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Editorial

Senate, Reps And Needless Ego Trips

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As unsavoury as Nigeria’s political résumé tastes, particularly as it relates to her democratic misadventures and inconsistencies, not once has the rot blemished substantially the operational harmony that ought to thrive between the two chambers of the National Assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Once or twice in their legislative overlaps, both chambers might have differed on appraisal, understanding and conclusions on various enactments as is natural but never in contest over constitutional superiority, as each knows its reach and limits of the other’s duties, responsibilities and powers.
Frankly, in settling for a biparous legislative equation, the framers of the Nigerian Constitution envisaged a realistic complementation of one another and not in competition along egoistic lines. That is why, to become law, certain legislative enactments must pass through both chambers, not minding which is the originating arm.
Even in this regard, there has never been an argument over who between the two chambers is higher or lower, as equally practised in countries with similar bicameral legislatures. Without doubt, the 109-member Nigerian Senate is the upper chamber and the 359-member House of Representatives, the lower, but not necessarily inferior.
In perfect understanding of this, whenever there are demands for a joint sitting, the apparently more spacious House Chamber has often been a joint choice although in order of protocol, the Senate President, not the Speaker of the House, comes first.
This is why, we find it retrogressive, unnecessary and shameful, the antecedents that actuated deferment by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, of the long expected 2010 budget address, to a joint sitting of both arms of the National Assembly last Thursday, ominously due to an undisclosed power play between the Senate and House leadership.
On that day, two separate Army bands set up instruments at the two chambers, a sign that all was not well or that the lawmakers had been unable to resolve the rumoured differences early enough, to hear the President’s budget speech. In the past, only one band was usually detailed to render ceremonial airs and in one chamber – that of the House of Representatives. So, what went wrong?
We ask because, whatever there was, if not properly addressed, it could have negative impact on the entire nation, the least disastrous of which might well be yet another delay in the passage of the 2010 Budget.
Should this impasse endure longer ahead, neither chamber is likely to demonstrate the needed unity, cohesion and understanding in appraisal and eventual passage of the fiscal projections into law, and once again push the executive arm into articulating needless supplementary budget.
The Tide is pained by this rancour between two chambers of a national assembly whose leadership is substantially drawn from the same political platform – the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which equally enjoys an overwhelming majority in both chambers.
The PDP and indeed the Presidency should be worried by this needless power tussle because not only does it potend danger to the entire nation, it shows, and very clearly too, that the party might well be divided against itself. It should not be so. And this, if not checked could result in further polarisation of the political class and make consensus-building on matters, of common good, impossible.
We are, however, relieved to learn that both the party leadership and President Yar’Adua have elected to wade into the lingering acrimony, with a view to re-inventing the cordiality and oneness that permeated National Assembly conduct in many years.
That, we think should be done with the urgency it deserves because a divided legislature is a wasteful luxury Nigeria can ill-afford at this time of pressing national demands of legislative nature, like Political Reforms.

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Editorial

Beyond New SIM Registration 

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Recently, the Federal Government, apparently jolted by the high level of insecurity in the country, fixed 1st of December, 2020 as deadline for the validation of already registered Subscribers Identity Modules (SIMs) in the country.
The government has also made National Identity Number (NIN) a compulsory requirement for fresh registration.
To achieve this objective, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, through a statement signed by his Technical Assistant, Information Technology, Dr. Femi Adeluyi, directed the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to immediately revise the policy on SIM card registration and usage.
According to him, the revision of the policy is based on the feedback received from the security agencies following the successful revalidation of improperly registered SIM cards in September 2019 and the blocking of those that failed to revalidate their SIMs.
With this directive, the updated policy from the NCC is expected to make NIN a prerequisite for new SIM cards registration, while foreigners use their passports and visas for the purpose. Already, registered SIM cards are to be updated with NIN before 1st of December, 2020.
Another important aspect of the new policy is the limiting of subscribers to the use of three maximum SIMs by an individual.
In the light of this development, it is expected that the four major network providers in Nigeria — MTN, Airtel, Glo and 9Mobile, would have to conduct yet another nationwide registration exercise before the year runs out.
The question now is: if telcos are ready for the procedure, are Nigerians also primed to meet the requirements considering the number of bottlenecks that had restricted them in the past?
This question becomes pertinent in view of the fact that there is non-existing centralised database with the NCC that would be enough to either verify the actual identity of each subscriber, confirm subscribers’ information or quickly detect a case of duplicated details.
We observe that there are cases where network subscribers registered three SIM cards of different networks with different biodata. There are also cases where many Nigerians registered their drivers’ licences, voter cards and national identity cards with different identities, thus, making harmonisation very cumbersome.
Furthermore, taking a cue from the NCC’s subscriber data, it was noticed that subscribers from each operator are considered separately which gives room for miscalculation in the actual total number of network users in the country.
It is, therefore, not clear how operators would be able to know if a subscriber has reached the SIM card limit during a registration process.
Enforcement of the new policy by the government is another area of concern to us. Apparently, the enforcement of NIN use by Nigerians in the conduct of certain transactions has been in the works since 2015. We recall that there was a mandate that the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) should ensure the harmonisation of NIN with all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) which include, but are not limited to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and PenCom.
At the time, it turned out to be an unsuccessful effort and, thus, had to be postponed till the following year. Even up till now, it appears complete adoption is still five years away.
Perhaps, the question of how long it takes to get a NIN in Nigeria is no longer the subject of debates. According to the FAQs page on the Commission’s official website, “it usually takes between 1-5 working days for your NIN to be ready after registration”.
While this may not be in doubt, the number of registered Nigerians is not encouraging due to frustrating process.
Information available to us shows that NIMC has only enrolled about 36 million Nigerians, even though the process started in 2012. This number is a far cry from the over 180 million network subscribers recorded by NCC. This is said to have resulted from the few registration centres and partners available and the attendant corrupt practices by some NIMC officials.
We, therefore, fear that a directive of this magnitude may not be easily enforced if subscribers continue to find a basic prerequisite such as NIN registration difficult to access.
Again, limiting Nigerians to the use of only three SIM cards is, indeed, a welcome development if only all the mobile service providers in the country have reliable network coverage.
In a nutshell, we fear that full compliance may be hard to achieve unless there is a structure through which registration for both NIN and SIM is made easier, faster and less cumbersome for Nigerians. One possible solution to this effect is for the service providers and the NIMC to have more registration centres across the country where Nigerians can be attended to quickly and easily.
Even so, they have to conduct the whole process without the help of unaccredited partners to avoid a flawed outcome or recurring cases of fake NIN registration and pre-registered SIM cards.
Meanwhile, the NCC should ensure that no unregistered SIMs are ever allowed on mobile networks, while also ensuring that subscribers can easily check the number of SIM cards registered to their name, along with the associated phone numbers and networks.
Also, the industry regulator has the onerous duty to ensure that mobile network operators fortify their networks against cyber attacks and ensure that they adhere to the provisions of the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR). Any SIM card that has been used to perpetrate crimes should be permanently deactivated within 24 hours.
We believe the NCC has 10 months to fully enforce the new SIM registration policy. How this will pan out is, however, a question only time will tell.

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Editorial

Unemployment: Ngige Got It Wrong!

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Early this month, precisely on February 10, the Federal Government, in what looked like a conscious admission of failure to create pathways the Nigerian youths can tap into and carve a better future for themselves, advised unemployed graduates, who are seeking government jobs in the white collar sector, to look elsewhere, insisting that there are more sustainable and lucrative ventures outside their focus.
Speaking in Benin City, the Edo State capital, at a Town Hall Meeting on “Popularisation of Blue/Green Collar Jobs among Graduates of Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria”, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, stunned many when he “urged Nigerian youths to invest their talents in other job sectors, as the richest youth of the world aged between 21 and 31 years, are not employees of government but smart entrepreneurs who distinguished themselves in creative skills in various areas”.
We agree with the concept of Graduate Employability Enhancement Scheme designed by government “to break the resilience of high unemployment rate in the country” by “urging unemployed graduates, parents, career counselors, and students of tertiary institutions to embrace the profitable opportunities offered by jobs outside government offices”.
This is where Ngige and his team in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, and indeed, the Federal Government, got it all wrong! Government cannot shirk its responsibilities to the youth now, not after creating a difficult climate for them to benefit from the system that has made most public sector officials demigods. How can governments explain that for more than two decades, they have refused to lift embargo on employment into the civil service, when every year, tens of thousands of ghost workers are discovered and weeded out of the system, tens of thousands more retire, thousands die and many voluntarily resign without any corresponding reduction in the cost of governance and workers personnel and payroll systems? How can they explain that corruption has made it impossible for young graduates to secure new jobs in public service when government policies have squeezed the private sector such that they can no longer create robust jobs for the youths?
The Federal Government cannot, therefore, organise a town hall meeting just to tell graduates not to waste their energy looking for white collar jobs in government offices, when it has failed to provide the enabling environment, consistent policy direction and friendly legislation to attract private capital and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into critical sectors to absorb the army of graduates from the legion of higher institutions in the country. It cannot be mobilising people to think of jobs outside white collar sector when it has not done anything to revive any of its moribund manufacturing industries, agric farms and mills, or has it put any policy in place to ensure that investors who closed shop and left the country due to hostile operating environment or inconsistent policy, return to pull more graduates out of unemployment.
In fact, if the paper rolling mill at Oku Iboku and aluminium smelting company at Ikot Abasi, Ajaokuta and Aladja steel companies, and a host of others in various sectors in Lagos, Ibadan, Enugu, Port Harcourt, Kano, Kaduna, had been revamped and made effectively operational, government would have fulfilled its promise to create 10 million to 25 million new jobs by now. Its desire to pull 100 million out of poverty would have also been realised and economic boom would have set in. And, of course, the spate of insecurity occasioned by reckless killings, kidnappings, cult-related violence, and other criminal activities that undermine peace, security and sustainable development would have abated.
We are aware that white collar workers have shaped the dynamics of Nigerian society over the years. We are also aware that blue collar workers, such as machinists, welders, electricians and construction workers practising their trade in factories and on building sites have found it nearly impossible to operate due to lack of power supply and other harsh conditions that impede economic growth. And, yes, we are aware that both white and blue collar workers are turning to green jobs in developed countries in North America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, where stable government policies have created the enabling environment for a thriving green sector.
But we are disappointed that government has not made any effort to make green jobs thrive in Nigeria. We say so because for that to happen, government must create the climate for the sector to function effectively by ensuring that academic curricula provide for schools at all levels to teach students courses that produce green collar professionals to drive development. Besides, government must enable legislation to encourage investors to invest in the green sector to open it up for employment of graduates to populate the various job opportunities for sustainable growth.
We reckon that in an era of increasing concerns for the environment, following hostile habits that threaten climate change through greenhouse gas emissions, abuse and degradation, the need for green collar workers, ranging from manual to managerial, dedicated to improving the quality of our environment by reducing waste and pollution, is urgently germane. Indeed, we need professionals and consultants in conservation, environmental services and waste management to provide these services and products. We also need green electricians who install solar panels, plumbers who install solar water heaters, recycling centre/MRF attendants, process managers and collectors, construction workers who build energy-efficient green buildings and wind power farms, construction workers who weatherize buildings to make them more energy efficient, or other workers involved in clean, renewable and sustainable future energy development to grow the economy. It’s not likely that participants in the town hall meetings qualify as any of the above.
The Tide agrees that we need qualified graduates to man these jobs that provide better opportunities than jobs in the traditional manufacturing sector as they pay higher wages and offer better career mobility, but Nigerian education system has to incubate this cadre of people to make the future sustainable for the next generation. Green collar workers do not fall from heaven, a well-cultured system produces them. And the Nigerian system today has yet to identify its course of direction. This is our take!

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Editorial

No To Power Tariff Hike

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As operators of the power sector mount pressure on the electricity regulatory body to effect the scheduled increase in tariff, electricity consumers across the country have continued to voice out their objection, since news of the planned increase in electricity tariff by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) slated to commence in April, this year broke.
Going by the new tariff approved by NERC, consumers will pay about N1.52 trillion more for power supplied to them this year, but several groups are of the view that this increment should not stand until there is considerable improvement in power supply.
Justifying the new electricity rates, NERC said it considered the actual changes in relevant macroeconomic variables and available generation capacity in approving the tariff, and that the review was to give the Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs) cost-efficient tariffs to operate with. It even stated that the review recognised the historical tariff deficits of the DISCOs which affected their bottom line, and developed a framework to manage future revenue shortfalls in the industry, including minimum market remittance requirement.
This will account for differences between cost reflective tariffs and allowed tariffs in the settlement of invoices issued by the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) and Market Operations (MO) department of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).
Although NERC seemed to have concluded that the tariff review has come to stay, consumers consider any increase in tariff now as unjust and counter-productive because they have, for too long remained victims of poor power supply and in some cases permanent darkness.
Suffice it to say that the myriads of challenges plaguing the nation’s power sector include epileptic power supply with very low voltage, outrageous (estimated) billings and supply of light at awkward times (10pm to 3am) when it is not of much use.
In some areas where the transformers have issues, consumers continue to remain in darkness until they contribute money to get them repaired or replaced. Owners of new houses are expected to buy poles by themselves to be connected to power line. So, why hike electricity tariff?
The Tide notes with displeasure that DISCOs in most parts of the country have failed to show capacity and ability to deliver efficient and stable power supply and so in no way better than the comatose defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) which they replaced in 2015 during the privatisation of the power sector.
Also, despite the marching order by the Federal Government to DISCOs to meter customers, nothing concrete has been done in this regard. Instead, there are reports in some parts of the country that instead of hastening the issuance of meters to those who don’t have, those issued prepaid metres are ordered to return same. Therefore, to tolerate any increase in tariff with such inefficiency would be to reward poor performance.
Equally, we make bold to say that the woes of our electricity supply should be blamed on the Federal Government’s refusal to demonstrate the political will to step on big toes and sanitise the power sector by reviewing the privatisation exercise embarked upon by the previous administration.
Government should compel the DISCOs to install prepaid meters for consumers and ensure optimal and consistent supply before any tariff increase. So, solving the electricity problem in Nigeria has to be holistic, requiring all hands to be on deck – the generating companies, distributing companies, transmitting company, consumers, as well as NERC.
Because the vast majority of electricity consumers are yet to be metered and are charged based on estimated billing, we believe that any increase in tariff now cannot guarantee fairness and transparency on the side of the DISCOs but instead to further rip-off consumers due to wrong estimates.
It is gratifying that the House of Representatives Committee on Power in response to public outcry recently, ordered NERC to suspend any tariff increase for now.
For all these reasons, we insist that NERC should review the services rendered by DISCOs and revoke the licences of the incompetent ones. Also, we suggest, as a way forward, that the issue of electricity be removed from the exclusive legislative list so as to allow states to develop and own power projects.
We support gradual, reasonable, cost-reflective tariff commensurate with service rendered, as increase in tariff should not be a channel by which inefficiency in the system is transferred to the consumers. We say no to any increase in tariff. Nigerians cannot continue to reward DISCOs, unless the Federal Government wants to honour them for their inefficiencies. New tariffs can only be justified if services are improved.

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