The House of Representatives has once again pushed to the front burner for passage, the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has been on the floor of the National Assembly since December, 2008, when it was originally introduced. This piece of legislation has since then undergone several revisions and has been the subject of controversy and debate. Right now, the Bill has been split into four documents.
Interestingly, former President Goodluck Jonathan had on July 18, 2012, presented a new version of the Bill to the Seventh National Assembly for reconsideration and re-enactment. The National Assembly graciously did that but the Bill was not signed into law until that regime fizzled out in 2015.
Inadvertently, another component of the Bill, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), was passed by the Senate in May, 2017, while the House of Representatives followed suit in January, 2018, as part of a package of legislative reform for the oil and gas sector. However, President Muhammadu Buhari withheld his assent, and the document has remained in the cooler since then.
There is no doubt that the Nigerian oil industry is the mainstay of the country’s economy. Keen observers, however, believe that the oil industry is opaque in its dealings, as it is widely seen as a source of corruption in government circles.
Incidentally, various stakeholders within government, oil companies and even civil society organisations equally agree that the oil and gas sector in Nigeria needs urgent reforms. This arises from the fact that the current structures are convoluted and impede effective regulation. This is mainly because of overlapping regulatory functions exercised by multiple agencies which in themselves breed dysfunction.
As it were, the long term consequence of this persisting scenario has been a significant deterioration in the environment of the Niger Delta region as a result of oil spills and gas flaring, which ultimately has impacted negatively on the health of the local people, the loss of agricultural land, and the pollution of its creeks and surrounding seas.
Essentially, these are lapses among others the PIB intends to address. It also aspires to promote transparency and accountability in the oil and gas sector. While transparency encourages competition, accountable institutions reassure investors, improve regulation and revenue collection, and these result in higher production and earnings.
Besides, the PIB would also enhance and increase access to information within the sector by opening more kinds of documents and data to public scrutiny, and by so doing, improve incentives for performance and check corruption and other sharp practices within the sector.
It is in cognizance of this fact that the House of Representatives recently set in motion modalities to pass the long-awaited PIB into law in September, by setting up a 30-member committee with five members drawn from each of the six geo-political zones of the country. The Minority Leader of the House, Rep Ndudi Elumelu, told newsmen that the House would go ahead with the process of amending and passing the Bill even without the input of the Executive.
“We don’t need the Executive to tutor us. We are going ahead with considering the Bill,” Elumelu enthused, while another lawmaker, Rep. Nicholas Ossai, advised the President to cooperate with the National Assembly on this piece of legislation, so as to attract more investments to the oil and gas industry. The House and the Senate are expected to resume full business in the second week of September.
The Tide is elated that the House of Representatives has taken a bold step to revisit this nagging issue, and promised to do the needful in ensuring that the Bill is passed into law. We are not unmindful that this is the fourth time the Bill is being introduced and re-introduced without having a smooth sail in the National Assembly.
In fact, the passage of this Bill is long overdue as it has been unnecessarily over-delayed, and we believe that the assurances given by the members of the House of Representatives this time around would be good enough to see this all-important Bill see the light of day once and for all.
The first step, we think, is for the lawmakers to try as much as possible to harmonise the PIB, which has been split into four documents. This will enable the National Assembly to do a more thorough work on the Bill with a view to addressing all grey areas that may stand against it from securing the President’s assent, after it must have been passed into law.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the Bill, when passed into law and assented to by the President, would go a long way to bolster the interest and welfare of those who suffer the negative impact of oil exploration in the country. This is particularly so because the Bill is not only for the interest of the Niger Delta alone but also for the entire country, as it would help bring the much-needed peace in the region and facilitate development across the country.
We also lend our voice to the call by the lawmakers and other stakeholders on the Executive to cooperate with the National Assembly in the current move to make the PIB a reality. In fact, this time around, we should never allow primordial sentiments and other considerations for that matter to becloud and override the collective interest and zeal of bringing more investments to the country.
Indeed, in this matter, it behoves the current Federal Government to treat with the same passion the way it has treated Bills like the North East Development Commission, among others. Again, all that is required for us to move forward is for all hands to be on deck to give the PIB the expected push in order to give the country’s ailing economy a boost.
For Seamless Voter Registration
In the run-up to the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has
launched the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) across the country. This follows a three-year suspension of the exercise in 2018 to allow the commission to produce the Permanent Voter Cards used for the 2019 general election.
However, after the 2019 general election, INEC failed to proceed with the CVR as required by the Electoral Act. This disenfranchised many eligible voters of the off-season elections in Ondo, Bayelsa, Edo and Kogi States, as well as other by-elections. Those who would have participated in local government elections in some states were equally denied the opportunity to be part of the ballot since INEC voters register is a significant basis of the polls.
These deprivations had a major impact on the possibility of quality leaders emerging from the process. Furthermore, it is against global democratic standards. Though the electoral body had kept referring to the creation of 56,872 additional polling units in the country as reason for the long suspension of the registration exercise, we consider it untenable. While the creation of more units is desirable, both activities would have been executed simultaneously.
INEC’s failure to register new voters that turned 18 years for the long period of lull, has deprived them their right to vote as provided for in the extant laws, and has similarly increased the number of unregistered voters in the country. To facilitate its work, it is important that the electoral umpire adopts developments in other countries. For example, in Argentina and Australia, persons at the age of 16 and 17 are placed on provisional lists and are immediately transferred to the voters list as they turn 18. This makes voter registration an on-going event in these countries.
If what INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, let out that the commission was hoping to register 20 million persons in the current registration activity, bringing the total number of voters to about 100 million is anything to go by, then the body has a herculean task to accomplish. But the question is, does the electoral umpire have the ability to register the number of Nigerians in the short period allocated to this exercise?
Experience has shown that voter registration exercises are hardly successful without hitches. Normally, the one year specified for the activity should be sufficiently long to exclude barriers. But in many cases, the registrants complain that they are being asked to donate money or provide logistics, like fuel to power the generators so they can be registered. This is unacceptable and inhibits participation.
The commission should put an end to extortion and simplify the enrolment of eligible Nigerians. Some voters have relocated, but are having trouble exercising their right to vote because their PVCs have not been transferred to their new locations. INEC needs to effect such changes to stimulate voter participation and avoid double registration, which has often facilitated redundant voting practices.
We welcome the decision by the election agency to open a portal for voter pre-registration. This is a viable innovation that will ease the awful predicament of registrants and reduce the time it takes to register. There is no question that it will also decongest enrollment centres, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the website should be configured in a manner that effectively supports a lot of traffic without collapsing.
Following the recent attacks on its offices, notably in the South-East and South-South, INEC must be wary of security threats. Yakubu has recently indicated similar concerns. Therefore, security agents must ensure the safety of INEC personnel and registration centres, especially those located in incendiary areas. States and local governments must assist in ensuring safety in this regard. Nigerians need to be proactive and protect INEC installations as well. They can provide intelligence to security officials about suspicious movements.
As information and communications technology advances, voter registration should be a flawless performance. Fortunately, Nigeria has several means of identifying citizens, some of which include the National Identity Number, the Bank Verification Number and vehicle driving licence, all of which have the biometric data of Nigerians, including age and nationality, the two requirements for voting. Efforts must, therefore, be made to synchronize all data bases. After all, in many countries, citizens are obliged to provide only one piece of ID to vote.
There is also a need to facilitate the collection process of PVCs. Since many Nigerians apply for visas within the country by simply mailing their passports to the relevant foreign missions and their passports are returned to them through courier services, INEC can do likewise at a cost to the voter as this would reduce the number of uncollected PVCs, which stands at over one million in Lagos State alone based on the commission’s admission.
If executed with care, the process will also reduce the needless community of people during this Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, the voting of minors, which has become widespread in certain parts of the country, begins with questionable registration. It remains a crime and INEC would do well to penalise errant workers who engage in the registration of children.
Nigerians must resist the temptation to wait until the last minute to register, as this could prove deleterious, as previous experiences have shown. A credible register of voters is the first step in carrying out elections and INEC needs to play its role effectively. Civil Society Organisations and other stakeholders should play their role well by fostering registration through effective support.
Nigeria’s Growing Debt Burden
Thursday, July 15, 2021, the Nigerian Senate approved two new foreign loans of $8.325 million and
€490 million respectively. That has raised a lot of questions among many stakeholders in the country, who have equally considered the approval as a bad move in the management of the already battered economy, especially at this period of torturous debt service compulsion.
The loans are said to be part of the Federal Government’s 2018-2020 external borrowing plan. It was ratified after the Senate considered the report of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debt. In May this year, President Muhammadu Buhari asked the National Assembly to endorse the loan for funding various “priority projects” in the country.
Earlier, the Senate had approved $1.5 billion and €995 million respectively. The $1.5 billion was to be sourced from the World Bank for the financing of critical infrastructure across the 36 states of the federation under the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) programme and Covid-19 action recovery plan.
Similarly, the €995 million was to be procured from the Export-Import Bank of Brazil to finance the Federal Government’s Green Imperative project to enhance the mechanisation of agriculture and agro process to improve food security. These are aside several other loans taken by the administration since inception in May 2015.
Statistics from the Debt Management Office (DMO) on Nigeria’s liability portfolio over the last six years show how the accumulation has progressed hazardously. According to the DMO, Nigeria’s total debt as of June 30, 2015 (the year President Muhammadu Buhari took over) stood at N12.12 trillion. As of December 31, 2020, the country had a debt portfolio of N32.92 trillion. The latest DMO statistics, covering the first quarter of 2021, indicated that the debt portfolio had increased again to N33.10 trillion.
In addition, the Federal Government also incurred another N10 trillion in overdrafts with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This overdraft, which may also be provided by printing currency, has been reconditioned to be repaid over 30 years. We wonder what the managers of the economy have up their sleeves when they take on these liabilities which have serious implications not only for the present, but also for the future generations of Nigerians.
These allegations of printing of funds that have followed a trend across the country in recent times may be seen as apparently corroborated by this huge N10 trillion owed by the CBN. The CBN may have always relied on printing money to meet the government’s overdraft demands.
The unfortunate and highly impoverished argument still put forward by the government and proponents of increased borrowing is the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is still sound and below 40 per cent. However, they lose sight of the fact that GDP does not pay the debt, but incomes do. GDP only reflects the size of the economy and not that a mechanism has been put in place to service the loan when it becomes due.
What the Buhari government has done over the past six years, with its incompetent economists, is reckless borrowing, and has obviously borrowed beyond its repayment capacity. That is why the Federal Government is in trouble as far as servicing the debt is concerned. It recently admitted this much, claiming it spent N1.8 trillion on debt servicing from its N1.84 trillion revenues in the first five months of 2021 (January to May).
Thus, the debt-to-revenue ratio of the Federal Government, a key measure of debt sustainability, stands at 97.8 per cent over the reviewed period. How outrageous is that? In 2016, the federal debt service amounted to only 44.6 per cent. But by 2020, the debt-to-revenue ratio had increased to about 84.8 per cent. That is why 33 per cent of the current 2021 budget is dedicated to paying down the debt.
As debts increase for payments, the strain on incomes increases. In the 2019 budget, for instance, over N2.1 trillion was set aside for debt servicing. Also, in the 2020 budget, N2.45 trillion was dedicated for debt repayments. That was close to 25 per cent of the budget. No country can achieve development with such enormous debt settlements.
The huge amount spent on debt servicing leaves the Buhari government with little money for infrastructure. That is why it takes more loans and print money to finance the cost of personnel, pensions and capital expenditures. Since printed currency also forms part of the debt of any government, we are concerned with the staggering way the CBN has printed money over the last six years and handed it to the Federal Government. It increased sharply from N2.2 trillion printed in 2016 to an estimated N10 trillion by the end of 2020.
There is no use borrowing for projects such as railways and airports. No sane government continues to invest in such infrastructure. Investments in areas like that and many others should be led by the private sector while the government creates an enabling environment. Public funds should be expended on health, education and social welfare, not on areas better managed by the private sector.
Nigerians have always been bombarded by constant requests for loans from the President. Such loans have become too numerous and most well-meaning citizens have called for an end to the alarming tendency to incur loans infelicitously. The nation already has a huge debt burden and must not permit this situation so far aggravated by the Buhari administration.
Time and time again, the current government, aided by an implacable legislative assembly proud of its docility, has invoked various excuses to justify its borrowing frenzy. Sadly, the administration does not show creativity when it comes to reducing governance costs and consolidating the revenue base. It is all about here and now: it does not think of the future. The fiscal situation of the country is disastrous and disheartening, and it is time for the government to change course.
Sustaining Ban On Affidavit Racketeering
As part of efforts to strengthen the management of the Judiciary to provide effective services to the public, the Rivers State Chief Judge, Justice Simeon Amadi, has banned racketeering of affidavits by unauthorised persons within and around the Judiciary complex in Port Harcourt. The statement also stated that individuals or groups caught in violation of the prohibition would be prosecuted.
Justice Amadi said so when he met with members of the Rivers State chapter of the Judiciary/Crime Reporters Association, who visited him in his Port Harcourt office. The Chief Judge stated that the situation had become disconcerting as the touting of affidavits in front of the court complex had assumed a lucrative livelihood.
Indeed, Amadi’s audacious move to rid the headquarters of the state Judiciary premises of touts is commendable and a desirous way to begin office. Lawyers, litigants and many others who have a thing or two to do in the court arena are daily harassed and molested by this group of persons in the name of searching for customers to create a means of livelihood. The time has come to get rid of them and put an end to the situation.
During the administration of the immediate past Chief Judge, Justice Adama Iyayi-Lamikanra, the rampaging touts were severally dislodged, while some were arrested and charged to court at different times. How the court cases were determined is unclear. But the fact that the touts have always returned after each raid to harass passersby and motorists, is an indication that definitive measures have never been taken to contain the threat. It appears that the authorities are powerless to successfully get rid of them.
With the renewed fight against touting, Amadi must ensure that the battle this time is carried through. It appears that affidavit-seeking touts are gradually becoming a strong force to contend with. They seem to have a longstanding partnership. Since many are making a fortune from the business, it is going to be difficult to evict them with mere barking orders. This will take more than that.
Besides, some of the racketeers go beyond the affidavit venture and engage in pursuits where they strut as middlemen and women to get vital official court documents that should, in usual practice, not be found in their custody. This brisk merchandising goes on unabated regardless of the veracity of the contents of such documents or the provisions of the law on the illegal act.
The law lays down certain conditions for issuing affidavits. Sadly, those stipulations are daily subverted by touts and court officials, who bend the rules and rob the system of millions in the process. With regard to the declaration of age, the law provides that no declarant under the age of 50 can personally swear an affidavit. They are required to come along with an older person, such as the mother, the father, an uncle or an elder brother, who would inform the oath commissioner about their knowledge of the time the declarant was born as well as provide other necessary data about the person.
Unfortunately, this provision of the law is circumvented daily when commissioners of oaths sign declarations that are presented to them by touts without regard to the designated procedures. This is also the case with other documentations in the court such as loss of items and change of name. The consequence is that anyone would be able to falsify information about themselves such as age or any declaration and have them signed in court.
The matter is now worsened by the touts, who issue fictitious affidavits at greatly inflated cost than the official ones. Many scalpers make thousands of naira every day by signing these fake documents with their stamps thereby depriving the government of the necessary income. That is why the authorities of the state Judiciary must rise and resolve this problem by stopping the touts and their collaborators who, of course, are court officials.
During the recent nationwide strike by Judiciary workers to press home their demands for judicial autonomy, the court workers shut all courts while the strike lingered. This meant that court premises were locked, cashiers were not receiving revenue, commissioners of oath were not working and judges stayed out of work.
Surprisingly, in the circumstances, some Nigerians had been freely obtaining court documents and affidavits from the closed courts that had no workers. While the court documents could not be obtained remotely and without payments to the court cashiers, it is believed that “unknown-court-staff” were providing fraudulent services in the closed courts across the state and the country as well.
This growing trend has continued unabated even when it is known to the authorities that there are internal collaborators without whom the touting business can hardly flourish. Unfortunately, thousands of touts are now indulging in the enterprise while the management of the court is looking the other way. We denounce this tendency. If the Chief Judge is resolved to get at a quick remedy to the problem, offending court officials have to be identified and sanctioned.
It has become expedient for Justice Amadi and his officials to properly direct persons coming to the court to do business or swear affidavits to prevent their becoming victims of oath canvassers. If, despite this measure, touts are obstinate in proceeding with their nefarious career of engaging in fake affidavit endeavours, they should be promptly apprehended and prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others.
Preferably, a taskforce should be inaugurated to continuously check the trend. These measures would hopefully put a final check on the problem and perhaps, restore the required sanity and dignity to the hallowed vicinity of the third arm of government. This will ensure that funds for the smooth management of the institution, but constantly diverted from the system by the unhealthy activities of touts, are sustained.
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