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Challenges Before West, Central African Shippers

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Zonal Coordinator, Zone A, Nigeria Customs Service, Assistant Compt. Ekpowie Edike (left) being presented with plaque by the Executive Secretary, Nigeria Shippers Council, Hassan Bello, during his courtesy visit to the Executive Secretary in Lagos last Friday.

Zonal Coordinator, Zone A, Nigeria Customs Service, Assistant Compt. Ekpowie Edike (left) being presented with plaque by the Executive Secretary, Nigeria Shippers Council, Hassan Bello, during his courtesy visit to the Executive Secretary in Lagos last Friday.

By most accounts, issues
of poor connectivity and high transport costs of international and sub-regional trades in West and Central Africa are major disincentives to shippers (importers and exporters).
As part of efforts to address this problem, stakeholders recently converged on Abuja for a sub-regional workshop on “Minimising Transport Costs and Improving Connectivity of West and Central African Countries: A Panacea for Economic Development of the Sub-region’’.
The two-day workshop was jointly organised by the Union of African Shippers’ Councils (UASC), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and Global Shippers’ Forum (GSF) and was hosted by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) under the aegis of the Federal Ministry of Transportation (FMOT).
The focus of the workshop was on “New International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Rule on Container Weighing and its Implications for Nigerian Maritime Trade’’.
In his address, the Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, urged West and Central African countries to address the challenges of high transport costs and poor connectivity facing the economies of the sub-regions. He particularly urged the UASC to adopt a holistic transport policy to address the challenges and other issues hindering the competitiveness of the sub-region in international trade.
The minister proposed the establishment of an integrated and sustainable transport system, with emphasis on rail and inland waterways transportation, in order to foster quality connectivity within the system.
The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), Mr Hassan Bello said integration of the West and Central African sub-regions would reduce the cost of transportation and facilitate efforts to diversify the economy.
Bello said that the cost of transportation within Africa was quite high because of poor connectivity, adding that African countries must strive to improve their transport systems.
“If there is no transportation, all these will not be useful. So, we need it as of necessity; we must improve our transportation system.
“It is that transportation system that will yield or materialise our potential; it is that transportation system that will integrate our West and Central Africa regions,’’ he said.
Bello said that NSC and Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM) wanted to establish constant shipping services that would internally cut down the cost of transportation. He said that almost in all the regions, imports and exports were ferried by foreign ships to and from sub-regional countries.
“Most countries in the West African sub-region, including Nigeria, do not own fleets and we are at the mercy of foreign shipping companies.
“To improve connectivity and lower the cost of transport, therefore, we need to look very seriously at the area of ship building and vessels’ ownership in order to increase the number of vessels plying our waters, with a view of encouraging international trade,’’ he said.
Bello described the role of NSC in UASC as pivotal because Nigeria, being the largest economy in West and Central Africa, generated about 60 per cent of the trade of the sub-region.
Beyond that, attention was also drawn to the impending implementation of the amended IMO Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) convention on container weight, which will come into effect on July 1, 2016.
The Secretary-General, Global Shippers Forum of International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Mr Chris Welsh, said that the new IMO rules placed new responsibilities on shippers to verify the actual gross mass of the container.
This, according to Welsh, includes the goods, packing, stowing materials, pallets and tare weight of the container.
Welsh, however, said that the new rules would also apply to export containers.
All the same, the Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargo and Containers (DSC) Sub-committee of IMO has approved changes to the SOLAS Convention that would require verification of container weights before loaded containers could be placed aboard ships.
The Secretary-General of UASC, Mr Adamou Abdourahamane, said that Africa’s share of global trade was more than nine billion tonnes, less than 10 per cent of the international trade. He underscored the need for connectivity in terms of infrastructure in order to improve sub-regional trade.
Abdourahamane said that the infrastructure included roads, railways, ports and airports which offered a lot of socio-economic advantages by connecting enterprises to regional and international markets.
He stressed that the non-availability of these facilities would delay transactions, while increasing transportation costs.
Sharing similar sentiments, the Managing Director of Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM), Mr Bashir Wali, said that transport and logistics costs were high within the West and Central Africa.
Wali, nonetheless, commended NSC for hosting the workshop, pledging NEXIM’s sustained commitment to its strategic objective of facilitating trade by strengthening regional maritime services and international cooperation.
NEXIM has requested for the designation of the Kirikiri Terminal in Lagos as the regional port for the Sealink Project (shipping line) of the West and Central African sub-regions.
The Technical Adviser to NEXIM’s Managing Director, Mr Hope Yongo, who made the disclosure at the Abuja workshop, said that the status of the terminal would be upgraded for container weight verification, in line with the SOLAS Convention. He said that the regional Sealink Project was aimed at putting in place moderate transport costs for shippers in the West and Central African sub-regions.
He, however, solicited cargo support from all member countries and encouragement of private and maritime organisations to boost the regional project and investment in it.
He said that transport and logistics costs in the two sub-regions were one of the highest in the world.
Besides, Yongo observed the absence of dedicated, safe and modern fleet to encourage and facilitate Atlantic Short-Sea Trade in the West and Central African sub-regions.
“There is inadequate infrastructure among member states and non-tariff measures are barriers to increased intra-regional trade,’’ he said.
Yongo noted that ECOWAS trade in the past 10 years grew from 4.7 million tonnes to 13.2 million tonnes without a comparative increase in transport infrastructure.
He also said that there had been low level of African container traffic; describing it as less than one per cent of the total world container traffic of over 400 million containers.
The ECOWAS Commission has endorsed and financially supported the Sealink Project via road shows. The project has similarly received technical assistance from the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa (MOWCA)
Moreover, the project has received technical and financial support from Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) as well as Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome & Principe. It also got the technical and financial backing of the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa, Africa Development Bank (AfDB), up to the tune of 302,000 U.S. dollars.
The Secretary-General, Port Management Association of West and Central Africa (PMAWCA), Mr Michael Luguje,however, argued that reducing customs duties and having an effective single window platform would aid efforts to reduce port costs to the barest minimum.
He, nonetheless, underscored the need to have a port community system which would serve as a framework for stakeholders to dialogue on how to improve the quality of services and reduce the costs of doing business.
Luguje said that the total port costs on a particular cargo, including customs duties and taxes, accounted for over 70 per cent of the value of the cargo.
After exhaustive deliberations, the workshop participants noted the non-declaration of container weight had led to several marine accidents because of overweight containers and poor stowage.
The participants urged member countries to strengthen their fiscal policy measures in order to avoid dumping.
According to the communiqué, there is need to check the activities of concessionaires in the sub-regions by the regulatory authorities so as to ensure fair charges that are commensurate with service delivery.
“Members of the sub-regions should deliberate and form a joint taskforce that will go against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
“Countries in the sub-regions should adopt an effective cargo transit regime that can harmonise the movement of containers within the sub-regions.
“Member countries should step up efforts toward training, retraining and sensitisation of stakeholders on best practices,’’ the participants said.
Member countries were, however, advised to sensitise and mobilise investors to avail themselves of credit financing and other facilities put in place for indigenous companies that want to venture into regional trade.
Cole is of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

 

Aisha Cole

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Fishing Out The Ritualists

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It would be obvious to a growing number of Nigerians by now that much of the violent crimes in the country, from murder to kidnapping and armed robberies, have much to do with some fetish rituals. A most recent case of car-snatchers in Eleme axis of Rivers State can be used as an example, because there was a confession pointing towards working in collaboration with witch-doctors. Ritual murder of a young girl by an undergraduate student also pointed towards the involvement of a ritualist and sponsor as accomplices.
Witch-doctors and ritualists go far beyond what an average Nigerian would know. Without being uncharitable or alarmist, there is a need to look into the activities of numerous religious sects operating as visionary and exercise ministries. To say the least, there are witch-doctors and ritualist, using religious applications as platforms of operation. Was there not a case of a “clergyman” and “after-birth placenta pepper soup”?
Investigations into the exploits of witch-doctors and various brands of ritualists, in relation to their associations with criminal groups, reveal shocking details. The first issue has to do with a propensity to acquire some power, coupled with an illusion of invincibility. In agberolingo such power of invincibility is known as “Odeshi”. Unfortunately, those exploring and promising such extra-normal power engage in a number of activities whose end-results they know nothing about.
But they go on, heedlessly!
Those who heedlessly explore the psychic world without knowing its nature expose themselves and other people to serious dangers, one of which is the possibility of insanity. Thus, toying with psychic power, for political, economic, religious or criminal purposes, usually lead to unpleasant end. Actually there are centres of energy of various natures which anyone can make contact with, but the rule is that only the pure can reach-out to what is pure or noble.
At best, what witch-doctors, ritualists and other impudent explorers of the psychic world encounter and deal with are usually inferior and dark energy centres. Fascination with what is unusual and curious cause many gullible people to be carried away by the illusory nature of the psychic world. One rule is sure over there, namely: There is no free meal, neither can anyone get what he is not qualified to get. The only thing easy to get is illusion or clouding of consciousness.
Therefore, dabblers into the psychic world for whatever purposes, do a great deal of harm to themselves and others too. When those who do so are clergy men and women, there is the possibility of dragging the image of religion into the mud. Serious seekers of the light of truth do not associate with juggling fiends of the psychic world, because no wise person would go for mud when gold is not far to fetch. One has to know the differences and values.
There is a need to suggest that stricter regulations be placed on establishment of religious houses as well as proselytism. Possibly, preachers and operators of all visionary, miracle and healing ministries should be licensed, inspected and subjected to regular audit. As for various categories of witch-doctors, ritualists often mentioned by criminal gangs as their accomplices or consultants, they should be prosecuted. They are known to demand for human parts, including placenta of nursing mothers taken immediately after delivery. If there is no demand for human parts, then, there would not be ritual murder for the purpose of obtaining such parts. Similarly, the murderers are merely killer agents for faceless monsters who believe in money and power as chief goals in life. Quite often such monsters are rarely accessible or prosecuted.
The illusion of wanting to get something without paying an equivalent price for it is an issue which all stakeholders in human development process must jointly emphasize at every opportunity. Similarly the fact that dark and impure forces thrive where people hold such illusions about life is a reality which explains the sad rate of spread of evil propensities. Of the laws governing life hardly is there any which stipulates that anyone can get away with any wrong doing, not even when a visionary, exorcist or a marabout claims that such law can be annulled. People are simply gullible.
Arising from the illusion that natural laws can be annulled by those who claim to have a power to do so, may gullible people rush to those who make such claims? While we may not be able to stop anyone or groups of persons from making claims about possession of unique powers, those making such claims should be licensed and taxed as they operate. Authentification and verification of such claims would also be necessary before they become legal for public patronage.
A great deal of harm had been done by dabblers, intruders and fake practitioners in every sphere of human activities. In the case of the unseen and known, there is a need to protect the gullible public from harms which can arise from such charlatans. While the laws prescribe freedom of belief and association, there should be strict provisions to checkmate extremities and abuses. Such extremities and abuses include disturbing and noisy nocturnal ritual and hallucinations under the name of freedom of worship. Ban on noisy worship is necessary.
Undoubtedly, activities of ritualists which include witch-doctors, marabouts, religious and cult groups, who engage in various orgies, are going into extremities that should be put under control. The current hard and difficult times in the country should not be a licence for ritualists to exploit the gullible masses to practise their trade for a fee. Some demand weird items for exorcism.
More importantly, the police should intensify activities in this direction by fishing out ritualists of the criminal hue and place a check on other groups to ensure that the public remains protected. Despite the difficult nature of such a task, ritualists of all kinds pose real dangers to society.

 

Bright Amirize

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Border Closure: What Gain For Agric Sector?

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It’s been three months since the Federal Government shut the major land borders in a bid to check smuggling of goods, especially rice, light arms and other contraband items from neighbouring countries into Nigeria. Government had explained that the action was taken to strengthen the nation’s security, protect its economic interests and grow the agricultural sector, especially in the area of rice production.
Last Monday, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, insisted that the borders will remain closed until the neighbouring countries are ready to play by the ECOWAS rules.
He gave conditions for the reopening of the borders which include: “There should be no modification whatsoever to the packaging on those goods imported into an ECOWAS member-state destined for Nigeria; so, with the original packaging they must be escorted from the port directly and transferred to the Nigerian Customs Service; for goods predominantly produced in ECOWAS member-states, the rules of origin must be certified, so we have to avoid any possibilities of dumping; so, if goods are produced in ECOWAS member-states, those goods must be in majority produced in those countries or if they are coming from outside ECOWAS the value addition made by an ECOWAS country must be over 30 per cent.”
Going by the diplomatic tussles these conditions might generate between Nigeria and other West African countries that may not accept them or may come up with their own conditions of doing business with the country, some have opined that the reopening of the borders might not be in sight. Expectedly, some have condemned the extended border closure, saying it will continue to hurt businesses, especially the small and medium enterprises, leading to more hardship in the nation.
Many other groups and individuals have, however, thrown their weight behind the federal government’s action, maintaining that it is in the interest of the nation. Prominent among the last group are Nigerian farmers and those in agro industries. Rice farmers across the country have reportedly been commending the federal government, saying the border closure is the best decision President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration has taken.
Alhaji Faruk Rabi’u, chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Kano State chapter, told newsmen that, “The border closure is a clear indication that the Federal Government is ready to boost agricultural production by insisting on the patronage of the home products.
“With this development, farmers will have more confidence that their products will be patronized. Therefore, they can invest more on their farms because they know that, after harvesting, their farm products will be sold”.
“If we continue to import rice, despite the fact that the locally produced one is the best for our health, people will continue to buy it,” he insisted.
In the views of a former Director, National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Niger State, Dr Mark Ukwungwu, despite the fact that Nigeria is not yet self sufficient in rice production, there are many gains associated with the border closure. He itemized them: – the rice value chain (production, processing, and marketing) will become more vibrant; it will generate employment opportunities; more land areas will be opened up for rice production;  the citizens will be consuming fresh home-grown rice rather than expired rice from Asia.
He suggested that to sustain these gains, government and stakeholders have to boost the agricultural industry in the following ways: offering of grants; granting loans at cheap interest rates; encourage funding from foreign agencies; revamping irrigation systems so that two cycles of rice could be grown in  a year; invest in research and extension services; stakeholders should also invest and innovate in the rice sector; example, the innovative partnership between the Governments of Lagos and Kebbi States which gave birth to LAKE Rice in 2016.
While he encouraged Nigerians to patiently bear the attendant shock, pains and hardships of the border closure, which he said will fizzle out gradually, Ukwungwu advised that “the closure should not be for long. Rather the agencies involved in manning the borders should be more alive to their responsibilities to ensure that smuggling is at the barest minimum.”
In the opinion of the Research fellow/ Scientist, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Ibadan, Dr Uche Asogwa, the agricultural sector and the nation in general stands to gain immensely from the border closure if effectively and efficiently managed. He said though the action was taken in a rush by the federal government, without any prior notice to stakeholders, it was long overdue, given the enormity of what goes on at the borders.
According to the research fellow, “the neighbouring countries have shown flagrant disobedience to all the protocols of the ECOWAS treaty and trade agreements. The continuous influx of these agricultural produces and processed products, if not properly checked, will stifle our local produces/products. The local farms and industries were at the receiving end before now. But thanks to the border closure, we have no other choice now than to think Nigeria and patronize the locally grown and processed foods. With this high level of patriotism, the farmers will be encouraged to produce more, knowing full well that there will be market for their produce as the competing alternative will now have to come into the country through proper channels”
He stated that beyond the border closure government and stakeholders should take all necessary steps towards improving the agricultural sector and achieving food sufficiency for the nation. Some of the measures include: granting tax holiday to local farms and related agricultural businesses operating in the country; giving incentives in terms of loans and inputs to real farmers, not political farmers; provision of basic infrastructural (roads, power, healthcare and water) to the rural communities to minimize rural-urban migration; capacity building of farmers, especially unemployed graduates, to take up farming as a profession; resuscitation of all existing farm settlements and establishment of new ones; reorientation of Nigerian citizens to drop our newly acquired tastes for foreign foods and embrace consumption of our local foods.
Asogwa said there should be no going back on the borders closure until they are sanitized and the rate of smuggling activities and illicit business going on at the various land borders are curbed. He added that “we should take cue from China and other notable countries that shut down their borders for years so as to grow their local economies to enviable heights.”
Another respondent, Mrs Blessing Lerabari, a Port Harcourt-based farmer, expressed her pleasure over the border closure, saying that the action will help farmers to reap from their sweat. She agreed with the previous respondents that there is no way a country of about 200 million people, and a projected population of 400m by 2050, blessed with large, fertile land, will continue to depend on other countries for its day-to-day needs.
She noted that a lot has been said about the need to diversify Nigeria’s economy, making it less dependent on oil by promoting agriculture and the best way to succeed is proper manning of our numerous porous borders.
Lerabari, however, regretted that some Customs officials and other bodies saddled with the responsibility of enforcing the law on contraband goods are so corrupt and selfish that they collect bribe from the smugglers and allow these goods into the country, not minding the harm that it will cause the nation and the people.
She suggested that for the border closure objectives to be realized, the problem of corruption which has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation must be sincerely tackled headlong.
“It is this same corruption that has made some greedy, selfish people to mop up the local rice in our various communities, causing artificial scarcity of the food item and hike in its price. So the authorities have to look into it and ensure adequate price control of goods so that some greedy merchants will not be milking the poor people to their own advantage”.

 

Calista Ezeaku

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On Unicameral NASS And Governance Cost

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Although the heavy cost of maintaining Nigeria’s 469 federal lawmakers has always been a source of concern, “sitting politicians’’ have joined in the campaign for the reduction of the number of federal legislators.
In fact, one of the converts even suggested the scrapping of the Senate as, according to him, it is the House of Representatives that represents.
The converts: Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State Sen. Rochas Okorocha, former governor of Imo State and Chief Osita Chidoka, former Minister of Aviation, made their suggestions at different fora.
Chidoka who advocates for a unicameral legislature, made the suggestion after President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2020 budget.
“In Nigeria, we need a unicameral legislature with six members each from the 36 states and two members from FCT.
“The legislature with 218 members will be less than 50 per cent of current members and term limit of three terms.
“The 2020 budget for the National Assembly (NASS) is N125bn, higher than the combined budget of Education N48 billion (excluding UBEC and TETFUND), Health N46 billion and Social Investment N30 billion.
“Reducing National Assembly members by half will provide over N60 billion annually for the social sector, that will be N600 billion over 10 years.”
Chidoka said the new National Assembly would be both efficient and economical.
He described the budget of N125 billion for the National Assembly as “hugely extravagant,” in an economy adjudged to have over 100 million poor people with gross infrastructure deficit.
The former aviation minister said that funds saved from the contraction would be available for investment on policies and projects that would serve the common interest of the greater number of the population.
On his part, Fayemi advocated for the scrapping of the Senate in order to save cost and reduce financial burden on the government.
He also advocated for the adoption of Stephen Orosaye’s report which recommended the merging of federal government’s agencies that perform similar functions.
Fayemi said the type of legislative system that would be more productive for Nigeria in this current economic situation is a unicameral legislature.
“As it stands, the country’s legislative arm consisting of 109 Senate members and a 360-member House of Representatives, on yearly basis gulps millions of Naira.
“We do need to look at the size of government in Nigeria, and I am an advocate for a unicameral legislature.
“What we really need is the House of Representatives because that is what represents.
“You have three senators from little Ekiti and you have three senators from Lagos State, I guess the principle is not proportionality, but that if you are a state, you get it automatically.
“But I think that we can do away with that. There are several things that we can do away within the government,” he said.
Okorocha, the immediate past governor of Imo, now the senator representing Imo West, on his part, called for reduction in the number of federal lawmakers representing a state.
He suggested that a senator and three members of House of Representatives should represent each state.
“I want one senator and three House of Representatives members per state, which will cut expenses.
“A senator and three House of Representatives members can do what many have been doing.’’
He said that the reduction in the number of representatives from the states would help cut cost and ensure effective representation.
While advocating for ways to cut cost and ensure effective representation, Okorocha said he would sponsor a bill that would seek for the reduction of the number of senators and House of Representatives members for each state.
The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), has endorsed the suggestions for the reduction of the number of federal lawmakers.
CNPP, via a statement from its Secretary-General, Willy Ezugwu, said Okorocha spoke the truth concerning the need to reduce cost of running the National Assembly.
“The former governor simply told Nigerians the truth when he said what three senators from a state can do; one lawmaker is capable of handling the same.
“Like Sen. Okorocha asked, what is too sacrosanct that senators and House of Representatives members are doing that only a senator per state cannot do?’’
Also, two professors of political science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Jonah Onuoha and Aloysius Okolie, agreed with the advocates for unicameral legislature, which they reiterated would reduce the cost of governance.
Onuoha, who is the Head,  Department of Political Science, said bicameral legislative system is not cost effective, especially in a country like Nigeria, where federal lawmakers receive bogus salaries and allowances.
“It takes huge amount of money to maintain bicameral legislative system, especially in a country like Nigeria where federal lawmakers receive bogus salaries and allowances monthly.
“Bicameral legislative system is not only costly but delays legislative processes of passing bill into law, since the bill will pass through the two chambers.’’
Onuoha, who is also the Director of American Studies in UNN, urged the country to adopt unicameral legislative system as it is cost effective.
“If the country settles for unicameral, the extra money it could have spent in paying salaries, allowances and maintaining the two  chambers which runs into billions can be used to carry out capital projects,” he said.
He said if the country insisted on running bicameral legislative system, the number of lawmakers should be reduced.
Aloysius Okolie in his contribution said that it was as a result of bicameral legislative system that every year the budgetary allocation to the National Assembly had remained the highest.
“I subscribe to opinions in some quarters that the country should adopt unicameral legislative system as it will reduce the cost of running government as well as quicken legislative processes.
“The country is spending much to pay salaries, allowances and maintaining the two chambers — 109 senators and 360-members of House of Representatives,’’ he said.
Okolie, former chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, UNN branch, also said that as part of measures to reduce cost of running the government, the country should return to the regional structure.
“If we have one federal parliament and one regional parliament in each of the six geo-political zones, it will go a long way in cutting down cost of running the government,” Okolie said.
However, a legal practitioner, Mr Dele Igbinedion, said that people should not clamour for unicameral legislature just for cutting cost, adding that the issue is not whether or not a bicameral legislature is good or bad.
“I believe the bicameral system should remain because it has been proven to be sustainable and necessary. The process of law making is a very serious business which cannot start and end within a short time.
“The problem with the unicameral system which we have at the state level is that a bill can be introduced and passed the same day and sent to the governor for assent.
“This is not the case in the National Assembly; the two chambers must meet and possibly form a joint committee to look at the bill before sending it for presidential assent.
“The rigorous process a piece of legislation has to pass through forms part of the beauty of democracy.
“I think Nigerians should stop looking at the legislature each time there is a slight challenge and asking if we really need that arm of government.
“The judiciary often doesn’t respond to executive excesses, except there is a case it initiates, but in the legislature, a member can raise it as a matter of urgent public importance, national importance or ethics and privileges, and the attention of the parliament can be brought to it.’’
Apparently, Igbinedion was surmising that many state assemblies have become rubber stamps because the governors could easily “conquer’’ them, because it is only a single chamber.
Stakeholders say that unicameral and bicameral legislature have their advantages, but the country should settle for an option that cuts costs and wastages.
Ukoh writes for the News Agency of Nigeria.

 

Obike Ukoh

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