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Editorial

Enforce Energy Tariff Cut Now

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Electricity consumers in Nigeria heaved a sigh
of relief recently when the Federal Govern
ment announced a 50 per cent cut in power tariff. The presidency had directed that the slash should take effect from April 1, 2015.
From all indications, the Power Distribution Companies (DISCOS) are yet to implement the directive. According to reports, they have not been officially communicated of the change by the regulatory body, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
The eleven electricity distribution companies operating in Nigeria still charge commercial and private consumers on the old order under the Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO 2.1) that took effect from January 2015. With the current regime, Nigeria is among the countries with the highest electricity tariff regime. No wonder Nigerians have continued to protest the hike in charges.
The delay by NERC to formerly communicate distribution companies, indeed, have sent confusing message to the people. While some act in disbelief, others perceive the Presidential directives as another political gimmick by the out-going Jonathan’s dispensation.
Sources within the power sector also suggest that the new regime may only affect the productive sector, thereby leaving domestic users to their fate. If there is any truth in this, it simply means an under hand act of rendering the directive of no effect, because it is the domestic consumers that are directly affected.
The Tide notes with dismay how this matter that affects everyone, especially the ordinary people would be treated with such levity. That Nigeria is among countries with the highest tariff should, indeed, worry NERC officials and other relevant organs even as Nigeria has one of the lowest per capita income.
The Federal Government’s directive on the subjects was quite explicit and very clear and needed no endless bureaucracy. That the tariff should be reverted to the old regime is unambiguous and for the DISCOs to seek other ways of recovering their losses is also clear.
It is disturbing to note however, that the arbitrary increases in tariff and other charges contravene the rule that domestic consumers should be charged N15 per kilowatts per hour and industries N32 per kw/hr and this calls for sanctions against erring operators.
It is criminal and unjustifiable to charge N32 per kw/hr across the board, an act that should ordinarily result in refunds. This truly shows that the Federal Government did not actually reduce the tariff but simply corrected the anomaly in the system.
That is why The Tide is demanding that the DISCOs be made to revert to the proper tariff now. It is in the interest of justice and socio-economic activities in Nigeria that this is done immediately. Both the people and the industries need the much talked about enabling environment to thrive as power is key.
We are disturbed that NERC has not issued a clear-cut guidelines on the proper implementation of the rules. It is even more worrisome that the commission recently hinted that most residential customers may not enjoy the benefit of the slash.
The Tide disagrees with NERC and implores the commission to have a re-think and ensure that both residential and commercial customers benefit from the cut. That this is being subjected to some kind of debate is sad. The electricity industry has not been able to satisfy the people yet it demands and collects very high tariff.
While we condemn the failure of NERC to enforce the implementation of that Presidential directive, we think that the Federal Government should pursue the implementation of the tariff cut to the letter.
The Federal Government may need to remind the DISCOs that they increased the tariff unlawfully and should revert quickly or face some sanctions. This must be done now to ensure that sanity prevails in this sector now, especially where the private operators will be too quick to make profit against the good of the people.

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Editorial

Oshiomhole’s Reckless Outburst

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Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of Nigeria sacked David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the governor-elect of Bayelsa State and asked the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately issue a certificate of return to the candidate of the party with the highest number of votes and required constitutional spread as the winner of the November 16, 2019 gubernatorial poll.
The Justice Mary Odili-led panel of the apex court gave the ruling based on the inconsistency of the name of the APC deputy governorship candidate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, in the certificates he presented to INEC before the election and for which a lower court had earlier disqualified him.
INEC had declared Mr. Lyon as winner of the governorship contest with 352,552 votes while Senator Duoye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came far second with 143,172 votes.
But the Supreme Court’s judgement did not go down well with the APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, who while addressing the press shortly after the ruling declared that nobody should be sworn in as the new governor of Bayelsa State on Friday when the eight-year tenure of Hon. Seriake Dickson would have ended.
He said that the nation’s apex court ought to have borrowed a similar case in which it nullified the election of governor-elect Adamu Muazu of Bauchi State in 1999.
Oshiomhole also claimed the fact that Senator Diri’s votes did not meet the geographical spread required for him to be sworn in as governor.
“If the Supreme Court has ruled that David Lyon cannot now be sworn in as the person who has the highest number of votes and the spread to be sworn in, it simply means from tomorrow there will be no government in Bayelsa State.
“From the facts available to us and in due consultation with our lawyers, it is clear that no candidate meets the requirements of the Supreme Court which means no one can be sworn in legally tomorrow unless there is deliberate attempt to abuse the legal process,” he boasted.
The Tide thinks that Mr. Oshiomhole’s outburst was rather reckless as it had the capacity to provoke mass rampage in Bayelsa. In fact, we believe that his utterances were responsible for the attacks by suspected APC protesters who destroyed the private residences of the erstwhile Governor of the State, Seriake Dickson, and his successor, Duoye Diri. Part of the PDP secretariat was also burnt while the state-owned FM station, Radio Bayelsa, was also reported to have been attacked, all leading to the imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew by the police in the state.
As a former labour leader in the country and two-term Governor of Edo State, Oshiomhole should have been more mature and circumspect in his choice of words. To say that the decision of the highest court in the land cannot and should not be executed is simply a call for anarchy.
Oshiomhole was once the beneficiary of a Supreme Court verdict and, as is now popular with the Nigerian political class, he must have then seen the apex court as ‘the last hope of the common man’.
Indeed, Nigerian politicians seem to have this trait of hailing court decisions when such favour them while criticising or rejecting judicial pronouncements which do not serve their interests.
While we sympathise with the APC chairman over his party’s shocking loss at the Supreme Court, we see his latest attempt at political grandstanding as being pushed a little overboard.
The candidate of the party with the highest vote and spread, Senator Diri of the PDP, was sworn-in on Friday contrary to Oshiomhole’s ranting. And until the same court reverses that judgement, there is absolutely nothing he can do in this matter.
We equally condemn the unwarranted attempt by Oshiomhole to drag the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike into the verdict of the Supreme Court. Like a true sportsman, he should learn to fight another day when failure comes knocking.
Oshiomhole should tread with caution. Being the national chairman of a ruling party calls for maturity and strategic thinking. Other chieftains of his party who spoke on the apex court’s pronouncement demonstrated more maturity by asking members to remain calm while the party decides the next line of action. That is always the position of statesmen across party lines. And that is what was expected from the embattled APC Chairman.

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Editorial

No To Pension Fund Borrowing

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Being a country most notorious for borrowings, it does not come across as a consternation that Nigeria would ask to take a N2 trillion loan from the dedicated Pension Fund. Expectedly, the proposal has raised the ire of labour unions, workers, groups and critical stakeholders who have vehemently repudiated the idea. Despite that, the federal government seems intent on going ahead with the planned action.
The Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, confirmed the government’s position at the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting he presided lately where he revealed that plans had been perfected to take N2 trillion from the current N10 trillion domiciled in the pension till to finance the rejuvenation of decomposing infrastructure.
However, if the glitches that characterised the pension schemes prior to 2004 are anything to go by, then, this is a fatal move that must be halted. Our suspicion is deepened by the fact that at the moment, the government’s indebtedness to pensions in accrued rights, pension differentials, minimum pension guarantee, pension increase is well over N400 billion.
Government needs to be reminded that the Contributory Pension Scheme came into existence in 2004 to replace the moribund Defined Pension Scheme. It is fully funded by workers and employers and privately managed by Pension Fund Administrators. The monies are in the individual Retirement Savings Account (RSA). Therefore, it is significant that the consent of the workers is, at least, sought.
While infrastructure is a colossal asset around the world, and especially in most advanced countries in which private investors could invest Pension Fund and make high returns, here, infrastructure is yet to be an asset because Nigeria runs a dysfunctional economy, morbidly dependent on crude oil revenue. It is an economy that sustains enormous corruption and relies ponderously on the importation of goods and services that can effortlessly be generated here.
A recent Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) report indicated that the Federal Government registered N4.62 trillion deficit in 2019. That year, its highest expenditure went on recurrent at N4.05 trillion out of a budget of N8.9 trillion. This is certainly an unworkable economic exemplification. A country which keeps allocating more resources to consumption cannot guarantee that the funds its government seeks to borrow will not be frittered on politicians and civil servants.
We firmly believe that the government does not have to borrow to erect or maintain infrastructure if it can cut on its garish lifestyle. For example, besides the prodigious sums expended on federal lawmakers, fuel subsidy alone cost the nation N2.95 trillion in 2018. With this, we find it hard to comprehend why the four refineries that gulped about $400 million between 2013 and 2015 cannot be auctioned to private investors who can run them efficiently.
Again, a report by the Debt Management Office (DMO) stated that as of September 2019, Nigeria had a debt profile of N26.21 trillion or $85.3 billion while debt servicing alone costs N2 trillion annually on average. This has more severely compromised the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio. The obvious implication is that the current ratio cannot sustain  a serious borrowing any longer. So, what is the repayment plan for the N2 trillion when debt servicing guzzles so much?
In a surprisingly bold statement, the Federal Government claims it needs the N2 trillion to plough into infrastructural upswings like the rails, roads and power. These are desirable projects, no doubt, but it will be harmful to divert pension capital to them. In the first place, it doesn’t make sense to keep plunging public funds into power when in the privatisation exercise of November 2013, N1.7 trillion was disbursed to stabilise the sector without the anticipated result. The way it is, if the entire N2 trillion is assigned to the sector, no improvement may be recorded.
During the 2008 economic crisis, the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria deployed N5 trillion to bail out some ailing firms. But because there is a consistent dearth of political will in the country, that large sum is yet to be recouped by various administrations till date. Why look elsewhere when this money is more than twice the N2 trillion being sought for? Furthermore, what happened to funds granted private organisations like the Aviation Fund and Textile Fund? Of course, they have gone down the drain and unaccounted for while the culprits walk unhindered.
It is a fact that pension depositories are used to construct infrastructure in developed countries, particularly those with a vast ratio of Pension Fund to GDP. However, with a Pension Fund to GDP ratio of 6.7 per cent, Nigeria cannot cut a slice of its pension reserves to invest in infrastructure without jeopardising workers’ fortune. To be suitable to do that, our infrastructure market must be developed and well regulated.
We express grave concern at the fate of Nigerian workers in the face of incessant borrowings by our governments without corresponding development. It is unthinkable to borrow from the Pension Fund when the citizens have not felt the impact of the mounting debts foisted on the country. What is paramount to contributors and other stakeholders alike is the safety of the Fund, which, unfortunately, government cannot guarantee. This action of government has the potential to threaten the scheme and erode contributors’ confidence.
Accordingly, we strongly apprise the federal government to think twice and desist from overstepping the Pension Reform Act 2004 to gratify its crave to build infrastructure. This was the issue with Argentina when its then President, Cristina Fernandez, manoeuvred the parliament and clutched the country’s $30 billion Pension Fund. Instantly, international investors’ confidence wiggled and the economy went into a free fall.
As the regulatory agency, the National Pension Commission (PenCom) should not subject pension revenue to undue hazard by granting political office holders access to the Fund. Like birds of passage, politicians have no stake in the pension money; as such, they have to be prevented by all means from intruding on the future of Nigerian workers. The government with their itchy fingers should maintain a distance from the pension proceeds to stave off Argentina’s ugly experience.

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Editorial

Heeding NIHSA’s Flood Warning

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The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) has predicted that the country
would experience greater flooding with disastrous consequences this year.
Following this prediction, therefore, the agency warned that Nigerians should make adequate preparations against the oncoming rainy season.
Director General of NIHSA, Clement Nze Onyeaso, who reportedly gave the advice at the agency’s maiden press conference in Abuja, last week, said that the rains were fast approaching and the remaining days of the dry season are the best time to prepare against flooding so as to avoid a reoccurrence of the past, especially the 2012 experience.
According to the 2020 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) recently released by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), February 24 and June 22 are the predicted onset of rainfall in the South-South and Northern States, respectively, while the respective predicted cessation dates are December 28 and September 26. The implication of this is that Nigeria would likely experience longer period of rainy season this year than she did in 2019.
Onyeaso identified the causes of floods as high intensity rainfall of long duration, adequate drainage of low lying areas, silted channels, urbanization and severe winds over water, unusual high tides, tsunamis, failures of dams, levees, retention ponds or other water-containing structures.
He also pointed at the increasing concerns, over the years, about human actions and natural disasters that have been adversely impacting countries and regions worldwide and often posing serious ecological and environmental hazards.
“Though flooding is a natural environmental phenomenon, but it can be greatly accelerated by human-induced activities as is the case worldwide.
“Thus, with the increasing global population and the expanding activities of man, it is believed that flooding will continue to persist and, therefore, there is the need to control human activities, environmental adjustment and purposefully adopting actions in certain areas would make adjustment possible”, he said.
While The Tide welcomes this early flood alert by NIHSA, we fear that it may go the way of such previous warnings which were largely unheeded or, at best, treated with passive engagements while opting to employ the usual ad hoc measures when it had become too late for potential victims to reach for higher grounds or even salvage anything of value.
Like the NIHSA boss was said to have advised, governments at all tiers, corporate bodies and individuals should endeavour to avoid the ‘Fire Brigade Approach’ when the rain is already here. Attempts should be made to open up drainages or create drainage paths where none exists.
Also, governments should muster the will to relocate or demolish structures irrespective of their ownership, cost or beauty if such are found to be sited within the flood plains.
To be sure, the Rivers State Government has consistently desilted and expanded major water channels like the Ntawogba and Mini Waja in Port Harcourt before the commencement of every rainy season. We also commend the use of a highly reputed international construction firm in Nigeria to bring lasting solution to the persistent floods at St. John’s Campus Bus Stop, Kaduna Street Flyover (near FRSC), Rumuomasi (near Nigerian Air Force Base) and such other bad spots on the Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway.
We are also not unaware of the current effort by the Rivers State Ministry of Environment to work with the state Legislature toward establishing an emergency response team. What is more, the state’s Waste Management Agency (RIWAMA) has, through its Sole Administrator, Bro Felix Obuah, re-echoed the NIHSA message by urging Rivers residents to clear their drains and water channels before the rains arrive.
However, in the event of any flood disasters, we shall continue to call for the Federal Government and its emergency management outfits to enlist the services of the military as is the practice elsewhere. Apart from soldiers’ expertise in search-and-rescue operations, their helicopters are often used to identify worst affected areas and to either evacuate stranded victims or speedily convey first responders to such marooned persons.
Finally, it is no longer doubtful that climate change, natural disasters and human activities have resulted in environmental disorder across the world. For instance, Indonesia is seriously considering moving her capital from Jakarta to a new city located on higher ground for fear that the current capital is fast sinking below sea level; hence, its perennial flooding.
There are other cities in such situation across the world. We think that, here in Nigeria, the government should commission an expert examination of Lagos, Port Harcourt and the other riparian cities in the country.

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