the Federal Government to explore ways of phasing it out.

 

The monarch described the subsidy policy as fraudulent and warned that sooner than later, the Federal Government would have no fund left to take care of its basic obligations in education, health and infrastructure if it continued with the policy. It is instructive to recall that a similar opinion had been canvassed by the World Bank and other Brent Wood financial institutions in the past but these counsels fell on deaf ears.

 

We strongly agree with the views espoused by Sanusi on this matter. First it is very curious that Nigeria is still saddled with the highly discredited fuel subsidy long after the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration announced that it had cancelled it. We recall that in May 2016, the Federal Government told Nigerians it had done away with fuel subsidy and consequently announced a rise in the pump price of petrol from N87 to N145 per litre.

 

At that time, it claimed that the new price regime would lead to improved supply of petroleum products and competition and eventually drive down the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), lead to increased product availability, encourage investments in refineries and create a stable environment for the downstream sector in Nigeria. Several months later, the much touted removal of subsidy failed to survive in the midst of the stark economic realities.

 

The crash in the value of the Naira against the Dollar meant that the average importer was required to pay more for the cargoes as the landing cost of fuel rose sharply. Soon, the NNPC became the sole importer of petrol as the rising cost of fuel importation without a commensurate profit made it impossible for the independent marketers to remain in the business. Perhaps as a face-saving measure, the NNPC re-introduced the subsidy scheme through the back door under a strange terminology called “under-recoveries.”

 

This allowed the Federal Government to continue paying subsidy without due appropriation by the National Assembly. In fact, under the new system, the NNPC appropriated to itself the sole rights to import fuel at whatever rate and paid itself whatever it deemed fit as subsidy.

 

Under the watch of this government, fuel subsidy transactions have become shrouded in so much secrecy that describing the system as opaque would be an understatement. In all these, the Federal Government has continued to carry on as if all is well and never bothered to explain to Nigerians what it has been doing with our commonwealth. We urge President Muhammadu Buhari and his team to tackle this challenge by addressing its root causes.

 

Nigeria, an oil producing country, is unable to refine its crude oil locally because none of its four refineries are functional. This is a self-inflicted wound because while other countries have ensured regular maintenance of their refineries in collaboration with the builders of those refineries, what was supposed to be our regular Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) every two years has become a contract scam.

 

More importantly, we believe that there is an urgent need to revisit the principal legislations governing the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.

 

The Federal Government should prioritise the deregulation of the petroleum industry by spearheading the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which has been trapped between the Presidency and National Assembly for more than a decade.

 

We believe that our refineries could return to functionality, new refineries built, fuel importation reduced to its barest minimum and fuel subsidy eliminated, if our government could put on its thinking cap, roll up its sleeves and adopt the workable models used in other oil producing countries. Nigeria cannot continue holding on to archaic and outmoded policies and legislations and expect to exit the resource guzzling and corrupt ridden cycle of fuel importation and subsidy. In this race, we cannot continue jogging on one spot and expect the whole world to be waiting for us.

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Editorial

Addressing Nigeria’s unemployment challenge

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Addressing Nigeria’s unemployment challenge

A few days before leaving office, the immediate past Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, confirmed the looming threat about the country’s gradual slide into a higher realm of unemployment

. The pronouncement coming from an insider within government circle speaks much about the reality on ground, a reality that other government officials would always want to deny or parry. Ngige’s outcry is not too far from the series of reports that had been churned out by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on the growing unemployment figure despite Federal Government’s claim to providing conducive environment for investment to thrive. According to Ngige, the country’s unemployment rate could reach 33.5 per cent by 2020 from the current rate of 23.1 per cent.

The threat is becoming alarming for the fact that in a dispensation where N18,000 (now N30,000) was the minimum wage the country had to contend with a rate as high as 23 per cent coupled with under-employment of 16.6 per cent as reported by the NBS. Prior to the current alarm, the NBS had stated that the number of persons in the labour market increased from 85.1 million in the third quarter of 2017 to 90.5 mil-lion in the third quarter of 2018.

The total number of people classified as unemployed increased from 17.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2017 to 20.9 million in the third quarter of 2018. Out of this 20.9 million person classified as unemployed as of the third quarter of 2018, the bureau said 11.1 million did under 20 hours a week to be officially classified as employed while 9.7 million did absolutely nothing. The economically active or working-age population (15 – 64 years of age) increased from 111.1 million in Q3, 2017 to 115.5 million in Q3, 2018.

The number of persons in the labour force (i.e. people who are able and willing to work) increased from 75.94 mil-lion in Q3 2015 to 80.66 million in Q3 2016 to 85.1 million in Q3, 2017 to 90.5 million in Q3, 2018. From the data, it is obvious that the scale of increase has been steady without any decline.

As issues bordering on the growing trend unfold, it further amplifies the failure of various government social intervention programmes since Nigeria gained independence targeted at reducing jobless-ness and eradicating poverty. Besides poor implementation of programmes, mismanagement of resources/ allocation has been identified as some of the factors responsible for growing joblessness. It is an irony that states in the Niger Delta region as at today holds the highest number of un-employed in the country.

The South-South has a total of 16.7 million (second-largest) labour force in the country and the highest unemployment rate of 32 per cent in third quarter of 2018. This represents about 5.38 million unemployed people in the region. Further breakdown of the report shows that Akwa Ibom State recorded the highest unemployment rate of 37.7 per cent, followed by Rivers State with 36.4 per cent. Even more disheartening is the fact that from 1972 till date, about 14 different programmes to boost employment have been implemented with no noticeable result. They include the National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), implemented between 1972 and 1973.

There is also the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), with the N-Power agenda, which is ultimately supposed to contribute to the creation of jobs for young Nigerians. Despite being on the agenda since 2017, and embedded in the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020, unemployment rate still remains on the increase, indicating high resilience against the intervention efforts. Ultimately, what the government failed to do is neglecting practical and more engaging programmes that are capable of taking the youth off the streets and getting them engaged. For instance, overlooking or undermining the entertainment industry remains one of the undoing of the current administration.

The Nigerian film industry otherwise known as Nollywood is globally recognised as the third largest film industry in the world after United States’ Hollywood and Indian’s Bollywood. In 2016, it surprisingly contributed about 2.3 per cent, representing N239 billion to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is one of the priority sectors identified in the ERGP of the Federal Government with a planned $1 billion in export revenue by 2020.

Despite these potentials and the attraction it holds for teeming Nigerian youths, the Federal Government has done nothing other than slowing down the momentum the sector gathered during the previous administration when a whopping $200 million was set aside to encourage stakeholders in the sector.

Even though President Muhammadu Buhari made promises to the Nigerian creative industry during his presidential campaign, not much has been recorded in the area of encouragement for an industry with a very expansive value chain and has been surviving barely on the initiative of the founders and the zeal of youths who ply the trade to eke out a living with no support from government.

Priority should be given to the sector. To stem the tide of unemployment, we advise that the Federal Government redirect its priority to working on the nation’s infrastructure especially the power sec-tor to enable more people become self-employed. Besides encouraging youths in their lawful engagements, we advise that government should also intensify effort at combating the growing insecurity across the country so as to allow room for businesses to thrive.

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Editorial

NCAA, banks, telco and demolition of masts

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NCAA, banks, telco and demolition of masts

The aviation sector regulator, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), recently, threatened to demolish 8,805 masts belonging to some banks and mobile telecommunications firm, Globacom. This, NCAA said, is because the banks and telcom firm are running their networks and providing interconnectivity to millions of subscribers without Aviation Height Clearance (AHC) Certificate, thereby jeopardising safety of air navigation. Even to a layman, NCAA’s planned action is a beguiled threat to the already fragile security of the country as the communication and networking infrastructure has come to bond so many things.

We appreciate the fact that so far, in trying not to raise more dusts, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has approached the issue maturely by reporting the threat to the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).

The pronouncement on its own has generated reactions, not just from the telecom stakeholders, but members of the public, who also feel it would amount to effrontery of sort for such step to be taken without considering the wide ranging negative effect on the country’s security and socioeconomic sphere in general.

While not attempting to play the role of an advocate for any of the parties involved in the matter, it is, however, very important to first recognise the fact that no matter how important an infrastructure is, including that of telecommunication, which is listed as critical national security infrastructure, the aviation safety rule of any nation must also not be compromised.

As it stands globally, any structure, whether temporary or permanent, which has the potential to endanger aviation in navigable airspace, or has the potential to interfere with the operation of navigation or surveillance systems, is practically considered an obstacle.

What has indeed played out since the emergence of mobile telecommunication system in the country as far as right of way is concerned shows lack of planning and synergy in some respect as this is not the first time the telecom operators would be having problem with agencies and government over mast erection and laying of fibre optic cables. As far back as 2004, telecommunications service providers have geared up for a big fight with Lagos State government over the state Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency Bill.

Even as recent as 2018, almost 15 years after GSM came into the country, Taraba State government, despite the raging insecurity in the state, still shut down some facilities belonging to the service providers over environ-mental impact assessment issues. Also, Kogi State recently shut down masts belonging to a telco. All of these show that it is either there are no standards for the facilities to thrive or that the telecom sector is seen as cash cow that must be milked at the slightest opportunity.

The fear that the threat currently poses to the nation is that while NCAA is empowered by law to ensure safety of the country’s airspace, its action, if not properly thought through, could ground the country to a halt and put the entire security architecture in danger and worsen already bad situation. Available report revealed that many of the masts have been allowed to stay in critical places in and around airports despite warnings from NCAA that they could cause accident.

This, we consider not so healthy, even though the aviation regulatory agency might have deliberately looked elsewhere while the rules were being flouted. Not a few believe that apart from the threat of unduly exposing the country to security risk as the action would trigger communication blackout, Federal Government’s financial inclusion target and emergence of high level cashless society would also be threatened as financial institutions depend mostly on the telecoms infrastructure to drive the process. No one is in conflict with NCAA’s power. It derives its powers to demolish such objects blocking airways from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations (NigCARS) Part 12.1.7.1.3.1 which stipulates that: “No person or organisation shall put up a structure (permanent or temporary) within the navigable airspace of Nigeria unless such a person or organisation is a holder of Aviation Height Clearance Certificate granted under this regulation.” In all of this, however, the big question remains: Why did NCAA allow a situation to degenerate before blowing the whistle on the culprits? A mast is not erected in a few hours.

So many things, from locating and identifying site to installation proper, which takes days or weeks, go into erecting one. Why wait till over 8,000 masts had been fully installed before asking the organisations concerned to come get clearance? Putting this question into proper perspective also gives credence to the position of Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) that NCAA is only trying to rake in funds from its latest threat. In order not to be going back and forth over issues that should not result to major national crisis, we advise that synergy and proper planning should always guide the process from the beginning. Specifically, in the current dispensation, we call on NCAA and ALTON to put heads together and arrive at a common ground, so as to forestall any likely threat to the nation’s security and financial apparatus due to the planned decommissioning.

 

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Editorial

LASTMA fines and Lagos’ poor roads

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LASTMA fines and Lagos’ poor roads

One of the first actions taken by the new governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is the rearming of the Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA).

 

That action with the accompanying fines for traffic infractions have elicited varied reactions from Lagosians. For failure to wear seat beat while driving for instance, motorists are to pay a fine of N30,000; driving against traffic attracts a similar range of fine.

 

In some traffic offences, drivers are to pay as much as N200,000 while in others outright forfeiture of the vehicle is the punishment.

Various lists have been thrown about since the new fine regime was introduced such that nobody is sure which is the authentic list. However, the fact that the government has not debunked or issued the authentic fine regime has in itself further exacerbated the situation.

 

The question that immediately arises is: why has the government not deemed it necessary to give the true position of things? To be sure, Lagos roads are in dire need of sanity. The need to bring sanity to the roads cannot be emphasised enough. However, this effort must be done in a way that it conforms to the best standards and practices in the world.

 

Quite often we are quick to refer to the United States of America, United Kingdom and other developed countries when it serves our purposes but conveniently look the other way when it doesn’t.

 

That is on the one hand. Is there any country in the Western world where traffic offences attract fines as high as N30,000 or N200,000 for traffic offences? Yet their transport and traffic control systems are sane. What method did they use? We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

 

These fines are ludicrous and that is putting it mildly. It is these kinds of actions that make us a laughing stock. On the other hand, Lagos roads are in a state of total decrepitude and disrepair in many parts of the metropolis. Commuting to and from work has been a nightmare for many Lagosians.

 

They have borne this terrible pain in the last one or two years in hopes that with the new government in place, especially since the last one had become distracted, things will get better. But nothing has been done to fix the roads.

 

If the argument is that the time is too short for any meaningful repairs to be embarked upon, why is it that the time was not too short to roll out a punishing regime of fines for traffic offences?

 

The question to ask therefore is which shoud come first: repairing roads or rolling out draconian fines for traffic offences?

 

Interestingly, if the former course of action was embarked upon first, it would be easy to carry Lagosians along; it would naturally engender a feeling of support and empathy for the government. But starting out with the latter course of action has tended to have not only alienated residents, it has left them with a feeling of being insignificant.

 

For a longsuffering people who went out of their way to vote Sanwo- Olu as their next governor, this is not the quickest way to repay them.

 

Undoubtedly, certain tough decisions would have to be made in time but when people are carried along, when they see that their welfare is important, they are more than willing to cooperate with government. The immediate feeling that regime of fines elicited in the minds of residents is that, this is about making money for government rather than sanitising our roads.

 

So, we ask, is this about generating funds for government? Is LASTMA a money-making agency first and foremost?

 

Again, we must make it clear that these draconian fines will only succeed in making LASTMA officials rich without the desired effect of sanitising our roads. As experience has shown, when you impose an unreasonably high fines for simple traffic infractions, the enforcers are the main beneficiaries.

 

Those who give and those who take bribes will find creative ways to negotiate and circumvent the system. On the roads designated as ‘one way,’ there are no markers to so indicate.

 

So, motorists can drive into such roads innocently only to be swopped upon by officials who hide in some obscure corners.

 

We insist that government must place markers or signs on roads for drivers to know when they are driving against traffic. There are so many roads begging for attention.

 

The Lagos/Badagry Express Road, a major link to the west coast of Africa, the Oshodi/Apapa Express Road are two roads that should quickly engage the attention of Sanwo-Olu to give succour to longsuffering Lagosians. It is not enough to claim that these are federal roads.

 

Finally, it should be pointed that the brutal reality of death sentence has not stopped heinous crimes from being committed. A majority of Lagosians now use the seat belts.

 

 

How was that achieved? It wasn’t by imposing ridiculous fines. Government and its agencies must learn to carry out long term enlightenment campaigns and creation of awareness rather than applying brute force.

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