Technology is a meaningful part of human life or existence and this is true for a fact in Nigeria.
Africa’s giant is one of the technological hotspots across the African continent and makes great use of digital resources to prosper. A technology leap that many Nigerians are anxiously awaiting is the deployment of 5G.
Nigerians were exhilarated when the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, announced that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had approved the Fifth Generation Network, also known as 5G for Nigeria. Pantami said that the council, in ratifying the 5G, took cognizance of the report of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) that pronounced it safe to human health.
Assuring the safety of Nigerians, the minister said that the radioactivity of the network was lower than that of the 4G currently in use. He revealed that the deployment of the plan would be implemented in phases between now and 2025 and listed the benefits of the policy to include higher data rate, fuller capacity, lower latency, job opportunities and necessary assistance to the security agencies in localities where the high-quality frequency was lacking.
What is 5G? Very simply put, this is the next generation of mobile broadband. A real step up from the current 4G networks, it guarantees to be of great benefit to personal and business activities. 5G is the acronym for the Fifth Generation of wireless communications. Experts assert that it is an advancement on the previous 3G and 4G that can provide much faster connectivity and speed up technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Oddly enough, Nigeria was the first African country to test 5G but was not able to implement it. However, South Africa was the first to apply it, using Vodacom and MTN in 2019. Kenya came in second place last April when the network was run, utilising Nokia and Huawei simultaneously. Although 5G is still not widely available, more and more African countries are embarking on testing. Telecommunications in Morocco, Egypt, Gabon, Uganda and Lesotho are carrying out preliminary conduction tests. Even in this case, it may take longer to adopt the technology as a whole.
According to some connoisseurs in information technology, when the 5G network becomes heart and soul operational across the country, it should equally convey a boost to businesses, especially as they are increasingly going online in the modern age, and taking advantage of digital channels to prosper. Of course, this can be noticed in the way Nigerian companies use online marketing to boost brand awareness or sell their products worldwide through digital platforms and websites. An effective 5G network is expected to help Nigerian businesses work faster, more flexibly and more productively.
However, despite the pontifical benefits, controversies, theories and myths have consistently stood in the way of the Federal Government’s declaration to roll out the Fifth Generation network in the country. There are apprehensions as to the likely harmful impact of the latest technology to the country, with some quarters citing cybersecurity and privacy threats, while others have referred to possible health-related predicaments from electromagnetic radiation and other negative impacts on the environment. Those concerns must be dealt with as the technology becomes operational in Nigeria.
Other claims still deal with health risks since the launch of 5G in China and its deployment in several other countries. They are Covid-19 vaccines contain 5G microchips; that 5G release is used to cover up the Covid-19 pandemic; and that 5G causes headaches, migraines, and dizziness and even cancer. In addition, it is believed to suppress the immune system and increase the risk of SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19.
Nigeria’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd), also raised critical national security concerns and caution regarding the introduction of the Fifth Generation (5G) network. Monguno spoke at the Senate investigative hearing on the current state of the 5G network in Nigeria and its technological impact on citizens, where he posited that if misplaced and left in the wrong hands, it could pose a threat to national security.
Many countries are finding it difficult to deploy the technology mainly because of the challenges and myths characterising it as well as its introduction. Similarly, Nigeria has its obstacles that have impeded the execution of the technology in the country. That was acknowledged by Pantami as one reason for the seemingly late take-off of the policy.
But those who should know better have come out invincibly to debunk the misgivings. The United Kingdom government recently issued perhaps the strongest rebuttal of these figments of the fertile imagination of some self-styled scientists. “There is absolutely no credible evidence of a link between 5G and Coronavirus; inaccurate information was being spread online about 5G”, the UK’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) noted.
Though the reservations against the network are not scientifically proven, they must not be disparaged as there is a need for constant enlightenment to instil credence in Nigerians about the safety of the 5G technology. Enlightenment has to be intensified to encourage broader endorsement of the policy. Nobody should be held execrable for the pervasive misconception of robotics. When the origin of both the Covid-19 pandemic and the 5G technology is examined, it may easily be understood why people inter-relate them.
Notwithstanding the disinclinations, we believe the perks derivable from effectual 5G network deployment far outweigh the handicaps. Therefore, the Nigerian government should proceed with the declaration of information technology and telecommunications as vital infrastructure to facilitate the broadband strategy. Governments at all levels must also enhance their efforts to incorporate information technology with its potential to facilitate governance and deracinate corruption in the country.
The exhaustive adoption of information technology and migration of state operations from manual to digital will certainly ensure that the country conforms to the benchmark of government operations in the 21st century. 5G remains the best technology available; therefore, adopting it now is more suitable for the country to avoid playing catch-up later, which would be more exorbitant to bear up under.
Making 2022 Budget Work
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.
That Military Invasion In Imo
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.
That BRACED Position On S’South Concerns
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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