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Editorial

FG’s New Policy On Food Imports

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President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent directive to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to restrict granting foreign exchange (forex) to food importers could be said to be a right policy in the right direction if the amount of money Nigeria spends on food importation is considered.
Currently, Nigeria spends about US$22 billion on food imports annually. Rice alone, imported from Thailand and India, accounts for about US$1.65 billion, thus, making Nigeria one of the world’s largest importers of rice. This is aside other imported consumable items like wheat, fish, palm oil and processed foods which Nigeria ordinarily should have capacity to produce and even export.
The humongous amount Nigeria spends on food importation, if properly utilised on infrastructure, can build hundreds of kilometers of roads, or if channelled into agriculture, can provide job opportunities for millions of unemployed youths. We can, therefore, understand the import of President Buhari’s directive to the CBN.
However, we fear that the directive, laudable and well conceived as it may be, is capable of worsening food security and exacerbate the already harsh economic situation in the country unless necessary measures are put in place.
We say this because domestic production of many food items in the country has not been able to meet the demand, thus, necessitating their importation. For instance, local demands for rice are in excess of six million metric tonnes while domestic production is just about four million metric tonnes, leaving a huge gap of two million metric tonnes. How does the nation make up for the shortfall without imports?
While we agree that it serves the country no useful benefit to continue to import simple commodities as tomatoes, palm oil, fish and other consumable items, we observe that the right environment and critical infrastructures to support large-scale farming and reduce food importation are currently in short supply.
The Tide notes that there is a cluster of challenges currently plaguing agricultural production in the country and which has pushed the prices of food items beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians. Such challenges include pervasive insecurity, severe flooding, lack of proper storage, dearth of infrastructures such as good roads, regular power supply, good transportation system, as well as inadequate funding of fertilisers vis a vis its distribution bottleneck, among others.
Enforcing the forex restriction policy without addressing these challenges would, therefore, add a new and scary dimension to the mix.
We insist that a complete ban on forex for food imports, without corresponding increase in local production of food, would increase the prices of food items and even encourage smuggling and proliferation of poor quality food items in the country, especially those that the country lacks the capacity to produce.
While we wholly align with the Federal Government’s self-reliance policy on food, we think that the policy requires a gradual, step-by-step approach as against this haphazard method that could put the country in a mess.
Considering the importance of food to human existence, and the fact that about 35 percent of business ventures in the country are into the food value chain, accounting for well over 3.5 million jobs, any policy that will impact on the food sector must be well thought out, well measured and methodically implemented.
Much as the Buhari administration is wont to ensure self-sufficiency in food production in the country, we think that the starting point would be to move more swiftly in the area of infrastructure delivery, most especially, of power, good roads and transportation system.
Without these basic infrastructures in place, and the political will to deal with the twin evil of insecurity and perennial flooding in the country, the restriction order placed on forex for food imports may end up eliciting counter productive effects that may plunge Nigeria into an era of food crisis.

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Editorial

NDDC’s Debt Profile

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The Federal Government recently gave an insight into what Nigerians, particularly the people of the Niger Delta, should expect from the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in the current dispensation when the Honourable Minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio, summoned the Interim Management Team of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to Abuja for an interactive session.
The Minister, accompanied by the Minister of State, Barr. Festus Keyamo, was reported to have told the Mrs Ekwagaga Enyia-led team in no uncertain words that it would no longer be business as usual in NDDC.
Sen. Akpabio also disclosed that the debt profile of the commission was now in excess of N2 trillion and that the ministry under his watch was not only uncomfortable with the development but was poised to take measures to investigate the deals behind the figures with a view to determining the true obligations of the commission.
According to the minister, the Federal Government has decided to conduct a forensic audit on the humongous debt profile while expressing disappointment at the complete deviation of the NDDC from its core mandate of championing the development of the devastated region.
While The Tide is completely in sync with the minister on the proposed probe of the unbelievable indebtedness of the commission, we believe that the entire mechanism of the interventionist agency needs to be totally overhauled and streamlined for optimal performance and effective service delivery.
No longer can it be condoned or excused that while appointees, staff and contractors of the commission continue to feed fat and revel in inexplicable luxury, the generality of the people of the region the agency was set up to serve continue to endure squalor, excruciating poverty and environmental disaster of monumental proportion.
It is ironical that a commission that was established to “identify factors inhibiting the development of the Niger Delta region and assisting the member-states in the formulation and implementation of policies to ensure sound and efficient management of the resources of the Niger Delta region” among others, has itself been swallowed up in ineffectiveness, inefficiency and uncontrolled corruption. There is little doubt that the NDDC has become part of the problem of the Niger Delta rather than the agency raised to sort out and fix the developmental issues in the region.
“Established in 2000 with the mission of facilitating the rapid, even and sustainable developing of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative and politically peaceful”, the NDDC today probably has the greatest number of abandoned and/or uncompleted projects in the region, including the headquarters complex of the commission in Port Harcourt which till date remains virtually abandoned.
How can an agency that keeps its headquarters under perpetual construction while paying between N200 million and N300 million per annum to maintain a rented property be trusted to deliver on economic prosperity? The point cannot be overstressed that political loyalty has been the primary consideration, not only for appointment into the board and management positions in the commission, but contracts are also dispensed on the same basis.
A source in the commission recently disclosed to newsmen that the immediate past board of the commission awarded emergency contracts to the tune of more than N60 billion in five months without recourse to due process and without taking into account the revenue profile of the commission. And this has been the pattern over the years with most of the jobs very highly inflated, poorly or not supervised at all and many times not intended to meet real needs of the people.
In fact, the history of the NDDC has been replete with not only stories of bogus contracts, execution of substandard jobs, abandonment of projects, award and release of funds for fake and non-existent jobs and other sharp practices but also outright carting away of physical cash of the commission by successive officials.
The Tide strongly adocates a significant change from the sordid performance of the NDDC so far, it remains to be seen if the Akpabio-led Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs can muster the requisite political will to birth a refocused, reoriented, performance-driven and corruption-free commission that will be guided, inspired and motivated by the interest of the suffering masses of the region primarily as against the self-serving interest of the political class in power.
Furthermore, we believe that the members of the new board and management in the making, even though their appointment has followed the traditional politically-induced pattern, can choose to chart a new course and reinvent the NDDC to benefit the people of the region.
The narrative that the people of the region have no justification to cry marginalization and neglect because we have not been able to prudently manage accrued and accruing resources to address our needs must change. Apart from the constructive and well-intended criticism, let every one concerned in the running of the affairs of the NDDC be moved into positive action by the need to restore the degraded environment and compelling imperative of an enhanced overall living condition of the people.

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Editorial

BPP’s Revelation On FG’s Inflated Contracts

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A detailed report by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) claiming to have saved N27 billion in 2018 through the reduction of inflated contract costs by government contractors evokes much sadness and signals Nigeria’s final descent into ignominy. The mind-boggling revelation was contained in the bureau’s 2018 annual report.
In addition, the report stated that the savings emanated from diligent scrutiny of awarded contracts by federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) before the contractors were issued the Certificate of No Objection by the bureau. A Certificate of No Objection is a document confirming that due process was followed in the conduct of a procurement process.
In particular, among the reprehensible ministries, the report listed the Ministry of Transportation headed by former Rivers State Governor, Rt Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, and the Ministry of Power, Housing and Works equally headed by former Lagos State Governor, Barrister Babatunde Raji Fashola.
Digested in the report was the assertion that in 2018, a total of 86 No Objection Certificates were issued to MDAs for an initial contract sum of N1.421 trillion but was reviewed downwards to N1.394 trillion by BPP, hence, saving N27 billion from the awarded contracts.
From the saved sum, N22.22 billion, representing the highest amount of savings made from a single ministry, came from the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing with an initial request of N877.40 billion. Similarly, the bureau saved N1.37 billion on projects from the Transportation Ministry also from an initially quoted amount of N76.22 billion.
The findings likewise revealed that disparate initially quoted contract sums from the Petroleum Ministries, Finance, Defence, Interior Affairs, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Federal Radio Corporation were reviewed and a prodigious N1.576 billion was saved for the nation’s coffers. However, the Federal Capital Territory Administration, Ministry of Environment as well as the Ministry of Budget and National Planning were not indicted as savings were not made from them.
We entirely commend the action of these ministries in stoutly repudiating the lusciousness of procurement frauds and back-scratching ravaging the country.
The BPP’s report is perhaps a most disappointing confirmation that corruption is still deeply entrenched in government ministries, departments and agencies despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s avowed resolve to rid the country of the deep-seated culture of graft and usher in a new era of transparency in public office. It, therefore, stands to reason that so much hard work and tenacity are required if the government is to deterge the rot in the ailing bureaucracy.
It is scandalous that fraud in the procurement process has hamstrung the efficacy of public expenditure and the occasions to advance the quality of lives of Nigerians. Regrettably, it has been established by the World Bank’s Country Procurement Assessment Report (CPAR) that out of every N1.00 spent by the Nigerian government on projects, about 70 kobo is lost to underhand practices. This is mind-blowing, indeed.
These reasons precipitated the enactment of the first Procurement Act in 2001 which provides for the harmonisation of existing government policies and practices on public procurement to ensure probity, accountability and clarity in the procurement process. Had it been judiciously observed since its proclamation, the Act would have curbed corruption drastically.
That is why we applaud the bureau’s courageous report. We think that this recent disclosure is a congenial way for the Buhari administration to invigorate the anti-corruption war whose strides have come in fits and starts right from the inception of the regime.
If the BPP, a federal government agency, could uncover highly dubious activities of some MDAs, particularly in those ministries headed by Fashola and Amaechi, two choice members of the current administration, it indicates that regulatory bodies and institutions in our clime can operate independently if left unimpeded by the authorities.
Unfortunately, The Tide observes that procurement-related frauds advance unabated because concerned officers who conspire with bidders to breach the Act are not sanctioned thoroughly to deter them from their offences. In that case, we adjure the anti-corruption agencies to prosecute felons appropriately. Procurement officers, bidders and contractors should be held accountable for their actions.
The BPP has discharged its role in conducting efficient and integrity-based assessment of those inflated contracts. It has whistled against corporate malfeasance, vigorously proving to Nigerians that it can bite. It is left for the anti-graft agencies to conscionably investigate the offending MDAs and prosecute anyone found to be culpable, including members of the administration indicted for variegated financial crimes but who forfend themselves from prosecution.

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Editorial

Enough Of Xenophobic Attacks

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Last week’s reported attacks by some irate South Africans on fellow Africans of other nationalities, roused very serious concerns from the Federal Government, well-meaning Nigerians and leaders of other African countries so affected.
Whereas the government had called for restraint while demanding from the South African authorities, explanations and assurances of the safety of Nigerians in the former apartheid enclave, there were Nigerians who felt that it was high time Abuja jettisoned diplomatic niceties and allow for reprisals. But for prompt security intervention, some had even initiated the process by attacking South African business outfits in Lagos, Uyo and Owerri.
South Africans had severally carried out xenophobic attacks on Nigerians residing and doing business in their country, mainly on the accusation that the latter engaged in armed robbery, drug pushing, prostitution, human trafficking and other illicit activities with which proceeds they finance their dominance of the informal sector of the country’s economy.
The latest attacks were said to have been conducted on a much larger scale as it targeted not only Africans but also Asians, resulting in shops and vehicles being burnt and wares looted wantonly as aggrieved youths went round physically assaulting foreigners in the big commercial centres, including the Gauteng Province of Johannesburg.
The Tide condemns these persistent attacks on Nigerians and other foreigners in South Africa, including the ongoing reprisal attacks in some of the countries whose citizens were victimised. It is regrettable that Nigeria has lost about 120 persons to such attacks between 2016 and now. Much as we cannot vouch for the conducts of these compatriots and other nationals residing in the Southern African nation, we think that the law enforcement agencies should do well to apprehend and prosecute anybody who is suspected to constitute a nuisance while residing therein, including Nigerians.
We find it difficult to imagine that a country which benefitted huge moral, diplomatic and financial support from Nigeria and other African countries during her many years under white supremacist regimes could turn back so soon to attack the same people that showed her such commitment and solidarity. We are particularly saddened by the tepid response of the South African police while the attacks lasted. The report that less than 130 persons were arrested in the course of the recent mayhem is surely laughable.
To be sure, there are also South Africans and South African businesses domiciled in Nigeria and elsewhere across the African continent. Prominent among such firms in Nigeria are the telecommunications giant, MTN, Multichoice, Shoprite, PEP and Woolsworth. Many Nigerians do not even know that some of the blue-chip banks in the country are of South African origin.
Only recently, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) sanctioned MTN and a few other network providers for violating some SIM card registration provisions. MTN was to pay about N1.4 trillion but ended up paying far less than that amount. And in tranches, too! Why did Nigerians not take to the streets over such obvious economic sabotage?
Not long after that, some banks were listed for sanctioning by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) accused of assisting the telecoms giant to covertly repatriate money out of the country. Again, more than half of those banks are South African-owned or affiliates. A similar case arose between Multichoice and the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC). Yet, Nigerians never harassed anybody.
Unlike previously, we commend the Federal Government’s reaction to the xenophobic attacks against Nigerians this time. The swift recall of the country’s High Commissioner, Ambassador Kabiru Bala, and later, the dispatch of a special envoy to Pretoria, were, indeed, most welcome steps. The sustained demand for victims’ compensation is another commendable exercise, coupled with the provision of evacuation arrangements for Nigerians who may wish to return home. President Muhammadu Buhari’s boycott of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Cape Town in the middle of the assaults also served to demonstrate Nigeria’s angst.
Even so, we advise government, at all levels, to begin to make arrangements for the rehabilitation of these returnee compatriots who have practically lost all their means of livelihood in a hostile foreign land. If Nigerians could afford to spend petro-dollars and pay the so-called ‘Mandela Tax’ to help fund the African National Congress (ANC) during the years of apartheid, they can equally afford to accommodate their now helpless kit and kin.
We fear that the Federal Government’s plan to attach security personnel to the Nigerian High Commission in South Africa and possibly embed some into that country’s police force may not yield the expected result of pre-empting and forestalling future xenophobic attacks on Nigerians. This is because no country would readily want to compromise its security establishments, least of all South Africa whose police seem to have turned a blind eye over the reported killings, burnings and lootings in that country.
Uncoordinated individual efforts can hardly serve to call the bluff of these South Africans. The Federal Government should rather rally the other affected African nations to take a collective action whenever any of their citizens is extra-judiciously targeted in the future. This way, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ruling ANC and, indeed, all South Africans will begin to learn to respect and protect other nationals and their business interests in the country. Enough is enough!

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