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Wake Up, EFCC! …As Glossed Over Cases Prickle Nigerians

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Between 2007 and now, at least 31 corrupt ex-governors were expected to have been prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Sadly, the expected did not happen. Rather, the case files of the 31 former governors were reportedly missing. This stunned most Nigerians.

As it were, the EFCC’s claim of ignorance on an allegation from the American Embassy that some “corrupt former governors had a good measure of influence on late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration was described by a source at the American Embassy (not too long ago) as being “remarkably unbelievable.”

What’s more, the way and manner the anti-graft agency handled the case of James Ibori, ex-Governor of Delta State, led many to believe that Nigerians are yet to hear the last about the case from the EFCC. Indeed, in 2010, the anti-graft agency released a list of wanted people and Ibori’s name was surprisingly absent, in spite of the fact that he evaded arrest both in this country and the United Kingdom. With the poor handling of the case, the ex-governor was absolved of over 100 corrupt-based charges. To the chagrin of many, the EFCC suddenly changed gear when the British authorities showed serious interest in the case. The list of such poor handling of cases is endless.

As being observed by many Nigerians including famous lawyers, such as Femi Falana and Bamidele Aturu, the anti-graft agency appears to have lost every moral right to handle economic and financial crimes in the country.

Yes, the EFCC seems to be selective in the cases being prosecuted. A case in point has to do with the N12 billion pension fraud, reportedly uncovered by the anti-graft agency more than six months ago. The EFCC in March, this year, stunned Nigerians and indeed, the nation’s retirees, when it announced that it has preferred a case against 32 members of staff of the Pensions Department of the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation for allegedly defrauding the pensions office to tune of N12 billion.

The accused, according to the anti­graft commission, include Dr Sani Taidi Shuaibu, Mrs. Phina Ukamaka Chidi, Aliyu Bello and 29 others, who were supposed to be arraigned on a 134-count charge. Dr Shuaibu was the Director, Pension Administration in the office of the Head of Service of the Federation, while Mrs Chidi was the Deputy Director (Finance and Accounts), in the office. Aliyu Bello was a Personal Assistant to Dr. Shuaibu.

Investigation shows that they used ghost pensioners to pay N2 million and N3 million into their accounts monthly, and later diverted the sum by awarding fictitious contracts to some companies which they manage.

The EFCC’s charge, reports say, came under charge number PHCI ABJ/CR/281 2011, dated March 21, 2011. The accused were alleged to have used various fictitious firms to divert the sum of N 12 billion into private use. The commission said it had already frozen N12 billion in three accounts allegedly operated by the two directors following a fresh discovery by its team of investigators. The team had since 2010, been probing alleged massive pension fraud in the pension unit of the office of the Head of Service.

However, the National Pension Commission (PENCOM) has denied the alleged pension fraud. Addressing newsmen on the matter in Abuja, Mr Emeka Onuora, Head of PENCOM’s Communications unit, said there was no pension fraud as being alleged by the anti-graft commission, and insisted that they were ready to face the EFCC. Onuora maintained that the commission was not worried about the allegations being levelled against it by the EFCC.

Be that as it may, what beats one’s imagination over the N12 billion fraud borders principally on the fact that over the years, the nation’s retirees have suffered untold hardship following delayed and/ or non-payment of their retirement benefits, a situation which the authorities blamed on non-availability of pension funds.

As it were, the issue of non-payment of pension and gratuity to government retirees, years after retirement from active service, has in the recent past, been a subject of public discourse in the nation’s polity.

Perhaps, moved by this touchy national issue, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Richard Akinjide, not too long ago, took a swipe at government at various levels over the mind-boggling issue. His words: “It is breach of contract for any government to deny its retirees the payment of pension and gratuity.” He observed that since the nation’s economy is not static, it was necessary that pension and salary be seen as index link in view of the prevailing purchasing power, and called on government to fulfil its obligation to their workers by ensuring the early payment of pension and gratuity.

Not done with the issue, he intoned: “when a salary earner is retired and not paid his benefits, it means that he has been shortchanged,” and insisted that the benefit of the civil service is the security and the certainty it affords worker who expect that at the end of retirement, they would be paid their benefits.

Sadly, an average retired Nigerian worker had over the years been literally wailing over the non-payment of his  pension and gratuity. There were confirmed reports that some retired workers even died before their entitlements could be paid.

Apparently worried by public outcry, the Obasanjo administration established the National Pension Commission, with an Act by the National Assembly, in order to give legal teeth to the commission. This was greeted with applause by the general public, especially the retirees. Indeed, the contributions of Nigerian workers and employers to the contributory pension scheme now stand at over N2 trillion, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN.)

Beyond that, it is rather unfortunate to hear that some states in the country are yet to  implement the laudable scheme in spite of the awareness campaigns mounted by the federal authorities, thus hanging the fate of their retired staff in the balance. This is sad, to say the least!

Worse still, a section of the private sector has also reportedly refused to implement the National Pension Scheme, for some inexplicable reasons, an attitude that is giving concern to the authorities of the commission, in view of the anticipated plights of the retired staff of such firms.

It is therefore imperative to ask the Federal Government to wade into the issue and prevail on such defaulting state governments and firms to implement the pension scheme, in order to lay a good foundation for their retired staff.

Yes, there has already been fears over the safety of the funds so far contributed to the pension scheme. But the provisions of the Pension Act, squarely allay such fears, especially the various levels of risks involved in the’ management of the contributed funds.

That said, one sure way to implement the National Pension Scheme is for the National Assembly to act immediately to address the issue. This, it could do, by directing the committee concerned to work with the management of the National Pension Commission. That way, the committee would be able to identify the alledged N12 billion fraud; defaulting state governments, as well as a section of the private sector, and thereafter roll out the sanctions against them.

The future of the Nigerian retired worker must be protected and assured, no matter whose ox is gored. Yes, time has come when a retired worker should  smile home rather than cry home. The contributions by employers of labour to the pension scheme, appears to be the the only sure way.

This is why the alleged N12 billion pension fraud must not be swept under the carpet like other uncovered frauds in government establishments and institutions. All those found to have been directly or indirectly involved must be exposed and prosecuted by the EFCC in order to protect the future of  retirees.

Surprisingly, the anti-graft agency is yet to prosecute all those found to have been involved in the alleged N12 billion pension fraud, nearly seven months after it completed investigations into the matter. This, observers say, has further dented the image of EFCC as an agency established by law to bring to book all those perpetrating financial crimes in this country.

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Flooding And Environmental Sustainability

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Last week, on the 27th of May, 2021, the people of Rivers State celebrated the 54th anniversary of the creation of Rivers State. The state has achieved so much in terms of infrastructure and human capital development. It has achieved good governance and not so much good governance in some dispensations. The present dispensation has given the people more hope to celebrate the dividends of statehood.
However, the common failure of many societies across the globe is the failure to conquer their environment as God commanded. What we see is the ravaging of the environment which has made it more vulnerable to environmental disasters, which include flooding and desertification. Rivers State has 60 percent of its 10,500 square miles and beyond covered by water, and large areas of mangrove and rainforest. Its flora and fauna are of enormous natural resources. The struggle to sustain this God-given environment has been a great task.
The Niger Delta environment has endemic challenges which require scientific and deliberate consciousness of the inhabitants to mitigate. It also requires immediate solutions as the people in the region who are ravaged by flooding cannot wait for medium and long term plans to mature. There is the need to start from what can be dealt with immediately to provide shelter to the people, what can give the people safe home, on dry lands in the face of drowning floods. Enough consciousness has been created to the world at large by the United Nations.
On the 5th day of December, 1972, the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 2997 in Stockholm, Sweden created the World Environment Day celebration to sensitise all member-nations on the need to ensure environmental safety and sustainability. The environment is the only human habitation known to man. This will remain the case until the superpowers find another solar system habitable.

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Trust Deficit And Governance

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Trust deficit has come to be a common refrain in the polity used to explain lack of trust in government pronouncements and programmes. Its foundation is rooted in political party soap box promises and manifestoes that are never kept. Sir Walter Scott (1808) wrote “Oh, what a tangled web we leave, when first we practice to deceive”.
Reflecting on this truism, it is clear that those who prevaricate in their speech or actions cannot be trusted. Their social capital budget will be fraught with deficit.
They are persons or institutions whose words or actions are of double standards.
They who betray the common trust, thrust upon them by Nigerians are many and varied.
If trust in Nigeria were a national budget, it’s deficit profile would be more than 90 per cent.
We often hear social commentators in Nigeria say, “you can’t trust anybody in power”. This may be in the context of Frayed political relationships among and between those in power and the people they govern. It is about mutual distrust.
It is important to state that trust is a two way traffic; those who govern must be trusted and the governed must trust the system for it to work and generate positive impact.
Stephen Covey placed trust as an important ingredient in any relationship, be it political, social or economic, when he said “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It is the fundamental principle that holds all relationships.
Sadly, the political ecosystem in Nigeria has eroded these values. Can Nigerians as a people continue to dwell on the pessimism expressed by William Shakespear when he said “Don’t trust the person who has broken faith once”?
Will this perception not create a web of complex social relations and a complexity of failures and retrogression in the polity, if strictly adhered to? What can a people do without trust?
Frank Grane a social Psychologist gave an ambivalent view when he said “you may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment unless you trust enough”. Trust deficit simply refers to a degree of lack of trust.
The term deficit in this context implies that there is trust but not enough trust because of broken promises in the system. People now choose who and what to trust.
In political relations which talks about social contract, huge promises are made to the people. The people on their part often bask in the euphoria of expectations, which are broken. So they make choices or effect a change of leadership based on those expectations.
Lady Gaga on trust, said “Trust is a mirror, you can fix it, if its broken, but you can still see the crack in that …reflection”. This explicates the danger in trust deficit in a polity where a people are afraid to trust in their government and functionaries.When trust deficit becomes systemic, it becomes a dangerous phenomenon in governance.
How can a people trust the harvest unless they see it sown.
There is trust deficit in police relations with the people of Nigeria.
Bail is free means bail is not free. Police is your friend means police is your enemy. Election will be free and fair means it will be rigged.
Boko Haram has become inevitable and the military cannot contend with it. When the spokesman of the Federal Government of Nigeria says “I do not lie”, many evidence will point to the contrary; he lies most of the time. The promise of Federal Government to mend the East West road has beccome an unending wait and only when MEND strikes that a portion will be white washed with alsphat. The Military Prevarication on the Lekki Toll Gate debacle is a source of distrust. How can a civilized group claim that no one died in that protest?
Poor ethnic relations in Nigeria is another source of distrust. An Ijaw man does not believe that an Hausa Fulani man at the helm of affairs can protect his interest.
In a similar view an Igbo man can hardly accept that a Yoruba politician is out to protect his political interest.
Among the minorities the story is the same, mutual distrust prevails. Political distrust among the ethnic groups in Nigeria is rooted in the nature of the colonial administration where the country stood on a tripod of centrifugal polity.
There were three regions in Nigeria. The East was dominated by the Igbo, West Yoruba and North Hausa Fulani. Unfortunately every region/ethnic group was inclined to fight for their interest rather than national interest. The interest of the minorities are also not taken into consideration.
Bad governance and military coups have further created distrust in the system where the struggle to govern by different geographical regions took over the merits of democratic values.
Class distrust has heightened as a result of growing poverty in Nigeria.
This has even take a demographic dimension. The youths do not believe that the class of persons they refer to as ancestors because of their age can governor this country well any longer.
This mutual distrust can also be seen in the stereotyping of youths as a bunch of irresponsibles. The fallacies above are unfortunate, because age has nothing to do with leadership. This type of distrust is retrogressive.
The growing spate of infrastructural deficit is a function of distrust and a result of rivalry among groups and the political class. A leader emerges and concentrates in the development of his clime rather than spreading the joy. He does so with the conviction that if he does not do it the next leader will abandon his people.
When trust and sincerity of purpose exist, true spirit of governance will unfold to allow development take a foothold in Nigeria. Many believe that restructuring will mitigate mutual distrust in Nigeria.

 

By: Bon Woke

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At A Time Like This…

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At a time like this when Nigeria is drifting off the radar, like a ship without compass, something needs to be done. A time when multitude of voices are resonating in different directions, some too distant to make much sense, others raising valid arguments and near solutions.
In all Nigerians need clear messages and solutions to the myriads of conundrum that confront the survival of the nation. The caliber of the purveyors of these timely calls-to-order is important. We Nigerians need mass action, but the nation needs voices too.
Every change begins with conscientization. Between the states and the federal government, the state is in a better place to call for an effective and meaningful structural changes in the country. This is why the present apprehension being expressed by the leadership of the National Assembly over the 12 point communiqué raised by the Southern Governors in their meeting in Asaba, should be scrutinized and taken with a pinch of salt.
The Governors have important roles to play in the Nigeria question because they are closer to the people. They have raised the bar by coming out despite their respective political party affiliations, to speak the minds of Nigerians. The Governors did not speak _tongue in cheek. They did not exonerate themselves while talking about the failure of government because the business of government is not restricted to the Federal Government alone. They have only declared the obvious position that leadership starts from the top. If the right thing is done from the top it will trickle down to the grass root.
They have called the Federal Government to order and they speak the truth. This is the message the leadership of the National Assembly should take home. The fact that the state Governments need to begin the restructuring from their backyards by looking at the independence of the judiciary and local Government Administration does not and cannot detract from the axiomatic fact that there is convolution of powers at the center which must devolve to the states and local government. According to Henry Adams “chaos was the law of nature and order was the law of man”.
The above refers to the tendency of society to jump into anarchy while it is incumbent on men at a certain time and space to realize the need to bring law and order to bear. If this is the time that 17 Governors of Southern Nigeria have woken up to call the country to order, so be it. Let the leadership of the national assembly come down from their high horses and work with the governors to legitimize their call through legislation and the follow up legal frame work. The intendment of any grand norm is that all the arms and segments of government should work in synergy for the good of the people. The governors’ call for total ban on open grazing by herdsmen in the country which has generated more heat than light is timely. The addendum that efforts should be put in place to encourage ranching will go a long way in encouraging the optimization of the diary and meat industry in Nigeria. The ban will go a long way in deescalating the current violence in the country. The leadership of the National Assembly should realize the fact that this is a timely call as the herdsmen conflict is the most volatile issue in Nigeria today. It is responsible for the replication of violence across Nigeria.
Every section of the country especially in the south and middle belt seems to be copying and pasting the licentious savagery due to the latitude given to the herdsmen. They seek self-help in different legitimate and illegitimate means.
Today the country sits on a keg of gun powder. The call for state police by the Governors has become very important. The various states of the federation have now seen the need to set up quasi community policing structures with different names and apparatus of operations. These vigilante groups have proven to be very potent in supporting effective policing operations in the various states. They therefore make the call for state police plausible. In Rivers State a local vigilante group which started in Omoku and spread to different parts of the state has proven that the involvement of the local populations in policing is a very effective tool for crime prevention and control. OSPAC, as it is originally called in Omoku has diminished the invincibility of cult groups and kidnappers in many parts of Rivers State. These vigilante groups can be seen manning security posts at police stations in Rivers State to defend them against the invading “unknown gun men” who recently had an unfortunate hunting spree at police and J.T.F installations in Ikwerre, Emohua, Abua and Obio/Akpo local government areas.
A state police structure will surely be more effective. Devolution of powers to the Federating units of Nigeria is surely the way to go, but Nigeria needs a constitutional process to realize this dream.
Politics and Governance involve the equitable allocation of resources and it defines who gets what and how.
The call for fiscal federalism by the governors must be taken seriously .Most importantly, the President needs to address the nation on these issues and set the pace for a jaw jaw among the various interest groups in Nigeria.
There is a dire need for a radical review of the current revenue formula; many have called for a return to the first Republic era where states or regions enjoyed the bounty from their resources. However, there is a current and recurring agitation for resource control where states will have control and utilization of their resources and pay tax to the centre. If this happens states will be forced to look in wards rather than go for handouts at the center every month.
The President has kept quiet enough. His silence could be misconstrued as an endorsement of the conflagration engulfing the country, especially as it concerns the ills perpetrated by herdsmen who are his Fulani kinsmen.

 

By: Bon Woke

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