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NASS: Beyond Okorocha’s Proposal

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Barely two days after Nigerians marked the 59th Independence Anniversary of the country in a razzmatazz of angst over rising insecurity, economic disparity and inflated cost of governance; amid political leaders’ charge for more sacrifices from the impoverished population, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, raised the hope of many when he lamented that the cost of running the government was too high, and proposed a cut in the number of legislative representation for each state at the National Assembly to only one Senator and three House of Representatives members.
The former Imo State Governor, who said this while contributing to the debate on the report of the 2020-2022 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) at plenary, noted that the reduction from each state will help cut cost and ensure effective representation. He reasoned that what three senators and several Reps members can do for a state (presently), the four lawmakers he is advocating for can do (even better if they are serious about representing the interests of their constituents).
“We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different thing to happen… There is need for constitutional amendment. Rather than engaging many people in politics, we can have few in the National Assembly while others can venture into other sectors… I will present a bill on it based on the mood of the National Assembly. Whether it starts now or later, we must do things differently”, Okorocha argued.
The Tide completely agrees with Okorocha that reducing the number of Senators to 37 and Reps members to 108 from the existing 109 and 360, respectively, would significantly reduce the cost of governance and free scarce revenues for government to invest into other sectors such as agriculture, education, health, among others, to boost economic growth, without diminishing the legislature’s contributions to good governance and national development.
Every well-meaning Nigerian agrees that the allocation of N125 billion (previously N150 billion) is annoyingly unreasonable for 469 lawmakers in a country where that same amount constitutes the budget of no fewer than two states, with a combined population of about 10 million. This is even more disturbing when it is realised that the country has N10.3 trillion in the 2020 national budget just submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari to the lawmakers to provide infrastructure in 36 states plus FCT and other services for over 195.6 million people. This is why Okorocha’s proposal feeds into the argument in some quarters that politicians are the main reason why Nigeria is not advancing in many areas and poverty is wiping away the middle class and eating deep into the larger population, with 469 lawmakers alone pocketing about 1.21 per cent of the budget while allocations to education stand at N159.79 billion and health a mere N90.5 billion.
Of course, the National Institute of Legislative Studies’ recent disclosure of the mind-boggling emolument of National Assembly members justifies our support for Okorocha’s proposal. According to NILS, a senator’s annual basic salary is N2,026,400,00, while a Reps member gets N1,985,212, 50 per year, in addition to a bouquet of allowances which hike a senator’s salary to N12, 902, 360.00 and a Reps member’s to N9,525,985.50 annually, thus, forcing the Federal Government to spend N1, 406,357,240.00 on basic salary of 109 Senators and N3,428,994,780.00 on 360 Reps members in four years.
Beyond that, the lawmakers earn special amount in every four-year period on accommodation, vehicle loan/fuelling/maintenance, constituency staff, furniture, domestic staff, personal aides, entertainment, utilities, newspapers/periodicals, house maintenance, wardrobe, estacode, duty tour, and severance allowances, to the tune of N24,090,000.00 per Senator and N23,822,000.00 each Reps member, forcing the government to spend additional N2,625, 810,000.00 on 109 Senators and N8,575,920,000.00 on 360 Reps members. This brings the total expenditure on each Senator to N33, 992, 360 and N33, 347, 985, 50 on each Reps member, most of whom may not even sponsor one bill or motion in parliament. This is unacceptable in a country where over 91.8 million, representing 46.4 per cent of the population live in extreme poverty.
Indeed, playing Okorocha’s script means that the lawmakers will reduce to 145, representing 69.1 per cent cut in the present number, and allowing about 324 redundant politicians to venture into other sectors. This will significantly reduce expenditures on politicians, and give government room to invest in critical sectors that will add value to the economy, improve security of lives and property, and boost national development. Realising this will be a game-changer. We, therefore, urge Okorocha to present the bill as quickly as possible, and also challenge the lawmakers to pass the bill with the urgency it deserves.
However, while cutting down the number of lawmakers could reduce the cost of governance, we also think that a constitutional amendment that provides for part-time legislators will give fillip to Nigerians’ quest to restructure the government in such a way that it becomes more responsive to the yearnings of the people, particularly the minorities. We believe that a legislature that has the interests of Nigerians at heart would have the will and capacity to make constitutional amendments and legislation to give the people what they truly want to co-exist in peace, unity and prosperity, without necessarily leaving too many behind in anguish and bitterness. For us, this is just one bite of a large chunk but it will help in the long run.

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Editorial

Easter In Times Like This 

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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.

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Editorial

Making COVID-19 Palliatives Inclusive

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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.

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Editorial

Military And Boko Haram Ambush

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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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