Repeated calls for the scrapping of the local government system in Nigeria is beginning to wear some worrisome legitimacy; and the earlier the issue was properly understood and addressed, the better for all.
Apart from the fact that in a democracy, the voice of the people need to be taken seriously, the calibre of persons and organisations calling for the scrapping of the local government system can no longer be ignored. But it should also be understood that this call simply amounts to throwing away the baby with the bath water.
It is true that local government councils in Nigeria have failed to meet expectations of the people. Many of them have constituted themselves into serious drain pipes and avoidable minus on the concept of democracy and devolution of powers. But this is hardly the fault of the rural people who are supposed to benefit from the system.
Indeed, the failure of the local government system is well known to the authorities and no one has done anything about it. Even when some top political office holders were openly accused of benefiting from the “robbery” at the councils, nothing has changed.
With the exception of a few councils in the country, the local government authorities collect allocations every month and have nothing to show for such monthly allocations, either in form of infrastructures or human development. In addition to the fact that many of the local government chairmen divert a bulk of the resources of the councils to spurious ventures, the real demand of being in office, which is to give the people at the grassroot a sense of belonging, is not attended to.
Yet, the local governments councils are the closest government to the people. In addition to providing leadership and development, councils should be the birth place for responsible and representative leadership. And if democracy must take root in our country, the people at that level must participate in governance.
The local government system must be made to work in Nigeria because all over the world, the gains of devolution of powers cannot be overemphasised. Besides, the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) depends greatly on the functionality of local government areas, whose closeness to the population must be taken advantage of.
In Rivers State, the need to keep the local governments alive and viable is now being realised under the present administration. The state under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi has taken over the payment of primary school teachers that used to take the larger percentage of the council’s allocations. The state government has also gone ahead to build model schools and remove pupils from dilapidated buildings and tree-shade classrooms.
While we commend Governor Amaechi for this great gesture that has literally restored life to primary education in Rivers State, not much would change across the country if other state governments fail to take a queue or evolve ways of reducing the financial burden on their local government councils. Perhaps, the councils would also need to step up their internally generated revenue profile.
Meanwhile, the development of the political culture at the local government level must be encouraged. Allegations of chairmen and councillors being imposed on the people across the country is regrettable. Indeed, the manipulation of elections that work against the choice of the people should end.
Also critical is the need to give free hands to councillors to work. Paying a group of people every month, and heavily too, for doing nothing is against the law. That the councillors cannot exercise checks and balances at the local government level, let alone impeach the chairman can only make the system sterile.
Since only the State House of Assembly is empowered by the constitution to sack an erring local government chairman, it will not be difficult to imagine where the allegiance of the chairman would be. By effects, the local people who are supposed to be the real beneficiaries of the local government system stand little or nothing to gain. This, we believe, does not reflect true democracy.
While we insist that the local government councils should not be scrapped, we think the relevant laws in this country should be reviewed to encourage devolution of more power in the country, especially at the local level.
No To Water Resources Bill
Barely a week ago, an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Amalgamated Union of Public
Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), and a vocal civil society organisation (CSO), the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), rebuffed Federal Government’s plot to convince them, to support the controversial National Water Resources Bill 2020. This followed a meeting in Abuja between the Minister of Water Resources, Engr Suleiman Adamu, and his team with the leaderships of AUPCTRE and CAPPA designed to secure buy-in for pro-privatisation of all water resources in the country, and consequently undermine Nigerians’ free access to water and sanitation in line with the spirit of the United Nations resolution which recognises water and sanitation as basic human rights of citizens.
Addressing newsmen later, AUPCTRE’s National President, Comrade Benjamin Anthony, said: “Our meeting with the Minister of Water Resources was very frank. The minister advanced reasons why the Bill should pass but we drew his attention to the contentious clauses that must be addressed. We restate our opposition to this anti-people Bill and urge the National Assembly to trash it. The Bill fails to address human rights issues and does not enjoy the support of Nigerians. The Bill will dispossess Nigerian citizens of their inherited and cultural rights to water and should be discarded immediately”.
The CAPPA Director of Programmes, Philip Jakpor, was more succinct, “The contents of the Bill are against the spirit of the July 28, 2010, United Nations General Assembly Resolution which recognised in unmistakable terms, the human right to water and sanitation. Our position remains unchanged: President Muhammadu Buhari should use his good office to recall this contentious Bill from the legislative quarters and kick-start a fresh process which will entail consultation and input from Nigerians from the beginning through the entire process at the National Assembly.”
The Bill is titled, “A Bill for An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Groundwater Resources and for Related Matters”. On July 23, 2020, referring to Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, 9th Edition, the Bill scaled Second Reading in the House, and was referred to the Committee of the Whole House for third reading and final passage even as its presentation breached the Rules of Procedure and legislative convention of the House and the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution. Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House states that “a bill from a preceding Assembly must be gazetted, with clean copies circulated”. But this Bill failed that test because its promoters are in a hurry to achieve a sinister agenda!
In 2017, the Buhari administration had forwarded this Bill, which seeks to transfer the control of water resources from states to the Federal Government, to both chambers of the National Assembly, with a request to pass it into law. But it failed to secure concurrent passage by the Eighth Senate, which threw it away at its first reading in 2018. Not satisfied, however, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business, Hon Abubakar Fulata, and his cohorts, while ignoring due process, rule of law and standard procedure for reintroduction of any Executive Bill, flagrantly presented the rejected Bill to the Ninth House, and demanded its expeditious passage.
Since its re-emergence, prominent Nigerians and groups have expressed deep concerns at the purpose and intent of the Bill, and advised the Federal Government to jettison it in the national interest, just as they did in 2017 through 2018. In fact, both AUPCTRE and CAPPA, on September 3, 2020, jointly signed a damning letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, cataloguing the obnoxious sections of the Bill and how they posed grave danger to the attainment of Nigerians’ rights to water and sanitation.
The Tide agrees completely with millions of Nigerians that this Bill must not see the light of day because it represents a dark era in Nigerian history, some of which relics include the Land Use Act, Petroleum Resources Act, among others. We are disappointed that lawmakers from the South voted in support of this evil Bill. To be clear, Section 13, states, that “the Bill empowers the Minister of Water Resources to formulate national policy and water resources management strategy to guide the integrated planning, management, development, use and conservation of the nation’s water resources and provide guidance for formulation of hydrological area resources strategies under Section 94 of this bill”. It further states, “In implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and ground water resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.” Another obnoxious content of the Bill reads in Section 2(1), “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people.”
This simply means that the Bill seeks to empower the Federal Government to control all sources of water in Nigeria. By implication, the Federal Government can permit anybody or group from any part of the country to go and possess any water resource in another part thereof without the consent of the local communities. How else do we explain an ambitious government’s desperation to consolidate age-long policy of enslaving a free people, whose liberties have consistently and brazenly been trampled on by a particular ethnic group, which see themselves as hegemonic overlords?
First, they came with the chameleonic Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) initiative, the deceptively designed expansionist programme, aimed at gifting Fulanis ancestral lands belonging to other peoples, all over the country, in ‘new town’ settlements that would have looked more like Government Reserved Areas than herdsmen’s redoubt, complete with Fulani paraphenalia. When RUGA was rejected across board, they coyly and cleverly packaged National Livestock Transformation Plan, which was RUGA by another name. That too, was ferociously rejected by Nigerians. Now, they think they can hoodwink Nigerians to accept a draconian National Water Resources Bill that takes away their rights and freedoms? This is not possible. It won’t work!
We are gladdened by the fact that in its 17th teleconference meeting since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), promised to take a position on the National Water Resources Bill 2020, after their State Attorneys-General and Executive Councils of States have brainstormed on the proposed bill and other similar relevant laws that have been generating controversies in the country. We urge the NGF to reject the Bill in its entirety, especially when they realise that the Water Resources Minister had clarified that the new bill is consistent with the vexatious Land Use Act. Even so, we task Senators from the South-South, South-East, South-West and North-Central not to capitulate but to unanimously vote against this Bill for the general good of the people and posterity.
Not Time For Power Tariff Hike
As the economy of the country continues to tether (as indeed the global economy)
and living condition of the average Nigerian takes a suffocating bashing from the novel COVID-19 pandemic, electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) in Nigeria shocked consumers of electricity with a 100% hike in tariff effective September 1, 2020.
Labelled ‘Service Reflective Tariff’, the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) was said to have approved the increase on August 31, granting DISCOs the permission to raise the amount of money charged for units of electricity consumed according to hours of supply made available in a day.
By this development, electricity consumers who get supply for 12 hours and above in a day are to pay between 80% and over 100% more than their previous bills while consumers who receive less hours of electricity supply will not be affected according to the categories determined by the regulators.
To this end, consumers are categorised into Service Bands of A to E with A comprising those who enjoy up to 20 hours of power supply, B with 16 hours, C with 12 hours, D with 8 hours and E made up of those who see only 4 hours or less of electricity in a day.
While those who fall within the Service Bands D to E have their tariff frozen at N30.23 for one kilowatt unit of energy per hour (kwh), those in category A are to pay as much as N62.33 per kwh.
NERC explained that it approved the new tariff, taking into account the following: iInflation rate (the cost of living in Nigeria); Global Gas Price (that has increased since 2015); Naira exchange rate; Average Kilowatt sold by the DISCOs; Unit cost of power generation and Aggregate technical collection and commercial losses.
According to the minor review of Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO) 2015 and Minimum Remittance Order for the year 2020 for distribution companies published by NERC on its website, the commission has set projection for the cost-reflective tariff to begin January 1, 2021.
Of course, as expected, the increase in electricity bill has since elicited varied reactions from various stakeholders and interest groups in the country with most of them condemning, rejecting and describing it as a move that will neither help the economy nor the already traumatised mass of the Nigerian people.
The Nigerian Electricity Consumers Advocacy Network, accused the government of a policy summersault and inadequate consultation with a wide range of stakeholders in the sector before the announcement of the increase. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has vowed to resist the hike even as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has said that the hike could precipitate economic recession in the third quarter of the year.
The NLC, in particular, has described the development as an ill-conceived agenda to further impoverish Nigerians, arguing that “Each hike in electricity tariff in Nigeria is trailed by huge leap in the hours of darkness, de-metering of more Nigerians, exponential rise in incidences of estimated billing, and increased burden on citizens for the procurement of equipment and facilities for public electricity supply amidst other devious methods by DISCOs to cheat, exploit and despoil poor Nigerians”.
While The Tide acknowledges the validity of the reasons proffered by NERC for the increase, we believe that the timing is wrong as it will only add to the yoke of already COVID-19 induced economically distressed, socially disorganised, physiologically disorientated and materially challenged citizenry.
We think that the new change in electricity tariff should be reversed and no increase contemplated or effected until all electricity consumers are metred, appreciable qualitative, stable power supply achieved and estimated billing completely eliminated with the provision of prepaid metres at affordable cost to all electricity consumers in the country.
It is believed that Nigeria’s investment in the sector is in the neighbourhood of $20 billion with the Federal Government still prepared to sink in another $6 billion while the power companies have failed to invest but continuously steal from the people through outrageous estimated billing, sale of pre-paid metres at exhobitant prices, poor electricity supply, poor response to customers’ complaints and incessant tariff hike.
Any attempt at resolving the abysmal energy supply situation in the country must be holistic as the current piece-meal approach to fixing the problem will never work in the interest of the people and, therefore, will continue to be resisted.
For Peaceful, Credible Edo Poll
Tomorrow, the people of Edo State will file out in their numbers to elect a governor who would pilot the affairs of the state in the next four years. The stakes are really high, as the people are confronted with a plethora of governorship candidates of not less than 20 political parties to choose from.
Among the motley crowd, is the incumbent Governor of the State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who incidently is the standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); and the fact that he is gunning for a second term in office, makes him stand out as the man to watch.
The Governor also squares up with another formidable candidate in the person of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The two are no strangers to the political turf in Edo State as they had also contested the governorship poll four years ago on reverse political platforms. This makes tomorrow’s contest not only interesting but fierce. They are unarguably the frontrunners in the governorship race.
Interestingly, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured that it has thrown everything into the ring to ensure that the election is credible, peaceful, free and fair. The election is another litmus test for the electoral umpire to acquit itself creditably.
Of utmost concern is the fear that the election may be marred by violence, as political tension has apparently risen to fever pitch across the State.
In a bid to douse such fears, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, recently announced that the police hierarchy in Abuja has already deployed over 31,000 personnel to the state who, he said, are battle-ready in terms of providing security and other logistics during the poll.
Just on Tuesday, under the watch of the National Peace Committee headed by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), the candidates of the political parties that are expected to participate in tomorrow’s election, including Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu in particular, signed a peace accord as a way of warding off violence and other electoral malfeasance before, during and after the election. The political parties, during the event, were charged to ensure they work for peace, and also accept the outcome of the results with special emphasis on the two major contenders.
Speaking at the occasion, the former Head of State, said that the peace pact means that the actors have embraced peace, adding that with the assurances from INEC of maintaining neutrality and the IGP assuring adequate security, Edo people should come out on election day to vote for candidates of their choice.
Said Abubakar, “The gubernatorial election in Edo State is just a few days away and maintaining peace during and after the election is a priority and it must be done. We as a people should aspire to see Nigeria where people feel safe to come out of their homes to cast their votes without any fear. As you are aware, the election cannot hold in the absence of a peaceful atmosphere. All contesting parties need to adopt a code of conduct that will remove confrontation among yourselves because by agreeing to sign this covenant of peace, all of you are committing yourselves to ensure an enduring peace in Nigeria and Edo State before, during and after the election and agreeing to look beyond short-term political gains, sectoral interests or narrow party advantage and accepting nothing but for the development of Edo State”.
The Tide agrees no less. This is the right way to go because what is paramount now is the development of the state more than anything else. And there can only be development in the state in an atmosphere of peace.
It would be recalled that as a way of ensuring that the political gladiators in the state play by the rules and ensure a peaceful poll tomorrow, the highly revered Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, had recently summoned the major contenders to his palace, and admonished them on the need for peace before, during and after the election.
It is also heart-warming that the candidates of the contending political parties, including Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, successfully participated in an exciting political debate organised by Channels Television, where they were given an opportunity to espouse not only the manifestos of their parties but what they would do to further advance the frontiers of development in the state if elected, thus, giving Edo people an ample insight into what should influence their choices in tomorrow’s election.
Be that as it may, the political chips are now down. It is the time for the people of the state to choose who should govern them. Thus, there is the need for their votes to count.
To achieve this, we advise all the candidates and their political parties to comply with the terms of the peace accord, and to ensure that the right atmosphere is created for the people of the state to freely make their choice at the poll. Doing otherwise would amount to not only mortgaging the future of the state and her people but also bringing to naught all the efforts, resources and time expended by the various stakeholders towards entrenching a hitch-free electoral process.
It is also important for the people of the state and the candidates for the election to eschew all forms of hate speech at this critical time in order not to unnecessarily heat up the polity. Nothing inflames passion more than unguarded utterances.
Again, Edo people must realise that politics is a game, where winners and losers would emerge at the end of the day. It is never a do-or-die affair. It would definitely do the people of the state no good if the state is set on fire because of this governorship election. Truth is that no ambition of any of the candidates is worth the blood of any Edo man or woman. It is, therefore, incumbent on the political class to play by the rules and allow the wishes and aspirations of the people to prevail. Hence, the political gladiators should heed the good counsel of the Oba of Benin.
While we call on INEC to exhibit a high sense of neutrality in the conduct of tomorrow’s election, there is the need for security agencies deployed for the poll to be professional in the discharge of their duties. The rank-and-file of the Police in particular must be unbiased and incorruptible. INEC must also ensure that COVID-19 safety measures are adhered to during the election because this is the first election of this magnitude it is conducting since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Everything said and done, Edo people deserve a peaceful, credible, free and fair governorship election.
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