Being a country most notorious for borrowings, it does not come across as a consternation that Nigeria would ask to take a N2 trillion loan from the dedicated Pension Fund. Expectedly, the proposal has raised the ire of labour unions, workers, groups and critical stakeholders who have vehemently repudiated the idea. Despite that, the federal government seems intent on going ahead with the planned action.
The Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, confirmed the government’s position at the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting he presided lately where he revealed that plans had been perfected to take N2 trillion from the current N10 trillion domiciled in the pension till to finance the rejuvenation of decomposing infrastructure.
However, if the glitches that characterised the pension schemes prior to 2004 are anything to go by, then, this is a fatal move that must be halted. Our suspicion is deepened by the fact that at the moment, the government’s indebtedness to pensions in accrued rights, pension differentials, minimum pension guarantee, pension increase is well over N400 billion.
Government needs to be reminded that the Contributory Pension Scheme came into existence in 2004 to replace the moribund Defined Pension Scheme. It is fully funded by workers and employers and privately managed by Pension Fund Administrators. The monies are in the individual Retirement Savings Account (RSA). Therefore, it is significant that the consent of the workers is, at least, sought.
While infrastructure is a colossal asset around the world, and especially in most advanced countries in which private investors could invest Pension Fund and make high returns, here, infrastructure is yet to be an asset because Nigeria runs a dysfunctional economy, morbidly dependent on crude oil revenue. It is an economy that sustains enormous corruption and relies ponderously on the importation of goods and services that can effortlessly be generated here.
A recent Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) report indicated that the Federal Government registered N4.62 trillion deficit in 2019. That year, its highest expenditure went on recurrent at N4.05 trillion out of a budget of N8.9 trillion. This is certainly an unworkable economic exemplification. A country which keeps allocating more resources to consumption cannot guarantee that the funds its government seeks to borrow will not be frittered on politicians and civil servants.
We firmly believe that the government does not have to borrow to erect or maintain infrastructure if it can cut on its garish lifestyle. For example, besides the prodigious sums expended on federal lawmakers, fuel subsidy alone cost the nation N2.95 trillion in 2018. With this, we find it hard to comprehend why the four refineries that gulped about $400 million between 2013 and 2015 cannot be auctioned to private investors who can run them efficiently.
Again, a report by the Debt Management Office (DMO) stated that as of September 2019, Nigeria had a debt profile of N26.21 trillion or $85.3 billion while debt servicing alone costs N2 trillion annually on average. This has more severely compromised the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio. The obvious implication is that the current ratio cannot sustain a serious borrowing any longer. So, what is the repayment plan for the N2 trillion when debt servicing guzzles so much?
In a surprisingly bold statement, the Federal Government claims it needs the N2 trillion to plough into infrastructural upswings like the rails, roads and power. These are desirable projects, no doubt, but it will be harmful to divert pension capital to them. In the first place, it doesn’t make sense to keep plunging public funds into power when in the privatisation exercise of November 2013, N1.7 trillion was disbursed to stabilise the sector without the anticipated result. The way it is, if the entire N2 trillion is assigned to the sector, no improvement may be recorded.
During the 2008 economic crisis, the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria deployed N5 trillion to bail out some ailing firms. But because there is a consistent dearth of political will in the country, that large sum is yet to be recouped by various administrations till date. Why look elsewhere when this money is more than twice the N2 trillion being sought for? Furthermore, what happened to funds granted private organisations like the Aviation Fund and Textile Fund? Of course, they have gone down the drain and unaccounted for while the culprits walk unhindered.
It is a fact that pension depositories are used to construct infrastructure in developed countries, particularly those with a vast ratio of Pension Fund to GDP. However, with a Pension Fund to GDP ratio of 6.7 per cent, Nigeria cannot cut a slice of its pension reserves to invest in infrastructure without jeopardising workers’ fortune. To be suitable to do that, our infrastructure market must be developed and well regulated.
We express grave concern at the fate of Nigerian workers in the face of incessant borrowings by our governments without corresponding development. It is unthinkable to borrow from the Pension Fund when the citizens have not felt the impact of the mounting debts foisted on the country. What is paramount to contributors and other stakeholders alike is the safety of the Fund, which, unfortunately, government cannot guarantee. This action of government has the potential to threaten the scheme and erode contributors’ confidence.
Accordingly, we strongly apprise the federal government to think twice and desist from overstepping the Pension Reform Act 2004 to gratify its crave to build infrastructure. This was the issue with Argentina when its then President, Cristina Fernandez, manoeuvred the parliament and clutched the country’s $30 billion Pension Fund. Instantly, international investors’ confidence wiggled and the economy went into a free fall.
As the regulatory agency, the National Pension Commission (PenCom) should not subject pension revenue to undue hazard by granting political office holders access to the Fund. Like birds of passage, politicians have no stake in the pension money; as such, they have to be prevented by all means from intruding on the future of Nigerian workers. The government with their itchy fingers should maintain a distance from the pension proceeds to stave off Argentina’s ugly experience.
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S’ South: Need For Unity
On Monday, March 16, 2020, a team of leaders of the Niger Delta region was in Government House, Port Harcourt, on a special visit to the Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike. The mission of the high-powered delegation was to prevail on the Rivers State Chief Executive to be the arrowhead of the push for the development of the richly endowed but largely marginalized region.
Leader of the team, Elder T.K. Ogorimagba, disclosed that their visit was primarily to urge Gov Wike to consider being the number one advocate for the development of the South-South region.
Accordingly, the elder statesman described Wike as the ‘Advocate of the region’, and urged the Rivers State governor to host a conference of ethnic nationalities of the South-South region to strategise on achieving consensus on promoting the development of the area.
This was after a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon Smart Adoki, had intimated the governor that the Niger Delta leaders were in Government House to thank him (Wike) for providing leadership for the region and to appeal to him to work for the restoration of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) in the interest and benefit of the people of the region.
In his response, Governor Wike decried the manifest disunity and disharmony among the ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta and called for unity and a commitment to building a strong bond of togetherness that will foster the needed development of the region.
The governor emphasised that discordant voices from the same region along ethnic and political affiliations will not only continue to tear the region apart but will also continue to empower the forces of social, political and economic marginalization, oppression and suppression against the people of the Niger Delta.
“We must speak with one voice, irrespective of the political party that we belong to. The time has come for us to work together. If we don’t work together, we will continue to lose out,’’ he said, adding that ‘’ the song we should sing is the Niger Delta, not that of any specific ethnic group.
‘’When we sing the song of any specific ethnic group, it is difficult to unite. Let’s not restrict our struggle to that of any particular ethnic nationality.’’
Governor Wike noted that ‘’It is unfortunate that the NDDC cannot deliver on regional projects. There are no interstate roads and NDDC has not done any major project. Instead, the NDDC is engaged in micro projects to promote political interests.’’
The Tide cannot agree any less with the Rivers State Chief Executive that the Niger Delta region needs unity of purpose and a strong synergy among its diverse ethnic nationalities in order to attract a better deal and an enhanced living condition for the people.
It is, indeed, not difficult to see, as the governor noted, that interventionist agencies like the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA), the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), among others, have not been able to effectively deliver on their mandate of changing the squalid physical, social and economic conditions of the region largely due to lack of coordination, synergy and singularity of medium of articulating the position of the region on the national stage.
We equally agree with the governor that the time has come for the region to harness the strength and benefits inherent in unity and togetherness. The politicisation of the agencies of government, including the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, intended to midwife development, with the active unholy connivance of ethnic, political and other vested interests in the region, must stop forthwith.
In this regard, it is heartwarming to note that the governors of the region recently resumed their meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, and came out with a renewed commitment to collectively tackle common problems and challenges facing the region.
With the governors showing the direction and leading the way, other critical stakeholders should not have difficulty taking a cue and following the guide.
We, therefore, think that traditional rulers should follow suit while ethnic groupings should endeavour to promote and propagate regional agenda above their individual group interests.
Ethnic-based youth councils and movements should also be prevailed upon to emphasise and pursue overall regional agenda as against championing primordial causes to the detriment of collective regional goals.
From every section and every quarter, there needs to be a convergence and unanimity in agitation for emphasis on competence and passion for the development of the area as the only guide in the appointment of helmsmen for NDDC, PAP and similar agencies.
The era of ethnic nationalities, political parties and other interest groups agitating for their own to be given such positions in view of giving them undue advantages without fair and due consideration for the greater wellbeing and benefit of the whole region should be gone for good.
A house divided against itself, they say, cannot stand. And indeed, a region with common shared ecological, environmental, social, economic and cultural problems as we have in the Niger Delta cannot overcome its peculiar challenges except with a concerted, unified, coherent and focused resolve.
Still On COVID-19
Since Coronavirus (COVID-19) first reared its ugly head in December, 2019, in far away Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in China, a lot has changed. It has apparently turned the world upside down. Peace and tranquility which the people have hitherto enjoyed without inhibition seem to have deserted the globe. Panic and fear have crept in and becoming the order of the day in virtually all continents of the world.
Moreover, things appear to have really fallen apart and the centre seems not to hold any longer. The respiratory disease which the World Health Organisation (WHO), aptly described as a global pandemic, has continued to ravage and make mince meat of mankind, leaving in its wake pain, anguish and thousands of deaths. What is happening in the world today is only comparable to a war time.
Worse still, there is no sign of it abating in sight, as no vaccine for its cure has been discovered, even though scientists and medical experts are working round the clock to provide a panacea. At the last count, over 30,000 persons have died from the virus across the globe.
In fact, the rapidity with which the pandemic is spreading across the globe is unprecedented, most astonishing and alarming. In the history of the world, there is nothing compared to it. In response, and as a way of checking the widespread of the virus, various measures have been put in place.
There are massive lockdowns all over the world. Today, sporting events and activities are suspended or outrightly cancelled; and airports are closed. Businesses, contracts and appointments are put off; with heavy tolls on mankind. Stocks have continued to have free falls. Global oil prices have crashed. There are travel bans and restrictions here and there.
Today, the world is literally at a standstill; it is virtually convulsing, courtesy of the Coronavirus pandemic. Overnight, the fear of COVID-19 has become the beginning of wisdom in almost all countries of the world. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently asserted, “monitoring, containing and mitigating the effects of the disease should be top priorities for countries”.
Interestingly, several countries have swung into action to contain the spread of the ravaging monster. In Nigeria, for example, which has confirmed 131 cases so far, with two deaths, the Federal Government has taken drastic measures to curtail the spread of the disease.
It had earlier announced the closure of Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; and the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; and later placed total ban on international travels at all the airports in the country. It equally imposed travel ban on 13 countries which it considered to have high risk of the pandemic as well as banned public and civil servants from foreign travels, among other measures.
On Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation on the situation and revealed the measures and some palliatives the government has put in place to cushion the effects of the disease on the citizenry.
We boldly state that some of the palliatives are not what Nigerians are expecting from the government today. The Federal Government should borrow a leaf from other countries which are providing other forms of palliatives to their citizens.
Most significantly, as soon as the news of the outbreak of the pandemic broke, the Rivers State Government swung into action by constituting a five-man Inter-Ministerial Committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19, to undertake aggressive sensitisation campaigns to check the menace of the contagion in the state. The committee, headed by the State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, has not relented in intensifying the campaigns by reaching out to critical stakeholders in the state.
Sensitisation jingles and messages aired on radio, television and newspapers, which the state government through the committee has powered, are no doubt going a long way to put the disease under control in the state.
These are beyond the efforts being personally made by the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, to contain the spread of the disease in the state. First, the Governor directed all schools and tertiary institutions in the state to shutdown till further notice. Regrettably, Rivers State has recorded one index case as confirmed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
In furtherance of the commitment of the state government to protect Rivers residents, Governor Wike also announced the closure of all borders including air, sea and land routes into the state to traffic and banned vehicular movements in and out of the state. He equally closed down all public parks, night clubs and cinemas till further notice and banned public burials and wedding ceremonies across the state. He has signed the Executive Orders to give verve to all the directives issued by the state government to check the spread of the disease.
The government had earlier set up a 12-man task force on enforcement of the ban on public gatherings and places of worship headed by the Governor as a way of containing the spread of the disease.
Indeed, The Tide commends the actions taken by the state government so far to ensure that the incidence of COVID-19 in the state is reduced to the barest minimum. We believe that this is not the time to let down the guard. The sensitisation campaigns must be intensified.
The closure of the state’s borders by the Governor was the real icing on the cake in terms of the proactive measures adopted by government to contain the spread of the disease in the state. In fact, the government needs the support and cooperation of the Federal Government as well as all and sundry, to ensure that this particular measure works effectively.
We are also elated that the government is strengthening and enhancing the surveillance measures already in place to prevent the importation of the virus into the state. The truth remains that the battle against the pandemic is a battle that must be fought and won. For this to be realised, we think, all hands must be on deck.
All residents of the State must, therefore, observe basic principles of hygiene as recommended by experts by washing their hands regularly with soap and using alcohol-based sanitisers as well as keeping their immediate surroundings clean at all times. This is because, as they say, cleanliness is next to Godliness.
Again, the social distancing policy of the government must be strictly obeyed and enforced among other directives issued by the state government to actually contain the spread of COVID – 19.
No To Generator Ban Bill
A few months after the Senate rejected a resolution to ban the importation of generators,
the Senator representing Niger South, Alhaji Bima Enagi, initiated a bill that seeks to prohibit the importation and use of generating sets in Nigeria.
Titled “A bill for an Act to Prohibit/Ban the Importation of Generating Sets to Curb the Menace of Environmental (air) Pollution and to Facilitate the Development of the Power Sector,” it stipulates, at least, 10 years imprisonment for an offender.
The proposed law also notes that “Approval for exclusion shall, however, be obtained from the Minister of Power, who shall brief the Federal Executive Council quarterly on approvals granted.” The bill further directs “all persons to stop the use of electricity generating sets which run on diesel/petrol/kerosene of all capacities with immediate effect, in the country.”
The bill excludes generators for essential services, especially for medical purposes (hospitals and nursing homes and healthcare facilities), airports, railway stations/services, elevators (lifts), escalators, research institutions and facilities which require 24 hours electric power supply.
Ostensibly, the bill seeks to curb environmental pollution and accelerate the pace of development of the power sector. Obviously, there is an overwhelming decoy to view the new bill as stemming from patriotic zeal. But a critical appraisal easily uncovers the hollowness and utopian disposition of that piece of proposed legislation.
The projected law is inoperable and a barefaced invitation to a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Ironically, the same reasons that lent the ban unworkable for people in essential services form the basis for its likely failure. For now, the necessary and sufficient conditions for the anticipated law to achieve the touted objectives are non-existent.
The bill is vacuous and, therefore, should not have passed through the first reading. Having gone through that level, it should be discontinued forthwith to conserve public funds and save more of valuable legislative time. Elsewhere, painstaking research and intellectual rigour are put into the conception and reflection of bills that serve the public interest, but this bill bears no such nugget.
In their quest to expedite action on the bill, the Senators seem to care less about the facts on the ground concerning the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in Nigeria. For example, in mid-2019, electricity power generation dwindled from 4,000 megawatts to an abysmal 2,039 megawatts.
On April 25, 2019, there was an entire shutdown of Egbin, Omotosho, Olorunsogbo and Papalanto Power Stations. There has been a significant abatement in power supply to Nigerian households from 42 percent attained in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 37 percent in the first quarter of 2019. Public power supply to commercial and productive establishments was worst during the same period.
This is why we gasp in amazement at this projected law. No one is in doubt that generators are a nuisance and a national pandemic, posing a huge threat to the health and well-being of Nigerians. It is equally correct that the device consumes about $14 billion import bills annually, but there is a need to inquire into the reason for their prevalent use.
Of course, it is the epileptic public power supply in the country. The truth is, without generators, the Nigerian economy will flounder as businesses reckon on them for survival. Every institution (public or private), including the formal and informal sectors of the economy, depends on them for power supply. This is why they are a necessary evil.
To advance electricity supply in the country, the federal government privatised the power sector in 2013, leading to the creation of 11 distribution companies (DISCOs). But year after year, both the government and the DISCOs have always blamed and accused each other for being responsible for the inadequate power supply.
We are aghast at why our Senators keep introducing bills against the use of generators in a country with a brazenly capricious power supply. Even President Muhammadu Buhari’s office was projected to spend N46 million on fuelling generators in the 2019 federal budget.
Rather than become upset at the importation of generating sets, the Senators should examine how the country got into this mess, and why the federal government injected a prodigious N1.7 trillion into the power sector following the privatisation with its 49 percent equity stake, while the DISCOs, who are major stakeholders, have invested only a pittance. Having investing such whopping sum to improve public power supply in Nigeria, the situation appears worse now than ever before.
Although Senator Enagi’s bill may be charitable, it is hasty. Nigeria must first address the hazardous power supply situation before considering a bill to outlaw generators, if need be. In a country where the national grid collapses customarily without these generators, what will be left of the economy?
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