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Still On Constitution Review

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Like every Senate before it since 1999, the Ninth Senate recently set up a 56-member
committee for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution. The committee, headed by Deputy Senate President, Obarisi Ovie Omo-Agege, may be the Senate’s response to objections and continual whines of the constitution for containing some ambivalence that impede harmony and development of Nigeria.
As the review process starts up, Omo-Agege of the All Progressives Congress (APC, Delta Central) said recommendations of the 2014 National Conference chaired by late former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Idris Kutigi, and the Committee on Restructuring headed by the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, would be evaluated and used as working documents.
Speaking further, the Deputy Senate President said the alteration of the Sixth Schedule, the establishment of National and State Houses of Assembly Pre-election Matters Tribunal, Governorship Pre-election Matters Tribunal and Presidential Pre-election Matters Tribunal including time limits for the disposal of all pre-election matters before the conduct of the general election would be considered as well.
Also to be examined, according to the committee chairman, are devolution of powers, full local government fiscal autonomy, full autonomy of the judiciary, youth inclusiveness in governance, and gender parity, among others.
“In carrying out this national assignment, this committee will, no doubt, consider the alteration of the Sixth Schedule to make provision for new items, the establishment of National and State Houses of Assembly Pre-election Matters Tribunal, Governorship Pre-election Matters Tribunal and Presidential Pre-election Matters Tribunal including time limits for the disposal of all pre-election matters before the conduct of the general election,” Omo-Agege said.
It is reasonable that the Senate has, for once, pledged to study the reports of the 2014 National Constitutional Conference and the el-Rufai Restructuring Committee. There were far-reaching deliberations and resolutions on moving the country forward in those reports. We believe it will be wise to initiate relevant bills based on their recommendations in this constitution review activity.
Indeed, the items contemplated for amendment are what Nigerians have always clamoured for in previous constitution modifications. But will anything change with this fresh initiative? Will the outcome be acceptable and assented to by the President? This ritual was performed four times in the Fourth Republic, all of which failed woefully to address the crucial issues undermining the country’s corporate existence.
For instance, there are many recurring issues like local government autonomy, devolution of powers, rotation of power at federal and state levels, full autonomy for state Houses of Assembly, electronic voting, state police, and the likes, which had the sanction of majority of Nigerians during previous exercises, but they failed to make it to the amended Constitution. It is for this reason Nigerians have always found fault with the 1999 Constitution.
This has led to the screaming advocacy for the complete rejection of the present document in favour of an autochthonous one. The campaign is based on the opprobrious fact that it is dubious and a product of the military regime of Abdulsalami Abubakar, with the counterfeit claim that it was the creation of the people.
Nigeria is eclectic in ethnicity, culture and religion. Therefore, it should be run with deference for these sensibilities through pristine federalism. If this model works for the United States of America (USA), Canada, India and Australia with diversities as ours, why can’t it work for us?
It is explicit that lack of a home-grown constitution has made nation-building complicated; economic growth and development evasive; and social harmony a sisyphean task. Consequently, ethnicity and religion have become divergent points in the Nigerian state.
It was to prevent chaos that the country’s founding fathers adopted the 1963 Constitution entrenched in true federalism. The four regions at the time: West, North, East and Mid-West were the federating units with their own constitutions. Revenue was not shared at the centre. Rather, every region was a wealth creator; developed at its own pace; had its police, controlled its resources and paid royalties to the Federal Government.
We need a return to this archetype, not a constitutional amendment. So, the National Assembly should begin a process that will hand down a brand new constitution to Nigeria, which would bring it to self-rediscovery. Having borrowed the presidential system from the United States, we ought to have replicated its constitution. Is it not astonishing that while Nigeria has 68 items in the Exclusive Legislative List, the US has only 12 items in its exclusive list, known as Enumerated Powers?
Today, Nigeria has been transformed into a valley of death, largely because of the notorious activities of terrorist groups, bandits, kidnappers and armed robbers, among others. That is why the nation must undertake urgent political restructuring and enthronement of true federalism through the ongoing constitution amendment exercise.

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Editorial

Making 2022 Budget Work

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In recent times, the Federal Government’s unrestrained penchant for domestic and foreign loans has been variously criticised as unhealthy for Nigeria’s economy. Many economic experts have particularly expressed worries over Nigeria’s rising debt profile especially debt service-to-revenue ratio as well as foreign exchange liquidity constraints. These worries were recently exacerbated by the resolve of the Federal Government to borrow N5.01 trillion to finance the 2022 proposed budget.
While presenting the 2022 Appropriation Bill of N16.39 trillion to the joint session of the National Assembly, penultimate Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari had said that the 2022 budget would be financed by borrowing to the tune of N5.01 trillion. The 2022 budget proposal contains capital expenditure of N4.89 trillion, a non-debt recurrent expenditure of N6.83 trillion, personnel cost of N4.11 trillion and debt service of N3.61 trillion.
The total federally distributable revenue is estimated at N12.72 trillion in 2022 while total revenue available to fund the 2022 budget is estimated at N10.13 trillion. This includes Grants and Aid of N63.38 billion, as well as the revenues of 63 Government-Owned Enterprises (GOEs). This shows that the 2022 budget has a deficit of about N6.25 trillion, approximately 3.39 per cent of GDP. This is slightly above the 3 per cent ceiling set by  the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 (FRA). A budget deficit occurs when expenditure exceeds revenue.
While we agree with the President that the huge expenditure budget may be compelled by the need to overcome current security  challenges and accelerate post-recession growth, we are concerned that the Federal Government’s resort to borrowing to finance the 2022 fiscal gaps is not good enough for the nation’s economy that is already suffocating under the huge burden of foreign loans.
We say this because Nigeria’s budget deficit has risen to N20.64 trillion. Data from the budget office, covering 2016 to 2020 show that more than N7.97 trillion was borrowed from foreign and domestic sources to fund the budget deficits. This, to us, is not healthy for our economy. 
Although the President and some economic experts are quick to say that the debt level of the Federal Government is still within sustainable limits, and that the borrowings are tied to some specific critical development projects and programmes, we are worried that the continuous running of the nation’s economy on budget deficit is capable of mortgaging the future of the country. 
It is, therefore, imperative that the Federal Government devises various means of improving the revenue profile of the country. While some of the revenue generating initiatives contained in the 2022 budget are commendable, a key focus area may be to explore avenues to diversify export revenue sources away from crude oil, which currently accounts for more than 80 per cent of total foreign exchange receipt.
Concerted and coordinated efforts are also required to improve the policy environment and address insecurity to boost domestic investment and attract foreign direct investments. The government also needs to ensure speedy ratification and strategic implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) to position Nigeria as a choice investment destination in Africa. 
Meanwhile, it is expected that a robust implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) would promote investment in the oil and gas sector, stimulate economic growth and sustainability. Also important is the need to widen the nation’s tax net to accommodate more taxable Nigerians. Here, we recommend the resuscitation of toll gates on federal highways to shore up the revenue profile of the government. 
It is also incumbent upon the three tiers of government to be guided by the recent revelations by the Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Muhammad Nami, that despite having 41 million taxpayers in the country, compared to South Africa’s four million taxpayers, Nigeria earned far lower than what South Africa generated from Personal Income Tax.
The FIRS boss said, “Our total taxpayers today are in the region of about 41 million people and the total Personal Income Tax paid last year was less than N1trillion by 40 million people. If you also compare that with South Africa where they have a total population of about 60 million people, with just four million taxpayers, the total Personal Income Tax paid in South Africa last year is about N13trillion. You can now see that these things are not adding up.
“The number of billionaires in Lagos alone are more than the number of billionaires in the whole of South Africa but yet, what we generated as Personal Income Tax by Lagos State Government is just less than N400billion”. Nami’s revelation might just be another eye opener for the government at all levels that Nigeria has enough wealth to finance its budget and sustain its economy without borrowing.
With the nation’s over-reliance on crude oil income to fund the budget, the government may be stretching itself too far in producing enough revenues to fund essential projects. And with the growing borrowing, the future of the country is dreary. We need more investments in the non-oil sectors of the economy.
For the economy to progress and achieve greater significant growth, a reasonable level of budget execution is necessary. But if the government continues to violate existing debt laws, the 2022 budget may go through the disastrous fate of previous budgets. Also, there is a need for migration of businesses from the informal to the formal sector of the economy for easy inclusion in the tax net.
Beyond this, the government must fight against insecurity throughout the country, which hinders local and foreign investment and stabilise the exchange rate policy regime. Let it reduce unemployment and inflation rates. It should spend less on consumption and more on productive sectors of the economy.

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Editorial

That Military Invasion In Imo

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The security crisis in the South-East is getting more and more frightening. Under the guise of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Eastern Security Network (ESN) and their affiliates, many organisations roam the five states of Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi, sowing violent and criminal activities. Innocent people are killed and their homes burned. The mob hides under the blackmail of separatist politics, making the geopolitical zone almost uncontrollable.
The situation is worsening despite the resolution of governors in the zone to curb increasing violence and homicides in the region by bringing into effect the dysfunctional regional security outfit, Ebube Agu. At the height of the crisis was a recent encounter between soldiers and youths of Umuokwu Izombe community in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State where no fewer than 10 persons were slaughtered. About 12 houses, comprising the palace of the traditional ruler, Eze Pius Muforo, were reportedly charred and 15 others ruined.
According to sources, trouble commenced when soldiers in the area had a heated variance with some youths of the community over crude oil bunkering activities. During the brawl, the officers allegedly shot and killed a youth of the community. Angered by the contretemps, the youths were said to have mobilised and mugged the soldiers, culminating in the apparent murder of two army personnel and the smouldering of vehicles.
The soldiers, it was learned, reinforced and stormed the community in a retributive attack, purportedly burning houses and executing persons located within the environ of the altercation. Oil bunkering activities are reported to be on the upswing in Izombe, Eziorsu and Osobodo lately. Besides, Imo State has been convulsing under cataclysmic attacks in the past months, with many slain and security formations assailed. The devastating intrusion had been particularly scandalous in the Orlu area of the state.
However, police description of the predicament attributed it to some supposed bandits who pinned security agencies in the territory in a gun duel. A release by the state police spokesperson, Mike Abbatam, affirmed, “two security personnel and three others were feared killed when hoodlums invaded Izombe police divisional headquarters. The attackers whose plan was to bomb the station, engaged the cops in a duel battle which resulted in loss of lives.”
It was stated that since the incident ensued, fleeing inhabitants of the oil-rich Izombe have been suffering excruciating and harrowing experiences. Indigenes are quitting the town as hard as they could. At the last count, the Nigerian army had struck between 72 and 80 houses, 15 vehicles and 25 motorcycles. The precipitation of projectiles from the gun nozzles of experienced military men is incapacitating and acrimonious, cutting lives short.
Forty-eight hours afterward, the hitherto reticent Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, excoriated the raids and pledged to set up a panel of investigation to unveil the executioners of the disturbance and bring them to justice. The governor bawled the persistent resort to lawlessness, bemoaning that crime and criminality had been on the rise since the jailbreak in Owerri. We endorse the governor’s buoying stand on the issue, but he must move fast to protect his people, especially as the army has admitted their presence in the community.
We denounce the incident and bemoan the destruction of lives and properties. Consistent with the stand of the Imo State Government on the matter, we recommend a middle-of-the-road probe into the development. An independent judicial commission of inquiry should be inaugurated to identify the arsonists among the soldiers. We likewise request for justice for all the slain persons, including the two soldiers reportedly set aflame by the irate youths.
The military usurpation of the community and the extra-judicial carnage of inhabitants are illegal, regardless of the degree of the observed offence. International best practices demand that investigations should have been ordered first before action was taken against the Izombe community, since the perpetrators may not be residents there. Hence, what was legal in the circumstances was for the Nigerian Army to inform the police, who could have effectuated the arrest of the suspected killers.
Shamefully, the Nigerian security forces did not flounder at least for once in doing what they know how to do best — confronting inculpable civilians with live bullets while razing down houses worth millions of Naira, rendering hundreds homeless. Since the restoration of democracy in 1999, this rude and ungainly manner of dealing with helpless and vulnerable civilians has been a part of the life of Nigerians.
On November 20, 1999, Odi, a town dominated by the Ijaws in Bayelsa State, was taken up by the Nigerian Army and its people were decimated. The attack originated in a contention in the Niger Delta over indigenous rights to oil resources and environmental safeguard. Similarly, in 2001, some Benue communities were flattened because hoodlums bombarded 19 soldiers. Zaki-Biam, Tse-Adoor, Vaase, Sankera, Anyiin, and Kyado were diminished to ashes. Over two thousand people perished, according to records.
Also, in December 2020, when soldiers overswarm Bolou-Tubegbe community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, reportedly searching for kidnappers, they wreaked caustic pain on the community as all buildings in that area were blighted. They left behind not a single one after their operation. They crudely injured some natives as the soldiers rained bullets on the community, while many relinquished life. Those are some patterns of the complete genocide of civilian communities by Nigerian security forces.
It is exceedingly disconcerting that the Nigerian military, an institution of considerable reputation, is yet to come to terms with the imperative of jettisoning the frequent resort to self-help under constitutional democracy notwithstanding the provocation or high dudgeon. The predisposition towards encroachment and arson by soldiers clearly pertains to the Stone Age which is entirely illegitimate and amounts to terrorism. The military authorities must resolve all forms of professional misconduct amongst its rank and file.
The cowardly act of the irate youths, who murdered the uniformed men, is reprehensible. After all, the killing of military men is a crime against humanity and international laws. Illegal oil burglars in the community should give peace a chance and leave off oil thievery and economic ruination, or risk being picked up and prosecuted. Izombe youths must understand that oil bunkering activities pose a significant hazard to public health by polluting mangroves, land, groundwater, and gutting fish habitat. Rather, they should think creatively and undertake legitimate processes of subsistence for serenity and advancement of the community.
The director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, while reacting to the criminality of the military in their unabashed acts of wiping out entire villages or communities posited, “These brazen acts of razing entire villages, deliberately destroying civilian homes and forcibly displacing their inhabitants with no imperative military grounds, should be investigated as possible war crimes”. Obviously! Those who inflict the longstanding pattern of the Nigerian military’s vicious tactics against the civilian population must account for such infringements and be brought to justice.

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Editorial

That BRACED Position On S’South Concerns

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Following a critical meeting held last Monday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, under the aegis of the BRACED Commission, the South-South Governors Forum affirmed to join the Supreme Court suit by the Rivers State Government, insisting that states and not the Federal Government should collect Value-Added Tax (VAT). This is coming on the heels of a similar declaration by five Northern governors to apply for joinder with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in the VAT case between Rivers and FIRS pending before the Court of Appeal.
In a communique read by the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, the region’s governors, among other constraining issues, said they would soon unroll a joint security outfit and called on the Federal Government to put out the report of the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) recently submitted to the President and quickly appoint a substantive board for the commission.
The governors also called for the relocation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) headquarters as well as the head offices of International Oil Companies (IOCs) to states in the Niger Delta region. According to them, the request had since been made during a dialogue between stakeholders in the geo-political zone and a Federal Government delegation led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari.
The communique reads, “To unequivocally support states to collect the Value-Added Tax, and resolved to join the suit at the Supreme Court. Council urged the President and the National Assembly to take necessary measures to revisit some unfair aspects of the recently signed Petroleum Industry Bill now Act, to ensure fairness and equity. We urge that the amendment should include a clear definition of host communities and that the trustees should be appointed by the state government.
“Council called on the President and the Federal Government to uphold the law establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by appropriately constituting its board. In addition, we express the hope that the Federal Government will make the forensic audit report public and do justly and fairly with the report to strengthen the capacity of NDDC to meet its obligations to the people of the region.
“Council regretted that the President and the Federal Government entirely failed to give reasonable consideration to requests made by the region during the dialogue with the special delegation led by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to the President. Notable among the requests was the relocation of NNPC subsidiaries and IOCs headquarters to Niger Delta and the completion of a number of projects in the region, notably roads”, Okowa added.
All the region’s governors except Cross River State’s Prof Ben Ayade were in attendance at the meeting presided over by the forum’s chairman, Governor Okowa, with the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, as host and the Director-General, BRACED Commission, Joe Keshi, also present. The BRACED Commission, comprising the six South-South states of Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta, is an initiative to advance integration, socio-economic and infrastructural development of the region.
The resoluteness of the governors in holding regular meetings to articulate significant issues affecting the region deserves commendation. They are equally eulogised for the far-reaching resolutions at their meeting. Seen from this angle, they have to make sure that nothing breaks their will to remain united. Those decisions are precarious to the security, safety and well-being of the people of the region. The governors have amply demonstrated that they share the sentiments and aspirations of the people. Similar reciprocity is necessary with other political leaders of the zone, irrespective of party divergence.
Regrettably, Prof Ayade ravishes in putting up recalcitrant or contumacious demeanour towards his colleague-governors in the region by interminably absenting himself from their conclave. The Cross River State governor should not dissimulate and contemplate that all is well when their South-East, South-West and Northern counterparts meet regularly to confer on questions of common concerns, notwithstanding political party disparities. Rather than expressing his dissatisfaction, Ayade should join his viscounts in their renewed efforts to revitalise the once-moribund BRACED Commission to strengthen economic collaboration among the states of the region.
We welcome the governors’ decision to establish a South-South security architecture, like other areas of the country, to complement the nation’s security agencies in the area. The truth is, given the fast regressing security situation in the country, the whole of the Niger Delta region, especially the South-South zone, is under existential threat congruent with other parts of Nigeria. We have a serious security problem. Revelations around the country often emphasise insecurity related to Islamic insurgents in Northern Nigeria, organised armed banditry involving Fulani herdsmen, farmer-herder conflicts, kidnapping and armed robbery.
But insecurity has long been a conundrum in the oil-rich region of the Niger Delta. From the early 2000s, armed militants targeted oil industry infrastructure and made off with expatriates. This perdured until the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua instituted an amnesty programme for militants in 2009. Hostilities petered out but the programme focused predominantly on securing the oil industry. It did not hammer away the overarching insecurity touching on the run-of-the-mill people. Therefore, for the current gambit to succeed, stakeholders in the region must sift through the failures and ascendances of Amotekun, the South West security outfit, to build a similar or better outfit for the South-South.
Again, the South-South governors’ supplemental non-partisan intention to join the VAT lawsuit at the Supreme Court, in solidarity with Rivers State on the position that VAT should be collected by states is creditable as it is estimable. That is nothing short of a demonstration of fraternity. We hail their staunch positions on the Petroleum Industry Act, the NDDC forensic audit report, and their call on the President to uphold the law establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by appropriately re-constituting the board. If heeded, it will certainly chart a new course for the agency.
Similarly, the clarion and persistent calls for the relocation of the headquarters of International Oil Companies (IOCs) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) subsidiaries to the Niger Delta are gratifying. These calls have become one too many. We find it mystifying that the Federal Government has remained impervious to this just demand of the Niger Delta people, thus, withholding from the region conceivable benefits, while the paradoxical realities, arising from the industry, stay put in the region.
Governors from the South-South must be unrelenting in strengthening the BRACED Commission to fast track the economic integration and development of the geo-political zone. Findings showed that what initially glued the governors together was political party affiliation and what wrenched them was individual ambition and party segregation in 2013. This time around, they must rise above those cleavages to give bearing to the revitalised commission.

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