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Editorial

No To Life Pension For Lawmakers

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Even as the electorate and other highly perceptible segments of the Nigerian society continue to question the propriety of paying pension to certain categories of political office holders in the country, the 24-member Bayelsa State House of Assembly, had, penultimate Wednesday, in apparent arrogant and flagrant display of supine callousness to the sufferings, yearnings and aspirations of its beleaguered people, hurriedly passed a bill proposing pension for its current and past members.
The Bill proposed a monthly pension of N100,000 for members while the Speaker and Deputy Speaker will be entitled to N500,000 and N200,000 respectively.
Expectedly, the Bill has been generating serious and persistent public outcry – and even divergent opinions, many of which range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some civil society groups have even been quoted as suggesting that the lawmakers be stripped naked and properly flogged in full pubic glare.
The Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, in his wisdom, or perhaps, ostensibly heeding to public outcry, declined assent to the bill which, as it were, sought life pension for the state lawmakers.
Dickson’s decision to withhold assent to the controversial bill, according to a statement by the State Information Commissioner, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, has since been officially conveyed to the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly.
Dickson, Iworiso-Markson said, had in a consultative meeting with the State lawmakers in his Toru-Orua country home stated point blank that the provisions of the bill were inconsistent with the letters and spirit of Section 124 of the Nigerian Constitution.
Insisting that the State Assembly lacked the powers to expand the categories of public servants who should be entitled to pensions, Dickson said the provisions of the bill granting pension to the current and serving State lawmakers including those that served in the old Rivers State House of Assembly, is inconsistent with Section 124 of the Nigerian Constitution.
“While I agree that the Assembly can adjust the quantum of pension payable to persons entitled to pension, I am not convinced that the House has powers to add to the categories of pensionable public officers.
“Evidently, there is no record of any other state in this country that has expanded the categories of pensionable public officers to include lawmakers.
“I do agree that Bayelsa which is coping with all the myriads of issues and challenges, with our low Internally Generated Revenue base and the unpredictable oil economy, should be the first to initiate this”, Dickson said.
As if the furore generated by the Bayelsa lawmakers’ self-seeking move was not enough to dissuade it, the Ekiti State House of Assembly, on its part, true to the prediction of many, had reportedly started considering moves towards sending a similar bill to Governor Kayode Fayemi. The Majority Leader of the Assembly, Gboyega Aribisogan, who had confirmed the move to newsmen said the matter which had already reached parliamentary stage had been discussed by the lawmakers.
Not a few observers believe that the Bayelsa lawmakers’ move would trigger off more of such moves by their counterparts across the federation, the Ekiti State example notwithstanding. This must stop now.
Pensions, as they were, are the exclusive rights of civil servants who use significant number of their productive years to serve their states meritoriously. It is not for legislators or any other political office holders who had already leveraged on their elective positions to prepare better future for themselves and their families.
It needs not be stressed here that our lawmakers, as with other politicians, within their periods in office acquired exotic cars, mansions in different parts of the country and overseas, assets in blue-chip companies, and starched away enough monies in local and foreign currencies. Thus, it will be a disservice and in fact, criminal for such persons to continue to impoverish, under-develop, and fleece the state of its meagre resources in the name of pensions.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the nation is passing through extremely difficult times that require more of the understanding and sacrifice of our elected public men and women than this flagrant and nauseating show of greed and self-centredness.
While The Tide commends Governor Dickson for promptly declining assent to the obnoxious bill, we say a categorical No to pensions for lawmakers who, rather than make meaningful contributions to the development of their constituents, have exhibited exemplary penchant for selfishness and irresponsibility.

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Editorial

No To Nationwide OPI

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Last week, while deliberating on matters of urgent national importance, the Federal House of Representatives passed a motion suspending a proposed exercise by the Nigerian Army tagged, Operation Positive Identification, OPI.
The exercise which was billed to last between November 1 to December 23, 2019 would require Nigerians to move about with means of identification. According to the Army, the operation would enable them profile Nigerians and identify genuine citizens from aliens, bandits, insurgents, kidnappers and other criminals.
But the Reps members, while unanimously voting against the operation said that the planned exercise was unconstitutional and against the natural rights of Nigerians to free movement.
Also, on Tuesday, Justice Rilwanu Aikawa of Federal High Court, Lagos ordered the Nigerian Army and its Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to suspend the operation, which had already commenced on the first day of the month.
According to Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), who brought the matter before the court, the operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, “as encapsulated in Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.
The Tide cannot agree more with the Federal House of Representatives, Justice Aikawa, Mr Falana and indeed many other concerned but silent Nigerians, who would be put through untold hardship if the operation was allowed to live through its schedule.
No matter what may have informed the exercise or the objectives the propounders had hoped to achieve, allowing OPI to be carried out nationwide by the Army would have wrought more agony, tears and complaints on Nigerians.
We think that, apart from being unconstitutional, the Army by their training and operations are not equipped for this kind of operation that is supposed to be civil in nature. It is really undemocratic to over expose the Army to the civilian populace, especially, when there is no war.
It is worrisome that the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be over-labouring the military with extra responsibilities, most of which are civil in nature, when there are other agencies of government, that should naturally be saddled with such responsibilities. The Army has its roles and responsibilities clearly stated in the Constitution of the country, which mandates them to protect and defend the territorial sovereignty of the nation from external threats and insurrection.
While we are not against the military adopting any measure or tactic, including OPI to check and quell banditry, insurrection and Boko Haram menace, particularly in the North-East and North-West of the country, extending it to all parts of the nation at this time is uncalled for.
Infact, we see OPI as mooted by its sponsors as a high level scam, a kite flown by some highly placed individuals in the corridors of power to rip off the nation, even as it groans under the weight of scarce resources. Therefore, no effort should be spared to discourage and nip the illegality in the bud.
If we must embark on an exercise to profile and identify Nigerians and residents, we believe that the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, the Department of State Services DSS and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC are better equipped for the job. The military, we think, should be left to concern themselves with their constitutional duties, particularly, that of checking external aggression against Nigeria.
Apart from being unconstitutional and uncalled for, OPI across the country at this time will not only exacerbate the existing tension and frustrations in Nigeria, the citizens would be downgraded. The country will be militarised while the international community will also view us as an unsecured nation that is not worthy for investment.
That most Nigerians have either rejected or spoken against OPI at the scale that was put forward by the Army shows that it is not in the interest of the people. Moreso, the fact that sources within the military a few days ago recanted on the OPI and denied ownership of the operation suggests that the operation should be treated with suspicion.
That is why we expect the Presidency to pull the plug on the operation, while the Federal High Court and the National Assembly go beyond suspension of the exercise and cancel it outrightly.

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Editorial

Social Media Reform: Good, But…

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Last week, the Federal Government disclosed its plan to police the cyberspace and inject sanity into the social media. Apparently ruffled by the avalanche of fake news, hate speech and other divisive stuff that traffic daily on social media platforms, the government said it can no longer sit by and watch promoters of fake news and hate speeches tear the fabrics of the society apart.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at a press conference in Abuja, last Tuesday, said, “We cannot allow fake news and hate speech to become free speech because the Siamese twins of evil are capable of inflicting untold damage on our democracy and are threatening our national unity. They represent a clear and imminent danger to our survival as a nation.” He, however, allayed fears of using the reform to muzzle the media or stifle free speech.
The minister was only echoing or amplifying what President Muhammadu Buhari had said in his Independence Day broadcast that “Whilst we uphold the constitutional rights of our people to freedom of expression and association, where the purported exercise of these rights infringes on the rights of other citizens or threatens to undermine our national security, we will take firm and decisive action.”
This is not the first time the Federal Government will be raising concerns over contents on social media. A year ago, precisely on July 11, 2018, the Federal Government launched the “National Campaign Against Fake News and Hate Speech.”
The Information and Culture Minister also recently set up a committee on the implementation of the recommendations that were approved by the President to inject sanity into the nation’s broadcast industry, following the alleged breach of professional conduct by some broadcast stations before and during the last general elections.
Notwithstanding that the government’s latest move has attracted a red flag from some stakeholders, including the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) who question the propriety of such plan, The Tide welcomes any reform to sanitise the social media in view of their abuse.
While we appreciate the genuine concern of many Nigerians that the Federal Government’s plan has the potential of muzzling  the media and stifling free speech, we are also concerned about the abuse the social media has been subjected to in recent times.
We are also not oblivious of the fact that social media has radically transformed the world and made it more interesting and exciting. Information now travels faster and easier while genuine business transactions are also promoted and made easier through the medium for a vast global market. The cyberspace also gives everyone a voice to be heard and affords the people the right of immediate reply unlike the conventional media. But that is where the gains stop.
Researches have shown that fake news diffuse significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories and the effects in most cases have fatal consequences.
According to a research led by Sinan Aral of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it takes the real news about six times long of what it takes fake news to reach 1,500 people.
We agree with the Information and Culture Minister that hate debate on social media is adding fuel to some low intensity fire and,  if not checked, would consume the nation. Indeed, there have been many posts and videos on the cyberspace purporting to be true, but later turned out to be a hoax after verification.
President Buhari was a victim of such social media malady recently when promoters of fake news went out with reports purporting that the president wanted to take his Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Mrs Sadiya Umar Faruk, for a second wife.
Another horrible example was a viral video of a building belching flames that was purported to be the Nigerian Mission torched in the thick of recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa. The building, upon fact checking, turned out to be a factory that was earlier gutted by fire in Bangladesh.
Unlike the conventional media which has a gatekeeper mechanism and  is guided by rules and regulations, the social media is free-for-all with all forms of junks. Sadly, promoters of fake news and hate speech on social media platforms usually get away with it since there is no conventional means to either track them down or censor their messages. This, therefore, necessitates the regulation of the social media.
We believe that tightening the noose on the unlimited madness that often trends on social media will sanitise the cyberspace that is currently getting out of control.
In doing this, however, the government must be conscious of the fundamental human rights of the citizenry. The procedure to combat extremism in the cyberspace must not only conform with international best practices but must not also be a bait to circumscribe the civil space. It must not be targeted at stifling the views of the opposition or witch-hunting real and perceived enemies of the state.
In order to avoid the misuse of such reform and to gain the confidence of many Nigerians, especially pundits, we recommend that a council of tested and seasoned professionals like the Nigeria Press Council (NPC) be put in place to try vendors of fake news and hate speech.

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Editorial

No To ASUU Strike

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Penultimate Sunday, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) threatened to call its members out on industrial action if the Federal Government failed to rescind its decision to stop salaries of any erring Ministry, Department or Agency (MDA) that does not comply with President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to enroll into the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) by end of October, 2019.
The union described the directive, as it affects universities, as “illegal, unconstitutional and fraudulent”.
While rejecting the government’s stance at a press conference, ASUU Coordinator, Ibadan Zone, Dr Ade Adejumo, in company of other officers, claimed that the government’s position violated extant laws, statutes, and regulations establishing and guiding the universities as well as subsisting agreements between ASUU and the government since 1992.
They specifically alleged violations of Section 2A (a) of Universities Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Act 2003 which reviewed the 1992 Act; and the ASUU-FGN Agreements of 1992, 2001, and 2009; and claimed that IPPIS, if implemented in the universities without adjusting the platform, would undermine the system’s financial autonomy and independence.
According to ASUU, “IPPIS is too rigid a platform that discountenances the peculiarities of the university system in the sacred areas of replacement or recruitment of academics, mobility of academic staff for visiting, adjunct, part-time, and sabbatical offers”, and further listed the 70 years retirement age of lecturers which is above the 60 years for normal civil servants and Earned Academic Allowances as some of the issues in dispute.
The Tide completely disagrees with ASUU’s argument on IPPIS. In fact, the union’s peculiarities are in a way different from those of MDAs such as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), military, police, para-military agencies, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), among others, with the Constitution and special laws providing for their autonomy, which had since enrolled into IPPIS.
We are, indeed, aware that IPPIS, a World Bank recommended tool, took off in 2007 with key goals to ensure effective and efficient management of Federal Government staff records; timely and accurate payment of salaries and wages of employees; deduction of taxes and other third-party dues, remittance of payroll deductions to third parties; and the enrolment of employees into IPPIS database; in addition to helping government in development planning; management of payroll budget and appropriate control of personnel cost.
Its features include the Treasury Single Account (TSA), Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA), Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), among others.
We reckon that the first phase of implementation of TSA in 217 MDAs in 2012 helped government save about N500 billion, thus, encouraging its implementation across board. And between 2015 and July, 2019, about N10 trillion has been saved through the blockage of leakages in government finances; more than 20, 000 unnecessary bank accounts operated by MDAs closed; over N45 billion in monthly interest on borrowings from banks saved; and about N50 billion revenue stranded in different accounts mopped up.
Also, CPS has reformed pension administration and made it more transparent and efficient, with over N5 trillion in capital base.
We are surprised that ASUU, which had hitherto bandied itself as an advocate for good governance, transparency and accountability in the management of public funds, is kicking against a system designed to guarantee just that. We like to remind ASUU that even at state levels, most governments across the country have been conducting biometric exercises since 2007; and between 2015 and now, some governors have implemented more than three biometric exercises for all government workers, including academic staff of state universities to facilitate a state-wide database of government workers for effective budgeting and development planning. And we are not aware that such biometric exercises have affected their ability to receive salaries, Earned Academic Allowances, or access to retirement benefits, among others.
Perhaps, ASUU should know that the government needs to have a database of all its employees for adequate budgeting and future development plans, including infrastructure projects across the education sector, the universities inclusive.
ASUU should also know that for government to guarantee regular flow of funds and adequate personnel management while at the same time meeting other ancillary commitments, it needs to have a clear understanding of what is on the ground, challenges facing them and prospects, going forward. IPPIS provides the launch pad for that while checking corruption and sharp practices in the system.
This is why we consider as baseless ASUU President, Prof Biodun Ogunyemi’s claim during a meeting with the Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan, last Friday, that the introduction of IPPIS is not backed by law, just as its introduction into federal universities will only compound the problem of regular flow of fund and personnel management.
If ASUU believes that IPPIS’ “objectives include centralisation of payroll systems of the government, facilitating easy storage, updating and retrieval of personnel records for administrative purposes and pension processing”, then, it should have no problem with the initiative.
We, therefore, advise ASUU to be wise and heed the Senate President’s suggestions that “We are all in this together, and we believe that the Nigerian education sector, especially the tertiary, needs serious support… When you say government will fund universities, government will have to check how these funds are utilised but then, there have to be a mutual understanding that when they provide funds, the funds are properly channelled and the tertiary institutions can account for the funds.”
For us, IPPIS provides that meeting point! This is why we say ‘No’ to another ASUU strike this time around, and urge it not to walk back its suspension of any industrial action over IPPIS.

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