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Mrs Amaechi And Women Empowerment

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Women have a major role to play in the promotion of national development especially in the rural communities. As the focus of the family and as homemakers and cultivators, their contributions to the survival and progress of our society are tremendous.

It is in the light of this that many people have viewed the initiative of the wife of the Rivers State governor, Mrs. Dame Judith Amaechi to empower the women and youths of the  state by equipping them for modern farming with interest.

As stated by the First lady and founder of Empowerment Support Initiative (ESD): “we have acquired about 60 plots of land to enable us begin training of our women and youths in modern farming skills and technology and these lands will have a demonstration farm and modern farm facility including green houses to enable us have higher yields”. By the initiative, plans have already been made for over 2,500 women to benefit from the first phase of the project.

If this initiative is well planned, co-ordinated, and executed, it will achieve several developmental objectives for the state. As indicated by the governor’s wife, the programme will provide gainful empowerment and employment for women and youths. But  significantly, the scheme will educe modernisation in our agricultural practice which will bring about an increase in productive power and changes in the attitudes of our women and youths, replacing a sense of dependence on the natural envrioment. It will thus establish an economic base for the women and youths and generate progressively higher levels of output and living for the state.

Besides, the programme will narrow the gap between the opportunities of rural women and youths on one hand, and those of the employed and  well-to-do urban population on the other hand.

So before the training programme for the scheme kicks off in the next few weeks, the scope of the entire project should be expanded to include some other vital areas of agricultural activities in the state. Such areas include cassava processing, grass cutter farming, snail farming, fish farming, processing, and preservation, periwenkle farming, and new methods of growing maize and other crops. Others are goat milking, rabbit rearing, turkey farming, chicks hatching, and production of table birds (broilers).

Though the state is very well endowed with several streams, creeks, ponds, wildlife, arable land and friendly climate for agricultural production, adequate attention has not been directed, especially in recent times,  to food production and processing. Even with cassava that is in reasonable supply in the state, no concerted effort has been made to process it industrially. Over the years, the production of garri from cassava has been done traditionally by women and their children or youths in their homes.

The traditional method of garri production is time consuming, unhygienic, and on a small scale. Therefore, it can not produce enough garri to feed the teeming population of those who eat it as their staple food.

The scheme should therefore include in its programme, training of women on industrial garri production to upgrade the village method to a modern one which covers peeling and grating of cassava tubers, de-watering, toasting, sieving and packaging. In the industrial garri production, the whole process is automated.

Fish farming is another agricultural activity that can easily empower the women and youths. It is a lucrative business which can be practised in marine, brackish or fresh water, and apart from ponds, tanks and reservoirs can be used for the venture. Since it can be practised on a small, medium or large-scale level, women can quite easily fit the business into their financial capacity and managerial ability.

Certainly, if many women and youths are trained in fish farming, more employment opportunities will be created for the rural and even urban dwellers, their incomes will increase and diet  will improve.

For the women and youths in the riverine areas, training them on periwinkle farming will also be a welcome development. Though periwinkles are abundant in the brackish water mangrove belt of the Niger Delta, women and youths harvest them by hand-picking during low water.

Periwinkle farming is another lucrative venture that will empower our women and children. Considering that it is nutritionally richer than fish or meat, its demand and consumption are increasing steadily and rapidly.

But for Mrs. Amaechi to succeed in this laudable programme, she must take certain critical factors about the state’s rural communities and  people into consideration. The foremost one is that the illiteracy rate among the women is very high. The type of training to be given to them should therefore be well thought out.

It should also be noted that the very nature of the process of women and youth empowerment require that action be taken on several fronts simultaneously and not independently of each other.

This implies that the programmes of agriculture, education, and training, health and nutrition, rural electrification, co-operatives, water supply and road construction should be integrated and delivered as a package and not planned and implemented each in isolation.

Worse still, it is difficult to assess the desire or willingness of the women and youths to grow with the programme in the long run. Why? Because, in the past, beneficiaries of similar programmes have perceived them as other ways of taking their own share of the national cake. And the initiators of such programmes had, often, created them to fulfill dramatic short term needs, expectations, and promises.

Mrs. Amaechi’s efforts of empowering the women and youths of the state should therefore not be seem by the beneficiaries as an action to simply support them or make them dependent on the generosity of government; it should be seen as an action to give them a chance of developing the skills and talents that will help them become self-reliant and serve as dependable force  for the modernisation of the agricultural sector in the  state.

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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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