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Editorial

2020 Budget: Matters Arising

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Not satisfied, some economic experts and the political class have since expressed concern over the N10.33 trillion budget recently presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the joint session of the National Assembly for the 2020 fiscal year, describing the oil benchmark at $57 per barrel and crude oil production of 2.18 million bpd as unrealistic.
President Buhari had presented a budget indicating recurrent expenditure of N4.88 trillion and N2.14 trillion of capital expenditure in the figures based on $57/barrel oil price and 7.5 percent VAT.
Allocations to some MDAs are as follows: Works and Housing – N262 billion, Transportation – N123 billion, UBE – N112 billion, Defence – N100 billion, Agriculture – N83 billion, Water – N82 billion, Niger Delta – N81 billion, Education – N48 billion, Health – N46 billion, NEDC – N38 billion, SIP – N30 billion, FCT – N28 billion, Power – N127 billion, NDDC -N80.88 billion and Zonal Intervention Projects – N100 billion.
Buhari also put the Federal Government’s estimated revenue in 2020 at N8.155 trillion, comprising oil revenue of N2.64 trillion, non-oil tax revenues of N1.81 trillion and other revenue of N3.7 trillion.Other estimates are N556.7 billion for statutory transfers; N2.45 trillion for debt servicing and provision of N296 billion as sinking fund.
The 2020 budget is based on an oil production estimate of 2.18 million barrels per day, oil price benchmark of 57 dollars per barrel and an exchange rate of N305 to a dollar. Other benchmarks are real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), growth rate of 2.93 percent while inflation rate “is expected to remain slightly above single digits in 2020.”
While condemning the Federal Government’s decision to base the estimated revenue from Value Added Tax (VAT) in 2020 on 7.5 percent instead of five percent, economic analysts also decried the abysmal allocations to agriculture, health, education and the Social Investment Programme.
The Tide aligns itself with the fears expressed by pundits that the paltry sums allocated to vital sectors portray continued downward trends in the allocations to these key sectors that have direct bearing on the living standard of the citizenry and should be reviewed.
It is pertinent to make provisions for the adequate funding of Agriculture, Health and Education sectors given their strategic importance. Agriculture employs up to 80 percent of the population, especially in the informal sector, where the majority of the small-scale food producers are women farmers.
Similarly, the health sector requires improved funding, as our health centres, maternities and hospitals lack basic essential facilities and drugs and evidence has shown that increased investment in these pro-poor sectors has a strong impact on poverty and inequality reduction, while simultaneously creating employment opportunities.
Furthermore, the set parameters for the 2020 proposal remain unrealistic given the volatility in the global oil market and the increasing insecurity across the country. Oil benchmark at $57 and the crude oil production of 2.18 million bpd are unrealistic.
While we welcome the estimated revenue of N8.155 trillion for 2020, and expect that it will be vigorously pursued, we hope that with the new Finance Bill to be submitted by the President, the review of the domestic tax policy will likely lead to improved revenue over the period.
However, The Tide is worried that the 2020 budget proposal continues to deepen the huge gap between the capital and recurrent expenditures. Given the teeming population, we opine that the capital expenditure proposal for 2020 of N2.46 trillion, about 24 percent of aggregate projected expenditure compared to the recurrent proposal of N4.88 trillion is not good enough for a country with a high demand for infrastructural development.
We are equally worried about the paltry allocations to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Niger Delta Ministry responsible for the welfare of the Niger Delta people. We expect more attention to be paid to the completion of road infrastructures such as the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road and adequate funding of the Amnesty Progromme.
While we commend the tireless effort of the government in the early presentation of the 2020 budget proposal to the joint sitting of the National Assembly, we are worried about the slow implementation of the 2019 budget owing to low-level revenue generation, aggregating N2.04 trillion as at June 2019 and amounting to only 58 percent of the 2019 budget target.
Even more worrisome is that N3.39 trillion has been spent out of the N4.46 trillion budgeted for recurrent expenditure as at June 30, 2019, while only N294.63 billion was released for capital expenditure as at September 30, 2019. This has a major implication to the infrastructural development of the country, meaning that we continue to consume far more than we invest.
We, therefore call on the National Assembly to take a bold step in correcting the inherent inequality in the pattern of allocations in the 2020 budget proposal, with specific reference to the allocations for the agencies for the development of the Niger Delta, agriculture, health, education and the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP). These allocations need to be improved upon.
Also, as much as it is important for the government to increase its tax revenue, increasing VAT is not the right way to go. VAT is a multi-level tax on consumption and the burden rests on the final consumer and not the business; so the people are the ones who will bear the brunt of the increase. It is on this premise that we demand a review of proposal of any form of increase on VAT.

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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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