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For Gains Of Amnesty To Endure

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At last we are beginning to see glimpses of a blue sky over the Niger Delta region. The stormy clouds have lifted: the blinding lightening has ceased and the clattering thunder has died down. This clement condition is possible largely because of the unconditional amnesty that President Umaru Musa Yar’;Adua granted repentant militants.

It came as a big relief when the likes of Henry Okah, Ebikabowei Ben ( alias Boyloaf ), Ateke Tom. Government Ekpemupolo (a.k.a Tompolo) and other militants accepted the amnesty programme. This development is a remarkable breakthrough for the government as sceptics never gave the pacification strategy any chance of success. 

Indeed. the success that the amnesty initiative has recorded so far marks a turning point in the effort of President Yar’Adua to translate one of his seven-point agenda into reality. This much was acknowledged by the Director General of the European Union. Mr. Stefano Manservisi. while disclosing that his organisation had set aside 90 million Euros to support the post-amnesty programme. He said: “’This is indeed a very important turning point and we welcome it very much. We at the EC will urge the government of Nigeria to continue the effort of sustainable rehabilitation and reintegration of the former militants”. One cannot but agree.

The President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Mr. Ledum Mitee also captured the essence when he said that the amnesty “should be a process and not a one-off thing.” The major task now is to change the mindset of the youths who have become accustomed to using violence to achieve their goals. They must be made to appreciate the virtues of dialogue in conflict resolution. In addition, they must also recognise that there is dignity in embracing decent means of livelihood.

This cannot be achieved by giving the repentant militants red carpet reception in Aso Rock. Flying them into Abuja with presidential jets gives the impression that the government is glamourising militancy. Yes. the militants need to be appeased but it is wrong to cast them in the mould of regional role models. According to a former oil minister. Prof. Tam David-West the entire process was too razzmatazzed’ and politicised to give the profound event a real soul.

Again, we must not lose sight of the fact that amnesty is only a prelude to finding satisfactory solutions to the main cause of the crisis in the region. which is lack of’ development. It must, therefore be followed with several programmes that would rapidly and significantly transform the oil-bearing communities. The needed massive development should go alongside a well organised re-orientation. training and re­training programmes for the youths. Their bursting energies and world view should be properly channelled towards productive ventures.

The steps taken so far towards addressing the anomalous situation in the oil-rich Niger Delta seem to focus only on repentant militants or those who claim to be the ‘“kings of the creeks.” Unfortunately, this approach is defective and in fact counter­productive, as the army of unemployed youths in the rogion may be tempted to enlist into militant camps just to attract attention. Of course. they would aspire to be accorded presidential attention and royal treatment as is currently being given to the ex-militant leaders. To guard against another resurgence of militancy, there should be an all-inclusive re-orientation and empowerment of the youths irrespective of whether they were former militants or those who have always embraced the peace alternative.

Indeed, the re-orientation should not be limited to seminars and workshops in high­brow venues such as Abuja, Lagos. or other cities in the Niger Delta. To reach the youths at the grass roots, the training and re-training programmes should  be taken to the schools, churches, town hall meetings and market squares in the villages and creeks. The recent post amnesty seminar organised by the Bayelsa State Government in Kaduna. though well-intentioned. took place in a wrong location. Obviously, that event was not meant for the youths of the Niger Delta. who should constitute the target audience of such a gathering. It can best be described as an ill-advised political jamboree, mainly for political heavy-weights. especially those of northern extraction. It nevertheless provided a platform for the Speaker of the  House of Representatives. Mr. Dimeji Bankole to take swipes at Niger Delta political leaders. whom he accused of conspiring to squander the resources entrusted to them.

What the Niger Delta youths need now are programmes that would reshape them and make them better human beings., They should not just be trained and left to grope in the dark alleys of the unemployment market. The should he mentored to fully imbibe the habits of managing their own businesses successfully. This is very important as the President of National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria. Chief Lugard Airniuwu explains: “while training is just about knowledge, mentoring takes care of the total human being. It moulds and shapes the person’s beliefs and values. You use mentoring to lift the person to another level of confidence.”

The youths of the region should be made to see achievement-oriented and honest leaders of the region as their role models. Certainly not the militant leaders. some of who have used violent means to traumatise the nation. Yes, some of the ex-militant “generals” had good intentions when they started the struggle, which is to draw attention to the neglect of their region. Even then, they don’t have to spill the blood of fellow Niger Deltans to achieve their goal.

Credit must be given to the Non-Violence Training Programme for Youths initiated by the Niger Delta  Development Commission. NDDC. in 2008. The scheme. which was introduced as part of the strategies adopted by a Think Tank on the Niger Delta is aimed at reforming the youths who may have resorted to anti-social activities as a result of unemployment.

What has been gained through the non-violence training must be sustained to ensure that the youths do not relapse into another round of violent behaviour. This can be achieved by making sure that they arc gainfully employed. There is no fulfilling the adage that the devil finds work for the idle hand.

The post-amnesty era requires a change of strategy to make sure that the gains of the struggle are sustainable so as to benefit the people in the creeks. Blowing up of pipelines inflicts more pains on the ordinary people. destroys the ecosystem and renders Niger Delta farmers and fishermen jobless as well as increase the level of diseases and other environmental hazards. It is not the kind of struggle the people bargained for. We want a struggle that will enhance the living standard of our people. a struggle that is intellectually-driven as exemplified by the late Ken Saro-Wiwa.

As has been generally acknowledged, the economic well-being of Nigeria rests squarely on the Niger Delta. President Yar’Adua puts it succinctly: “If government must succeed in its bid to secure the country, it must first secure the Niger Delta region”. And that is exactly what he has striven to do through the amnesty.

He was right when he said at a stakeholder’s forum last year that .” if the people can see that their leaders are honest they will understand,  but once they see that their leaders are in power to make money. then there will be a problem·. Now. where are these Niger Delta political leaders, who can confidently and honestly thump their chests and say “1 am in government not to make money but to serve my people?

Leaders of the Niger Delta should not only talk about selfless service but should be seen by all to truly render such. That way, the youths of the region will look up to them as leaders worthy of emulation instead of regarding ex-militant leaders as their role models in the light of the special treatment they are receiving from the President.

Mr Agbu wrotes from Port Harcourt.

 

Ifeatu Agbu

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Opinion

Nigeria And Echoes Of Socrates On Democracy 

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Socrates (469-399BC), the Greek philosopher and political sage of Athenian descent, was critical of the ways in which his fellow Athenians operated under the then novel  concept, ‘democracy’. Though Socrates was not  necessarily critical of democracy itself, he was worried about its likely outcomes in the future. His criticism indicated that he wanted this mode of decision making and governance to be operated with utmost care. Addressing his audience on the then novel concept, Socrates said thus inter alia: “Thieves and fraudsters will want important government functions, and democracy will give it to them, when thieves and fraudsters finally democratically take authority because criminals and evil doers want power, there will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”.
The above brief deposition on democracy is segmented into four parts that yield to critical analysis. The segments are (1) “Thieves and fraudsters will want important government functions”; (2) “democracy will give it to them”. (3) “When they finally democratically take authority because criminals and evil doers want power”; (4) “There will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy and oligarchy”.   This piece interrogates contemporary Nigeria with special reference to  the essence of democracy and power politics from the prism of these segments of Socrates’ perception of democracy. It is with trepidation that one reflects on the above centuries’ old saying vis-a-vis the reality of contemporary Nigeria with special reference to the Fourth Republic. With the prophetic exactitude of the averment for Nigeria, one could have sworn that Socrates looked into a giant celestial crystal ball for the then non-existent most populous nation in negrodom, perched on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea.
Five months into office as President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Evan Enwerem was removed from office as a result of duplicity of names, fraudulent educational records, concealment of criminal records, etc. It was also during the same period that “Toronto” entered the lexicon of Nigerian politics, not as the name of a major city in a country in North America but as euphemism for certificate forgery. Incidentally and interestingly, the political head of Salisu Buhari rolled in that episode. He was later pardoned and reintegrated into the political fold through a political appointment. Today, public office holders who can, with every sense of responsibility, be justifiably referred to as “thieves and fraudsters” have finally taken authority. How else do we describe those with forged educational and birth certificates other than “thieves”?
Or how else do we describe those who deliberately manipulated the democratic process by hacking into voting machines and altering voting figures other than “fraudsters”? And how do you describe those who brazenly and audaciously grabbed, snatched and ran away with ballot papers and boxes into the “bush” other than “criminals and evil doers”?   Socrates’ crystal ball certainly zeroed in on the futuristic Nigeria and we are all living in that future because all of the above have happened in Nigeria during the 25 years of the Fourth Republic. Hitherto esteemed eggheads have tainted the Ivory Tower by their inordinate quest for ignominious pecks;  the judge’s gavel has morphed into auctioneer’s hammer thereby enfeebling the justice delivery system, the last bastion of hope of the citizen against the Leviathan. The moral fabric of the nation has been swept under the carpet and stench of technicalities.
Sprouting at the heels of the Hobbesian state of nature, when “life was nasty, brutish and short”, monarchies and oligarchies were  characterised with unbridled use of power that degenerated into dictatorship. It is, therefore, very worrisome to note that Socrates envisaged that  “there will be worse dictatorship than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”. This is where the Socrates’ averment under reference becomes ominous.   The trending phrase of defiance “Go to court”, is reflective of a compromised judiciary and the hopelessness of the concept of rule of law in the Nigerian social milieu. How this will pan out regarding social order vis-a-vis lawlessness remains a subject of serious concern for social critiques. Given the proliferation of assault rifles in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, what is very likely in the not-too-distant future is that when the seed of disregard for law and order, which we have sown, germinates, government will depart from the democratic ideals of governance.
They will, inevitably, degenerate into dictatorship that may be worse than what obtained during the immediate post-Hobbesian monarchies and oligarchies; this will be necessitated by the need for government to use sufficient force to contain the lawlessness in the land and the resultant threat to peace. Political Science 101 teaches that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  At this point, there will be justification for the utilisation of extreme force to deal with the dire realities of the extreme situation. There and then, there will be absolute power that will birth dictatorship worse than what obtained “in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy”. No wonder it is said that since Socrates, no one has said anything new.  At the point of the groundswell crises implied above and with powers reminiscent of the absolute powers associated with post-Hobbesian monarchies and oligarchies, Nigerian political leaders are acting like drunken captains of a sinking ship.
With the judicial delivery system sweeping the moral fabric of the nation under the filthy and nauseating carpets of technicalities, Nigeria is consistently and insidiously slipping down a slippery economic slope; and will speedily slide down the precipice of disintegration, if care is not taken. Socrates was right: democracy has given “thieves and fraudsters important government functions” in Nigeria because “criminals and evil doers” adorned in tainted wigs and gowns “want (financial) power”; and now, “dictatorship worse than in the time of any monarchy or oligarchy” is afoot. The tragedy is that, dazed in the hoodwink of religious bigotry, regionalism and ethnocentrism, Nigerians are stupefied and confused; and they are watching helplessly while morally stinking and sticky-fingered scoundrels in every sector of the economy  are sinking the ship of the state. God help us all.

Jason Osai
Prof. Osai is of Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

On The Downward Spiral?

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The removal of fuel subsidy by the President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu no sooner he was sworn into office as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, on May 29, 2023, was a bad omen for Nigerians.
President Tinubu had pleaded with Nigerians to bear with his administration on the removal of the subsidy and lulled gullible Nigerians into believing that with his decision to remove subsidy from fuel, Nigeria was on the speed lane to economic recovery from the stranglehold of “saboteurs” who he said are ripping off the country through fuel subsidy payment.
In a 25-page-paragraph ‘Democracy Day broadcast’ aired on television and radio stations, Tinubu said, “I admit that the decision to remove fuel subsidy will impose extra burden on the masses of our people. I feel your pain. This is one decision we must bear to save our country from going under and take our resources away from the stranglehold of a few unpatriotic elements.
“Painfully, I have asked you my compatriots to sacrifice a little more for the survival of our country. For your trust and belief, your sacrifice shall not be in vain.
“The Government I lead will repay through massive investment in transportation, infrastructure, education, regular power supply, healthcare and other public utilities that will improve the quality of lives…”
Unfortunately, 10 months after President Tinubu’s bogus and mouth-watering promises, nothing has happened to ameliorate the excruciating pains of fuel subsidy removal. Nigeria and Nigerians are worse than when the present administration came in. Resources have been removed from the stranglehold of few unpatriotic enemy elements and given to friendly-looters. What Nigerians have gained so far in return for fuel subsidy removal sacrifice, is compound  suffering and hardship. The economy today is worse than when President Tinubu took over. The inflation rate, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, is above 29 percent. The exchange rate of dollar to Naira currency of Nigeria is one Dollar to about N1,600. Nigeria is going through hyperinflation: a bag of rice that was N48,000 when the present administration came in, is today about N80,000; a basin of garri is between N10,000 and N12,000 against N4,800, pump price of premium motor spirit is over N700 in some dispensing stations as against N180 when Tinubu came to power. A bag of cement is between N10,000 and N12,000, pushing up the cost of rent to an unbearable point, transportation has increased astronomically,  negatively affecting economic activities. School fees have been increased like a phoenix, even in government-owned schools,  unemployment is astronomically high and poverty and corruption are the second nature of the country. Yet, workers salaries are the same. Pensioners are like guinea pigs. Nigerians are dying, they need a respite.
Recently, there were protests in some States of Northern Nigeria to express displeasure over worsening economic situation in Nigeria.
The two central labour bodies in Nigeria- the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) last week gave the Federal Government under President Tinubu a 14 – day ultimatum to implement the agreement reached in October last year or face a total shut down of the wheel of industry and economy.
In fact, the world’s monetary organisation, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has revealed that the stalled per capita growth, poverty and high food insecurity in Nigeria have worsened the ongoing cost-of-living crisis in Nigeria. This is as a  result of rising inflation, exchange crisis, weak economic growth and business closures that have bedeviled the country’s economy. According to the International Monetary Fund, headline inflation reached 27 percent year-on-year in October, flood inflation 32 percent, reflecting the effect of fuel subsidy removal, exchange rate depreciation and poor agricultural production in Nigeria.

Igbiki Benibo

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Opinion

Repeal Contributory Pension In Rivers

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To say the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) leaves much to be desired by public servants in Rivers State, is a mild expression of an exceedingly ugly situation. Retirees under the Contributory Pension Act are suffering because they are denied several years of benefits following non contribution of counterpart fund by employers for the period preceding the implementation of the amended 2014 Act. In 2004, retirees were compulsorily asked to join Annuity operated by Insurance company or programmed withdrawal under the Contributory Pension Scheme operated by Pension Fund Administrators under the control of PENCOM. By virtue of 2014 amended Act, the ugly narrative of retirees has not changed.
The obnoxious Contributory Pension Scheme denies retirees having greater share of lump sum after retirement and dispenses a paltry monthly pension to retirees across  board under this scheme. Mr. John Paago (not his real names) served the Federal Government of Nigeria from July 15, 1981 and retired on July 15, 2016 on salary Grade Level 14, having worked for a mandatory period of 35 years and attained the maximum age of 60 years. For all the years he put in, the total balance standing to his credit was N6,745,823.34. Of this amount,  he was paid a meagre 25 per cent which amounted to N1,686,455.84 while the balance of 75 per cent was retained by his Pension Fund Administrators for their  investment in capital market and other large institutions with high returns which is never added to retirees’ paltry monthly pension payment while still alive.  Paago receives N26,703.15 every month as Pension since 2016 till now, despite the huge profits declared every year under Contributory Pension Scheme. No doubt, the monthly pension given to Mr. Paago  cannot buy a loaf of bread at the price of N1,000 currently per day for 30 days.
Unfortunately, every day prices of goods and services are on the increase unprecedentedly, while workers and retirees under the old scheme – Defined Benefit Scheme had their salaries and pension increased across all levels, the Contributory Pension Scheme retirees are abandoned to their fate. It is pertinent to say that retirees under the Contributory Pension Scheme face the same adverse socio-economic challenges like their counterparts under the Defined Benefit Scheme  (DBS).  Though the contributory pension scheme was designed to remedy the alleged deficiencies and inadequate funding of the DBS by pooling funds from employers and employees’ contributions to Pension Funds Custodians, retirees under the scheme, have not fared better than those who retired under the DBS. Conversely, the implementation of the contributory pension is a far cry from what its proponents lulled employees to believe. Complaints ranging from under payment of retirees under the scheme, despite several years of service (some of whom served for 35 mandatory years), corruption, non-compliance of State governments and other employers to provisions of the  Reform Act, 2014, characterise implementation of the Scheme, which Labour leaders in the country describe as anti-workers and retirees welfare.
Dissatisfied with the scheme, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria appealed to the Federal Government to scrap the scheme, describing it as a “huge fraud”.”The Present contributory pension policy of the federal government should be scrapped. We discovered lately that the pension  policy is a fraud on workers”, posited Yusuf Emmanuel, Chairman-General Ministry of Defence Unit 2, Lagos Outstations. In the same vein, the Rivers State Chairman of Nigeria’s Mother Labour Unions – Nigerian Civil Service Union, also appealed to the Rivers State Governor, Sir Simirilayi Fubara to “outrightly repeal” the contributory pension scheme in Rivers State, because “It is not in the interest of civil servants”. Comrade Chuks Osummah, the Rivers State Chairman of the Nigeria Civil Service Union, who made the appeal at the event to mark the Union’s 111 years of existence in Nigeria, expressed worry over the fate of workers who will retire under the contributory pension scheme.
“We are calling on the Executive Governor of Rivers State to abolish the contributory pension act as it is not in the interest of Rivers State civil servants”, a worried Osummah said. The fears of public/civil servants are not unfounded because though over 25 States of the Federation have adopted the scheme in principle by enacting relevant legislation, only six States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory — Abuja, have fully complied with the provisions of the extant laws on the pension reform act. Full compliance and implementation of the scheme has remained an uphill task denting the integrity of the scheme and its purported benefits for workers in the public, private and informal sectors the scheme was designed to cover. It is also evident that while some State governments deduct and remit workers’ contribution, the states have failed to contribute their counterpart fund to the scheme; This violates provision of contributors’ right as enshrined in section 4(1) the Pension Reform Act 2014. The section provides that as an employee’s right, the employer shall contribute a minimum of 10 percent of the employee’s monthly emolument to his/her pension fund administrator. The employer will also deduct at source a minimum of eight percent of the worker’s emoluments and pay to their fund administrator.
By the deficiency of State governments and other employers to make their counterpart contributions, the scheme can not guarantee security for the welfare of the workers on retirement. The fate of employees, especially those working before the enactment and implementation, seems to hang on the balance; an aura and premonition of uncertainty on the seamless disbursement of what is legitimately their entitlement remains a puzzle, since they are likely to lose financial benefits for all the years they have served before the implementation of the Act in the State. The Scheme is intended to enable employees “Seamlessly transfer their accumulated funds when changing jobs, ensuring continuous growth and uninterrupted savings accumulator.” This mobility is aimed at empowering workers to “Pursue new opportunities without sacrificing their retirement security”.
The CPS covers: Public Servants working for the Federal Government of Nigeria,  the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), each of the 36 States of the Federation,  all the local government councils in Nigeria, employees in Private sector organisations where there are three or more employees, and those in the informal sector which covers any economic activity or source of income that is not fully regulated by the government and other public authorities. But the CPS which is supposed to improve on the old defined benefit scheme is fraught with several hydra-headed and multi-dimensional problems that negate the welfare of workers and retirees. It is sound to argue that since the Pension Reforms Act was enacted in 2014, it should have excluded workers already employed in the public sector before 2014, when the law was enacted.
The effective date should not have been retrospective, or backdated because the effective date of implementation can shortchange workers employed before 2014. Workers still in active service should rise  against the retrogressive scheme’s servitude . The Rivers State Government under the humane, compassionate and empathetic Governor Siminalayi Fubara should abrogate the contributory pension act as applicable in Rivers State or defer the effective date of implementation to affect only workers who were employed  into the Public Service after 2014. Those employed before 2014 should remain under the defined benefit scheme. If the contributory pension scheme was not without flaws, Former President Muhammadu Buhari would not have assented to National Assembly Workers Pension Scheme few days before he left office, thus removing National Assembly Workers from the contributory pension scheme. Governor Fubara can do same for public servants in Rivers State.

Igbiki Benibo

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