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.
Nigeria must fight the $9.6bn P&ID judgement debt
hen the news of $9.6 billion (anticipatory and accrued interests) awarded against Nigeria by a British court for defaulting in a contract with Irish firm, Process and Industrial Developments Limited (P&ID), first surfaced, Nigerians were bewildered and shocked. The contract was to build a gas plant in the country.
But events since have shown that this may just be one of the biggest scams in the history of contract awards. The owner of the Irish firm, Michael Quinn, it has emerged actually stole the idea for the gas plant from former Nigeria Defence Minister and oil magnate, General Theophilus Danjuma.
It has also transpired that the $40 million that Quinn claimed to have spent on the deal was actually money belonging to the retired General. Those are the same funds that P&ID now wants to be compensated for after claiming default on the part of the Nigerian government. So, what exactly does P&ID want to be compensated for? A plant that was not built or $40 million they claimed to have spent which in truth didn’t belong to them?
It is interesting that P&ID can be accusing Nigeria of default in laying the pipes for the gas facility when there was nothing on whatsoever to show that the company had done anything to get the gas plant off the ground.
It is also clear that having worked in Nigeria for decades, Quinn and his co-travellers had come to know the Nigerian system so well and took advantage of the lapses so ruthlessly and totally. The deal it seems was designed to fail from the very beginning. That much is also getting clearer. Why was the case taken for arbitration in London? Was a clause inserted in the deal that arbitration, in case of a default, would be in Britain? If that was the case, nothing smacks more of a foreknowledge of evil intention.
Quinn founded P&ID in 2010 specifically to carry out his bid for the gas contract. And after two years of no action on the part of Nigerian government, P&ID decided to take the matter to arbitration in London for breach of contract.
However, it is instructive that the deal didn’t pass through the Federal Executive Council (FEC); that in itself is problematic. For a contract as big as that, not going through the FEC for approval is a red flag. Why was it not taken to the FEC? The Attorney General then, Michael Aondoakaa, had said the contract was not seen let alone discussed at FEC. The Petroleum Minister at that time, Rilwanu Lukman, it seems unilaterally approved a deal of that magnitude without recourse to the president. It should be noted, however, that the president at that time, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was already grievously ill.
Aondoakaa said: “As the Attorney General, I should have known about the contract but the first time I heard about it was when I read it in the newspapers. A contract of that magnitude is not something you sign in an office, not even the President has the power to unilaterally approve such a contract without recourse to the Council (FEC).”
The former Justice Minister noted that he suspected that the contract was a product of corruption. He therefore called on the Federal Government to file corruption charges against the company and its Nigerian collaborators. He argued that if a case of fraud could be established, it would invalidate the judgement against Nigeria.
These are weighty claims by someone who should know and they must not be treated with levity by Nigerian government. Interestingly, the then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, who was later to inherit the contract debacle was not part of the decision-making process.
It transpired that P&ID agreed to a settlement of $850 million around May 2015, the twilight of Jonathan’s administration. Why was the payment not made by Jonathan? The reason for this refusal and that government’s handling of the whole saga will still have to be interrogated.
However, what is clear in all of this, is that the Nigerian system lends itself to easy manipulation by unscrupulous contractors and elements from everywhere and their local collaborators. But the country must find a way to strengthen its system such that this type of deal by P&ID never happens again.
That P&ID was purposely created for the sole aim of defrauding Nigeria, is becoming inescapable. To this effect, Nigeria must fight this case with everything at its disposal and it must do so with singular resolve. Nigeria should approach the Irish and British governments to find a satisfying solution to this debacle. There are many Irish and British companies in Nigeria, and these firms should provide a leverage for Nigeria to negotiate from a position of strength.
Although we cannot help but wonder why Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, didn’t do anything about the initial $850 million award, we agree with him when he said: “The Federal Government shall, therefore, vigorously defend her interest against the enforcement of the said judgement and take appropriate steps to institute Contract Implementation Compliance Policy in order to prevent such occurrence in the future.”
Fighting security challenges with technology
Insecurity is probably at its peak in the South-West no thanks to the violent attacks in almost all parts of the region. Today, people are afraid to move from one part of the region to the other because of the fear of being attacked. Attacks come from different marauding gangs, particularly armed robbers and the most dreadful of all, kidnappers, who those survived their reprehensible activities have described as herdsmen.
In the last couple of months, kidnappers have become notorious in the South-West that the mere mention of their names usually strikes terror in the minds of many. People don’t just fear the kidnappers; the abductors earned it through tales of their deliberate wickedness to their victims, which many people reasonably believe to be part of a larger script. Most of the times, gunmen would jump on a major road in broad daylight and start to shoot at oncoming vehicles to force motorists to stop.
Through this process several people have been sent to their graves in their prime. Those kidnapped are made to pass through hell while in the captivity of these depraves. Many women, including children, are tortured and gangraped for several days.
Many are permanently damaged as they could not survive their traumatic experience in the hands of their abductors. Men are not spared in the depravity. Violence is not limited to the South-West states of Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Oyo.
The North, especially the North-East, has in the last few years being in the throes of violence unleashed by the terror group, Boko Haram, while parts of the North-Central have been under attacks by the ubiquitous herdsmen. The bandits have killed and abducted several people in the North-West. The upsurge in violence in the South-West, it is believed, is fallout of the continuous bloodletting in the North. The violence in the South- West reached a crescendo with the recent murder of Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Pa Reuben Fasoranti, the leader of pan-Yoruba sociocultural organisation, Afenifere.
The activities of these renegades seem to have overwhelmed the political leaders in the region. The governors in the South-West have failed, woefully, to respond appropriately to the challenge posed by activities of the murderers disguising as kidnappers.
But the announcement by President Muhammadu Buhari recently that the Federal Government would deploy drones and Close Circuit Televisions (CCTVs) to monitor forests and tackle insecurity in South-West did not only come as a relief to the people, it also rekindled their hope.
The President spoke while playing host to traditional rul-ers from the South-West led by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, at the State House. The President disclosed that he “will be issuing directives to the appropriate federal authorities to speedily approve licensing for states requesting the use of drones to monitor forests and other criminal hideouts. “We also intend to install CCTVs on highways and other strategic locations so that activities in some of those hidden places can be exposed, more effectively monitored and open to actionable review.
“This administration will continue to do everything necessary to protect the lives of all Nigerians and ensure that every Nigerian in every state is safe, and that our people can live in peace and harmony, regardless of ethnicity, religion or region.”
A few days later, the Inspector- General of Police (IG), Mohammed Adamu, said the police would, in the next few days, deploy a special squad in the South-West to tackle kidnapping and other criminal activities. The Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Operations), Abdulmajid Ali, who disclosed this during a visit to Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State in Akure, said the main assignment of the squad was to curb crimes in the region. He said the police were keen on making the country safe for everyone. Drawing attention to the fact that the dynamics for safeguarding security keep changing, the President noted that government must adapt strategies to these challenges as well as adopt modern, technological and people-centred methods in achieving these goals.
The plan, as enunciated by the President, is commendable. Criminals have continued to embrace technology, so checking crimes requires deployment of modern technology. Provision of security for the citizens is a cardinal responsibility of any government. Any government that fails to provide adequate security will eventually lose the moral authority to govern. In this light, the Federal Government plan is a welcome development. But the President failed to explain how the CCTV would be deployed in a vast area, especially highways, without electricity.
Again, the government has left the issue of insecurity in the South-West to linger for too long. It is a sad commentary on the nation’s efforts to ginger economic growth by attracting foreign investment when what investors read or see as they arrive the country is kidnapping on a daily basis.
However, it is often said, to be late is better than never. It is not too late. We urge the government not to procrastinate again in decisively dealing with violent crimes in the South-West and all other parts of the country.
Restriction on herdsmen in South-East
The governors of the five states in the South-East rose from a meeting last Saturday and announced a ban on herdsmen moving around with AK-47 rifles and machetes in the geo-political zone.
The pronouncement, which was made by the Chairman, South-East Governors Forum, Dave Umahi, while briefing reporters after the forum’s meeting in Enugu, also came with the desire of the governors to seek an audience with President Muhammadu Buhari and security chiefs over security issues affecting the zone.
The meeting, where the decision was taken, was attended by governors of Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo and Enugu states and the deputy governor of Abia State.
The governors said meeting Buhari and the security chiefs would help reduce tension in the zone.
Umahi said: “We have banned herders who move around with AK-47 and machetes and we want the security agencies to enforce the order.
“We also agreed that we have to put measures in place to restrain movement of herdsmen and their cattle from one state to another, which is a source and point of conflict with the natives and farmers.”
Incidentally, the governors denied being the brains behind Operation Python Dance in the region in 2017.
We commend the governors for their definitive stand on the menace of herdsmen in the region. The decision could not have been taken at a better time, considering that of recent, suspected herders, kidnappers and other crime-minded people, some Igbo inclusive, have been moving unrestrained in the zone.
The meeting was held in Enugu, the political capital of the South-East. Instructively, Enugu State itself has, of recent, been the hotbed of nefarious activities of the criminal herders and their accomplices. More than any other state in the South-East, Enugu has borne the ignominious burden of the activities of bandits, criminal herders and kidnappers.
Quite recently, two priests of the Catholic Church were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood. The tension generated by the killings and other high profile kidnap cases in the zone are still running.
We believe that it is left for Buhari and the security chiefs to help the governors enforce the ban in order to arrest what is turning out to be an embarrassment to the governors and their region.
That becomes imperative considering the new threat offered by members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and their allies in the region.
Just recently, a former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, was molested and attacked in Germany, where he had gone to celebrate the traditional new yam festival with the Igbo community in Nuremberg. Ekweremadu’s attackers wondered why he travelled to Germany for a yam festival when his people were being killed, maimed and women raped.
Since then, IPOB has issued different threats to the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the governors and other prominent Igbo sons and daughters not to venture out of the country for any reason or risk being attacked. The IPOB threat, pedestrian as it may seem, has raised the ante of apprehension in the region, with many wondering who would be the next victim of attack or molestation.
We do not subscribe to the modus being applied by IPOB and its co-travellers. Neither do we believe that their threat is to be taken seriously enough to restrict Igbo leaders from travelling.
But we are worried that the governors of the region may have, at last, sensed the panic among the people in arriving at the decision. There is no gainsaying the fact that the threat posed by a few individual IPOB members abroad might even be stronger at home.
We believe that the governors of the region might be rushing to save an ugly situation from degenerating further.
One thing is certain. From the South-East to the South-West, South-South to the North-West, North-East to North-Central, many are not pleased with the security situation in the country. The manner of expressing the displeasure differs in approach and utterances.
Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Masari, had cried out about bandits overrunning his state. Currently, both the governors of Zamfara – Bello Matawalle – and Katsina are negotiating with bandits to achieve peace in their states.
The South-East governors have chosen not to negotiate. They have also chosen to be bold in confronting their monster. We believe that they are not only trying to solve the insecurity problem, but also to preserve themselves and be seen by the people to be proactive in solving the insecurity problems. We are however of the view that the ban would be limited to herders that bear arms alone. In the first instance, herders have been in the region for decades. But the arrival of those bearing arms changed the relationship.
There is therefore the need for the governors to ensure proper enforcement of the order in the five states of the region. Much as there is the need to keep South Easterners happy with their governors, there is also the need to recognise that the constitution of Nigeria allows for free movement of citizens across all states. The ban must not be used to victimise innocent herders who go about in search of their daily bread with their cattle. We also call on security agencies to help the governors maintain sanity in their domains. Anything short of that could make the governors themselves and prominent Igbo leaders endangered species in their homes.
No to selective rewards, reception of athletes
In every sphere of human endeavours, it is always good to strive for equal treatment of people in a society. Administrators in politics and every area of human life make efforts to give equal treatment to people. In cases where attention gets to one person or the other, it has to be marginal and there should be a good reason for it.
In sports, recent trends have shown that athletes are not being treated equally in terms of remunerations and rewards.
Sad enough, we observed that some individual athletes excel in various ways but they are not rewarded as expected or celebrated by the ministry or the Federal Government. For example, wrestler Odunayo Adekuoroye has been very consistent in the past two years. She has won many global events including about four this year alone. In her category in wrestling, she is Number 3 in the world. It also means she is a medal prospect in the sport at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Aruna Quadri is also consistent in table tennis. He has won African title and excelled at ITTF circuits such that he is number 19 in the world according to the latest rankings of the highest table tennis body in the world.
Adekuoroye and Quadri deserve commendation from the very top for their exploits for the country in the past two years in their respective disciplines. They are also quiet achievers that get results without controversy.
We call on the new Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Mr. Sunday Dare, to look into this because there should be a system to deal with rewards across all sports plus football to further motivate athletes to perform much better in various sports disciplines.
It is important to state that the issue of policy has been a big subject in the sports sector due to poor planning and other strange ways things evolve in the sporting arena. There is no template to execute various administrative aspects in sports. The federations and athletes are not sure of attending competitions outside the country no matter how important and they have no guarantee on what the government will give them after performing well at international meets. At the just concluded African Games, it was great that the ministry of sports maintained a system that started few years back by rewarding athletes for medals won in Morocco. A cash reward of $3,000 was given out to every gold medallist, $2,000 for silver winners and $1,500 for bronze medallists. Also, gold medallists in team events got $6,000, bronze got $4,500.
However, we frown at the fact that there is no standard way of dealing with athletes and this is so sad and could be counter-productive. Some of the country’s top athletes are feeling so unwanted to the extent of threatening to switch allegiance to other countries. Some of them believe the country is not worth the stress of putting up a good performance. For example, the grants for elite athletes did not get to them until shortly before the just concluded African Games while some received it during the competition in Morocco and, in fact, some are yet to get the grants. Those who received were given $3,000 instead of the $5,000 they were promised.
We commend the sports ministry for the instant cash reward of the athletes in Morocco but it would have been perfect to ensure they had a dinner with President Muhammadu Buhari shortly after arrival. If they are not going to be given further cash rewards, there should be words of encouragement from the number one citizen to further motivate the athletes for future performances.
We make bold to say some athletes work hard to excel at competitions simply because they look forward to getting a presidential handshake someday. If money or rewards come, it could be a bonus but many athletes cherish having a dinner with the President in Aso Rock. This is fast becoming a thing of the past because it was not done for the Team Nigeria contingent after placing overall second in Morocco.
Another big setback was the neglect of the national women’s basketball team, D’Tigress, who were in Senegal last month and they defeated all teams including the host Senegal in the final to retain the AfroBasket title. It was a big feat because the AfroBasket title is equivalent to African Nations Cup trophy in football. It was a shock that the victorious ladies were not taken to Aso Rock for a reception with the President. Clearly, this cannot happen to football. Same happened to the Super Falcons after winning the AWCON title. If the Super Eagles lift AFCON trophy, it is likely that the team moves straight to Aso Rock after arrival.
We insist that there should be equal appreciation for our athletes and national teams. If football gets huge attention, at least other sports should not be treated with disdain. We charge Sunday Dare to deal with this situation and create a template for reward system in sports.
Unbundling and merger of ministries
hen President Muhammadu Buhari assigned portfolios to ministers recently after their earlier screening by the Senate, one thing came out clearly: certain ministries were separated, just as some others were reintroduced.
For instance, the Ministry of Police Affairs was removed from the Ministry of Interior and it now stands alone. Aviation, which was hitherto subsumed under the Ministry of Transportation, has also been carved out. Interestingly, these two were full-fledged ministries before Buhari merged them.
The Ministry of Finance has been merged with Ministry of Budget and National Planning, while the president created Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, and Ministry of Special Duties and International Affairs.
So, the questions that necessarily arise are: why were these ministries merged in the first place? How was the decision to fuse them reached? How rigorous was the process? Was it a result of a kneejerk response reminiscent of the sort that led to the scrapping of History as a subject from Nigerian school curricula?
Howbeit, Buhari gave reasons for the detachment of Ministry of Police Affairs from Ministry of Interior, attributing it to the security challenges in the country.
“Working with the state governments also, we intend to improve the equipping of the Police Force with advanced technology and equipment that can facilitate their work. To drive this, I recently created a full-fledged Ministry of Police Affairs,” Buhari said.
Security challenges in the country, even in 2015, had already assumed an alarming dimension and proving intractable for government to handle. The sanguinary campaign of Boko Haram in the North-East was at its worst, with swathes of the country’s territory captured by the terrorist group. Communal crisis, herder/farmers’ clashes were almost routine. Kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery and other forms of criminal activities were rampant, making it imperative for the Ministry of Police Affairs to stand alone. So, the president’s reasons are a bit curious.
The subsuming of the aviation ministry under the larger transportation ministry by Buhari in 2015 was similarly a curious decision. From the First Republic, aviation had always been on its own, reflective of the importance of air travel to modern economies.
By far the most curious of these decisions was the fusion of works, housing and power into one ministry. These are three very important ministries that require huge amount of work. Saddling one minister with the responsibility of overseeing these ministries, no matter how brilliant that person is, was asking too much. Their fusion, to say the least, was ill-advised and the last four years only served to underline the futility of that merger decision.
It is evident that certain ministries deserve to be on their own because of their strategic nature, but we have continued to tinker and engage in trial and error. This predilection to tinker, which is not something that started today, is shocking, because these are matters where we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. More mature democracies have shown the way; all we need to do is copy with some variations to suit our peculiar needs. These inconsistencies and flip flop do not in any way show us as a serious people.
But now that power had been removed from the other two ministries, it is expected that electricity generation and distribution will improve correspondingly. Also, the fact that the ministry now has two ministers should make this dream more realisable.
However, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, stated recently that the problem is one of a lack of capacity on the part of the electricity distribution companies (DisCos), suggesting that Nigerians might not enjoy stable electricity in the near future.
Osinbajo said: “Despite all the availability of about 8,000MW of generation and 7,000MW of transmission capacity, the lack of infrastructure to absorb and deliver grid power to end-users on the part of DisCos has largely restricted generation to an average of about 4,000MW and sometimes even falling below 4,000MW.
“It is evident that despite all the efforts that have been put in to expand the grid, the structure of the market today cannot deliver on government’s promises to provide power for domestic and industrial use. A substantial change of strategy is necessary. There is clearly a need for a change of strategy. What we have done in the past has taken us to a point where there is clearly a change of strategy.”
Given the above scenario, we want to appeal to government to take action in regards to the problem of infrastructural deficiency of the DisCos. The DisCos must be made to urgently sort out their capacity problem, otherwise the reason for removing the power ministry from the erstwhile behemoth will be defeated.
However, we commend government for finally realising the unwieldiness of the ministry and unbundling it. We also note the decision to reintroduce police affairs and aviation as stand-alone ministries, and hope that the country reaps the benefit of such decisions.
We also hope that the fusion of the Ministry of Finance with the Ministry of Budget and National Planning will engender effective delivery of services. These two ministries are critical in the running of government.
It is our believe that this will be the last time government will engage in these needless periodic mergers and subsequent unbundling that have been part of the country’s ministerial history.
Atiku Vs Buhari: All eyes on the judiciary
Any moment from now, the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja will deliver its judgement on the petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, challenging the victory of President Muhammad Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the February 23, 2019 election.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had, on February 27, declared Buhari winner of the election, having polled a total of 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku, who polled a total of 11,262,978 votes. Not satisfied with the results declared by the electoral umpire, Atiku and his party had approached the tribunal to challenge the declaration on the ground that it did not reflect the popular will of the people of Nigeria.
In the petition filed by Atiku and PDP, the petitioners contended that they won the election, based on the results transmitted electronically from the polling stations across the country, allegedly to the central server of INEC in Abuja.
They therefore submitted that President Buhari was not validly elected by the majority of votes cast across the country. The petitioners also contended that the February 23 election, upon which INEC declared Buhari as winner, was invalid as it was marred by widespread violence, voter intimidation, massive vote buying and other forms of electoral malpractices against the provisions of the Electoral Act.
In addition, the petitioners submitted that Buhari was, at the time of the election, not qualified to contest the said election having failed to submit his academic qualification to the electoral body.
The petitioners prayed the tribunal to declare that Buhari was not duly elected and that he (Atiku) be declared as the validly elected candidate in the election. They also prayed for an order of the tribunal directing INEC to issue a certificate of return to Atiku or nullify the February 23 election and order a fresh poll. In a counter petition, Buhari and APC challenged the competence of the petitioners.
The respondents claimed that Atiku did not have the locus standi to even participate in the said presidential poll. The respondents submitted that Atiku is a Cameroonian, having been born on November 25, 1946, in Jada, Adamawa, in Northern Cameroon.
As such, he is a citizen of Cameroon and not a Nigerian by birth. They argued that the joint petition against Buhari and APC was incompetent as it was based on conjectures, while the reliefs sought were “vague, nebulous and lacking in specificity.”
Having presented their arguments before the tribunal and called a number of witnesses to buttress their positions, the ball is now in the court of the five-man panel to deliver its verdict.
The whole world is waiting because this is a case that has generated a lot of interests among Nigerians and members of the international community. The election was witnessed by many local and international Election Observation Missions, whose reports roundly condemned INEC for alleged lack of transparency and credibility of the processes leading to the election, collation of results and declaration of results.
Therefore, all eyes are on the panel to see how the learned justices will navigate through the convoluted arguments of both parties and arrive at a decision that will serve the interest of justice.
We think that this is a major litmus test for the judiciary in Nigeria, the third arm of government, which has constitutional powers to adjudicate in crucial matters of this nature.
In the last couple of years, the Nigerian judiciary had been under severe bombardment from the executive arm of government following allegations of corruption levelled against some of the judges. In the process, many of them have been removed, sometimes in controversial circumstances.
Opinions have been divided as to whether the exercise was meant to purge the Temple of Justice of corrupt ministers or a calculated attempt to intimidate the judiciary and get the learned jurists to do the bidding of the executive.
As we count down to the zero hour, we wish to remind members of the tribunal that they have a date with history and it is in their own interest to be counted among those who stood on the path of truth and exhibited courage even in the face of apparent adversity. It is our expectation that the tribunal will stand firm and deliver a resounding judgement that resonates with truth, justice, fairness and equity. It must not fall to the lure of evading the facts of the case and relying on mere technicalities that neither serve the interest of justice nor enrich our jurisprudence on electoral matters on the long run.
We urge the panel to dispense justice equally and objectively to the petitioners and respondents, as well as the Nigerian electorate whose votes are at stake in this dispute.
They must remember that the electorate are looking up to the judiciary as the last hope of the common man. Above all, the tribunal must remember that the facts of this case are already in the public domain and the judiciary itself is on trial. We dare say that the judiciary will only acquit itself and redeem its battered image if it could dispense justice on this case, without fear or favour.
South Africa, xenophobia and Nigeria
For the past two weeks, Nigeria and Nigerians have been having it rough with South Africa and its people. That is ostensibly because of the xenophobic attacks that are currently ongoing in the South African country. Although not limited to Nigerians in South Africa, there is no doubt that for some years now, the relationship between the two countries has, at best, been frosty.
That is owing to the continued rivalry, which South Africa, its people and government have instituted against Nigeria.
From the economy to sports, travel to issues affecting Africa, South Africa has seen Nigeria as a major rival. Thus, if it is not an argument about the size of the economy, it would be about who dominates in sports or the destruction of Nigeria’s business interests in the country. The South African government has often hidden behind the fingers of economic domination by visitors and criminality of a few Nigerians to dent the image of Nigeria.
We recall that during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, the South African government had come up with the deportation of 125 Nigerians over claims that they visited the country with fake yellow fever vaccination cards. The move sparked a diplomatic row and the Jonathan government retaliated, deporting 84 South Africans in two days.
The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Olugbenga Ashiru, had described the action of South Africa then as a xenophobic move. Nigeria, in addition to the deportation of South Africans, demanded an apology from the country. There were also other demands made by Nigeria.
Thus, Ibrahim Ibrahim, the South African deputy foreign minister, tendered an apology to Nigeria, just six days after that incident. But since then, nothing much has changed in the relationship of both countries. Different presidents have assumed office since then but the problem remains or continues to worsen.
The killings of Nigerians in South Africa are now almost a monthly occurrence.
Yet, the South African government appears incapable of saving the situation. We are however pleased that this time around, the Nigerian government has taken the matter very seriously with the demand for compensation, pulling out of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in that country, the sending of Special Envoy and most importantly, the planned recall of Nigeria’s ambassador to South Africa.
We hope that the relationship would not degenerate to the stage where Nigeria would be forced to severe ties with it. Already, South Africa has shut its embassies in Nigeria, with many of its companies and franchises in Nigeria closing shop over some reprisals here.
We do not support violence by mobs that we have seen in some parts of the country against South African interests in Nigeria. We do not also think that paying them back with what we abhor in their country is the right way to go. But we believe that time has come for Nigeria to assert to all African countries, its natural position as the number one country in Africa.
By its sheer population of almost 200 million people, Nigeria is the biggest country on the African continent. In the world, only China, India, United States of America, Indonesia, Pakistan, Brazil can boast of more humans on its surface than Nigeria. While these countries have used their population to an advantage overtime, Nigeria has not utilized its numerical advantage to optimum.
That is largely responsible for the migration of a large army of Nigerian youths to different parts of the world, South Africa inclusive. Be that as it may, the fact that Nigerians troop out to different parts of the world does not in any way detract the fact that Nigeria, by its mere population, is the biggest market in Africa. That is why MTN, for instance, a South African company has found Nigeria a veritable ground for business.
We can boast of what other African countries cannot. South Africa has a population of about 59 million, whereas in Nigeria alone, MTN has about 64 million customers. There are other South African firms, such as Shoprite, PEP, Stanbic IBTC, to name a few, which are flourishing in the large Nigerian market.
These business concerns have been left to do their businesses and prosper in Nigeria. We believe therefore that now is the time for the Nigerian government to spell it clearly for other African countries that they cannot be treating Nigeria as a leper. We are not oblivious of the fact that Nigeria has played the big brother role on the continent, by intervening positively in the lives of other countries, including ending of apartheid in South Africa.
But sadly, rather than getting a reciprocity of its goodness, the country is often scorned by smaller nations on the continent. We do not see why countries in the African Union would be treating Nigeria with so much disdain.
We insist that the Nigerian government should treat the South African issue with a stern example that Nigeria would not take any maltreatment of its citizens by any other country. We also need to shift our foreign policy from Afrocentric to Nigeria first. It is only in doing that, that we would be able to really assert our position as Africa’s most important country.
Taking a cue from Morocco 2019
The 12th African Games which started on August 16 in Rabat, Morocco, came to a close recently with plenty of lessons for Nigeria to learn. Egypt had 101 gold, 97 silver and 72 bronze medals to emerge tops in the final overall medals table with Team Nigeria in the second place after winning 46 gold, 33 silver and 47 bronze medals.
That position, we must stress, is a very ‘distance’ second position. South Africa recorded 36 gold, 26 silver and 25 bronze medals to place third.
The difference between Egypt and other countries including Nigeria is an indication of how serious the Egyptians prepared for the event. We congratulate Team Nigeria athletes for fighting hard to place second after a rather slow start due to the country’s inability to compete well in swimming and other medal spinning sports. After day 10 of the competition, Nigeria had only three gold medals but as the athletics, weightlifting and wrestling events started, the gold rush began for Nigeria.
The weightlifters were particularly amazing with 16 gold 13 silver and 18 bronze medals. We make bold to say that the events of the last two weeks have shown that the ministry of sports and the federations will have to double efforts to maximize the enormous potential in Nigeria. It is sad that Team Nigeria is fast losing grip in areas of core competence. The first three table tennis gold medals were won by Egypt in the men’s team event, women’s team event and the mixed doubles.
Thankfully, Nigeria won the male singles to clinch two gold, four silver and four bronze medals.
Taekwondo was expected to provide at least six gold medals but Nigeria won only one gold medal courtesy of Ruth Nwosu. The women’s athletics 100m outing was a shame. The two Nigerians on the final start list came 4th and 8th which is unacceptable in sprints. The men won gold and bronze, but the women crumbled after Blessing Okagbare was disqualified.
Okagbare again did not wait for the 200m event because of the Diamond League race in France. It’s sad there was no discipline in camp such that athletes can come in or go out as they wish. In Morocco, Cameroon, South Africa and Cote d’Ivore were challenging Nigerian sprinters on the tracks.
And Ivorian Ta Lu won the gold in women’s 100m. Egypt for many years played second fiddle behind Nigeria in table tennis but now our ping pongers are battling to catch up with Egypt.
In medal-spinning sports like swimming, gymnastics, shooting, there are no efforts by the ministry and the federations to make the athletes challenge the likes of Egypt, South Africa and Morocco in their areas of core competence. We salute the industry of the football teams to the games. The Falconets won gold while the Flying Eagles settled for silver as Nigeria continues the search for football gold after 46 years.
The rampaging weightlifting and wrestling teams should be exposed and prepared well for the Olympic Games since these are clearly the country’s best prospects for Tokyo Games medals. We give kudos to the ministry of sports for the reward system activated for medal winners during the games.
They were promptly paid for their efforts. Egypt has raised the bar at the African Games and it is important for the federations and the ministry to bring in the private sector to help other sports. Government alone cannot lift sports and action must be taken now before it is too late. Corporate Nigeria must be heavily involved in the drive to save sports federations. The multinationals can sponsor sporting activities or top athletes just to boost the country’s overall pedigree.
We are aware that poor funding has been a major bane in the development of sports in the country.
Proper planning is required to provide all the needs of athletes in terms of welfare, grants, adequate camping, training tours, modern facilities and ensure the athletes are generally motivated to be at their best. Team Nigeria should be winning the African Games if there are proper plans to get the best from the talents at the country’s disposal. In the past, all the federations embark of training tours before major competitions like the African Games, Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games.
This must be the normal template to enable the athletes to focus better and also be exposed to top-class facilities. Team Nigeria must be prepared to win at least 10 gold medals in Swimming, 10 in gymnastics and also shooting in future African Games.
The country’s strong areas must not be lost in the process of encroaching in other areas where Egypt, South Africa and Morocco excel.
Early preparation is also very crucial to guarantee better performance while elite athletes must get their grants duly. Some sports discipline especially table tennis; require better technical depth to get better.
Experienced duo of Segun Toriola and Funke Osonaike should be drafted into the coaching crew of the ping pong game While we once again appreciate the overall second position of the team, it is important to clearly state that there is need for better funding and planning to narrow the gap between Egypt and Team Nigeria in future games.
U.S., Nigeria’s reciprocity visa fees
The United States recently announced a hike in the fees for Nigerians applying for various categories of visas effective from Thursday, August 29, 2019. The new visa regime, which came three months after the U.S. cancelled the dropbox system for Nigerian visa applicants, will apply to all Nigerians applying for visa worldwide. In the revised schedule, Nigerians applying for tourism, student and business visas will pay both the non-immigrant visa application fee of N59,200 and an additional fee of $110 (N40,700), thereby bringing the sum of visa fee to N99,900.
However, Nigerian applicants who are denied visas would not need to pay the new $110 (N40,700). The Public Affairs Section of U.S. Embassy in Abuja said the increased visa fee was done based on the principle of reciprocity and designed to eliminate the cost difference between what U.S. citizens pay to obtain Nigerian visas and what Nigerians pay to obtain U.S. visa.
The embassy said that the U.S. law requires that visa fees and validity periods are based on the treatment accorded U.S. citizens by foreign governments. Under the principle of reciprocity, when a foreign government imposes additional visa fees on U.S. citizens, the United States will impose reciprocal fees on citizens of that country for similar types of visas. According to the U.S. Embassy, the increment was done after talks with Nigerian government on the need to reduce visa cost for U.S. citizens to Nigeria broke down. Barely 48 hours after U.S. announced the hike in its visa fees, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced an immediate reduction in visa fees payable by U.S. citizens seeking to travel to Nigeria.
By the reduction, U.S. citizens are now to pay $150, as against the $180 for procuring visas to Nigeria. The action, which was taken by the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, was seen in many circles as a pre-emptive one aimed at forestalling a possible diplomatic row between both countries.
The ministry acknowledged that there were engagements with the United States Embassy on the issue and, in the aftermath, a committee was set up to conduct due diligence in line with extant policy on reciprocity of visa fees.
It said that though the committee had concluded its assignment and submitted a report, the issuance of authorisation for implementation of its recommendations was delayed due to transition processes in the U.S., Nigeria’s reciprocity visa fees ministry. If these explanations were directed at appeasing the United States and dissuading it from giving effect to its new visa fee, the move failed, as the U.S. insisted on its planned action the following day. This is quite unfortunate and should serve as a lesson to Nigeria.
As the U.S. stated and Nigeria corroborated, there were discussions between both countries on how to ensure relative parity in their visa fees. It is apparent that there was an agreement in principle for Nigeria to make the needed changes, but this move was unduly delayed. We learnt that 18 months after the review and consultations, the government of Nigeria failed to change its visa fee regime for U.S. applicants, which forced the U.S. Department of State to unleash the new reciprocity fees.
As it stands now, Nigeria has boxed itself into a corner because we failed to do the needful at the right time. What we could have resolved diplomatically and behind the scene, we have allowed to blow up in our face. If we could reduce the visa fees within 48 hours after the U.S. took its punitive action, what exactly held us back to take such a swift action long before now? Agreed that Nigeria held its general election earlier in the year and President Muhammadu Buhari did not inaugurate his cabinet until a few weeks ago, there is no excuse for delaying action on the visa fee, which has already been reviewed downwards during the last dispensation. The permanent secretary, Ministry of Interior, who took charge in the absence of a minister, is a top ranking bureaucrat, who should have known better and, perhaps, acted better on this matter.
We think that going forward, Nigeria’s Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs need to be more sensitive to the dynamics of decent bilateral relations. Our officials who serve in these two strategic ministries must understand that they are not just dealing with people, but dealing with the international community, who expect to be treated according to international best practices. Nigerian Missions across the world are the windows through which foreign nationals and their home countries see Nigeria and what we stand for as a people.
In international relations and diplomacy, there is not just the principle of reciprocity, there is also the principle of pacta san savanda, which literally means that agreements, once reached, must be respected. Nigeria must, henceforth, learn to adhere to mutual agreements reached with other nations and avoid situations where our conduct portrays us as a people lacking discipline and dignity.
Depression: A clear and present danger
A couple of days ago, a young man of about 21 years, identified simply as Segun, attempted suicide because he scored 167 in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
Two days later, a 400 Level student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Chukwuemeka Akachi, ended his life. Before taking his life, he admitted depression was eating him up. While growing up, his sister, he claimed in what could be described as suicide notes gleaned from his Facebook wall, urinated in his bathwater. But despite rushing to his mum to complain, the mother still forced him to bathe with the water. That memory haunted him till the very end.
As if suicide has become a race among Nigerian youths, a few days later a gospel minister, Michael Arowosaiye, based in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, reportedly hanged himself with a belt inside his room. Arowosaiye allegedly took his life because his wedding was cancelled over infidelity.
He was said to be involved in sexual relationship with another girl who reportedly leaked his nude pictures. The gospel minister could not handle the resultant shame, so he took what he considered the easiest way out: suicide.
The gale of suicide sweeping across Nigeria almost swept away a 29-year-old accountant, Daniel Okereke. Mother luck, however, smiled on Okereke as he was rescued by officials of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Lagos State Police Command just as he was about to jump off the Third Mainland Bridge into the lagoon.
The reason the accountant tried to end his life was still not known. The policemen were said to have spent time speaking with him and encouraging him before taking him to Adekunle Police Station, Yaba. Also, a 300 level student of the Niger Delta University (NDU), Bayelsa State, Uzakah Ebiweni, reportedly committed suicide. Ebiweni allegedly jumped into a river near the university’s campus at Amassoma in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area.
The deceased was among about 50 students of the institution who failed the Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) examination. Also on May 28, 2019, Mr. John Achagwa, the Chief Steward to Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, committed suicide at the Presidential Lodge, Government House, Maiduguri.Achagwa killed himself by hanging on a tree.
He was said to have greeted his colleagues at the lodge before he went to climb a tree behind the lodge where he hanged himself. Reacting to the incident, the outgone governor’s Special Adviser on Communications and Strategy, Isa Gusau, said that Shettima supported Achagwa to build a seven-bedroom apartment and also gave him a car. Gusau said Shettima was shocked and had been wondering what kind of depression could push Achagwa, who was generally known to live comfortably, to resort to taking his own life.
In the last couple of weeks, several Nigerians have attempted suicide. While some succeeded in taking their lives, others were either saved by Good Samaritans or failed in their attempt. Yet, some others only made subtle reference to their intention to end it all based on some financial and or psychological challenges they are facing. One intriguing but disturbing aspect of suicide now is the impact of social media on the Nigerian youth. In his failed bid to take his life, Segun, who believed his 167 score in the UTME was too low to help his effort to seek admission, hosted a live show on the social media where he invited his friends to watch how he was going to die.
He reportedly mixed Sniper in his tea and drank. A youth, who was one of the commentators on the Facebook wall of Akachi, wrote: “I have found my half-brother. I will soon meet you wherever you may be,” in apparent but subtle reference to intention to commit suicide. Parents need to pay more attention to every bit of their children’s complaints in order to prevent a similar experience of what happened to Akachi.
Adults also need to reach out to people who are going through challenges – in the neighbourhood, community, church, mosque, office, groups – a phone call, gesture of love, etc., may save a life. Government, at all levels, must also give attention to mental health of the citizens, among other issues as well as create safety valves because of the pervading economic hardship in the land.
In the past, depression seemed to be a white disease. But the recent reality has put a lie to that assumption. Depression is real. It is a clear and present danger. Those suffering from depression must be encouraged to seek adequate medical attention. It is time the National Orientation Agency (NOA), if it actually exists, started a campaign to take the attention and focus of the Nigerian youth away from drug use and other vices which may lead them to contemplate suicide.
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