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Editorial

Fighting security challenges with technology

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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.

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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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Editorial

Nigeria’s poor run in Doha and the Olympic Games

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Nigeria’s poor run in Doha and the Olympic Games

The just concluded World Athletics Championship which took place between September 27 and October 6 in Doha, Qatar, has shown the deficiency in the country’s athletes and the Nigeria Athletic Federation.

For an event coming up just few months to the Olympic Games slated for Tokyo, Japan next year, there were expectations that Team Nigeria will demonstrate what to expect at the Olympics in Tokyo.

We make bold to say that the performances in Doha was enough to conclude that the country so far has no plans for the big games.

It was a huge surprise that Nigeria did not make the expected impact especially in sprints which is the country’s strongest area. It all started with the mix-up between the Athletic Federation of Nigeria and two prominent athletes-Divine Oduduru and Blessing Okagbare. The athletes were registered for the 100m event without consent and they were marked absent. The IAAF subsequently suspended them from the competition in accordance with the rules because they did not pull out of the race. Somehow, Nigeria’s protest was upheld and the athletes were recalled. This is the only major reason Nigeria was in the news in Doha as Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivore, Ethiopia and Kenya represented Africa well. The Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, recalled the AFN Technical Director because of his lapses but it was clear that there were many other concerns. More heads should roll in the AFN. The athletes did not present themselves as good examples. Oduduru has recorded one of the best times in the 100m this year and all eyes were on him to do well in Doha but why he chose not to compete is a surprise. The 200m he concentrated on, he barely managed to be in the semis as one of the best losers and did not make the final. Okagbare also crashed out in the 1st round of the 200m after crossing the lane in a race she finished 4th among unknown athletes.

As if the individual flops were not enough, the relay which is one of the strong areas of the country was also a disappointment. We recall that in the past, Nigerian sprinters compete in the final of the 100m, 200m, 400m and also the 4x100m and the 4x400m relays in both the male and female cadre. Innocent Egbunike was amazing in the 400m events. Apart from ruling Africa for many years, he was a sure bet for the final in major global events like the World Championships and the Olympic Games. Top sprinters like Chidi Imoh, Olapade Adeniken, Davidson and Osmond Ezinwa, Olusoji Fasuba, Antony Emedolu, Francis Obikwelu just to mention a few, qualify for final of sprint events while some won medals. Mary Onyali, Fatima Yusuf, Bisi Afolabi Falilat Ogunkoya were impressive in their respective disciplines. Onyali and Ogunkoya have individual Olympic medals.

The reverse has been the case over the years and this further manifested at the just concluded event in Doha.

No doubt, the commitment level of these athletes is so poor and the ministry must work seriously on this as the Olympic Games approaches. We recall the mixed relay introduced in the competition and it was interesting to see the two male and two female athletes of USA winning with superior strategy. It is important to also reflect that some Nigerian-born athletes represented Bahrain and other countries due to poor motivation and organisation in Nigeria.

We want to emphasize that the poor showing at the World Championship is enough to say that the country is not ready for athletics in Tokyo. Okagbare won two medals in 2013 and since then the county is yet to mount the podium. There is need to regain the lost glory of the country in athletics. Oduduru is a young athlete with prospects, same goes for Ese Brume and Tobi Amusan. These athletes should be well-monitored, motivated and encouraged to get the best results for Nigeria.

Deliberate efforts must be made to get the country’s athletes on the right track as the Tokyo Games draw near if not, the poor run at big stage will linger on. There are potential ‘podium athletes’ in the country but they need to be motivated and be psychologically primed for the big stage.

We frown at situations whereby our athletes take part in multiple events, perform well and when it mattered most, they fumble at the big stage. There should be a way of bringing in the personal coaches of these national team athletes to boost their medal winning chances.

The sports minister has vowed to draw both long and short term programmes for the athletes. We expect a good plan for the athletes to excel in Tokyo while there must be plans to bring in younger ones good enough to represent the country in the next one decade.

Nigeria is blessed with numerous talents across all sports but the template to expose them and take them to the next level is not there. That should happen under the new minister.

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Editorial

Reforming Nigeria’s judiciary

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Reforming Nigeria’s judiciary

H

ardly has there been any Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) without an agenda for the judiciary. Recently, the CJN, Tanko Muhammad, stated that judicial reforms, which rested solely on the executive and the legislative arms of the government, must be addressed if the third arm of government must recover its lost glory.

 

 

While noting that the judiciary would be effective without undue subordination or favour, Justice Muhammad expressed concerns over lack of facilities and structures to serve new appointees.

 

The Chief Justice noted that it has become more vital to address dearth of facilities, structures and other challenges bedevilling the judiciary as more justices are appointed.

 

Topmost in his agenda for judiciary are solutions to technicalities in the administration of justice, delays in the trial of accused persons, the interpretation of laws passed by the National Assembly, financial independence of the judiciary, appointment of Supreme Court justices and the perceived existence of corruption in the judiciary.

 

The CJN also reiterated his commitment to achieving this planned agenda when he told a gathering of lawyers at the recently held Nigerian Bar Association’s Annual General Conference in Lagos that he would carry out series of reforms that would extricate the judiciary from executive wreckage.

 

“I am optimistic that the judiciary will soon be financially independent. I will also work towards achieving holistic independence for the judiciary in terms of everything,” he said.

 

 

Expectedly, Justice Mohammad’s predecessors have, at different times, initiated reforms aimed at repositioning the judiciary, especially making it the hope of the common man and not for the highest bidder as being portrayed in the last 20 years of Nigeria’s democracy.

 

 

Within these years, the third arm of government apparently lost its steam of adjudicating or churning out justice without fear or favour as it was traditionally known for.

 

 

Judges, who were to be above board, like Ceasar’s wife, were hounded relentlessly following allegations of bribery and corruption against some judges by the Federal Government, which had, over the years, brought the judiciary into disrepute.

 

 

Without doubt, the nation’s judiciary needs consolidation of various reforms by successive Chief Justices of Nigeria to enable it stand the test of time and not the old approaches in a new form that would be jettisoned after the tenure of the incumbent.

 

This is the time to consolidate reforms already put in place by Justice Muhammad’s successors and redeem the image of the judiciary if we must have confidence in the administration of justice system rather than new ones that would also be abandoned after the chief justice’s tenure.

 

 

However, it is essential to state that some reforms introduced by the immediate past CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, to tackle corruption in the judiciary should be pursued as some of them, including committee set up to monitor judges and corruption cases, be made one of the cardinal points of Justice Muhammad’s reforms.

 

 

The former chief justice, in the twilight of his tenure, inaugurated Anti-Corruption Cases Trial Monitoring Committee as part of judicial reforms to ensure that the judiciary would dispense justice promptly on corruption cases in compliance with the letters and spirit of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.

 

 

Judges handling such cases were mandated to compile data containing all relevant information on the cases and present them to the committee.

 

 

The committee, which was active during Onnoghen’s tenure, ensured that heads of courts must go against prosecution and defence counsel who indulged in the unethical practices of delaying and stalling criminal trials.

 

 

We understand Chief Justice Muhammad’s concern on plans to initiate fresh reforms, but we note with concern that this would not be in tandem with the spirit of continuity and various reforms already introduced by successive chief justices, particularly the anti-corruption committee.

 

 

So, jettisoning the on-going reforms would be counter-productive.

 

 

Justice Muhammad must strengthen the judiciary by leveraging on the various existing optimistic plans to rid the judiciary of bribery and corruption and restore confidence in the administration of justice system in the country.

 

 

We believe that to introduce new reforms at the moment when those in place had not rally been fully implemented would not portray the justice system in good light.

 

 

An ineffectual anti-corruption committee cannot tackle the issue of delayed justice in criminal matters often orchestrated by legal practitioners.

 

 

We also observe that corruption begins with appointment of judges. This must be the central focus of the CJN by ensuring that the judiciary’s highest organ, the National Judicial Council (NJC), live up to its constitutional responsibility.

 

 

The challenge of bribery and corruption on the Bench, which has assumed an alarming proportion, must be completely eradicated, using various mechanisms already initiated. This would empower the NJC to wield the big stick on erring members of the Bar and the Bench.

 

 

This is the way it should be. Justice Muhammad must see to the eradication of corruption on the Bench by giving teeth to various reforms introduced by his predecessors aimed at restoring the lost glory of the judiciary rather than introducing new ones.

 

 

The consolidations of these reforms, we believe, will, no doubt, bring back the good old days of traditional and constitutional judiciary.

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Editorial

Time to resolve minimum wage issue

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Time to resolve minimum wage issue

When on April 18 this year, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the new National Minimum Wage bill into law, many Nigerians had thought that a new lease of life had come for workers in the country. It is five months now that the bill was signed into law but workers are still waiting for its implementation.

 

The bill was passed by the National Assembly on March 18 and transmitted to the president on April 2. Since then, the whole country has waited for the implementation to take off, all to no avail. The inability of the government to implement the new wage structure emanates from disagreement with workers on the mode of implementation, the percentage increase for different classes of workers across the federation. It is instructive that some states across the country, such as Kano, Kaduna, Anambra, Lagos, among others, have consented to paying the new wage, while others are still looking at their finances to know whether they will pay or not.

 

But the signing of the bill into law in April made it mandatory for all tiers of public and private sectors of the economy to implement it. But last week, something strange happened. At a time Nigerians and the whole world thought that the issue of minimum wage has been rested, it emerged that negotiation between the government and workers on the matter had broken down.

 

This came to the fore when the organised labour, under the auspices of Trade Union Side (TUS) of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council (JNPSNC), said that it would not serve any fresh notice before embarking on strike over the new national minimum wage.

 

TUS Acting Chairman, Comrade Anchaver Simon, said it had become imperative to alert the general public that all efforts by the trade unions to persuade the government to implement the new wage had proved abortive. He said that the members of the group at the Federal and 36 States Public Services would down tools without further notice. The dispute now is about the consequential adjustment of the new wage to accommodate all categories of workers.

 

“The Consequential Adjustment Committee two weeks ago agreed that the proposal of the TUS that salary of officers on grade levels 07-14 should be increased by 29 per cent and those of officers on grade levels 15-17 by 24 per cent vis-a-vis that of government side of 10 per cent for officers on Grade levels 07-14, 5.5 per cent for those on Grade Level 15-17… but when the meeting reconvened on Monday 16th September the government officials brought a fresh proposal of 11 per cent pay rise for officers on Grade Levels 07-14 instead of its earlier position of 10 per cent and 6.5 per cent for those on grade levels 15-17 instead of the former 5.5 per cent.”

 

By that, TUS asserted that the government was not serious about paying workers a new National Minimum Wage and adequate consequential adjustment, but preferred taking the trade unions for a ride.

 

The union, which said that the Trade Union Congress of Nigerian (TUC) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had been briefed on the breakdown of negotiation, pleaded with Nigerians to beg the government to implement the minimum wage with the consequential adjustment arising from it. We recall that when Buhari signed the bill into law in April, his then aide on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang stated that the implementation of the new law starts immediately.

 

Buhari had late last year, while receiving the report of the Tripartite Committee on the Review of National Minimum Wage from the committee’s chairman, Ama Pepple, expressed his commitment to ensuring the implementation of the new Wage structure. We are worried that five months after the signing of the law and six months after the passing of the executive bill by the National Assembly, the country is still being threatened by an industrial action by workers over an issue many thought had been concluded. We find it hard to believe that the welfare of Nigerian workers is being toyed with by back and forth movements from the government. For a government that is much committed to the fight against corruption, payment of workers a reasonable wage should be a priority.

 

That is one way of discouraging corruption from the roots. We do not believe that the N30,000 minimum wage is even enough to take workers home. But since it has been agreed that that is what the government can honestly pay, we believe that all obstacles to its full implementation should be removed with dispatch. We are aware that the economy has not been favourable to the Nigerian workers for decades now. With the planned increase of the Value Added Tax from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent, it only means more pressure on the workers. We also know that the National Assembly members and the executive are not paid based on minimum wage. It is the same for governments at the state and local government levels. We do not therefore see why the issue has not been resolved by now.

 

It is important that the government takes the matter seriously and give it the urgent dispatch it deserves to avert an unnecessary strike action over a simple matter.

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Editorial

NFF, LMC must embrace best practices abroad

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NFF, LMC must embrace best practices abroad

The best yardstick to measure the standard of football in any country is the domestic league. No matter how good the national teams perform, the country’s league remains crucial to judge the standard of the game. League requires so much planning over a period of time to get things right in all aspects. There should be a good template for the operations of the league and it is expected that the officials should be focused in the running of the affairs of the league.

After the continental exploits of Enyimba of Aba in 2003 and 2004, so much was expected from the league but rather than improvement, the country’s clubs have been performing poorly in Africa. This term, continental football competitions are still in early stages and already, two representatives – Kano Pillars and Niger Tornadoes of Minna – have crashed out of CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup respectively. Pillars lost 4-3 on aggregates to Asante Kotoko of Ghana. Pillars won 3-2 in Nigeria and lost 2-0 in Ghana.

Niger Tornadoes, however, lost 2-1 in Nigeria to Santoba and so the impressive 3-3 draw recorded away was not enough to earn them qualification ticket.

Also competing in the CAF Champions League, Enyimba drew 0-0 at home against Al Hilal of Sudan in their last game. The return leg slated for this week is dicey and so Enyimba must score and avoid a defeat to scale through. A score draw could be good enough while a win will be perfect. This won’t be easy in an away fixture.

Also last week, AS Pelican of Gabon defeated Rangers 2-1 and will be coming to Nigeria this Sunday for second leg. It is another tough call because the Gabonese must not score in Nigeria and Rangers will have to score at least three goals to be comfortable. A 1-0 victory can be enough but is very dicey.

As if these were not enough, the country’s CHAN team seeking a place in the home-based players’ Africa Nations Cup lost 4-1 to Togo last Sunday. This is too embarrassing. Any assemblage of players from the league should not be disgraced like that from any part of Africa and to make matters worse, it was Togo. The second leg result is not the issue but how the team conceded four goals with three coming in the last 15 minutes. It is bad enough that the country is yet to win the tournament but the 4-1 defeat was a huge blow.

How did our football degenerate to this level? We make bold to say the lack of planning in the entire system is a major bane. It is important to further evaluate the operations of the League Management Company (LMC). We were told the country’s league is now fashioned after that of England, the Premier League. That was the excuse given for the abridged league staged last season but somehow the EPL has started since August 10 and the Nigeria Football Professional League (NFPL) is yet to start. There is no way the inactivity will not affect the performances of the players.

Sad enough, there is no official reason for the delay and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has also been quiet. It is a shame that the country’s administrators fail to realise that there are decisions and actions that affect the others especially the actors who are working hard to make their career better. Obviously, we cannot compare a friendly match with a competitive one and so the players competing at club and national team levels are not match fit. The delay in league kick off could be due to financial reasons since there is no sponsor for the league. We, however, believe if sponsors see improvement in the general operations of the league, they will embrace it. The problem of putting the league on television should be resolved no matter the amount this will cost because that could also facilitate sponsorship. Most of the pitches approved by the LMC are not good enough. This also affects the results the teams are posting at continental level. The welfare of these players are also paramount and not all the clubs are paying well or paying when the time is due. Some of the players are being owed salaries while their working conditions are so poor. We believe these are salient issues the LMC and even the NFF should monitor to ensure we get it right.

The rot in the league informed the poor results of clubs and national team on the continent. Eagles coach Gernot Rohr has refused to invite home-based players to the team because they are idle. It was learnt that the kick-off date for the league was September 22 but that did not happen and there was no statement from the LMC or the NFF. Nobody knows when exactly the league season will start.

We call on the football authorities to bring the league back on television and ensure the domestic season follow the best practices in Europe especially England, which we are told the NPFL is modelled after. The improvement of the league will have a great effect on the standard of the game in the country.       

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Editorial

Merger, scrapping of redundant parastatals

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Merger, scrapping of redundant parastatals

Last week, the upper chamber of the National Assembly dropped a hint 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 annual 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 they perform overlapping functions 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 overbloated bureaucracy that has forced the Federal Government not just into deficit budgeting, but maintaining a prodigal balance sheet. For many decades, the Federal Government has continued to allocate 70% of its budget to recurrent expenditure and 30% 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 prune down 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 the 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 land border impasse

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The land border impasse

W

hen everyone thought the end was near, the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), dashed the hope of many Nigerians last week 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.

 

 

Ironically, while attention is usually given more to the South-West end of the channel, past reports had revealed that more criminal elements actually move freely into the country from land borders around the northern part of the country.

 

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.

 

 

This again made it convincing that the Federal Government never took some other important routines into consideration while taking the decision.

 

 

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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