The thick cloud of uncertainty and palpable fear that loomed large in our clime’s horrison last week, on account of the planned indefinite nationwide strike by Medical doctors, in all Public Health institutions, nationwide, has eventually given way for a temporary respite and has provided another opportunity for the Nigerian Federal government to do what is right.
Why so? The Nigeria Medical Association, (NMA) umbrella body of Doctors had, in agitation for improved remuneration for practitioners, threatened to shun all health institutions last month, but following pleas by concerned Nigerians shifted their action by 28 days, which expired this week.
However, before the strike, agents of the Federal government, in hurried dialogue with the NMA leadership, appealed for two more months, with the promise that on or before September 30, this year, the special salary scale for medical practitioners will come into force.
That assurance has come after about 11 years of failed negotiations with government which forced the NMA to conclude that a nationwide industrial action, would no doubt be the only language the Federal government might understand, but as a last resort.
Curiously, that language appears to have forced the Federal government to promise to do, in two months, what 11 years of agitation, negotiation, dialogue and civil appeals could not guarantee. Even more painful is the fact that when certain agreements are reached between the Federal government and unions their eventual implementation are unduly delayed, thus prompting yet another round of dialogue, agitations and frustrations.
Knowing this as fact, President of the NMA, Dr Prosperous Igboebi has, while calling off the planned strike, in acceptance of the two months grace demanded of it, by government, warned that if by September 30, this year, the Federal government failed to deliver on its promise, all medical doctors would have no need for dialogue with any one.
The Tide commends the NMA for the human face it has painted of its just struggle and the rare value it has attached to human lives, particularly, in demonstration of sympathy over the fate of the many sick in several public health institutions across the country. The body of doctors, has by that singular act of yielding to appeals by well-meaning Nigerians to give the Federal government another chance to do right, shown tremendous sense of patriotism, sacrifice and indeed humaneness which deserve both commendation and emulation by all other labour unions and stakeholders alike.
Intrinsically, that goodwill now places on government enormous burden and challenge to shed the toga of distrust often associated with it, by delivering on its promise to implement the agreements reached with the doctors, and in record time.
We say so because, judging by antecedents, not many are keen to add real value to agreements the Federal government reaches with operators of key sectors of the polity.
The other day, the Federal government set-up the Ledum Mitee Technical Committee on the Niger Delta and accepted reports of the body only to dump them in the dingy chambers, where, reports or agreements that must not be implemented are kept.
Yesterday, the same Federal government reached an agreement with the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) but refused to sign its own column of the agreement duly reached. It was only when ASUU embarked on a nationwide strike, which has almost crippled the functioning of the Ivory Tower that government hurriedly increased their salaries by 40 per cent.
Today, it is the case of doctors clamouring for improved remuneration for a disturbing 11 years, only for the same government to turn around and ask doctors to endure the pain for two more months.
Interestingly, while agitation for improved pay for medical doctors, University lecturers, classroom teachers, civil servants and even mass media practitioners take years of protest and threat of nationwide strike to actualise, it takes days to approve the jumbo salaries, and sometimes, unrealistic allowances of political office-holders.
These are why the Federal government must use the two months period now provided it, to prove to Nigerians that its abysmally low confidence rating has eventually given way for a positive rebirth.
Perhaps, it will also be most instructive to urge the Federal government to redefine its priorities because the implementation of President Yar’Adua’s seven-point Agenda still leaves more questions than the answers it promised to offer, and the Niger Delta question is one such.
Addressing Food Crisis In Nigeria
Nigeria joined the rest of the world in commemorating the United Nations World Food Day (WFD) on October 16, 2021, amid budding concerns of rising global hunger, and mounting evidence of the links between conflict, poverty and food insecurity. It is believed that this is the most widely celebrated event by the UN involving about 180 countries.
WFD was established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1945 and is acclaimed on 16th October of every year in over 180 countries to bolster global effective action to end hunger, malnutrition and poverty, and ensure that everyone at all times and place, has physical and economic access to nutritious food.
Collective action across many countries is what makes WFD one of the most observed days of the UN calendar. Hundreds of events and outreach activities bring together governments, businesses, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the media, and the public. They promote worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure healthy diets for all.
This event has taken a divergent theme every year to spotlight on areas that require action and offer a common objective. The 2021 theme is “Our Actions Are Our Future: Better Production, Better Nutrition, Better Environment, Better Life”, with the goal of actions to make sustainable and healthy diets affordable and available to all.
Over the years, the WFD observance in Nigeria has been a laudable event that highlights the government’s strategic support and assistance both in addressing emerging challenges and in promoting far-reaching interventions to guarantee food security in the nation. Yet, Nigeria’s food system is faced with severe challenges, making it hard to provide citizens with supportable, nutritious and safe food. Despite the unlimited agricultural resources, Nigeria is not a food-secure country.
The country has a bright future in terms of food security, and the potential for sufficient food is huge. However, in the past few years, it has been importing large quantities of food. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), between 1990 and 2011, Nigeria imported about N1.923 trillion worth of agricultural products annually. The value of food imported daily within the period was about N1billion while it exported a paltry N127.2 billion.
This has been somewhat attributed to the significant disruption of farming activities by the Covid-19 movement restrictions during the planting season and abnormal rainfall patterns leading to flooding of farmlands. The farmers/herders clashes and in recent times, banditry and kidnapping are additional threats to agricultural productivity. Banditry and kidnapping particularly are at an alarming rate in the North-West, the primary wheat cultivation region.
Borno, Bauchi, Yobe, Kano, Jigawa, and Zamfara States are the major wheat producers and these states are undergoing military operations in the fight against terrorists and bandits. These restrictions make it difficult for farmers to access their farms. The unfortunate events have led to a spike in food prices reflected in the food inflation rate of 22.7 per cent in April, according to the NBS.
Growing food is a responsibility of states, councils and the federal authorities to save the country from the brink of famine. They have to be committed to increased food production and refocus on security. This will create new opportunities to pique economic growth and prosperity. As part of activities to mark the day, the Rivers State Government unveiled plans to embark on an aggressive agricultural development across its 23 local government areas.
The 2021 WFD celebration in the state was held at the Rumuodomaya Farm in Obio/Akpor with the theme: “Safe Food Today For A Healthy Tomorrow.” Governor NyesomWike was lauded for establishing the Rivers State Cassava Processing Company in Afam, Oyigbo council area. The plant will process 45,000 metric tons of cassava tubers into 12,500 high-quality cassava flour for companies and provide over 3,000 jobs.
Also, the state-of-the-art automated abattoir under construction in Mgbuosimini, the proposed veterinary clinic and laboratory in Rumuodomaya, the Benue/Rivers rice initiative, the Covid-19 Action Recovery Economic Stimulus, and the Borikiri Jetty to boost deep sea fishing are other commendable initiatives by the Wike administration to boost agriculture in the state.
Agriculture must be considered as a business. Hence, the policy instrument should be focused on a government-enabled, private sector-led engagement as the main growth driver of the sector. Further, Nigerians have to be galvanised to take to agriculture. The Chancellor of Landmark University, Bishop David Oyedepo, is applauded for incentivising students who desire to study agriculture in the institution. This model deserves emulation.
Despite the avowals, Nigeria still relies on imports. It imports basic foods, including rice, wheat, frozen poultry products, palm oil, vegetable oil and fruits. According to data from the NBS, in the first quarter of 2021, Nigeria’s agricultural imports exceeded exports by N503 billion. This is risky. Soon, it may not be able to fund this consumption pattern again. A country that cannot feed its citizens is courting disaster, as hunger provokes anger.
Making 2022 Budget Work
In recent times, the Federal Government’s unrestrained penchant for domestic and foreign loans has been variously criticised as unhealthy for Nigeria’s economy. Many economic experts have particularly expressed worries over Nigeria’s rising debt profile especially debt service-to-revenue ratio as well as foreign exchange liquidity constraints. These worries were recently exacerbated by the resolve of the Federal Government to borrow N5.01 trillion to finance the 2022 proposed budget.
While presenting the 2022 Appropriation Bill of N16.39 trillion to the joint session of the National Assembly, penultimate Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari had said that the 2022 budget would be financed by borrowing to the tune of N5.01 trillion. The 2022 budget proposal contains capital expenditure of N4.89 trillion, a non-debt recurrent expenditure of N6.83 trillion, personnel cost of N4.11 trillion and debt service of N3.61 trillion.
The total federally distributable revenue is estimated at N12.72 trillion in 2022 while total revenue available to fund the 2022 budget is estimated at N10.13 trillion. This includes Grants and Aid of N63.38 billion, as well as the revenues of 63 Government-Owned Enterprises (GOEs). This shows that the 2022 budget has a deficit of about N6.25 trillion, approximately 3.39 per cent of GDP. This is slightly above the 3 per cent ceiling set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 (FRA). A budget deficit occurs when expenditure exceeds revenue.
While we agree with the President that the huge expenditure budget may be compelled by the need to overcome current security challenges and accelerate post-recession growth, we are concerned that the Federal Government’s resort to borrowing to finance the 2022 fiscal gaps is not good enough for the nation’s economy that is already suffocating under the huge burden of foreign loans.
We say this because Nigeria’s budget deficit has risen to N20.64 trillion. Data from the budget office, covering 2016 to 2020 show that more than N7.97 trillion was borrowed from foreign and domestic sources to fund the budget deficits. This, to us, is not healthy for our economy.
Although the President and some economic experts are quick to say that the debt level of the Federal Government is still within sustainable limits, and that the borrowings are tied to some specific critical development projects and programmes, we are worried that the continuous running of the nation’s economy on budget deficit is capable of mortgaging the future of the country.
It is, therefore, imperative that the Federal Government devises various means of improving the revenue profile of the country. While some of the revenue generating initiatives contained in the 2022 budget are commendable, a key focus area may be to explore avenues to diversify export revenue sources away from crude oil, which currently accounts for more than 80 per cent of total foreign exchange receipt.
Concerted and coordinated efforts are also required to improve the policy environment and address insecurity to boost domestic investment and attract foreign direct investments. The government also needs to ensure speedy ratification and strategic implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) to position Nigeria as a choice investment destination in Africa.
Meanwhile, it is expected that a robust implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) would promote investment in the oil and gas sector, stimulate economic growth and sustainability. Also important is the need to widen the nation’s tax net to accommodate more taxable Nigerians. Here, we recommend the resuscitation of toll gates on federal highways to shore up the revenue profile of the government.
It is also incumbent upon the three tiers of government to be guided by the recent revelations by the Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Muhammad Nami, that despite having 41 million taxpayers in the country, compared to South Africa’s four million taxpayers, Nigeria earned far lower than what South Africa generated from Personal Income Tax.
The FIRS boss said, “Our total taxpayers today are in the region of about 41 million people and the total Personal Income Tax paid last year was less than N1trillion by 40 million people. If you also compare that with South Africa where they have a total population of about 60 million people, with just four million taxpayers, the total Personal Income Tax paid in South Africa last year is about N13trillion. You can now see that these things are not adding up.
“The number of billionaires in Lagos alone are more than the number of billionaires in the whole of South Africa but yet, what we generated as Personal Income Tax by Lagos State Government is just less than N400billion”. Nami’s revelation might just be another eye opener for the government at all levels that Nigeria has enough wealth to finance its budget and sustain its economy without borrowing.
With the nation’s over-reliance on crude oil income to fund the budget, the government may be stretching itself too far in producing enough revenues to fund essential projects. And with the growing borrowing, the future of the country is dreary. We need more investments in the non-oil sectors of the economy.
For the economy to progress and achieve greater significant growth, a reasonable level of budget execution is necessary. But if the government continues to violate existing debt laws, the 2022 budget may go through the disastrous fate of previous budgets. Also, there is a need for migration of businesses from the informal to the formal sector of the economy for easy inclusion in the tax net.
Beyond this, the government must fight against insecurity throughout the country, which hinders local and foreign investment and stabilise the exchange rate policy regime. Let it reduce unemployment and inflation rates. It should spend less on consumption and more on productive sectors of the economy.
That Military Invasion In Imo
The security crisis in the South-East is getting more and more frightening. Under the guise of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Eastern Security Network (ESN) and their affiliates, many organisations roam the five states of Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi, sowing violent and criminal activities. Innocent people are killed and their homes burned. The mob hides under the blackmail of separatist politics, making the geopolitical zone almost uncontrollable.
The situation is worsening despite the resolution of governors in the zone to curb increasing violence and homicides in the region by bringing into effect the dysfunctional regional security outfit, Ebube Agu. At the height of the crisis was a recent encounter between soldiers and youths of Umuokwu Izombe community in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State where no fewer than 10 persons were slaughtered. About 12 houses, comprising the palace of the traditional ruler, Eze Pius Muforo, were reportedly charred and 15 others ruined.
According to sources, trouble commenced when soldiers in the area had a heated variance with some youths of the community over crude oil bunkering activities. During the brawl, the officers allegedly shot and killed a youth of the community. Angered by the contretemps, the youths were said to have mobilised and mugged the soldiers, culminating in the apparent murder of two army personnel and the smouldering of vehicles.
The soldiers, it was learned, reinforced and stormed the community in a retributive attack, purportedly burning houses and executing persons located within the environ of the altercation. Oil bunkering activities are reported to be on the upswing in Izombe, Eziorsu and Osobodo lately. Besides, Imo State has been convulsing under cataclysmic attacks in the past months, with many slain and security formations assailed. The devastating intrusion had been particularly scandalous in the Orlu area of the state.
However, police description of the predicament attributed it to some supposed bandits who pinned security agencies in the territory in a gun duel. A release by the state police spokesperson, Mike Abbatam, affirmed, “two security personnel and three others were feared killed when hoodlums invaded Izombe police divisional headquarters. The attackers whose plan was to bomb the station, engaged the cops in a duel battle which resulted in loss of lives.”
It was stated that since the incident ensued, fleeing inhabitants of the oil-rich Izombe have been suffering excruciating and harrowing experiences. Indigenes are quitting the town as hard as they could. At the last count, the Nigerian army had struck between 72 and 80 houses, 15 vehicles and 25 motorcycles. The precipitation of projectiles from the gun nozzles of experienced military men is incapacitating and acrimonious, cutting lives short.
Forty-eight hours afterward, the hitherto reticent Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, excoriated the raids and pledged to set up a panel of investigation to unveil the executioners of the disturbance and bring them to justice. The governor bawled the persistent resort to lawlessness, bemoaning that crime and criminality had been on the rise since the jailbreak in Owerri. We endorse the governor’s buoying stand on the issue, but he must move fast to protect his people, especially as the army has admitted their presence in the community.
We denounce the incident and bemoan the destruction of lives and properties. Consistent with the stand of the Imo State Government on the matter, we recommend a middle-of-the-road probe into the development. An independent judicial commission of inquiry should be inaugurated to identify the arsonists among the soldiers. We likewise request for justice for all the slain persons, including the two soldiers reportedly set aflame by the irate youths.
The military usurpation of the community and the extra-judicial carnage of inhabitants are illegal, regardless of the degree of the observed offence. International best practices demand that investigations should have been ordered first before action was taken against the Izombe community, since the perpetrators may not be residents there. Hence, what was legal in the circumstances was for the Nigerian Army to inform the police, who could have effectuated the arrest of the suspected killers.
Shamefully, the Nigerian security forces did not flounder at least for once in doing what they know how to do best — confronting inculpable civilians with live bullets while razing down houses worth millions of Naira, rendering hundreds homeless. Since the restoration of democracy in 1999, this rude and ungainly manner of dealing with helpless and vulnerable civilians has been a part of the life of Nigerians.
On November 20, 1999, Odi, a town dominated by the Ijaws in Bayelsa State, was taken up by the Nigerian Army and its people were decimated. The attack originated in a contention in the Niger Delta over indigenous rights to oil resources and environmental safeguard. Similarly, in 2001, some Benue communities were flattened because hoodlums bombarded 19 soldiers. Zaki-Biam, Tse-Adoor, Vaase, Sankera, Anyiin, and Kyado were diminished to ashes. Over two thousand people perished, according to records.
Also, in December 2020, when soldiers overswarm Bolou-Tubegbe community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, reportedly searching for kidnappers, they wreaked caustic pain on the community as all buildings in that area were blighted. They left behind not a single one after their operation. They crudely injured some natives as the soldiers rained bullets on the community, while many relinquished life. Those are some patterns of the complete genocide of civilian communities by Nigerian security forces.
It is exceedingly disconcerting that the Nigerian military, an institution of considerable reputation, is yet to come to terms with the imperative of jettisoning the frequent resort to self-help under constitutional democracy notwithstanding the provocation or high dudgeon. The predisposition towards encroachment and arson by soldiers clearly pertains to the Stone Age which is entirely illegitimate and amounts to terrorism. The military authorities must resolve all forms of professional misconduct amongst its rank and file.
The cowardly act of the irate youths, who murdered the uniformed men, is reprehensible. After all, the killing of military men is a crime against humanity and international laws. Illegal oil burglars in the community should give peace a chance and leave off oil thievery and economic ruination, or risk being picked up and prosecuted. Izombe youths must understand that oil bunkering activities pose a significant hazard to public health by polluting mangroves, land, groundwater, and gutting fish habitat. Rather, they should think creatively and undertake legitimate processes of subsistence for serenity and advancement of the community.
The director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, while reacting to the criminality of the military in their unabashed acts of wiping out entire villages or communities posited, “These brazen acts of razing entire villages, deliberately destroying civilian homes and forcibly displacing their inhabitants with no imperative military grounds, should be investigated as possible war crimes”. Obviously! Those who inflict the longstanding pattern of the Nigerian military’s vicious tactics against the civilian population must account for such infringements and be brought to justice.
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