Last Thursday, an atmosphere of peace suddenly permeated Rivers State when the incumbent Governor and winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in the State, Chief Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, in a statewide broadcast, called on the Minister of Transportation and leader of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state, Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, to put an end to all forms of political contentions and join hands with him to develop the state.
Governor Wike’s extension of olive branch to the opposition politicians in the state came few hours after the Supreme Court had struck out three appeals filed by the All Progressives Congress, APC, Architect Tonye Patrick Cole and members of his faction of the party, against the judgement that excluded the APC from fielding candidates in the 2019 general elections in Rivers State.
Contrary to the expectation of political pundits, Governor Wike, in the broadcast to mark the landmark judgement of the apex court, declared that Rivers State stands to benefit more if all leaders are united. Said he: “Although the present politics of acrimony and bitterness may have strayed from the noble path of the past, I still believe that we shall be better of standing and working together for our State and our people.”
“I therefore appeal to the APC and the Minister of Transportation to join hands with us to move our dear State forward. We cannot as leaders continue to remain divided and expect Government to deliver on its responsibilities to our people. Let us from henceforth seek the common ground instead of allowing our differences to be exploited to retard our march to progress.
“I appeal to our people to eschew all acts of acrimony, criminality, unrest, and violence throughout the State. I wish to recommit myself to continue to do all that is humanly possible to ensure the unity and peaceful co-existence of all our people irrespective of political affiliation.”
To further demonstrate his commitment to foster unity, peace and progress of the state, Wike directed the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice to review all pending criminal proceedings filed against any person by the State and directly related to political activities prior to the 2019 general elections and make appropriate recommendations to him for necessary action to promote reconciliation,and pledged to form an all-inclusive government to advance the collective interest of all the people, irrespective of party, ethnic or religious affiliations.
The Tide salutes the resilience and visionary leadership of Governor Wike that has prompted the bold move to initiate the pathway to peace, security and speedy development of Rivers State. No doubt, Wike’s extension of hands of fellowship to his immediate predecessor, Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi confirms his penchant for peaceful coexistence and furtherance of a united indivisible Rivers State.
We agree no less with the Governor that with the legal battle over, the task of building the State must take precedence over all other group or individual considerations. Rivers State has accomplished a lot to be proud of under the leadership of Governor Wike. However, there is still a lot more to be done to advance and realise the ultimate dream of the founding fathers of the State.
We, therefore, call on the Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi and others in the opposition to sheathe the swords and take advantage of the uncommon demonstration of humility, love, affection and patriotism by Governor Wike and join hands with him to realise a truly united, secure and prosperous Rivers State in the next four years.
Indeed, the time is now for the various political gladiators in the State to take stock, have a deep introspection and embrace peace in the collective interest of the State. They should realise that their actions and inactions in an attempt to grab political authority within this period of electioneering, have ostensibly caused great setback to the state. Needless to stress that their continuous political bickering and deep-seated animosity have been an ill wind that has done the state no good.
We make haste to remind the leadership of the opposition in the State that as the people nurse their wounds from the harrowing experiences of the 2019 general elections,there is the need for them to ask themselves obvious questions that would enable them burrow beneath the unpleasant outcomes of the agonisingexperiences with the objective of learning lessons and guarding against reoccurrence.
On this note, we appeal to all stakeholders in the Rivers project to embrace the truce initiated by Governor Wike, particularly as he went the extra mile to direct the review of all pending criminal proceedings filed against any person by the State and directly related to political activities prior to the 2019 general elections and make appropriate recommendations to him for necessary action to promote reconciliation.
We see this singular act of the governor as clear evidence of his commitment to foster peace and development in the state. Therefore, the time is now for chiefs, elders, religious leaders and all other stakeholders to leverage on this rare window of opportunity to enthrone the much-needed peace and unity for accelerated overall development of Rivers State.
New Visa Policy, Good But…
The Federal Government, recently launched in Abuja a new visa policy to propel Nigeria to attain a globally competitive economy, with a view to improving the country’s business environment and boost tourism.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who performed the launch, in company of the Minister of Interior, Mr. Raaf Aregbesola; and the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Mr. Mohammed Babandede, said the document sought to complement the Federal Government’s efforts towards protecting Nigeria’s national identity as well as the defence of its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
As it were, under the policy, Africans willing to visit the country without visa can now obtain visas on arrival at four entry ports excluding the land borders.
The new visa policy broadens the scope of visa obtainment in Nigeria from the hitherto existing six categories to 79.
The policy, according to the President, was aimed at attracting innovation as well as specialized skills and knowledge to complement what is locally available, and propel Nigeria to attain a globally competitive economy, improved business environment and by so doing, boosts the country’s tourism potentials.
It said the new policy also provides the platform to achieve what he described as African integration without compromising national security.
The visa on arrival policy could only be obtained in four international airports; namely; the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport; Murtala Mohammed International Airport; Aminu Kano International Airport; and Port Harcourt International Airport.
Briefing journalists after the launch, the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, said the new policy comprises special offers to Nigerians in Diaspora with dual citizenships, as this entails that they will now be able to make use of the passports of their adopted countries to visit Nigeria without the need for short stay visas.
According to the minister, although there were three initial visa classifications, which include short visit, temporary and permanent visa categories, they were later increased to six classifications and have now been raised to 79 to address every aspect of human needs from entry to exit.
The minister further explained that the process has been digitalised in a way that the involvement of human elements in the process is drastically reduced as applications and payments will be made online, adding that the visa categories were expanded to 79 groups because Nigeria wants to be detailed with enhanced security in such a way that if anyone beats security watch at one point, he would be caught at the other end.
According to him, the 79 categories cover various spheres of activities which include visa to boost the economy, visa for education for students, visa for religious tourism, medical tourism visa, journalist visa, among others.
On measures to curtail the abuse of the new visa policy through the land borders, he said even though in line with the ECOWAS treaty, there is free movement among member states, any West African citizen entering through the land borders must possess the usual valid travel documents, adding, however, that such arrangement is only applicable for people paying a short visit to the country.
The Tide notes that several Nigerians and organisations have reacted to the launch of the new visa policy by the Federal Government with some applauding it and others picking holes in it.
For instance, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) believes that the revised version unveiled by the Federal Government would aid economic integration, facilitate trade and investment in the country and creates jobs but cautions that individuals should be subjected to rigorous processes and screening before departure from the affected countries.
The Tide believes that as lofty and well-intended the new visa policy may be, it is a very ambitious project, because the country is not yet ripe and mature for it now. We say so because the Federal Government has not yet put measures on ground to make it work effectively.
It is unfortunate that the policy is coming on stream at a time the country is ranked third in the Global Terrorism Report Index. The fear that the policy may further compound the country’s deplorable security situation is not unfounded. This is because it has the capacity of making the country an all-comers’ affair and a place where criminals fleeing other countries may have a safe haven.
Again, it is not out of place to think that the notorious ‘Nigerian factor’ syndrome may also creep in to make nonsense of the new visa policy. This is because today, we do not have a reliable data base on the accurate number of foreign nationals in our midst. There is also nothing in place to regulate the movement of such persons in the country.
This is even made more worrisome by the sheer fact that there are no accurate statistics to show the correct population of the country. The figures we have at our disposal are based on conjectures. The Federal Government must first and foremost start addressing these anomalies.
It is unfortunate that the current leaders of the country dwell on the issue of attracting foreign direct investments into the country without making commensurate efforts to actually make the country very attractive for investors by taking more pragmatic steps to develop the country’s infrastructure: roads, power, schools, water, hospitals, among others. Whereas these things are taken for granted in other places, here, they do not seem to work.
There is, therefore, the urgent need to create a conducive environment in the country for not only businesses to thrive but also to make Nigeria a great country for the citizens, where hunger, poverty, disease and insecurity which have today seemingly buffeted them on every side, will be a thing of the past.
We strongly believe that it is only in this way that the new visa policy of the government will make meaning. In this way, it would be able to achieve its objectives.
Oshiomhole’s Reckless Outburst
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.
No To Pension Fund Borrowing
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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