South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, early this month announced the appointment of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as a member of the expanded Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC) put together by his government to rescue the country from its third recession since 2008. The country relapsed into recession at the end of December, 2019.
The council, chaired by Ramaphosa himself, and comprising local and international economic experts, was initially constituted on September 27, 2019, to “ensure greater coherence and consistency in the implementation of economic policy and ensure that government and society in general is better equipped to respond to changing economic circumstances”. It is also expected to advise the president and government more broadly, facilitating the development and implementation of economic policies that spur inclusive growth.
South Africa, the second largest economy on the continent has, in recent years, been rattled by a plethora of challenges, driven by lull in investor sentiment and lingering policy uncertainty, weak power, telecom and transportation sectors, and worsened by crisis in mining and manufacturing sectors. The problem is exacerbated by rising rate of official corruption, divisions in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), xenophobia nurtured by heightened unemployment and increasing insecurity.
Indeed, South Africa’s perilous public finance crisis has been engineered by four forces: stagnant economic growth; consistent tax revenue collection below forecasts; rising debt burden – the highest levels in post-apartheid era; and poor performance of state-owned enterprises, necessitating large-scale bailouts from lean government funds.
These have been triggered by three dynamics: slow recovery from shock of the 2008 global financial crisis; poor economic and public finance performance negatively affected by entrenched institutional destabilisation of Jacob Zuma’s presidency; and continued deterioration of economic indicators (growth and employment) along with further underperformance of revenue collection and public finances under the Ramaphosa government even with expansionary fiscal spending far above revenue generation. It is to address these challenges that Ramaphosa tapped Okonjo-Iweala to help rescue the country from economic doldrums.
The Tide joins millions of Nigerians and leaders across all continents in congratulating one of the world’s best economists and development experts on her meritorious appointment by Ramaphosa. We are proud to commend Okonjo-Iweala not just because she is a Nigerian and brilliant, but because her appointment represents a testament to her competence and experience. We say so because we are convinced that her pedigree and impeccable footprints in monetary and economic administration in Nigeria, many developing countries and at the World Bank stood her out for this sublime assignment.
The 1981 PhD graduate in Regional Economics and Development from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spent 25 years of her career at the World Bank as a development economist, scaling the ranks to Number 2 position of managing director, Operations (2007-2011), with oversight responsibility for the bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. She spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008 – 2009 food crises and later during the financial crisis, and helped many recover from slow growth to robust economic state.
In 2010, she was Chair of the IDA replenishment, the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world, and was also member of the Commission on Effective Development Cooperation with Africa. In the last two decades, she has served as senior adviser, executive director, director, chair or co-chair of more than 30 boards of world-class banks, academic and research institutions, development-driven organizations across all continents, including Harvard, Oxford, the Brookings Institution, African Union, World Economic Forum, United Nations, Rockefeller Foundation, Mercy Corps International; and in 2012, ran as the first-ever female candidate for president of the World Bank.
Okonjo-Iweala was a two-time minister of finance, serving under Olusegun Obasanjo (2003-2006), and Goodluck Jonathan (2011-2015). She was the first female to hold that position in Nigeria and her performance speaks for her.
During her first term, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the wiping out of $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of $18 billion. In 2003, she led efforts to improve Nigeria’s macroeconomic management, including implementation of an oil-price based fiscal rule where revenues accruing above benchmark oil price were saved in special “Excess Crude Account” which helped reduce macroeconomic volatility.
She also introduced the practice of publishing each state’s monthly financial allocation from the Federation Accounts in the newspapers, which increased transparency in governance. With support of the World Bank and IMF, she helped build an electronic financial management platform – the Government Integrated Financial Management and Information System (GIFMIS), including the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS), helping to curtail corruption in the process.
As at December 31, 2014, the IPPIS platform had eliminated 62,893 ghost workers from the system and saved government about $1.25 billion in the process. Under the present administration, more than 70,000 ghost workers have been eliminated from the payroll system, and billions of Naira saved for investment in development initiatives. She was also instrumental in helping Nigeria obtain its first-ever sovereign credit rating (BB minus) from Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s in 2006.
Under her leadership, the National Bureau of Statistics carried out a re-basing exercise of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the first in 24 years, which saw Nigeria emerge as the largest economy in Africa.
With her record, we think that Ramaphosa made the right decision by appointing Okonjo-Iweala as a member of the country’s PEAC, to help fix its economy and inspire growth and development by advising stable policies that encourage investment.
We, therefore, urge her to pragmatically bring her wealth of experience to bear in helping the South African Government make history by reviving an economy that has been in limbo for about 12 years. She had done it for Nigeria before; she can as well do it for South Africa.
On the other hand, we challenge all tiers of government in Nigeria to emulate the South African Government in placing merit and competence far and above nepotism and tribalism in recruitment and appointment into various offices in order to fast-track development of the country.
We think that the nation’s economy can do better if governments eschew parochial sentiments and implement inclusive policies that recognise hardwork and excellence.
COVID-19: Enforcing Rules In Rivers
This is not the best of time for humanity. Certainly not for Nigeria whose health sector is near comatose.
The current situation in the world as regards the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic can only be compared to the wartime when man survives by chance. Even in the brutal Second World War, superpowers like the United States and Europe were not as mortally frenzied as they are now.
The viral pandemic has spread to more than 20 countries, including the developed world like the United States, United Kingdom and Germany. At the last count, 474,000 cases have been recorded worldwide with 21,300 fatalities. Italy is leading the number of casualties, followed by Spain and China where the pathogen originates from. The figure increases per hour.
In Nigeria, 65 persons, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), have reportedly tested positive to COVID-19 with one fatality recorded and two discharged. Six others are to be discharged in Lagos any moment from now. The number of cases may have even increased by the time this editorial comes out.
At least, eight states in the country have been hit by the deadly virus. Worst hit is Lagos State, followed by Abuja (Federal Capital Territory) and Ogun State.
There is no doubt that the situation is disturbing and scary, requiring health emergency system. It is reassuring, however, that the Federal Government, though late in response, has set up a Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Control of COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The 36 states of the federation have also stepped up measures on how to contain the pandemic.
Although Rivers State has recorded one case, the state government has taken proactive measures to nip its spread in the bud. Within the last one week, the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has made three broadcasts to the state reeling out measures against the spread of the virus.
Aside from banning social functions, religious gatherings and shutting down schools in the state, the government has ordered the closure of public parks, night clubs, cinemas and the popular Oil Mill Market in Port Harcourt. It has also ordered transporters to reduce the number of their passengers to avoid body contact.
Another commendable measure announced by the state government on Wednesday was to seal up and air-tight the entry point access by closing all land borders leading to the state. In addition to this, the Governor has inaugurated a 12-man special task force to monitor and enforce compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19.
To underscore the importance of the emergency situation at hand, the state chief executive decided to head the task force himself with all service chiefs and heads of paramilitary outfits in the state, Secretary to the State Government, Chief of Staff to the Governor, and the State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice as members, while the State Commissioner for Health serves as secretary.
In spite of these commendable efforts by the state government, The Tide observes that the level of compliance with restrictions in the state is abysmally low. There appears to be apathy and indifference by the ordinary citizenry to the government’s directives even when the deadly virus has continued to claim lives worldwide.
Of particular worry to us is the sheer ignorance and total disbelief to the existence of the virus among the low literate citizenry that constitutes the bulk of the population in the state. To most of the artisans, traders and transporters, nothing seems to be at stake. Transporters still overload their vehicles, while many people still transact their businesses in crowded places with reckless indifference. The few who believe in the existence of the disease premised their resistance to the government’s directives on the adverse economic effects such order would have on them.
This high level of ignorance and sheer resistance trivialises and waters down the gravity of the Coronavirus crisis and the efforts of the government.
We, therefore, urge for more sensitisation and public awareness on the dangers of the pandemic. There is no doubt that the five-man state ministerial committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19 headed by the state Commissioner for Information and Communications has been up and doing in creating awareness, the situation still requires more vigorous sensitisation among the citizenry, especially those in the rural areas.
In addition to using the media, both social and conventional, to create awareness, there is a need for the state government to rally traditional rulers, religious clerics and political leaders at the local government level, to lend their support and voices to the public awareness.
Meanwhile, we appreciate the fact that the state economy may not support the kind of buffers governments offer their citizenry in places like Europe, US and Asia in times of emergency like this, but we want to suggest that, as a way of encouraging public compliance with the government’s directives on COVID-19, the state government should consider some stop-gap measures to cushion the effects of its directives. One of such measures might be suspension of issuance of government’s tickets to commercial drivers in the state pending the time the fight against Coronavirus will be over, while also putting a permanent stop to tolls collected from transporters by the police at various stop-and-search checkpoints.
We also consider it apposite that the state government makes sanitizers available to the public free or, at worst, provide them at a subsidized and affordable rate.
However, while the state government must rally its personnel and resources to check the spread of COVID-19 in the state, we believe the real handle to overawe this viral pestilence lies with individual citizenry. In addition to complying with the directives of the government, the public must maintain a republic of personal hygiene by washing their hands regularly with soaps and running water, as well as maintain social distancing to avoid body contact with the infected person.
The public should understand that the far-reaching precautionary measures taken by the government to check the spread of Coronavirus in the state, though may have fatal consequences on individual livelihoods, are imperatively inevitable. Like Governor Wike said in one of his broadcasts, the current measures put in place by the government to contain the virus may be painful, but no sacrifice is too much to make for us to stay alive.
We must understand that the world, nay Nigeria, is in an emergency situation. This is not an ordinary pandemic that will just pan out without discomfort. It, therefore, requires emergency measures with huge sacrifice from both the government and the citizenry.
NDDC Advisory Committee
President Muhammadu Buhari, on March 10, 2020, inaugurated an Advisory Committee for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Committee which was constituted in accordance with the provisions of Part III, Section 11 (1a) of the NDDC Establishment Act (as amended) comprised the nine governors of the Niger Delta region and the Ministers of Niger Delta Affairs and Environment.
According to Section 11 (2) of the Act, the Advisory Committee will have the responsibility of advising the NDDC Board and to monitor the activities of the Commission, with a view to achieving set objectives as well as to make rules regulating its own proceedings.
While inaugurating the Committee, Buhari recalled that his administration had in 2016 launched the New Vision for the Niger Delta (NEVIND) to bring sustainable peace, security, infrastructure and human capital development to the region. He told the governors that the abuses of the past made it necessary for them to demand strict and diligent oversight, henceforth.
The President said that the medium to achieve this important objective was through the Niger Delta Ministry, NDDC and the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP). He tasked the members to carry out their new assignment effectively and with utmost diligence, working closely with the relevant ministries, adding that he expected to see positive changes in the affairs of the NDDC and on the ground in the Niger Delta region.
Buhari tried to justify his decision to inaugurate the Committee ahead of the reconstitution of the NDDC board when he said: “This is to enable us develop insights into the affairs of the Commission which will properly guide the board when reconstituted once the forensic audit exercise on the Commission is concluded…”
Responding on behalf of members of the Committee, Delta State Governor and Chairman of South-South Governors Forum, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, said “We do not want to criticise what has happened in the NDDC for quite some time, but the fact is that co-operation between the states and NDDC has not been strengthened over time and we have various cases of duplication of projects that are not properly planned.
“But I believe with the inauguration of this body, we will be able to sit down, work in collaboration and supportively to bring greater development to our people.”
He thanked the President for constituting the advisory committee and also granting the request of the region’s governors for a forensic audit of NDDC.
Going by the Act establishing the NDDC during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration 20 years ago, the agency has the core mandate to formulate policies and programmes and execute same for the development of the Niger Delta region in the areas of industrialisation, transportation, agriculture, health, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity, telecommunication and employment generation.
Even as belated as the inauguration appears, The Tide commends Mr. President for the bold move, especially considering that the Committee comprises mainly governors of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Already, and just as Governor Okowa hinted in his speech, there is lack of collaboration between administrators of the regional interventionist outfit and governors of its member-states. And this had resulted in the duplication of efforts, funds misapplication, shoddy jobs and outright projects abandonment.
For instance, here in Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike had since berated the NDDC for failing to live up to the expectations of the Niger Delta people. He drove this point home when the former NDDC Acting Managing Director, Professor Nelson Braimbaifa, visited him last year, during which he complained that the Niger Delta states were never involved in the design and siting of projects.
Wike had accused the NDDC of owing his government a refund of the state’s counterpart contribution for the building of the Mother and Child Hospital on which the agency reneged. The state has almost completed work on the project single-handedly.
We also recall the disagreement between the Rivers State Government and the NDDC over the construction of Igwuruta-Chokocho-Okehi Road and the recent sealing-off of the latter’s corporate headquarters over a N50 billion tax debt.
The story is almost the same elsewhere across the region. In Akwa Ibom State, for example, Governor Udom Emmanuel, in 2017, accused the NDDC of poor job execution, project abandonment and distortion of the state’s development master plan.
We believe that with the advisory committee now in place, any incoming board of the NDDC will be better guided in terms of projects selection, design, siting and execution so as to ensure quality delivery and avoid duplication of efforts.
It is also expected that the governors will be in a better position to monitor the progress of any NDDC projects sited in their respective domains.
The 28-kilometre Ogbia-Nembe Road in Bayelsa State will continue to stand out as the kind of high profile projects the Niger Delta region needs at this period. Surely, the N24 billion project, built by the NDDC in partnership with The Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), could not have been a success if the state government had not provided the necessary environment.
Finally, given the years of exploitation, neglect and injustice suffered by the region, we implore the NDDC, its new advisory committee, major stakeholders, foreign donor agencies and interested private sector partners to seize this noble opportunity to begin to collaborate in a way that will bring about a reversal of the present dire circumstances of the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
That S’South Govs’ Asaba Meeting
A couple of weeks ago, the six South-South governors in Nigeria gathered in Asaba, the Delta State capital, under the umbrella of South-South Governors’ Forum. Central to their discussions and decisions were the moribund BRACED Commission and the establishment of a regional security outfit to tackle peculiar challenges in the region.
Speaking at the end of the meeting, the Forum’s Chairman and Governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, said that the governors had agreed to resuscitate the BRACED Commission, which is a regional economic and integration platform. In addition, BRACED, which stands for Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa/Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta, would be mandated to come up with modalities on the establishment of the regional security outfit.
Indeed, The Tide is happy to note that, after years of lull since the formation of the BRACED Commission over 10 years ago and the seeming abandonment of its vision and mission by its founding founders and their successors, current governors in the region appear ready to take up the gauntlet once more. The commission, at inception, was intended to facilitate economic co-operation and developmental strategies within the region. It, however, failed to deliver on its promises after an apparent loud inaugural show, ironically, in the same Asaba, by its founding fathers.
Regrettably, we cannot claim to be ignorant of the foibles that made the BRACED Commission to suffer a stillbirth ab-initio after it was largely seen as a big step in the right direction by member-states.
Now that the incumbent governors have resolved to provide the needed logistics for the Commission to come back to life, we believe that it is a move that should be supported and encouraged by all that have the interest of the region at heart. We believe so because the importance of economic co-operation, unity of purpose and streamlined strategy towards common challenges in the region outweigh individual approach and one dimensional strategy.
Indeed, the South-South region, in spite of being the goose that lays the golden egg for Nigeria, has peculiar problems, ranging from economic, social to political. In fact, the level of lack of development in most communities of the region in the face of its often touted wealth is a paradox of contrasts.
There is no gainsaying that the people of the region have suffered severe deprivations and we think that through the BRACED Commission, provided that the objectives are right, the people can pool resources together and take the region to the next level.
With the Commission given the necessary shot in the arm, it would present the region the platform to articulate common areas of cooperation, tackle issues with one voice and seek to attract attention and development for the region. It must, however, be noted that, for the commission to be viable, efforts must not be spared in providing the logistics it needs to function optimally.
More importantly, the governors should do well to provide the leadership and vision needed by the Commission, while an administrative structure in which all the states would be represented is required for the needed cohesion, vibrancy, unity of purpose and economic empowerment to be engendered.
We think that the Commission should be seen as a serious business platform to advance the interest of the region rather than a mere social meeting or a forum for competition. It is a known fact that the Commission, despite its ideals and promises at formation, suffered setback due to ego problems, personal agenda and political differences among the founding governors. This must not be allowed to play out again. The larger interest of the region is paramount and should be above that of an individual, including any of the governors.
It is time to drive the wheel of development and progress of the region forward and no state in the zone should be left behind.
In addition, we support the Forum’s idea of setting up a security outfit for the region.
Currently on the front burner in the country is the issue of regional and community policing. In fact, the decision of the Forum on this subject matter could not have come at a better time, especially, considering the coming on stream of the South-West security outfit, Amotekun, the prevailing precarious security situation in the country and the peculiar security challenges in the region.
However, the region must not play to the gallery or join the bandwagon for the sake of it. We expect the political leaders to sit back and design a workable security blueprint that will be suitable to the zone. Such blueprint would not only seek to collaborate with the extant security agencies to provide law and order and protect lives and property but to promote a safe environment for business and leisure in the interest of the region’s economy.
Governors in the region are expected to rise above personal disagreements, political differences and ethnic considerations to speak in one voice on this matter. Security is serious business and an efficient and effective outfit is needed in the region to drive safe living and robust economy. If we dilly-dally while other regions secure their frontiers, criminals would naturally seek for a safe haven and would readily take advantage of any porous zone.
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