Ostensibly exploring ways and means of expanding its revenue profile and capital inflow, the Federal Government’s recent pronouncement to re-introduce toll gate scheme on federal highways, with its inherent inflationary implications on prices of goods and services may not necessarily be the panacea to the nation’s economic woes. Rather, it will further impoverish the masses who, from all indications and current realities, are already groaning and battling with life – no thanks to public policies that have made life nightmarish and gruesome.
Obviously, Nigerians are over-burdened and this perhaps informed the reason why the country is currently rated as “World’s poverty capital” with over 100 million people living in less than one United States (US) dollar per day. Instead of government to decisively initiate welfare policies that could cushion the effects of near-strangulation of the masses, especially the middle class, it is rather opting for the worst.
It is against this backdrop that the proposed re-introduction of toll gates on our highways becomes curious, vexatious and unacceptable to all well-meaning Nigerians. Indeed, it is an over-kill on the masses as prices of goods and services will shoot up without commensurate palliatives to cushion the effects on the citizenry.
Worse still, the 2020 federal budget now before the National Assembly has failed to capture the controversial fuel subsidy, implying that pump price of petroleum products may be increased in the 2020 fiscal year. In essence, motorists, particularly commercial transporters will be forced to pay more – courtesy of toll gates and high fuel prices. What is more, the budget also jerked Value Added Tax (VAT) from five percent to 7.5 percent on non-oil tax revenue from which government expects N1.81 trillion in the next fiscal year.
While The Tide may not be totally against government initiative of funding the budget so as to reduce excessive borrowing which is impacting negatively on the nation’s economy, it is our candid view that the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration must place the interest and well-being of Nigerians above other considerations. There, indeed, can be no country without its citizens. All public policies must, therefore, be tailored towards making the citizens vibrant, resourceful and self-sufficient.
Perhaps, that is why analysts and stakeholders think that government should take another look at the toll gates plan with a view to jettisoning the scheme till a later date. The Tide, indeed, agrees with this school of thought.
We recall that at the end of last week’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola said: “We expect to return toll plazas and have concluded designs for them”. Though, Fashola did not give further details, it is quite understandable that in this era and time, when virtually all federal highways are in shambles, the right path to go should be to put these roads in good shape before executing the scheme.
The toll gate system was in place when the country’s highways were in good shape but the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo stopped it in 2004 due mainly to corruption that rocked the scheme. And we think that for toll gates to resurface, government must ensure that all mechanisms are in place to ensure that the scheme will not go the way the last one went.
Whereas we subscribe to bolstering non-oil revenue base to finance critical sectors of the economy, especially addressing the country’s huge infrastructural deficit, we think that it must be done with a human face. The poor, like the rich and wealthy all have natural rights that must be protected always as guaranteed by the 1999 Federal Constitution (as amended).
Let the return of toll plazas not be another platform for corruption, misappropriation and mismanagement of public funds. The sad experience of the scheme in the past is still very fresh in the consciousness of Nigerians and that was why former President Obasanjo scrapped it.
We wonder how President Buhari’s self-professed inclination of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty will work when the toll system will negatively impact on poor people who depend on goods and services for survival.
The major concern of any government worth its salt is the welfare of the people. The present administration should, therefore, prove to critics and cynics that it is not paying mere lip service to its social intervention programmes. Its welfare policies should not be seen as a Greek gift and this is why we say ‘No’ to the toll system for now.
Government should strive to block all leakages of revenue generation, particularly from wealthy Nigerians, to mop up funds for the public good. Moreso, deliberate efforts must be made to cut down on cost of governance through merging of some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), some of which have duplicated responsibilities and functions, instead of the government deliberately over-burdening the citizenry through the toll system or other policies which are inimical to the public good.
Most importantly, the Buhari administration should leverage on expert advice on how to diversify the economy without much stress on the populace.
Easter In Times Like This
Christians in Nigeria and their likes in Christendom are celebrating Easter in observance of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is a big annual event for Christians worldwide, marking the end of 40 days of fasting, sacrifice, self-discipline, repentance, the forgiveness of sins and salvation known as the Lenten Season.
Indeed, this year’s observance offers Nigerian Christians yet another opportunity to reflect on the nitty-gritty of these far-famed events upon which the Christian religion and practice are hitched and how those episodes can renew their faith in Jesus Christ.
Amidst a season of anxiety and widespread misery as well as the decomposition of social morality in addition to the exacerbating economic fortunes of the overwhelming majority of the people, Nigerian Christians are today affirming the miracle of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Nigerians have really been subjected to substantial socio-economic strain largely on account of enormous corruption of the political elite. It is regrettable that many of the players in the profligate system are professed Christians who fail to demonstrate Christian mores; rather, they promote the frantic looting of the national treasury.
In the face of the Easter celebrations, it is believed that Christians in Nigeria would reminisce the agonising pains Jesus put up with on the Cross on Good Friday and abstain from avoidable evil inimical to the promotion of mutual co-existence, unity, peace and stability of the country.
This season, it is expedient that Christians imbibe the spirit of tolerance, forgiveness, good neighbourliness, love, mutual understanding, co-operation, and sacrifice for the helpless and hapless as demonstrated by Jesus Christ during his brief stay on earth.
In reality, in this moment of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery, gangsterism, cultism, economic and financial crimes and the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which have haunted Nigeria lately, Easter provides significant opportunities for Nigerians to reconcile themselves with God and man.
Easter festivals commence on Good Friday when Christ, according to the Scriptures, was crucified and ends on Sunday when He rose from the dead in fulfilment of biblical injunctions. As Christians observe this fiesta, church leadership and followership are required to know and learn the lessons of Easter which fundamentally pivot on humility and service to humanity, among others.
Though the quintessence of Easter may be withering and wilting in many climes, even within Christendom, the virtues of patience, endurance, tolerance and sacrifice are still germane, especially in our national life. These values should always manifest in us if Nigeria must move to the next level and be held in awe in the comity of nations.
In this country, for instance, tribes, ethnic groups, religious organisations, communities, families and the Nigerian project are wrecking and crashing because Nigerians have failed to ingest the lessons of Easter by treating their compatriots with honour, respect, love and dignity which they rightly deserve.
Sadly, the world today is ravaged by COVID-19, a disease that poses a huge danger to humanity and the Easter festivities. Hence, religious practices of millions of people are undergoing profound reversals in response to the ailment. In these trying times, Christians need to take safety precautions and clutch their spirituality more than ever to engage the challenges ahead. They should see God as the ultimate solution to the Coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s Easter celebrations might face major disruptions due to social-distancing policies. Since religious gatherings have proven to be hotbeds for outbreaks of COVID-19, many countries are shutting down worship centres and limiting public gatherings. Therefore, Nigerian Christians should embrace restrictions on religious activities and employ technological means such as live streaming as optional worship services.
Religious leaders need to offer regular prayers and words of support to their members to ease worries over the virus. Similarly, Nigerians should pray for health workers as well as caregivers and cooperate with them while they put their lives at risk for us. Churches should advise their members to observe social distancing and urge them not to panic.
The times likewise demand that faith-based organisations and faithful Christians provide charity services to vulnerable people, including donating food and medical equipment to impoverished or poor communities. This should be done with utmost caution to prevent the virus’ spread.
On this Easter occasion, The Tide challenges all Christians to go beyond the popular crusades, prayer vigils, dry fast and miracle explosions and cultivate those higher values for which Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead. We wish all Nigerians, particularly Christians, who make merry this time, a very Happy Easter.
Making COVID-19 Palliatives Inclusive
Evidently miffed by the shoddy handling of the distribution of palliatives to Nigerians who have been badly hit by the averse consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Federal Government, the leadership of the National Assembly led by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and other principal officers held a crucial meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Ms Sadiya Farouq, and top functionaries of the ministry, last Tuesday.
Reports from the meeting indicated that the National Assembly did not conceal its disappointment and utter displeasure with the way the Presidency had generally prosecuted the efforts aimed at getting succour to the mass of suffering Nigerians in quality, in scope and in spread.
According to the report, the National Assembly unequivocally rejected the list of the vulnerable compiled by the Federal Government as beneficiaries of the COVID-19 special fund, describing it as fraudulent.
At the meeting which also had in attendance the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase, Senator Lawan was quoted to have expressed regret that the Social Investment Programme (SIP) of the Federal Government had not delivered on its promise to Nigerians who need the intervention the most, adding that “now with COVID-19, they need our attention more than ever before. The time has come that we review the ways and manner we use to deliver the services under the SIP to Nigerians.
“We need to be better in terms of strategy for delivery and definitely, what we have been doing in the past cannot deliver exactly what will solve the challenges of the most ordinary and most vulnerable Nigerians.”
In his own contribution, Rep Gbajabiamila was reported to have underscored the indefensibility of the operation of the programme, so far, when he pointedly told the minister that: “The questions are going to be asked, how do you come about your list? How comprehensive is your distribution list? What are the parameters? What is the geographical spread? So these are tough questions that are going to be asked but I want you to look at them as frank questions that we need to ask.”
One of such critical questions was asked on Sunday, April 5, 2020 during a statewide broadcast by the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, when he raised the issue of the Federal Government’s apparent bias in the disbursement of intervention funds to Lagos State without due consideration for other states, particularly Rivers State.
Decrying the clear preferential treatment already dispensed by the central government, the Rivers State chief executive questioned the rationale for the N10 billion support given to Lagos without a corresponding measure extended to his state which shares equal vulnerability.
“While Lagos State received a grant of N10 billion as a commercial hub, Rivers State as the nation’s oil and gas hub that produces a greater percentage of the nation’s wealth has not received any support from the Federal Government,” he complained and wondered “why the Federal Government should single out a state out of 36 states to give support. Does it mean that support will come when a state has a record of over 50 infected persons before it gets support?”
Governor Wike urged the Federal Government not to fall into the error of placing more premium on any state over and above others but to always demonstrate a high degree of equity, fairness and justice in overseeing the affairs of the federation.
While The Tide appreciates the pressure on the Federal Government to respond to the burden of Lagos as the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria, we strongly agree with the Rivers State Governor that the gesture shouldn’t have been dispensed in isolation when the same existential threat posed by the pandemic faces all other states as well – even though in varying degrees
The point is that the central administration should have been sensitive to the needs of all the states as touching the ravaging Coronavirus and addressed them together, especially when the resources are taken from a jointly shared pool.
Going forward, we are constrained to advise the Federal Government not to give any state, least of all Rivers, any reason to complain of neglect or less than adequate attention in the distribution of palliatives and other incidentals deployed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
As the father of all, the government of the federation must adopt a wholistic and all-inclusive approach that reckons with and accommodates the varying needs of the various sectors and sections of the country in dealing with the situation at hand such that political, ethno-religious and sundry sentiments do not colour the texture of the intervention efforts.
The fight against COVID-19 is a battle of life and death literarily and, therefore, must not be prosecuted in the way and manner of the Social Investment Programme (SIP). Every kobo of the N500 billion or N1.5 trillion war chest being considered must be accounted for and deployed to save and protect lives of Nigerians, whoever they are and wherever they may be.
The primary purpose of government, which is the protection of lives and property and the welfare of Nigerians, must be executed with integrity, fairness and equity. Now is the time to demonstrate this.
Military And Boko Haram Ambush
No fewer than 70 Nigerian soldiers were reportedly killed late last month in an ambush on their convoy by Boko Haram insurgents in Borno State.
Some of the eye witness accounts said the terrorists fired rocket-propelled grenades at a lorry carrying troops as it travelled near Gorgi village in the restive north eastern state.
“It was a huge loss, at least, 70 soldiers have perished in the ambush,” one of the officers said.
According to a second officer; “The terrorists specifically targeted a truck loaded with soldiers with RPGs and incinerated the vehicle, killing all on board.
“So far, 70 bodies have been recovered but the toll is certainly more than that as rescue operation is still underway”.
It was also learnt that the convoy had left Maiduguri, the state capital, on its way to launch an offensive on a camp belonging to jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP).
ISWAP is a splinter group of Boko Haram which has focused on attacking troops, raiding command bases and laying ambush on military convoys.
Reacting to the incident, the Defence Headquarters gave the casualty figure in the ambush as 47 dead and 15 injured soldiers.
As stated by the Coordinator of the Defence Media Operations, Major General John Enenche, “We are in a fluid conflict situation; between March 23 to 24, troops who were on a clearance and consolidation operation which was successful were ambushed and we suffered some casualties.
“After the successful operation, the troops were heading to Buk when Boko Haram insurgents shot at the last vehicle conveying supplies and the bombs exploded, in the process killing some of the soldiers and all the insurgents that mounted the ambush”.
The military spokesman also added that following the surprise attack, fighter jets were quickly deployed and the fleeing insurgents that survived the explosion were neutralised.
Even so, The Tide thinks that the latest Boko Haram ambush on the Nigerian forces is rather one too many, especially in recent times.
In the night of May 13, 2014, a Nigerian military convoy was ambushed as the soldiers were searching for the missing Chibok school girls. This was said to have dampened the morale of the troops who felt that their leadership was sabotaging their efforts against the jihadists. The result was that about 12 soldiers of the Army’s 7 Division mutinied in Maiduguri and came very close to killing their commander. They were later sentenced to death after a court-martial in Abuja.
On Christmas Day in December 2018, it was reported that over 14 military and police personnel were killed by Boko Haram terrorists on escort duty just outside Damaturu, the Yobe State capital.
July 19, 2019, witnessed another ambush by the dreaded terrorist group in which an Army colonel, a captain and three other infantry men lost their lives. The victims were said to be travelling from Maiduguri to Damaturu.
Barely six days into 2020, January 6th to be precise, the Theater Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Olusegun Adeniyi, survived a Boko Haram ambush just by the whiskers while he was returning from an engagement in the Jakana area of Maiduguri.
There had been several other instances in-between these where Boko Haram and its associate groups waylaid the Nigerian military, leaving high tolls in their wake.
While we admit that the officers and men of Lafiya Dole deserve praise for their effort so far, it however beats us as to how the insurgents are proving to be the better at intelligence gathering. Indeed, Boko Haram appears to have its informants embedded in the Nigerian security formation. The military should, therefore, investigate itself so as to fish out any sell-outs among its rank and file.
Again, why would the Army move a large contingent of its personnel and materials along a route without first carrying out a reconnaissance of enemy position to ensure safe passage?
The increasing cases of ambush attacks against Nigerian troops in the North East also call to question the Federal Government’s plan to rehabilitate and reintegrate repentant Boko Haram insurgents into society. We fear that the programme might benefit pretenders who may be sworn loyalists of the terrorist group.
Speaking in Hausa on the Voice of America (VOA), a Nigerian soldier, in 2014, claimed that he recognised some Boko Haram fighters as his former military trainers back in Kontagora, Niger State.
The soldier who craved anonymity on the programme also said that they were often ill-equipped to face the fire power of the jihadist insurgents; their commanders having pocketed the bulk of whatever monies that were allocated for equipment purchase.
The war against Boko Haram in Nigeria has lasted far longer than previously envisaged. And this should not be so given what is voted yearly for the nation’s defence and particularly for the fighting of these terrorists.
While the military are wont to downplay any major battlefield successes achieved by the enemy forces, as is almost the practice globally, it has continued to exaggerate its own feats against the insurgents. Often times, Lafiya Dole has been hailed after repelling Boko Haram attacks or miraculously escaping ambushes by the terror group.
Much as this is commendable, it sometimes suggests that it is Boko Haram that is taking the battle to the nation’s soldiers contrary to the government’s claim that the terrorist group has since been technically defeated and is now focusing mainly on soft targets like markets, schools, churches, women and children.
We are not unaware of the success recorded during the Army’s recent testing of some Mines Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles in the region. With such equipment and the Air force’s exclusive right to the airspace, we think that the ambush attacks will begin to reduce, thereby saving the nation such recurring embarrassments.
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