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Editorial

SIP: Time For Forensic Audit

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Recently, the leadership of the National Assembly (NASS) blew the lid off the Social Investment Programme (SIP) of the Federal Government when it faulted the way the programme was being implemented and called for an enabling legislation in line with global best practices, particularly with respect to the disbursement aimed at assuaging the plight of poor Nigerians against COVID-19.
According to its leadership, NASS noted that “The SIP has gulped over N2 trillion since 2016 when the special intervention fund was created as annual budgetary allocation targeted at the poor. The sum of N500 billion was provided in the budget every year since 2016. Also, in the wobbly 2020 budget, the sum of N500 billion was voted for the SIP, unfortunately, the conditions set by officials most times excluded poor Nigerians for which the initiative is intended.”
Making their reservations about the scheme at a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, and top officials of the ministry, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, made it clear that the SIP established in 2016 under the Presidency but which is now under the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, needed a reform to make it more efficient and effective.
But in a swift response, the Presidency debunked the claim attributed to the Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives that N2 trillion had been expended on the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs) of the Buhari administration and tried to give hints on why the programme was being attacked by lawmakers.
Explaining further on the allegations, the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, in a statement claimed that although the total appropriation by NASS from inception, for the 4 NSIPs, is N1.7 trillion, the actual funds released for the NSIPs between January 2016 and October 2019 (when the NSIPs were handed over to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development), amounted to N619.1 billion, constituting 36.4% of the total appropriation from the NASS.
According to her, “The monies released for the N-SIPs can be further broken down into 14.03% (2016); 35% in 2017; 43.5% in 2018 and 57.8% (as at Sept 2019) of the N500 billion in 2016 and N400 billion appropriated for the subsequent years. It should be noted that for 2017 to 2020, the sum of N100 billion was appropriated specifically for the National Housing Fund hosted by the Federal Ministry of Finance.
“The National Cash Transfer Programme (including the development of the National Social Register by the National Social Safety Net Coordination Office) 1,491,296 poor and vulnerable households comprising 6,056,872 individuals in 33 States and 620,947 cash transfer beneficiaries; and the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (managed by the Bank of Industry); a total of 2,279,380 TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni beneficiaries.” Uwais said her response was to set the records straight and clear the misrepresentations created by the comments attributed to the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Without prejudice to the claims made by the Presidency in defence of the allegation of the NASS leadership, The Tide is of the view that the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari has finally demonstrated that its Social Investment Programmes (SIPs) have failed. This is evident in the slashing of allocation to the SIPs by a massive 94 per cent in the proposed 2020 budget. It will be recalled that the projects had been the flagship of the Federal Government’s claim to be a progressive government, a government which cares for the poorest of the poor. Indeed, the government had presented them consistently as evidence that it is committed to ensuring inclusive and equitable sharing of economic prosperity.
Regrettably, for over three years, the government has claimed that they are the largest social protection programme in Nigeria’s history supposedly to be massive empowerment programmes designed to meet the needs of poor and vulnerable Nigerians. The government claimed that it had directly provided employment, supported small businesses and alleviated poverty through the SIP’s four main projects, namely: N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfers, National Home-Grown School Feeding, and Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programmes (GEEP).
The cash transfer and school feeding programmes sought to promote school enrolment and reduce absenteeism in school or promote health through immunizations. Unfortunately, they never went beyond the pilot stage in the states.  What is more, the government’s enterprise and empowerment scheme became notorious for the ‘Tradermoni’ initiative which saw Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visiting local markets and sharing money to select traders during the election season. Not a few considered it a form of vote buying.
In spite of the limited coverage, problems of wrong targeting and leakage issues, we doubt that the programmes have been beneficial to the disadvantaged Nigerians who have had the opportunity to participate in them.  Indeed, in many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, such intervention programmes have been used to break the vicious circle of poverty and improve the productivity of the poor.  Nigerians expect the government to strengthen and expand the roll out of the programmes, given the increasing level of poverty in the country.
Indeed, a study by the Brookings Institution showed that Nigeria overtook India as the poverty capital of the world last year.  While the number of Nigerians falling into extreme poverty grows by roughly six people every minute, poverty in India continues to decrease. At present, an estimated 5.3 per cent of Indians or 71.5 million people live below the poverty line. The World Poverty Clock puts the number of Nigerians below the poverty line at 91.9 million.
While we sympathise with the government that the SIPs have not delivered as promised, we think the solution is to institute a forensic audit to ascertain the actual amount sunk into the programme since inception and its level of impact on poor Nigerians. From every indication, it is clear that the whole scheme was not properly conceived and the programmes have been riddled with corruption.
As Maryam Uwais, the special adviser to the president, noted, 80 per cent of payments for social investments have come from the looted funds recovered from former Head of State, Sani Abacha. The remaining 20 per cent came from credit from the World Bank. The forensic audit should address all these issues. Social protection for the vulnerable is a must for any government that aspires to decent citizenship and inclusive growth and development.

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Editorial

Not Time For Power Tariff Hike

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As the economy of the country continues to tether (as indeed the global economy)
and living condition of the average Nigerian takes a suffocating bashing from the novel COVID-19 pandemic, electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) in Nigeria shocked consumers of electricity with a 100% hike in tariff effective September 1, 2020.
Labelled ‘Service Reflective Tariff’, the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) was said to have approved the increase on August 31, granting DISCOs the permission to raise the amount of money charged for units of electricity consumed according to hours of supply made available in a day.
By this development, electricity consumers who get supply for 12 hours and above in a day are to pay between 80% and over 100% more than their previous bills while consumers who receive less hours of electricity supply will not be affected according to the categories determined by the regulators.
To this end, consumers are categorised into Service Bands of A to E with A comprising those who enjoy up to 20 hours of power supply, B with 16 hours, C with 12 hours, D with 8 hours and E made up of those who see only 4 hours or less of electricity in a day.
While those who fall within the Service Bands D to E have their tariff frozen at N30.23 for one kilowatt unit of energy per hour (kwh), those in category A are to pay as much as N62.33 per kwh.
NERC explained that it approved the new tariff, taking into account the following: iInflation rate (the cost of living in Nigeria); Global Gas Price (that has increased since 2015); Naira exchange rate; Average Kilowatt sold by the DISCOs; Unit cost of power generation and Aggregate technical collection and commercial losses.
According to the minor review of Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO) 2015 and Minimum Remittance Order for the year 2020 for distribution companies published by NERC on its website, the commission has set projection for the cost-reflective tariff to begin January 1, 2021.
Of course, as expected, the increase in electricity bill has since elicited varied reactions from various stakeholders and interest groups in the country with most of them condemning, rejecting and describing it as a move that will neither help the economy nor the already traumatised mass of the Nigerian people.
The Nigerian Electricity Consumers Advocacy Network, accused the government of a policy summersault and inadequate consultation with a wide range of stakeholders in the sector before the announcement of the increase. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has vowed to resist the hike even as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has said that the hike could precipitate economic recession in the third quarter of the year.
The NLC, in particular, has described the development as an ill-conceived agenda to further impoverish Nigerians, arguing that “Each hike in electricity tariff in Nigeria is trailed by huge leap in the hours of darkness, de-metering of more Nigerians, exponential rise in incidences of estimated billing, and increased burden on citizens for the procurement of equipment and facilities for public electricity supply amidst other devious methods by DISCOs to cheat, exploit and despoil poor Nigerians”.
While The Tide acknowledges the validity of the reasons proffered by NERC for the increase, we believe that the timing is wrong as it will only add to the yoke of already COVID-19 induced economically distressed, socially disorganised, physiologically disorientated and materially challenged citizenry.
We think that the new change in electricity tariff should be reversed and no increase contemplated or effected until all electricity consumers are metred, appreciable qualitative, stable power supply achieved and estimated billing completely eliminated with the provision of prepaid metres at affordable cost to all electricity consumers in the country.
It is believed that Nigeria’s investment in the sector is in the neighbourhood of $20 billion with the Federal Government still prepared to sink in another $6 billion while the power companies have failed to invest but continuously steal from the people through outrageous estimated billing, sale of pre-paid metres at exhobitant prices, poor electricity supply, poor response to customers’ complaints and incessant tariff hike.
Any attempt at resolving the abysmal energy supply situation in the country must be holistic as the current piece-meal approach to fixing the problem will never work in the interest of the people and, therefore, will continue to be resisted.

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Editorial

For Peaceful, Credible Edo Poll

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Tomorrow, the people of Edo State will file out in their numbers to elect a governor who would pilot the affairs of the state in the next four years. The stakes are really high, as the people are confronted with a plethora of governorship candidates of not less than 20 political parties to choose from.
Among the motley crowd, is the incumbent Governor of the State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who incidently is the standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); and the fact that he is gunning for a second term in office, makes him stand out as the man to watch.
The Governor also squares up with another formidable candidate in the person of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The two are no strangers to the political turf in Edo State as they had also contested the governorship poll four years ago on reverse political platforms. This makes tomorrow’s contest not only interesting but fierce. They are unarguably the frontrunners in the governorship race.
Interestingly, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has assured that it has thrown everything into the ring to ensure that the election is credible, peaceful, free and fair. The election is another litmus test for the electoral umpire to acquit itself creditably.
Of utmost concern is the fear that the election may be marred by violence, as political tension has apparently risen to fever pitch across the State.
In a bid to douse such fears, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, recently announced that the police hierarchy in Abuja has already deployed over 31,000 personnel to the state who, he said, are battle-ready in terms of providing security and other logistics during the poll.
Just on Tuesday, under the watch of the National Peace Committee headed by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), the candidates of the political parties that are expected to participate in tomorrow’s election, including Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu in particular, signed a peace accord as a way of warding off violence and other electoral malfeasance before, during and after the election. The political parties, during the event, were charged to ensure they work for peace, and also accept the outcome of the results with special emphasis on the two major contenders.
Speaking at the occasion, the former Head of State, said that the peace pact means that the actors have embraced peace, adding that with the assurances from INEC of maintaining neutrality and the IGP assuring adequate security, Edo people should come out on election day to vote for candidates of their choice.
Said Abubakar, “The gubernatorial election in Edo State is just a few days away and maintaining peace during and after the election is a priority and it must be done. We as a people should aspire to see Nigeria where people feel safe to come out of their homes to cast their votes without any fear. As you are aware, the election cannot hold in the absence of a peaceful atmosphere. All contesting parties need to adopt a code of conduct that will remove confrontation among yourselves because by agreeing to sign this covenant of peace, all of you are committing yourselves to ensure an enduring peace in Nigeria and Edo State before, during and after the election and agreeing to look beyond short-term political gains, sectoral interests or narrow party advantage and accepting nothing but for the development of Edo State”.
The Tide agrees no less. This is the right way to go because what is paramount now is the development of the state more than anything else. And there can only be development in the state in an atmosphere of peace.
It would be recalled that as a way of ensuring that the political gladiators in the state play by the rules and ensure a peaceful poll tomorrow, the highly revered Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, had recently summoned the major contenders to his palace, and admonished them on the need for peace before, during and after the election.
It is also heart-warming that the candidates of the contending political parties, including Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, successfully participated in an exciting political debate organised by Channels Television, where they were given an opportunity to espouse not only the manifestos of their parties but what they would do to further advance the frontiers of development in the state if elected, thus, giving Edo people an ample insight into what should influence their choices in tomorrow’s election.
Be that as it may, the political chips are now down. It is the time for the people of the state to choose who should govern them. Thus, there is the need for their votes to count.
To achieve this, we advise all the candidates and their political parties to comply with the terms of the peace accord, and to ensure that the right atmosphere is created for the people of the state to freely make their choice at the poll. Doing otherwise would amount to not only mortgaging the future of the state and her people but also bringing to naught all the efforts, resources and time expended by the various stakeholders towards entrenching a hitch-free electoral process.
It is also important for the people of the state and the candidates for the election to eschew all forms of hate speech at this critical time in order not to unnecessarily heat up the polity. Nothing inflames passion more than unguarded utterances.
Again, Edo people must realise that politics is a game, where winners and losers would emerge at the end of the day. It is never a do-or-die affair. It would definitely do the people of the state no good if the state is set on fire because of this governorship election. Truth is that no ambition of any of the candidates is worth the blood of any Edo man or woman. It is, therefore, incumbent on the political class to play by the rules and allow the wishes and aspirations of the people to prevail. Hence, the political gladiators should heed the good counsel of the Oba of Benin.
While we call on INEC to exhibit a high sense of neutrality in the conduct of tomorrow’s election, there is the need for security agencies deployed for the poll to be professional in the discharge of their duties. The rank-and-file of the Police in particular must be unbiased and incorruptible. INEC must also ensure that COVID-19 safety measures are adhered to during the election because this is the first election of this magnitude it is conducting since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Everything said and done, Edo people deserve a peaceful, credible, free and fair governorship election.

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Editorial

RSG’s Ban On Keke

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Given conspicuous traffic hazards on some roads in Rivers State, the State government has taken a bold step to impose a total ban on the use of tricycles popularly called “keke NAPEP” on major roads in the Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor local government areas.
This was contained in a statement by the State Commissioner for Transport, Mr Soni Ejekwu, in Port Harcourt. The decision followed the observed devil-may-care attitude that seems to portray the peculiarities of keke operators along some major roads and the serious endangering of the lives of Rivers people.
Ejekwu, invoking Section 74 Sub-Section 1 (h) of the Rivers State Road Traffic Law No. 6 of 2009, prohibited the tricycles operators from plying Trans Amadi Road from Port Harcourt Zoo to Garrison, the entire Aba Road, Ada George Road, Ikwerre Road and old Port Harcourt township. Others are Oginigba-Artillery Road, Eastern Bypass, Oil Mill-Elelenwo, Old Aba Road, Iloabuchi, Elekahia, Gulf Estate and Waja to Nkpogu.
Directing that the order be enforced immediately, the Transport commissioner added a caution that any tricycle running within the affected areas would be impounded and the driver sanctioned. He said: “Any keke NAPEP found operating in these areas would be confiscated and its owner prosecuted.”
We hold that crime and safety considerations simply stand at the centre of this law. This is because the State government has the primary obligation to protect the lives of people within its jurisdiction. It is true that keke tricycles are not as safe as they should be on Port Harcourt roads.
No responsible government will fold its arms and watch tricycle operators skate on thin ice by jeopardising the lives of its people. One life is exceedingly important than all the economic benefits to be made if keke operators were authorised to proceed on major roads. Though we understand that investments are overly critical, keeping people alive and safe is more pertinent.
That is why The Tide firmly backs the measures taken to restrict tricycles to the designated inner-city roads and keep them off the highways. Clearly, the operators of this mode of commercial transport show no deference for traffic and road use regulations and, therefore, actively aggravate gridlocks in the metropolis.
So, there is a great need for the State government to appoint some officials of the Transport Ministry or engage the police to fully implement the law and possibly eliminate favouritism or corruption during its enforcement. In other words, the law has to be executed round the clock to frustrate more and more persons from taking up similar enterprises on the prohibited routes.
There are those who assume that the measure is far-reaching and beyond a norm. The truth is that the action of the government is not unprecedented in the country. For example, the Abuja city authorities have since outlawed such vehicles. Likewise, successive governments of Imo State have prohibited tricycles as well as Lagos State, among others.
But we must emphasise that a viable alternative and practical means of transport be promptly put in place on the affected roads to reduce the impacts of the restriction considerably. Failure to do so might not only result in the attainability of disproportionate success but is likely to cause an outright bankruptcy of the policy.
Nonetheless, for the most part, the strict controls on tricycles on specific roads in the “Garden City” are vital even though they are incompatible with many at the moment. We have to understand that there is a high velocity of crime in the State aided by tricycles that are often used as get-away means by criminals. This renders the law unavoidable. This is an arduous task that must be achieved if Port Harcourt is to become the kind of city Rivers people so much desire.
Port Harcourt is unarguably one of the most significant business cities in Nigeria and unquestionably in West Africa. The more habitable it is, the more it can attract businesses and ancillary activities to make it thrive.  The current undisciplined behaviour of most of its inhabitants, especially in traffic matters, public hygiene, and sanitation, all contribute to making the “Garden City” less glamorous than it should be, hence, the necessity for restrictions.
If there is a State that should be well structured, well organised, and strict in its traffic regulations, it is Rivers State with two seaports, an international airport, a few million in population,  and home to diverse multi-trillion naira businesses.  As can be seen, Port Harcourt ought to be like a 21st-century megacity and this demands that laws controlling traffic be made and decisively enforced.
It is rather sad that some past governors of the State failed woefully to limit the operations of tricycles. During their reigns, tricycle operators held sway on our major roads while they remained helpless and proved consistently inconsistent in keeping them away. The Wike administration should reverse this trend by making it a top priority to sustain the ban.
In the circumstances, we deem it entirely appropriate for the government to give careful thought to a total and more sustainable elimination of all undesirable transport modes in Rivers State principally motorcycles and tricycles by collaborating with the private sector to introduce portable and affordable buses and cars.

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