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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. The refineries will not work until the Federal Government reviews its policies towards the running and maintenance of these facilities. It is a tragedy that while refineries built in other countries at the same time as the ones here have remained functional, ours have gone moribund.

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 must understand that while we are still dilly dallying over deregulation and other reforms in our petroleum industry, other countries who are even less endowed in oil and gas have embraced the necessary reforms and are currently attracting huge investments to their shores.

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

Nigeria and N25.7trn debt

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Nigeria and N25.7trn debt

T

he Debt Management Office (DMO), last week, declared that the Federal Government and 36 states of the federation incurred N25.7 trillion debt as at end of June 2019.

Nigeria’s total domestic (N15,628,758.66) and foreign debt (N6,750,907.61) was put at N22.38 trillion by the DMO at the end of June 2018.

This means that the country’s debt increased by N3.32 trillion in one year.

According to debt figures released by the DMO, the country’s total foreign debt stood at N8.32 trillion ($27.16 billion) while domestic debt was put at N17.38 trillion. Out of the total debt, the Federal Government alone owed N20.42 trillion, while the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are owing N5.28 trillion.

DMO stated that the debt which rose by N3.32 trillion in one year was accounted for largely by domestic debt which grew by over N1.65 trillion, while external debt also increased by over N1.57 trillion during the same period.

In the 2019 budget of the Federal Government, N2.254 trillion was set aside for debt servicing. As at June 2019, about N1.109 trillion had been spent on servicing debt.

In the N10.33 trillion 2020 Budget recently submitted to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, N2.45 trillion is for debt servicing.

While a section of the citizenry sees nothing wrong with the accumulating debt currently put at over N25.7 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.

Though the IMF welcomed the move by Nigeria to embark on more borrowing, it stressed that such funds be used for infrastructure and social spending even as it urged the country to broaden her tax base.

During its meeting in September, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) noted that the rising public debt was one of the factors hindering the nation’s growth prospects.

Today, most states are heavily indebted to banks and foreign institutions.

Despite the semblance of a robust economy under Buhari administration, 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 nation’s future.

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 four 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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Editorial

NECO fees: States should be prompt or hand-off

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NECO fees: States should be prompt or hand-off

It is no longer news that Niger State government owes the National Examination Council (NECO) a whooping N470 million, thereby denying many students from the state the opportunity to attend this year’s post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (Post-UTME) screening.

The said debt is the registration fees for students in the state’s public secondary schools for the 2019 Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE). It, however, led to the non-release of the results of over 30,000 students.

The consequence of the state government’s negligence and inability to offset the debt is grievous as the students have been deprived the opportunity of seeking admission this year.

We note that it is part of the responsibility of the state government to provide unfettered access to education for all children, no matter their parents’ socio-economic background, religious or political affiliations.

But where such obligation is lacking or seemed to have been lacking, it is suggestive that such government, either at federal or state level, is grossly irresponsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.

We make bold to say that no matter the Niger State government’s explanation for its inability to perform this obligation to the over 30,000 students and the attendant non-release of the state’s results by the examination body, it would definitely sneer the government.

Good enough, the state government, through the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Abubakar Aliyu, had admitted that the state truly owed the examination body N470 million. Suffice it to say, however, that despite the fact that government voluntarily assumed the responsibility of paying the registration fees for WAEC and NECO for students in the state’s public secondary schools, this is not enough to hold the students to unnecessary ransom, having realised that progress in the students’ education depends largely on their SSCE results.

The permanent secretary, in admitting the debt on behalf of government, said: “For us as a government, we do not have money to release at once, but as a responsive government, we have a clear picture of what we want to do. Once we get money, we will give them. Within the availability of resources, we have given what we have and we will continue to give them what we have until we clear the accumulated debts.”

We plead with the examination bodies to consider the future of these innocent students and that with the N200 million said to have already been remitted by Niger State government to NECO as part payment, with a promise to pay in instalments whenever it could muster funds, the examination organization should ponder on releasing the results.

Sadly, Niger is not the only state in this mess. In Kano, for instance, the state government has tried to reach an agreement with the Governing Boards of WAEC and NECO to release the withheld results of students of its public schools.

In fact, the Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Education, Malam Danlami Garba, appealed to parents and students to exercise patience as effort was on-going to get the results released.

It is expected that the affected state governments would have realised that non-release of the students’ results would deprive them the opportunity to undertake the post-UTME for 2019 admission and, therefore, should have prioritised the children’s education needs in their scheme of finances.

While, in the first instance, Niger State government should be hailed for its bold steps to foot the bills of WAEC and NECO registration fees for students in the state public schools, it is equally important to remind the Governor Abubakar Bello-led administration of the need to take it seriously.

Since such commitment was not forced on government, adequate provision should have been made to capture the payment in the state’s appropriation bill, rather than exposing the state to public ridicule.

If the government realised that it has no capacity to foot the bill, we opine that the idea should be jettisoned while parents should be allowed to pay their children’s SSCE fees rather than assuming the ‘big brother’ role, which obviously it has no capacity and wherewithal to effectively play.

It is unimaginable that state governments that spend so much resources on sponsoring pilgrims to holy lands yearly lacks the political will to pay for the education of their students, leading to the withholding of students’ results.

We note with concern that what these states lack is the right attitude to set their priorities right in governance.

Since it is not a compulsory obligation, Niger State, ditto for others in this messy state, should, as a matter of public service, either choose to pay the examination bodies, or be bold enough to hands off such commitment for lack of capacity.

It will be incongruous for any government to take step that will jeopardise the future of students in any guise.

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Editorial

Return of tollgates: Added burden for Nigerians

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Return of tollgates: Added burden for Nigerians

Nigerians were recently shocked with the announcement that the Federal Government is planning to return tollgates to the nation’s expressways as a way of generating income for the maintenance of federal roads.

While announcing the proposal, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had said that there was no law that stops government from having tollgates on federal roads, an indication that all is set for the return of toll plazas.

“We expect to return toll plazas. We have concluded the designs of what they will look like, what materials they will be rebuilt with and what new considerations must go into them.

“What we are looking at now and trying to conclude is how the back end runs,” Fashola had said after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting of Wednesday, October 2, 2019.

This is coming 16 years after the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the removal of the tollgates, having ‘built’ the toll fare into the petroleum pump price.

Part of the argument employed by the Obasanjo regime in 2003 was that the amount being generated from toll fees was not commensurable with the number of vehicles on Nigerian roads. This simply means that there was corruption in the system. Some of the ticketing vendors were also accused of privately printing own receipts and issuing same to the motoring public.

Also, the removal of the tollgates was part of the logic that the then regime employed to cajole Nigerians to part with their hard earned money when the pump price was to be increased.

Obasanjo’s regime made it clear to the nation then that toll charges had been embedded in the fuel price as road tax. That singular point became a genuine argument that was used to convince the then leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to give its nod to the increase in fuel price.

While ordering the demolition of the tollgates in 2003, Obasanjo said roads should be maintained through revenue from the increase in fuel pump price, noting that the amount, about N63 million, being collected daily, was insignificant and that the toll plazas were a major hindrance to vehicular movements as they also constitute inconveniences to motorists.

Today, however, after increasing the fuel pump price to N145 per litre, nearly all the federal roads in the country are in gross disrepair, to the disadvantage of the same motorists that bear the burden of the increment.

As such, it was a rude shock to the nation when the government of President Muhammadu Buhari said it is considering the return of tollgates. From the public outcry that greeted the news, there is no doubt that there is a groundswell of opposition against the proposal.

Though Fashola had argued that the new arrangement will curb corruption, owing to the electronic tolling that would be introduced, it is our view that the tolling system will continue to breed corruption and may eventually lead to the same old story that led to its removal in the first place.

In that wise, there should be a reform of the road sector, as a lasting solution to road maintenance in the country, rather than tolling, which would be a burden on the public.

On the surface, tolling appears to be a good option because roads need funds, but the corruption therein as well as the double taxation makes it a bad idea, as the return boils down to a burden on the already impoverished masses.

Therefore, a permanent solution such as engaging the private sector on road rehabilitation, with government acting as the regulator, should be considered.

The proposal, despite the outcry against it, if implemented, will amount to executive bullying, which cannot be justified under any guise. It will no doubt lead to increase in the costs of goods and services across the country because transporters will automatically add the fee to their charges while traders will, in turn, put the transport charges on their wares, goods and services. The multiplying effect will lead to more hardship on the already burdened masses.

Already, there is an increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) from five to 7.5 per cent, which is an added burden to the exorbitant charges such as electricity tariffs and the proposed communication tax.

This is coming at a time the same government is foot-dragging on implementing its N30,000 minimum wage agreement with the labour unions.

Already, transporters are complaining that there are many unofficial tollgates, artificially created across the country by law enforcement agents, especially the police and Customs, which are used in extorting motorists.

The impunity with which these uniformed personnel carry on without check is already a burden, so, adding another burden of official tollgates will further worsen the plight of the already impoverished masses.

Implementing this policy at this time will make government appear not only to be anti-people, but also insensitive towards the same populace it was elected to protect.

But if tolling the federal roads is the only option left for government, the policy must be well thought out to avoid the pitfalls of the previous regime.

Again, since government is continuum, the road tax allegedly built into the pump price of petroleum products by the Olusegun Obasanjo regime should first be removed before any consideration could be given to the latest proposal.

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Editorial

NFF, erring secretariat official and Falcons’ crisis

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NFF, erring secretariat official and Falcons’ crisis

I

t is no news that the Super Falcons are one of the most consistent teams in the world. Over the years, the female national football team has recorded successes in the game in Africa and beyond.

 

 

We are, however, aware that the gap between the African number one team and the rest is decreasing. We are aware that countries like Ghana, South Africa and Cameroon are now competing keenly with the Falcons.

 

 

Nevertheless, the sad exit of Falcons from the Tokyo Olympic Games football event is a major setback. The team played a goalless draw against Cote d’ Ivoire in Abidjan and in the return leg at the Agege Stadium, the encounter again ended 1-1. The Super Falcons are African champions with nine continental titles, but the team has missed out of the Olympic Games three times consecutively. This is a very sad development.

 

 

Sadly again, there were reports that one of the secretariat staff, taking key decisions affecting the team, is the cause of the problems. The powerful secretariat official has been taking unilateral decisions, which have largely divided the team.

 

 

We learnt that Falcons coach to the last Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, Thomas Denneby, dumped the team only last month due to the overbearing attitude of the ‘powerful official’ who also infringes on the role of the coaches at will.

 

 

Nigeria has again lost the ticket to the Olympics ostensibly due to the sad development at the secretariat. This secretariat official sends players out of camp for personal reasons and also imposes fines on players at will. Denneby was aware of all these and had to leave. When the former national coach of Sweden said he was leaving due to interference, it was believed that some powerful board members or the NFF boss were the cause, but behold, it was a secretariat official in the Glass House causing ripples.

 

 

It was reliably learnt that the absence of Onome Ebi and Desire Oparanozie from the current team was also due to the overbearing disposition of the ‘staff member,’ who is behaving like a sole administrator of the national female teams.

 

 

NFF also was complacent by not tackling the problem early enough and should share in this blame because it means they are not monitoring the secretariat well enough. How can an official in the secretariat be taking decisions, which the NFF president himself will not contemplate? It’s so strange, but its effect has caused Nigeria a ticket to Tokyo.

 

We call on the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, to look into this matter because after so many glorious years of posting good results for the country, the Falcons cannot decline overnight due to administrative issues.

 

 

This is just one of the ways federations play roles in the results athletes post at competitions. The show of shame at the IAAF World Championships in Doha is still fresh and lessons must be learnt to get things right in the administration of sports across board.

 

 

Lack of policy document to govern sports in the country is a big setback, but it is clear that with better planning, better results will be posted by the country’s talented athletes scattered all over the globe.

 

 

The Super Falcons must rise again and there must be a deliberate effort to get to the root of the crisis in the Falcons and all those involved must be made to pay the price. There were reports at the weekend that the powerful official in the secretariat will be redeployed to another unit of the federation, but we insist that the official be brought to book if all or some of the allegations against her were confirmed. Mere redeployment is not enough for the damage that this has caused the country and female football has been dragged back for about a decade.

 

 

We want a proper monitoring of all the federations for better efficiency and overall operations in the system.

 

 

At the weekend, the news of redeployment came as a step towards getting the Falcons back on track, especially with the divisions in the team. There is urgent need to name a substantive coach for the team and all operations of this team and other national teams must be transparent.

 

 

NFF has failed in its duties by allowing an official to be too powerful than the NFF president. We are aware that Amaju Pinnick and his executive body members are not known for interference over the years. There must be efforts towards bringing Falcons back better. The two players dropped for the last game – Ebi and Oparanozie – should return to make the team more solid. The team must be united and once again occupy its pride of place.

 

 

Nigeria is bigger than any individual. Those powerful people in the Glass House that the erring official was using as shield should also be brought to book, while the entire place is sanitised for better performance.

 

 

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Editorial

Executive, legislative romance on budget 2020

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Executive, legislative romance on budget 2020

President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, presented the 2020 Appropriation Bill to the joint session of the National Assembly. The proposal, which is in the sum of N10.330 trillion, represents an 11 per cent increase when compared to the 2019 appropriation of N9.12 trillion. The proposal had a revenue projection of N8.155 trillion and a deficit of N2.18 trillion, which is 1.52 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The key assumptions are the benchmark price of $57 per barrel of crude oil; daily oil production of 2.18 million barrels per day (mbpd) and an exchange rate of N305 to $1. The real GDP is expected to grow at 2.93 per cent, while inflation rate is projected at 10.81 per cent during the period covered by the proposal.

The budget was presented in accordance with the provisions of Section 81 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. As prescribed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the budget presentation was preceded by the passage of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) for 2020/2022 by the National Assembly. 

This is the fifth budget of the Buhari administration and the first in his second tenure.

We appreciate the apparent zeal of the administration to kick-start the budget process early in order to return to the January-December budget cycle. We have also observed the convivial atmosphere surrounding the process, which signals a new dawn in the relationship between the executive and legislative arms of the Federal Government in Nigeria. What used to be a cat and mouse game has become a steamy romance of two hitherto strange bedfellows.

In previous years, it was an open secret that the executive and the legislature were often at daggers drawn and both parties usually looked forward to budget presentation days with trepidation. We recall that throughout the life of the Eighth National Assembly, there was no love lost between the executive and the legislature because of the cracks that existed in the fold of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party. 

Today, both the executive and legislative have not only declared their willingness to work together, they have indeed displayed that spirit of collaboration given the speed at which the parliament commenced debates on the general principles of the money bill, preparatory to the defence of the specific allocations by the Heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the central government.

In order to avoid one of the pitfalls of the past where budget passage is delayed due to the absence of ministers, as well as heads of parastatals and agencies, President Buhari has directed the immediate suspension of international travels by all cabinet members and heads of government agencies so as to enable them to personally lead the process of budget defence at the National Assembly.

The suspension of such travels will enable these officials of the executive arm to provide the required information on the budget and ensure the timely passage of the 2020 Appropriation Bill. Furthermore, all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) have been directed to liaise with the relevant committees of the National Assembly for their schedules of budget defence.

For once in a long while, both the Presidency and the National Assembly are on the same page and vibrating at the same frequency.

However, we want to sound a note of warning to members of the National Assembly not to abdicate their constitutional responsibilities in the budget process. They must realise that by presenting the budget to them at a relatively early date, the ball is now in the court of the legislature. Already, economists, financial experts and even members of the National Assembly have expressed discomfort at some of the proposals for the various sectors. There is need for the parliament to deploy all the expertise available to it to ensure that the rough edges in the budget are smoothened.

Nigerians expect a speedy passage of the budget, but they also expect that the lawmakers would do due diligence on the document presented to them to avoid the lapses of the past years.

Successive budgets in Nigeria have been found to contain frivolous expenditure items, which some unknown bureaucrats usually insert into the document.

Some of these may include several durable items such as computers, photocopiers and other office furniture, which had been purchased the previous year. It might also come in the form of proposals for the purchase of kitchen utensils and cutleries or generators and cars, which were also purchased last year. 

These are grand seeds of corruption sown on a fertile ground. They would germinate and manifest as budget paddings as soon as the budget is passed and signed into law. The lawmakers must therefore endeavour to scrutinise the proposal before them thoroughly and with good conscience, knowing that they have a social contract with the people.

The budget is a serious document that points towards the direction the economy would take in the next one year. It is a fiscal compass that should guide us on reviving the economy, attracting investments, creating jobs and uplifting the standard of living of the average Nigeria. Unless this document achieves these basic goals, all the ceremonies surrounding it and the smooth relationship between the executive and the legislature would have been in vain and of no benefit to Nigerians.

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Editorial

Fighting insurgents with prayer warriors

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Fighting insurgents with prayer warriors

P

resident Muhammadu Buhari came into office in 2015 with a promise to among other things deal with insecurity across the country. At the time he came in, the country’s major problem was centred around the Boko Haram insurgents that ravaged the North-East and pockets of other vices such as kidnap for ransom, armed robbery and other similar ones.

Before the end of his first term in office, Buhari, his service chiefs and ministers were upbeat, thumping their chests that Boko Haram has been defeated or downgraded by the military. By their arguments, Boko Haram no longer held any territory in Borno State or anywhere in the North-East, where the insurgents had hoisted a flag and claimed ownership to some local governments pre-2015 elections.

But in the last couple of weeks, certain developments in the polity now seem to question the validity of the government’s claim.

First, at the House of Representatives, Hon. Ahmadu Jaha, representing Chibok/Damboa/Gwoza Federal Constituency of Borno State, told a stunned House that the insurgents are still in control of eight out of the 10 local government areas in Borno North Senatorial District.

 

 

Jaha said that a number of communities in Borno State and other parts of the North-East were still under the occupation of Boko Haram.

Another incident that is as worrying as Jaha’s claims is the revelation that Borno Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, entered into an arrangement with 30 residents of Makkah in Saudi Arabia, who will on permanent basis, offer daily ‘Dawaf’ (circumambulation of the holy Ka’aba). The prayer warriors are to offer prayers for the return and sustenance of peace in Borno State and the rest of Nigeria.

The state government stated that the 30 persons, all Nigerians from Borno, Katsina, Zamfara, Kano and parts of the North-West, “have for tens of years devoted themselves to spending hours at the Ka’aba every day for the purpose of worship.”

 

 

The state government added that the move was part of the multi-dimensional approach towards defeating the insurgents. Other approaches included support for the Nigerian Armed Forces, aggressive mass recruitment and equipping of more counter-insurgency volunteers into the Civilian JTF, hunters and vigilantes, among others. It is instructive that the governor went personally to meet the prayer warriors in Saudi Arabia for that purpose.

But if those were not enough reasons to be alarmed, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, added another horrifying dimension to the already depressing situation when he organised a seminar on spiritual warfare against insurgents in Abuja recently.

Although, he was more concerned with the re-orientation of youths in the crisis areas toward neutralizing the ideologies of the insurgents, the tag of spiritual warfare raised curiosity on the subject of the seminar. We find it absurd that the COAS, after five years in office, having battled the insurgents and claimed victory, is now resorting to spiritual warfare in overpowering them.    

Speaking at the seminar tagged, “Countering Insurgency and Violent Extremism in Nigeria through Spiritual Warfare”, Buratai charged the Service’s clerics across formations, to take up the gauntlet in that regard.

He said: “It is easier to defeat Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists than their ideology because, while we degrade the terrorists and their havens, the narrative of the ideology grows the group.”

We are worried that the people saddled with the task of defeating the insurgents are rather capitulating, bringing extraneous theories to the fight against insurgents.

We have also seen that governors of some northern states have engaged in dialogue with bandits in their communities, with a view to resolving the matters amicably.

We are worried that the government seem to have run short of ideas and is now accepting any offer that run contrary to engagements with the bandits and insurgents.

Rather than treat the matter as criminal as it deserves, our government and even the armed forces are resorting to soft measures to deal with brutes, who have no room for such pampering.

Of course, it is an open secret that the bandits and insurgents cannot be trusted as witnessed in Niger State last week.

In Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State, fresh attacks by bandits left about one 1,200 residents homeless.

The Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, had few weeks ago pardoned and released about 30 bandits, who have been terrorising parts of the state. He had signed a peace agreement with the bandits. They reneged.

We are totally displeased with the resort to mundane approach in the fight against the insurgents. We wonder why spiritual warfare, use of prayer warriors and even negotiation with bandits have become important at this point when the government had claimed victory over the insurgents.

We see the new approaches as a surrender by the government to the stubbornness of the insurgents.

We are of the view that government cannot abandon its core responsibility of rooting out the bandits and insurgents on alters of spiritual warfare or engagement of clerics to pray against Boko Haram. It is cowardly and has no place in modern warfare. We suggest that the government should see the fight as one that must be won through the military, whom we have spent billions of Dollars in equipping. Anything short of that is an undeserving injustice to Nigerians.

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Editorial

The land border impasse

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The land border impasse

When everyone thought the end was near, the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), dashed the hope of many Nigerians recently when he reemphasised that opening Nigerian borders soon would not be possible.

 

This is despite the obvious pains the closure had cost Nigerians, especially business owners, who ply their trade using land borders. The main reason he gave while chatting with a group of freight forwarders bordered on the wave of smuggling and insecurity in the country.

 

The decision of government is in the right direction as it is long overdue. Considering frequent reports in the past of those claiming to be businessmen and women using the ‘freeway’ to smuggle arms and ammunition, rice, as well as hard drugs into the country, the import of the recent security upscaling is nothing but positive. While it remains a good decision, it is, however, disturbing that such sensitive and strategic steps are always taken without taking genuine stakeholders into confidence. As usual, the Federal Government triggered panic across the country, and even beyond with the way it suddenly ordered tighter security measures across all the land borders.

 

The initial impression that it was an outright closure was immediately dispelled by the Nigeria Customs Service (NSC).

 

This on its own is commendable considering the economic importance of some of the borders, even though they have also been used by criminal elements a number of times to intensify their underworld engagements. Although there are borders in every part of the country, the Nigeria–Benin Republic border at Seme is about the busiest and most popular arena for legitimate and non-legitimate business transactions in and out of both countries.

 

The closest to this is the neighbouring Idiroko border, which also connects to Benin Republic from the Ogun State axis. As important as the borders are to both countries, it is, however, on record that while Nigeria can hold its breath and survive for long with the restrictions, the same cannot be said of Benin, whose over 60 per cent of revenue generation depend mostly on activities around the border, until may be recently when the Federal Government of Nigeria trimmed it by banning importation of vehicles and rice through land borders. For record purpose, this is not the first time the Nigerian government would be closing some of its borders.

 

It had done so in the past the moment it was perceived that criminals were taking advantage of the free movement to perpetrate crime. Nigeria is bordered to the North by the Republics of Niger and Chad. It shares borders to the West with the Republic of Benin, while the Republic of Cameroon shares the eastern borders right down to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean which forms the southern limits of Nigerian territory. The about 800km of coastline confers on the country the potentials of a maritime power.

 

Today, the build-up of insecurity in the northern part of the country has been largely made possible by the near free passage enjoyed by citizens of countries like Niger and Chad Republics.

 

As important as it is to stem the rising tide of banditry by beefing up security at the borders, government’s failure in terms of engagement with stakeholders and genuine investors using the routes became evident just last week when it was reported that over 500 trucks laden with perishable items are currently held down at the border waiting for clearance that may not come soon.

 

Another faulty step to the situation is that of young Nigerians currently schooling in neighbouring countries. It was something sad not too long ago as they had to bribe and still go through bush paths before they could access their way into Benin Republic.

 

Unfortunately, and very disheartening as well is that our own end of security personnel positioned there are already becoming overzealous to the extent that Nigerians who were in Benin Republic before the restriction said they were subjected to all manner of humiliation either before being allowed to cross or were not allowed at all.

 

The situation also reflects some elements of surprise in the sense that the restriction order or security beef up as the case may be came just a few months after President Muhammadu Buhari and his Beninoise counterpart, Patrice Talon, unveiled a state-of-the-art complex built by both countries to ensure close monitoring of movements in and out of both countries. The question here is if the multimillion naira complex is not enough to guarantee the decorum and security needed around there, so why invest so much only to turn around to make life difficult for all.

 

Why we appreciate government resolve to put an end to widespread insecurity across the country, we, however, believe certain measures could be taken without necessarily disrupting a whole system like what has been done to genuine investors in and around some of these border locations. We also advise that the Federal Government, by now, should invest in high tech equipment to monitor the border instead of relying on manual policing by security agents.

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Editorial

Criminalising electricity estimated billing

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Criminalising electricity estimated billing

For decades, Nigerians have been under a heavy yoke brought upon them by the inefficiency and epileptic power supply to homes, offices, schools, markets and manufacturing concerns.

The defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) and its successor company, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), were notorious for their poor service delivery. Their trademark was power outage and estimated billings due to the absence of a proper metering system.

Like a typical monopoly, NEPA operated with so much arrogance and disdain towards its customers. Its officials never bothered about the feelings of the public because they felt Nigerians had no choice.

Then came the Power Sector Reform Act, which saw the unbundling of the sector and the privatisation of electricity generating companies (GenCos) as well as the electricity distribution dompanies (DisCos), presumably to put things right.

Years after the privatisation of these firms, it has become obvious that nothing has changed. The services of these private firms have remained poor and bills have even become crazier.

It is in this light that the recent effort by the House of Representatives to criminalise the estimated billing system operated by the electricity distribution companies has become imperative. A bill to amend the Electricity Power Sector Reform Act 2005 to prohibit and criminalise estimated billing by electricity distribution companies, as well as provide for compulsory installation of pre-paid meters to consumers, is currently under consideration at the lower chamber of the National Assembly. The bill was first introduced in the Eighth Assembly and passed, but was not assented to before that legislative session elapsed.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who led a debate on the bill, described the estimated billing system operated by the electricity distribution companies as the biggest fraud ever in Nigeria.

Gbajabiamila argued that the estimated billing system is not supported by any scientific or arithmetic calculation, but was borne out of arbitrary allocation of figures.

We cannot agree less with him because how else would a customer be billed for a period in which there was no power supply to his home. It is doubtful if there is any other country in the world where citizens would be paying bills for electricity not delivered to them. It is akin to paying for light while living in darkness. This is sheer fraud and must stop.

There have been several attempts to get the DisCos to install pre-paid meters for electricity consumers, but sadly these efforts have been largely frustrated by operators in the power sector.

First was the excuse that meters were not produced locally and have to be imported at a huge cost. The DisCos made sure that the cost of procuring these meters was borne by electricity consumers and even, at that, they created an artificial scarcity around it.

Even when the World Bank came to the rescue, the DisCos created meter rackets, run by some unscrupulous officials whose goal was to rip poor customers off. The general experience is that the DisCos are usually not interested in installing these pre-paid meters because they prefer the arbitrary billing system, which enables them get huge sums of money for electricity not supplied. 

We recall that there have been several protests by consumers of electricity across Nigeria over the vexed issue of estimated billing. Some of these protests have largely been peaceful, while many degenerated into violence. As it stands now, the marketers who work with these DisCos and whose responsibility it is to share estimated bills every month are at great risk.

We insist that instituting an appropriate modern metering system should be compulsory and the DisCos, who ultimately would claim the equipment, should bear the cost. 

Nigerians are running out of patience over this issue and it is only a matter of time before the clashes between the agents of the electricity distribution companies and their embattled clients would begin to record fatalities. 

We urge the House of Representatives to expedite action on the legislation criminalising the estimated billing system.

It is also our hope that the Senate would follow in the footsteps of the lower chamber, just as we urge President Muhammadu Buhari not to withhold his assent from this bill this time. 

We are convinced that abolishing the fraudulent billing system and prescribing appropriate sanctions for defaulters would compel the DisCos to be alive to their responsibilities. When they are aware that they can only collect revenues on the exact power they supply to their customers, they would be more willing to invest, not only on procuring and installing pre-paid meters, but would also work hard to improve on electricity supply.

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Editorial

Tackling over-bloated, redundant FG’s agencies

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Tackling over-bloated, redundant FG’s agencies

Last week, the upper chamber of the National Assembly hinted that it would soon consider pruning the number of Federal Government agencies, councils and commissions.

The Senate disclosed that the proposal was meant to cut down on the number of parastatals drawing funds from the Federation Account through the yearly budget.

Under the plan, the operations of parastatals numbering over 500 are to be reviewed to determine the relevance of each institution to governance and the economy. At the end of the assessment, it is expected that some might be merged where their functions overlap or scrapped where they are no longer relevant to the governance system and have become drain pipes on the public treasury. These lofty intentions were espoused as the legislators considered a report on the Legislative Agenda of the Ninth Assembly.

As they rightly observed many government-owned parastatals established over the last five decades have become mere shadows of themselves, having lost relevance and sense of direction. However, year-in year-out, they have retained their bureaucratic structures with the directors- general and all other personnel drawing salaries and allowances for doing virtually nothing and adding no value to the national economy.

We must point out that this proposal flowing from the Red Chamber is not entirely a new idea, but one that had been mooted by previous administrations, which were desirous of cutting down the cost of governance and rechanneling scarce resource to the real and critical sectors of the economy.

It is this over-bloated bureaucracy that has forced the Federal Government not just into deficit budgeting, but maintaining a prodigal balance sheet. For many decades, the Federal Government had been allocating 70 per cent of its budget to recurrent expenditure and 30 per cent to capital projects and infrastructure development.

It was this situation that compelled the Federal Government to set up special panels on the issue at different times. The Allison Ayida Committee Report (1995) and the Ahmed Joda Committee Report (1999) were some of the attempts at reviewing the structure and content of the public service in Nigeria.

They made far-reaching recommendations on how to trim the bureaucracy, but the situation remained the same due to the hiccups in the implementation of the recommendations of those reports.

President Goodluck Jonathan had to set up a Presidential Committee on Reform of Government Agencies, headed by a former Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Steve Oronsaye, to tackle the same challenge.

In an 800-page report submitted by the Oronsaye panel, it was observed that there were 541 government parastatals, commissions and agencies (statutory and non-statutory) in Nigeria and the average cost of governance in the country is believed to rank among the highest in the world.

It, therefore, recommended the reduction of statutory agencies of government from 263 to 161. As a corollary, the committee proposed the removal of all professional bodies and councils from the national budget in order to reduce the high cost of governance. It also recommended that the budgetary system should be linked to deliverables and output.

Unfortunately, some previous attempts to restructure the public service and cut cost of governance were frustrated by government officials, including members of the National Assembly.

The heads of these agencies know too well that these institutions were established by laws and cannot be pulled down by fiat. It will take another law passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the president for these changes to occur.   

Therefore, as soon as they get wind of the move to merge or scrap their agencies, they quickly run to their representatives in the parliament to seek protection. They practically lobby the lawmakers to frustrate the proposed changes on the excuse that thousands of people will be thrown into the already saturated labour market if the reforms were carried out.

It is ironical that often times when the executive arm of the government made plans to reduce the cost of governance, the National Assembly continued to enact laws creating new agencies.

We urge the 9th Senate to come clean this time and avoid a situation where they hunt with the hounds and run with the hares. 

It is noteworthy that this parliament has consistently declared its readiness to work with the executive arm of government and this is a perfect time for that synergy. Above all, the lawmakers must be prepared to make sacrifices by subduing all primordial sentiments, ethno-religious, regional and political interests on this issue. Organised labour, which often joins the fray supposedly to protect jobs, must know that bureaucracies that add no value to the economy are like stagnant waters that can only breed mosquitoes. The economic boom, which organised labour dreams of, would only be realised when scarce resources are invested in productive sectors that could re-ignite industrialisation in Nigeria.

We might not even need to waste time on conducting another long assessment of these agencies because much of this had been done by the panels set up by previous administrations. Let the Senate assemble these vital documents and assign the job of synthesizing them to a special ad hoc committee to come up with actionable plans backed by relevant bills for the mergers and winding down of these parastatals of questionable status and relevance. The time for action starts now.

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Editorial

The return of Police Affairs Ministry

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The return of Police Affairs Ministry

 

T

he return of the Police Affairs Ministry, after about five years of its suspension in the face of precarious security situation in the country, must translate to improved internal security and redress the fears of Nigerians and foreign residents alike that the nation does not take security of lives and property with levity.

 

 

Coming years after the ministry was merged with that of the Interior in 2015 in an action informed by President Muhammadu Buhari’s preference for a lean cabinet, Nigerians must reap the benefits of its re-introduction to tackle burgeoning security issues in the country, exacerbated by pervasive unemployment, kidnapping, crass criminality and sundry internal security issues.

 

 

Daily, road transportation, especially via the Lagos-Benin Expressway, Ibadan-Akure Road, Akure-Abuja Road, Abuja-Kaduna and several others in the South-East and North-West has become a nightmare. Travelling on such roads has become very perilous as vehicles come under attacks from kidnappers or robbers forcing motorists to a standstill while victims await intervention of security agencies. The nation’s food security is also threatened as millions of farmers are either in internally displaced persons’ camps and in other areas find it extremely difficult to ply their trade as criminally-minded herdsmen ravage their farmlands.

 

 

Also, the recent report by the police that over 4,700 people have been mauled in various parts of the country in the past six months gives the impression that the nation is in a state of war. The fact is that as long as the current level of insecurity remains, foreign direct investment (FDI) will be scanty even as the competence of the security agencies in the country comes under serious question.

 

 

By way of hindsight, the Police Affairs Ministry was created by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 with Major General David Jemibewon (rtd) as pioneer minister. He was succeeded by Stephen Akiga, while the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua named Dr. Yakubu Lame for the position in 2007. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan retained the ministry, appointing Adamu Waziri for the position in 2010, while Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade (rtd) was the last to hold the position till 2015 when Jonathan lost the election.

 

 

While the re-introduction of the ministry by President Buhari at this period was informed by the need to properly address security of lives and property, with proactive intelligence gathering to nip crimes in the bud before they escalate the concomitant lessons of history calls for caution. It is on record that the existence of this ministry prior to 2015 did not automatically translate to reduction in criminality, as scores of Nigerians, including the then Justice Minister, Chief Bola Ige (SAN), Chief Sunday Afolabi and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Deputy National Chairman, Chief Aminasori Dikibo and many others were either felled by bullets or died in mysterious circumstances, even as the police failed to successfully investigate and prosecute their killers.

 

 

Another issue of interest is that unlike the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and the Police Service Commission (PSC), which were created by the Nigerian Constitution pursuant to Section 214 and Part 1 of the third Schedule respectively, the legality of the police affairs ministry has come under debate over time, as some consider it duplicitous, without prejudice to the president’s executive power to make all executive appointments.

 

 

Indeed, the absence of a clear legal framework for the Police Affairs Ministry, other than the collection and management of police budget in the face of the attendant bureaucratic bottlenecks on the activities of the police formed the basis for the recommendation of the Civil Society Panel on Police Reforms for the scraping of the ministry in 2012, because it merely constituted job for the boys.

 

 

To further drive home the fears, it has been observed that through the years, inadequate articulation of the mission of the Nigeria Police Force, insufficient legal framework, non-specification of functions, improper performance appraisal mechanism, duplication of police duties by other agencies, and, recently, the existence of such organisations and the peace corps, weak oversight and corruption have continued to be the Force’s albatross.

 

 

Equally ridiculous is the current legal lacuna over the duties of the Nigeria Police Force as against that of the Police Service Commission over whose constitutional responsibility it is to handle police recruitment, a development that informed the current recourse to the law court for interpretations of the affected section of the constitution. 

 

   

In the face of all these task before government and the new Police Affairs Minister, Mohammed Maigari Dingyadi, we call for proper articulation of the constitutional duties of NPF, overhaul of operational structures, re-organisation of its duties, procurement of modern equipment and ensuring that its leadership are well-grounded on contemporary policing strategies to facilitate their work. Adequate attention must also be paid to stronger local intelligence and networking with other security agencies locally and internally to decimate the criminal elements in the country.

 

 

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