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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

NASS, constituency projects and ‘wasted’ N1trn

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NASS, constituency projects and ‘wasted’ N1trn

President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, stirred the hornet’s nest when he said that Nigeria has wasted N1 trillion in the past 10 years on constituency projects.

Constituency project is a unique package for members of the National Assembly to reach their constituents directly through popular projects. Such may include rural electricity, water, community halls and other sundry projects, which originally were to enable the lawmakers connect to their communities.

But, according to Buhari, the amount spent by the Federal Government on these projects has not impacted on the lives and welfare of ordinary citizens.

The president spoke at a national summit on “Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service,” in Abuja.

Buhari had urged the National Assembly to fast-track the passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill and the judiciary to embrace and support the creation of Special Crimes Court.

“It is on record that in the past 10 years, N1 trillion has been appropriated for constituency projects. Yet, the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen.

“The first phase report of tracking these projects by ICPC confirms our worst fears that people at the grassroots have not benefited in terms commensurate with the huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since inception,” the president said.

Expectedly, the president’s comment attracted a sharp rebuke from lawmakers, to whom the arrow of the president’s attack was directed.

Caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the Senate rejected the president’s claim. Rather, they asked Buhari to ask his ministers and heads of agencies to explain what happened to the money spent on the projects.

Leader of the group, Enyinnaya Abaribe, stated that constituency projects were domiciled with the executive, saying that “if he has not seen anything, he should ask his ministers and the head of agencies.”

Similarly, the House of Representatives accused the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) of misleading the president with their statistics.

The House Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, on a point of order, argued that the said figures were incorrect and breached his privileges as a member of the National Assembly.

He said that the figures budgeted annually were not matched with the released funds.

“Last year, there was release of about only 40 per cent and we are not sure if releases will be up to 50 per cent this year,” he noted.

Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, said the matter affected the collective privileges of members of the whole House and may yield a bad consequence. “I am concerned over the unintended consequences out of this, which is to put people’s well-being at risk,” the speaker said.

He said there was the need for government to differentiate between monies budgeted and monies released.

We strongly believe that the technicalities of the execution of such projects are known between the executive and the lawmakers. We are not party to the intricacies that are woven around the proposal, execution and actual visibilities of the projects. But we know that for long, the issue of constituency projects have been a recurring one between the executive arm of government and the lawmakers. It was previously a subject of debate how it should be executed, if it should be part of the lawmakers’ entitlement and other arguments surrounding it.

Although the lawmakers may dispute Buhari’s claims as they have done, we have no doubt that a humongous sum has gone into the projects, across the country. What is in doubt as the president pointed out is whether such expenditures have had a bearing on the welfare of the people or not. We strongly believe that judging from the sum mentioned, there is little or nothing to show for such appropriation.

We know for a fact that the sundry projects called constituency projects are small projects, which individuals and communities actually undertake at local levels without assigning billions of naira to such. We also know that in some cases, like water and electrification projects, most of such constituency projects are only objects of showmanship, which stop working as soon as the last sets of seats and canopies are taken away from the inauguration venue.

We are fully convinced that more questions should be asked by Buhari from those who computed the figures for him and those whom such projects were given. There is a strong need to know where the money went and how much was actually expended on such projects.

We say so because we believe that N1 trillion is such a huge fund that cannot be allowed to just vanish untraceably. In a country with roughly N10 trillion annual budget, we are talking of 10 per cent of the annual budget going into freebies. That amount could be used in roads construction and the provision of other infrastructure that the country is in dire need of. We are not aware that Nigeria has constructed a N1 trillion road yet. And the country might not need to do such so soon.

We therefore believe that both the president and the lawmakers need to further look deeper and discover the actual sums that have been expended on such projects. That would, at least, let Nigerians know how much the country is sinking into such projects and whether or not there is need for the continuation of such an expensive voyage into ego trips.

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Editorial

Buhari’s request for $29.9bn loan

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Buhari’s request for $29.9bn loan

President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, returned to the Senate for the approval of his request to borrow about $29.9 billion for development projects.

The president had submitted the bill to the 8th session of the National Assembly led by former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who refused to approve it.

Many months later, Buhari, last Thursday, returned the bill to the Senate for approval. He bemoaned the attitude of the 8th Assembly, inferring that the action of the previous Senate delayed him in the implementation of key projects mapped out to be executed with the loan facility.

In a letter dated November 26, 2019 and read on the floor of the Upper Chamber by the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, Buhari noted that the 8th National Assembly approved only a part of the external borrowing request forwarded to it in September 2016.

He regretted that the action of the then National Assembly stalled the Federal Government’s implementation of critical projects spanning across mining, power, health, agricultural, water and education sectors.

The president noted that the request was in pursuant to Sections 21 and 27 of the Debt Management Office (Establishment) Act.

He said: “Specifically, the Senate is invited to note that: While I had transmitted the 2016-2018 External Borrowing Plan to the Eighth National Assembly in September 2016, this plan was not approved in its entirety by the legislature; only the Federal Government’s Emergency projects for the North-East, (Four states’ projects and one China Exim Bank Assisted Railway Modernisation Projects for Lagos–Ibadan segment) were approved, out of a total of 39 projects.

“The outstanding projects in the plan that were not approved by the legislature are, nevertheless, critical to the delivery of government’s policies and programmes relating to power, mining, road, agriculture, health, water and educational sectors.”

Since he resubmitted the letter, it has attracted varied interest from the public. While some believe that it was the right decision, many are worried that Nigeria might be slipping into another era of debt overhang, which it exited during the era of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), for instance, raised an alarm on Sunday that Nigeria’s debt profile was rising astronomically to a dangerous level. LCCI said that between 2015 and 2019, Nigeria’s debt profile increased by N13.1 trillion from N12.6 trillion in 2015 to N25.7 trillion in 2019.

The chamber, which said that it was about a 104 per cent increase, warned that the request of new $29.9 billion loan from the World Bank was troubling, considering the fragile growth of the country’s gross domestic product and low revenue earning by government.

LCCI Director General, Muda Yusuf, said that members of the organised private sector were concerned with the state of the country’s growing debt profile and government’s request for a new $29.9 billion loan.

We are also worried by the huge amount government intends to borrow. We are not worried just by the huge amount, but also by the proper utilisation of the loan. It is on record that Nigeria has borrowed money several times from external creditors without channelling the money to appropriate usage. Thus, the country ended up with huge loans without commensurate projects attached to them.

We know for a fact that Nigeria has a parlous state of infrastructure, which goes back to several years of poor governance. We also acknowledge that there is the need to speed up some infrastructural developments across the country. We note that the Buhari government is focused on this and other ways of making the country more viable for investments and offer meaningful lives to Nigerians.

But we cannot forget in haste the yoke huge debts imposed on Nigeria before Obasanjo achieved the write-off of some loans by the World Bank and Paris Club. But since then, Nigeria has been borrowing again. Yet, across the country, public infrastructure remained dilapidated, with little or nothing to show for the loans or accruals from oil sales.

Currently, the Buhari government has expanded the nation’s revenue base through massive taxation, recoveries from looted funds, loans from China and similar ones. Still, the country wants to borrow another $29.9 billion at this time.

While we are not opposed to borrowing, which is an essential part of development, we are worried that the debts are piling up and would even be more if the request, as expected, is approved by the Senate.

We then ask: What is the method of repayment? For how long is Nigeria going to repay such debts? What are the implications for the future generations and the nation’s long term economic plans?

We ask those questions because we are aware that government is already spending a large chunk of the nation’s budget on debt servicing. In the 2020 budget, estimated at N10.33 trillion, Nigeria will spend almost a quarter to service debts.

That is why we believe that the Federal Government should take it easy with external borrowing. We support the regeneration of infrastructure, but we believe that government should apply discretion in borrowing massively. If not for anything, we need to prevent using half of the nation’s budget to service debts. Where it becomes extremely necessary to borrow, the monies must be utilised judiciously for the sake of the future of the country.

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Editorial

Dwindling fortunes of Nigeria’s electoral process

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Dwindling fortunes of Nigeria’s electoral process

N

igeria has a chequered electoral history. Of the 10 general elections the nation had conducted since independence – 1964/1965, 1979, 1983, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 – only that of 2015 could be said to have met acceptable standards.

 

 

The 2015 elections, which saw the defeat of an incumbent president and a ruling party for the first time in Nigeria’s political history was a sharp departure from what obtained in the past. This was justified by commendations the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) received after the polls from both local and foreign observers.

 

 

For instance, observer teams from the African Union (AU), European Union (EU) and the Commonwealth, among several other foreign and local election monitoring groups, gave the electoral commission, then under the leadership of Prof. Attahiru Jega, a pass mark for its impartial handling of the polls. The observer groups were unanimous that the elections were peaceful and transparent.

 

 

Though many saw the lapses of polls before then as part of the learning process, recent developments in the polity have shown that rather than build on the gains of the 2015 polls, the fortunes of Nigeria’s electoral process is on the decline.

 

 

The February/March 2019 general election, which should have been a veritable opportunity for the electoral umpire, political parties and other relevant stakeholders to sustain the tempo, no doubt, fell short of expectation. Most contenders for the various electoral offices in that elections ended up in courts over claims of alleged irregularities that characterised the polls.

 

 

While it was thumbs down for the 2019 polls, the recent off-season governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states have been described by both local and foreign observers as one that cast a harsh light on patterns of violence, corruption and outright criminality that have characterised Nigeria’s political system.

 

 

The pre and post-election violence, which trailed the November 16 polls in both states, according to many, will drive Nigeria’s electoral process to the brink if left unchecked. Not only that several lives were lost, property worth millions of naira destroyed in the course of the elections.

 

 

No doubt, the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC would not be solely blamed for the dwindling fortunes in the country’s electoral process as desperation among the political class is a major contributor. The stake seems to have been raised as elections have become do-or-die.   

 

 

In the Kogi and Bayelsa elections, politicians and their loyalists, thugs inclusive, had a field day, snatching and stuffing ballot boxes; intimidating electoral officials; killing and maiming perceived opponents. Sadly, at the end of the exercise, results were declared and winners emerged despite clear irregularities. This, perhaps, explained bashings for the electoral commission as well as calls for outright cancellation of the polls.

 

 

The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, for instance, called for the total cancellation of Kogi State election as it represents a major dent to Nigeria’s democracy. Convener of the group, comprising about 400 civil rights organisations, Clement Nwankwo, warned that forthcoming elections in the country would be characterized by bloodbath if the outcome of the Kogi poll is allowed to stand.

 

Similarly, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) described the governorship election in Kogi State as falling below minimum standard of a credible election.

 

 

A report of the NBA’s Election Working Group (EWG) led by its Chairman, Afam Osigwe, read in part: “The credibility of the entire process was put in issue by the overwhelming incidents of harassment and intimidation of voters and electoral officials, destruction of electoral materials, snatching of ballot boxes and votes and the killings of persons.

 

 

“In the light of large scale acts of violence, disruptions of the electoral process, snatching of electoral materials by armed persons some of whom were dressed in police uniform, coupled with sporadic gunshots that scared voters away from voting centres, as observed by the NBA EWG, the elections in Kogi State failed to meet the minimum standards of a credible election.”

 

 

It is against this worrisome trend that we join other well-meaning Nigerians and even friends of the nation, who have continued to call for fundamental reforms to the Nigeria’s electoral process in order to address the systemic failure noticed during the 2019 elections as well as the recent Kogi and Bayelsa governorship polls.

 

 

But, such reforms, we must emphasize, require political leadership that is dedicated to the rights of Nigerian citizens, and an inclusive process of national dialogue, involving state institutions, parties, civil societies and the media.

 

 

We reiterate the need for political leadership because 12 years after the Justice Mohammed Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee submitted its report and two years the Senator Ken Nnamani-led Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee submitted its recommendations to the present administration, their respective recommendations are yet to be implemented.

 

 

It is not enough to advise the main opposition party and others that were not satisfied with the results of governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states to seek redress in court like President Muhammadu Buhari did.

 

 

The urgent need for electoral reform to be undertaken is to allow time for debate, legislative changes and implementation well in advance of the next elections, so that citizens’ faith in in the power and possibility of credible elections and not the power of the guns would be rekindled.

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Editorial

NFF, Rohr feud not good for football growth

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NFF, Rohr feud not good for football growth

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has witnessed so many crises in the past years and in most cases, the beautiful game suffers for it. The imbroglio between NFF President Amaju Pinnick and a Jos-based politician, Chris Giwa, was a big setback to the game. We recall that rather than focus on the development of the game at the time, the federation was busy and concentrated on the leadership battle with Giwa. It is on record that the Eagles failed to book a ticket to the African Cup of Nations three times within five years not due to lack of talents but largely because of administrative problems in the federation between 2013 and 2017.

We also recall vividly that the long list of court cases involving the top chieftains of the football body have been a big setback to the progress of the game in the country.

And so the ongoing feud between the NFF and the Eagles Manager, Gernot Rohr, is sad and rather unfortunate. This is coming at a time the senior national team seems to be finding its rhythm at all fronts. The Eagles were held to a 2-2 draw by Ukraine in an international friendly away while highly rated Brazil, also forced Eagles to a 1-1 draw in another Grade A friendly.

And in the qualifiers for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, Nigeria defeated Benin 2-1 in Uyo and followed up with an emphatic 4-2 away win against Lesotho. Young players like Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze, Joe Aribo, Samuel Kalu and Alex Iwobi have shown so much promise to give hope of a better tomorrow for the team.

We believe another golden generation is in the making as most of the players in the current team could still be together for another eight years to prosecute two World Cups and four AFCON tournaments.

Rohr’s contract expires next June and his relationship with the NFF has broken down. In recent interviews, the coach came out to confess that the federation owes him salaries while his players and staff are being owed bonuses and allowances.

In a swift reaction, the federation through the Technical Director of the body, Bitrus Bewarang, accused the handler of breach of contract.

Bewarang, an assistant to Clemens Westerhof when the Super Eagles qualified for their first-ever FIFA World Cup and won the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia in 1994, cited Clause N of the Code of Conduct for coaches, which states that “coaches must not by their actions or inaction cause NFF or the Federal Government of Nigeria any harm, reputational damage or embarrassment, nor do anything directly or indirectly to undermine their contract with the NFF.”

Less than 24 hours after, Rohr again granted another interview stating that many other countries were already showing interest in his services.

“I can sign for another team by January 1st and will be free to leave by July 1st. I wish to continue but if the situation remains the same, I will consider my options,” Rohr said.

We frown at the fact that the NFF was accusing the coach of speaking to the public. The NFF is also guilty of same offence. The federation did not call Rohr to privately warn him but opted to talk to him through the media. The NFF erred by going to the press in an attempt to correct Rohr. The contract terms should not be a secret document in the first place. In some developed countries, the contract papers won’t be a secret. We recall that when Thijs Ligbrets signed for Nigeria years back, his contract papers were given to journalists during his unveiling.

We make bold to say there are better ways to resolve contractual issues than the pages of newspapers. The NFF should learn to follow the best practices all over the world. With good intention, there is no need to hide anything about the contract of a national team handler. It took newsmen time to confirm the salaries of Mr. Rohr but with just a click of the button, the salaries of all national teams and club coaches all over the world can be confirmed through the Internet.

Like many other Nigerians, we are concerned about the results being posted by the Eagles as we hope the current impasse will not affect the current form of the Super Eagles.

The NFF says the body is only owing a differential of Rohr’s old and new salaries but the coach said it was $100,000. It’s like beating a kid and insisting he should not cry. Certainly, this is not looking good for Rohr and the federation.

No doubt, this issue has escalated because the NFF was not mature in the handling of the development. We expect Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, to wade into the crisis just as we expect that the federation should start looking for options in case Rohr chooses to quit.

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Editorial

Dealing with sexual offenders in varsities

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Dealing with sexual offenders in varsities

 

T

he termination of appointment of eight lecturers of the Akwa Ibom State University over sexual harassment has brought to the fore the endemic nature of the menace.

 

 

Vice Chancellor of the institution, Prof. Eno Ibanga, last week, said that the lecturers were sacked for sexually harassing some female students and for extortion between 2015/2016 academic year and 2018/2019 session.

 

 

“The appointment of eight lecturers has been terminated by the university bordering on sexual harassment and extortion.

“As we speak, a notorious one is on ground and the person will not go scot free.

 

“Some of the cases are still in court. I swore to run an institution that can stand the test of time. We are doing the best to bring sanity to the institution,” Ibanga said.

 

 

We commend the university for this disciplinary action. Prof. Ibanga and the management of this institution should also ensure that the lecturers are duly prosecuted. It is not enough to terminate their appointment; they must face the wrath of the law. This will, no doubt, instil sanity among lecturers and students.

 

 

 

Just recently, the BBC did an expose on lecturers of the University of Lagos, Dr. Boniface Igbeneghu and Dr. Samuel Ladipo.

 

 

In one of the viral videos released by the broadcasting organisation following its investigation into sex escapades in the university, Dr. Igbeneghu was seen propositioning a BBC undercover reporter who posed as a 17-year-old admission seeker. He had invited the teenager to his office a number of times before delving into discussions of a very sexual nature with her.

 

The lecturer also made reference to the school’s guest house which was cynically christened ‘cold room’ where lecturers take young students for activities of a sexual nature. “Do you want me to kiss you? Switch off the light, lock the door and I will kiss you for a minute. That’s what they do in cold room,” Igbeneghu told the young lady.

 

The school authorities have since suspended both lecturers pending the outcome of investigation. The case of Igbeneghu is even more pathetic because he is a pastor of a well-known church. The church has also relieved him of his pastoral duties in the meantime. These are commendable steps.

 

However, it is worrisome that lecturers who are supposed to nurture and protect young and vulnerable female students have turned round to be their worst nightmares and predators. It is clear from the videos that what has come to the fore is just a tip of the iceberg. It will not be exaggerating to surmise that many lecturers are active participants in the cold room business.

 

 

It will also be stating the obvious to note that many students have had to spend extra years for refusal to accede to the amorous advances of lecturers in the past. Yet these are men who – by virtue of their high education – should know better. Men who should be able to exercise control and restraint, after all education is not just about learning; it is also about character. Unfortunately the latter aspect is seriously diminished in the conduct of these purveyors of sex-for-grades in universities.

 

 

 

There’s no doubt that some lazy female students deliberately go out of their way to entrap lecturers to award them unmerited grades, and this was a talking point in the latest BBC investigation. The case of Prof. Richard Akindele at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) underlines this aspect of the problem. The student not only sent suggestive WhatsApp chats to Prof. Akindele, she went as far as sending photos of her private part to the lecturer who has since been sacked from the employ of OAU after a panel found him guilty. He was equally found guilty by a court of law and jailed two years.

 

 

While we believe that such students should be held to account in some way, we however insist that the balance of the power relations between lecturers and students is so heavily tipped in favour of the former such that a much higher sense of responsibility is naturally expected from them. Unfortunately, some of these people have failed this test abysmally. It is bothersome that lecturers who should know the overall implication of lowering academic standards – and sex-for-grades is one manifestation – are caught in this shameless conundrum.

 

 

We insist that the law must be followed to its logical conclusion in the UNILAG cases. Igbenegbu and Ladipo should not be shielded from having their day in court. We also emphasise the need for managements of higher institutions to do more to fish out bad eggs among their teaching staff and exclude them from the system.

 

 

In this regard we want to commend the management of the University of Ibadan for inaugurating a committee in the aftermath of the BBC investigation to probe claims of sexual misconduct in the institution.

We recommend this course of action to all higher institutions.

 

 

We also call on the Senate to expedite action on the Bill for an Act to Prevent, Prohibit and Redress Sexual Harassment of Students in Tertiary Educational Institutions and for other matters connected therewith 2019.

 

 

The bill proposes maximum of 14 years’ jail term, with a minimum of 5 years, without an option of fine for any educator who commits sexual offences in tertiary institutions.

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Editorial

Hate Speech Bill must not be allowed to stand

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Hate Speech Bill must not be allowed to stand

The Hate Speech Bill has continued to elicit reactions from Nigerians who feel that the bill is nothing but a surreptitious attempt to stifle free speech in the country. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Sabi Abdullahi Aliyu, has continued to insist on the need for the bill and that he was not backing down in spite of backlash from Nigerians.

Senator Aliyu, the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, said that he first initiated the bill during the lifespan of the 8th National Assembly but that he did not take action on it afterwards but that since he returned to the 9th Senate he believes it is time the bill was passed. Aliyu, who was the spokesman of the 8th Senate, insists that there is a direct link between certain violent actions in the country and hate speech. He said inciting utterances by people tend to exacerbate religious and ethnic fault lines in the country. He maintained that many people have lost their lives due to the activities of hate speech purveyors.

“If anything, I have seen studies conducted where the issues of violence were catalogued, particularly electoral violence and hate speech featured prominently as a major cause. This clearly shows that if we allow hate speech to fester, it means we won’t get good governance and it would also be difficult to fight corruption,” Aliyu stated.

It is interesting that Aliyu mentioned corruption in the forgoing quote, the question therefore is shouldn’t that monster that has been inimical to the country’s development in the past decades not be of more concern to the senator? Why is he not promoting a bill to criminalise corruption with death by hanging as penalty?

Quite clearly, Aliyu and many members of the National Assembly will not criminalise corruption let alone recommend death because they will likely face the hangman themselves if they dare go that route. Just recently President Muhammadu Buhari made a disclosure to the effect that N1trillion was frittered away by National Assembly (NASS) members in the last 10 years. Within hours of the announcement by the president, NASS members pushed back, denying the claim. Clearly these people do not want their activities questioned by Nigerians, so they would come up with all sorts of trick to achieve that aim.

It is in this light that the Hate Speech Bill is perceived by many. It is viewed as an attempt to muzzle citizens from exercising their right to free speech. Nigerians, having been traumatised and pauperized by successive governments, have become more acerbic in their criticisms. Apparently, politicians are finding it difficult coping with the very damning comments of Nigerians and they are looking for ways to curtail that freedom.

The attempt by Aliyu to mask his bill under national interest will not fly, certainly not at this time when government has demonstrated an aversion to criticisms. The prevailing atmosphere has been one where sundry activists who spoke out against certain policies and actions have been thrown into custody with entreaties that such people be released largely unheeded by government.

Journalists have been routinely detained by governments at various levels for speaking out against certain ills in society. Omoyele Sowore has been in detention for months now despite a competent court granting him bail and satisfying the bail conditions. His offence was that he called for revolution to protest the direction the country is headed under Buhari’s administration.

So, Nigerians are sceptical about the true intention of the bill and they have earned the right to be suspicious of Aliyu and his Greek gift. The prescription of death by hanging for the offence shocked Nigerians and it would have been laughable if not for the seriousness of the matter. Perhaps it is in response to this outrage that the sponsors are now trying to remove the death penalty from the cards. But they have tipped their hands already; Nigerians know that the true motivation of the bill is to rob them of their inalienable rights to freedom of speech.

We want to state without equivocation that this bill should be thrown out. It should not be allowed to see the light of day. Thankfully, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who has shown himself to be one of those on the side of the people, has underlined his opposition to the bill.

“…What I can assure you is that this Senate cannot be a party to removing the rights of Nigerians from whatever is enshrined in the constitution. The constitution says under Section 39 that we have rights, including freedom of speech. Freedom to hold and espouse ideas. I can assure you that the 9th Senate will not breach your rights. I do not think that Nigerians who fought to bring us to the point where we are and bring us to democratic government will willingly give it away and make us go back to the dark days of suppression,” Abaribe assured Nigerians.

We enjoin Abaribe and others not to relent in their fight against this obnoxious bill and such other actions designed to further muzzle dissent and free speech.

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Editorial

Despicable failure of police during Kogi elections

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Despicable failure of police during Kogi elections

T

he breakdown of law and order, violence, ballot box snatching and killings which characterized the governorship and senatorial elections in Kogi State on Saturday 16th November not only undermined the credibility of the election, but made a mockery of the avowed preparation and competence of the Nigeria Police Force.

 

A situation where at least six persons lost their lives during the elections, excluding the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Woman Leader in Ochadamu Ward in Ofu Local Government Area of the state, Salome Abuh, who was incinerated in her house thereafter in most gruesome circumstances in the hands of political thugs, was equally barbaric and an indication of the level of degeneracy of Nigeria’s electoral process.

 

 

If the attack on Mrs. Abuh was shocking, her horrific manner of murder in the hands of thugs who allegedly surrounded her house, barricaded all possible escape channels before setting the place ablaze and rained volley of gunshots into the air while she agonised to death was also gory and savagely cruel.

 

 

The entire horrific incidents sounded curious and bizarre, especially as the rampaging armed party thugs cruised around in Hilux patrol vehicles unchallenged by security operatives and practically turned the state upside down, smashing ballot boxes and, in a particular case, with connivance of a police helicopter.

 

 

Even more puzzling was the fact that this crass lawlessness occurred in an election where the Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, had earlier deployed about 35,200 policemen, including a deputy inspector-general, assistant inspector-general of police, and six police commissioners, besides thousands of operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other security agencies.

 

Prior to the election, the police high command had vowed that its security deployments into Kogi and Bayelsa states “shall involve conventional police personnel who will be complemented by special units from the Police Mobile Force, Special Protection Unit, Counterterrorism Unit, Special Forces, Intelligence Response Unit, Special Tactical Squad, Mounted Troops and K9 Section, Air Wing and the Marine detachment.”

 

The police had similarly promised to effectively monitor identified flashpoints and utilise intelligent gathering to deal with plans of some aspirants who were organising their armies.

 

The Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Operations), Abdulmajid Ali, who represented the IGP, had expressed police readiness for free, fair and credible polls in the state and promised impartiality, bearing its cognition of the peculiarity of Kogi as a synonym for electoral violence. It was, therefore, snoopy that the same police failed woefully to match their words with action by providing level playing ground for all candidates and remain impartial.

 

It was, therefore, ludicrous that while this crass brigandage permeated the entire elections, the IGP’s excuses were that the crimes were the handiwork of fake policemen and the helicopter merely scared away criminals. The puzzle bothering the minds of Nigerians are while these so-called fake policemen undermined our democracy, what was the reaction of the over 32,000 genuine policemen the IGP deployed to the field? 

 

Given the fact that the constitutional duties of his officers and men include the prevention of crimes, detecting and arresting criminals and prosecuting them, how many of such were nabbed during the elections? Did the so-called counterfeit policemen outnumber the genuine policemen? If the answers to these questions were in the negative, then the police can hardly wriggle out of allegations of complicity or criminal negligence.

 

Sadly, from the build up to the elections, the danger signals were widespread, especially with the intimidation of the opposition as illustrated in the attack by hooded armed men on Suitorial Hotel, Lokoja, which housed the Oyo State Governor, Mr. Seyi Makinde, leader of the PDP campaign committee in the polls and other notable leaders of the party.

 

Earlier, in their share bravado, not even the presence of the IGP and that of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, at a pre-election peace gathering of the political parties could scare the hoodlums as they attacked the venue of the meeting. As a prelude to this, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Natasha Akpoti, has suffered the same fate in the hands of the thugs, in what was described as a reprisal.

 

It stood logic on its head to say that the same police officers and men who, in concert with the state police command, were able to ward off the attack on Makinde and his men, buckled and relaxed on election day. Equally benumbing was the ubiquitous presence of some vigilante groups and women who sang “war songs” before the elections.

 

Worse still was Police Service Commission’s quick commendation of the officers and operatives involved in the election for their performance, despite the wide condemnation of the complacency of the police by the civil society groups who monitored the elections.

 

We, however, commend the arrest of six suspects in connection with the murder of Mrs. Abuh and the orders of the president on the matter. But of greater importance is the need to investigate the complicity of security agencies in the elections because of its far-reaching implication on our election’s integrity.

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Editorial

Constituency projects of controversy

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Constituency projects of controversy

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resident Muhammadu Buhari, last week, stirred the hornet’s nest when he said that Nigeria has wasted N1 trillion in the past 10 years on constituency projects.

Constituency project is a unique package for members of the National Assembly to reach their constituents directly through popular projects. Such may include rural electricity, water, community halls and other sundry projects, which originally were to enable the lawmakers connect to their communities.

 

But, according to Buhari, the amount spent by the Federal Government on these projects has not impacted on the lives and welfare of ordinary citizens.

The president spoke at a national summit on “Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service,” in Abuja.

Buhari had urged the National Assembly to fast-track the passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill and the judiciary to embrace and support the creation of Special Crimes Court.

“It is on record that in the past 10 years, N1 trillion has been appropriated for constituency projects. Yet, the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen.

“The first phase report of tracking these projects by ICPC confirms our worst fears that people at the grassroots have not benefited in terms commensurate with the huge sums appropriated for constituency projects since inception,” the president said.

Expectedly, the president’s comment attracted a sharp rebuke from lawmakers, to whom the arrow of the president’s attack was directed.

 

 

Caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the Senate rejected the president’s claim. Rather, they asked Buhari to ask his ministers and heads of agencies to explain what happened to the money spent on the projects.

Leader of the group, Enyinnaya Abaribe, stated that constituency projects were domiciled with the executive, saying that “if he has not seen anything, he should ask his ministers and the head of agencies.”

Similarly, the House of Representatives accused the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) of misleading the president with their statistics.

 

 

The House Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, on a point of order, argued that the said figures were incorrect and breached his privileges as a member of the National Assembly.

He said that the figures budgeted annually were not matched with the released funds.

 

 

“Last year, there was release of about only 40 per cent and we are not sure if releases will be up to 50 per cent this year,” he noted.

Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, said the matter affected the collective privileges of members of the whole House and may yield a bad consequence. “I am concerned over the unintended consequences out of this, which is to put people’s well-being at risk,” the speaker said.

He said there was the need for government to differentiate between monies budgeted and monies released.

 

 

We strongly believe that the technicalities of the execution of such projects are known between the executive and the lawmakers. We are not party to the intricacies that are woven around the proposal, execution and actual visibilities of the projects. But we know that for long, the issue of constituency projects have been a recurring one between the executive arm of government and the lawmakers. It was previously a subject of debate how it should be executed, if it should be part of the lawmakers’ entitlement and other arguments surrounding it.

 

Although the lawmakers may dispute Buhari’s claims as they have done, we have no doubt that a humongous sum has gone into the projects, across the country. What is in doubt as the president pointed out is whether such expenditures have had a bearing on the welfare of the people or not. We strongly believe that judging from the sum mentioned, there is little or nothing to show for such appropriation.

 

 

We know for a fact that the sundry projects called constituency projects are small projects, which individuals and communities actually undertake at local levels without assigning billions of naira to such. We also know that in some cases, like water and electrification projects, most of such constituency projects are only objects of showmanship, which stop working as soon as the last sets of seats and canopies are taken away from the inauguration venue.

We are fully convinced that more questions should be asked by Buhari from those who computed the figures for him and those whom such projects were given. There is a strong need to know where the money went and how much was actually expended on such projects.

 

 

We say so because we believe that N1 trillion is such a huge fund that cannot be allowed to just vanish untraceably. In a country with roughly N10 trillion annual budget, we are talking of 10 per cent of the annual budget going into freebies. That amount could be used in roads construction and the provision of other infrastructure that the country is in dire need of. We are not aware that Nigeria has constructed a N1 trillion road yet. And the country might not need to do such so soon.

We therefore believe that both the president and the lawmakers need to further look deeper and discover the actual sums that have been expended on such projects. That would, at least, let Nigerians know how much the country is sinking into such projects and whether or not there is need for the continuation of such an expensive voyage into ego trips.

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Editorial

Sports Minister, NFF and state of Nigerian football

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Sports Minister, NFF and state of Nigerian football

The Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, is gradually trying to bring sanity into the sector. It was great to see the minister attend the final of a boxing tournament in Oworonsoki where he made bold his pledge to adopt an eight-year-old boxer, Sekinat Quadri. Dare saw the video of the young boxer on the social media and followed up by attending the competition and he gave out prizes to other boxers who excelled at the event.

This, is part of the Talent Hunt Programme of the minister which is targeted at grassroots. We commend the minister for this initiative and urge him to do much more by getting people to go round the six geo-political zones and bring out hidden talents for the future.

We acknowledge that the Sports Minister has been very vibrant on the social media. Dare was irked by the poor results recorded by the national teams in recent time. No doubt, the poor results recorded are very disturbing. The Falcons and the national U-23 team missed the tickets to be part of the Tokyo Olympic Games football event next year. The U-17 and U-20 national teams fumbled respectively at the FIFA World Cup this year. Nigeria also failed to qualify for the CHAN tournament meant for home-based players. Poor results were also recorded by the home-based team that took part in WAFU Cup. Sad enough, Coach Imama Amakapabo was the handler of three of these teams. He led the U-23 team to Olympics ouster, led the CHAN team to another ouster just as the CHAN team crumbled under his tutelage. We charge the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) not to entrust another national team on Amakapabo and he should proceed on refresher course abroad if he is to continue as one of the national coaches. After the string of bad results, we make bold to say that the former Rangers coach is no longer fit to be an under-study to Gernot Rohr in the Super Eagles.

The minister in a reaction to the string of poor runs also on his Twitter handle said: “Government will take appropriate steps and in a timely fashion to improve our football fortunes. Current outcomes offer the opportunity to review, re-strategize and develop a long term plan for football development. We will dust up great ideas already abandoned and implement…football needs a return to the basics of grassroots football, pristine sports. Nigerian football across the spectrum will benefit from this new outlook which will involve critical stakeholders. Government, mindful that Nigeria is a football nation will be bold in embracing best practices in modern football.”

The minister’s reaction was in order but we frown at the shock response of the NFF as the federation argued that Eagles are the best yardstick to measure standard of the game in the country. We vehemently disagree with the football body because the federation cannot lay claim to the growth of many, if not all the players. We are aware that the transition from the age-grade is not working and the feat of the players abroad informed their invitation to Eagles. Sadly, the real developmental teams are the ones recording poor results. The domestic league players and the younger generation of players are those the NFF should nurture and boost of their exploits. We urge the NFF to put its acts together to get things right in terms of results rather than engage the minister in war of words. The federation should take criticism in good faith.

We commend the current form of the Eagles in recent time. The Eagles played 2-2 draw away to Ukraine and also was forced to a 1-1 draw by Brazil in some of their recent friendlies. In the two matches played so far in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the Eagles came back from a goal down to beat Benin 2-1 and also were down 1-0 before beating Lesotho 4-2 in an away tie.

However, the exploits of the current Eagles is not in any way due to NFF’s administrative tenacity. We know that the respective clubs of the Eagles stars play a huge role in their development and not the NFF. Wilfred Ndidi, for example, has been very consistent with Leicester and this has improved his game in the national team. Joe Aribo was impressive in Scotland and now making impact in the team.

The domestic league needs help because there is no sponsor, it is not on television and the issue of hooligalism has to be completely put to rest. These issues should be the concern to the federation and energy should be channelled towards the development of the league so that the country’s continental teams will consistently post good results in Africa.

We also expect that efforts should be made to train the coaches and referees better while there should be a good plan to guarantee transition in the age grade national teams.

The NFF should avoid sentiments and face its duties across all aspects to make crazy football loving Nigerians happy.

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Editorial

Cost of governance and over-bloated FG’s agencies

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Cost of governance and over-bloated FG’s agencies

Recently, 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 stated 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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