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Waiting For the Golden Opportunity

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The Nigerian is an optimistic and a happy being. He thanks God for the good, the bad, and the ugly. So despite the backwardness and the unfulfilled promises of the founding fathers of the country, many Nigerians still savoured the joy of the nation’s 50 years of existence. In his broadcast on the occasion of the golden jubilee celebration at the foyer of the Presidential Villa, Abuja on October 1, 2010, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan said: “This is the time to look forward to the great opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for Nigeria”.

 It goes without saying that since its inception 50 years ago, the Nigerian nation has faced acute challenges and navigated several turning points, many crossroads.

On January 15, 1966, less than six years after its independence, the Nigerian Armed Forces seized the powers of government following a coup d’etat which resulted in the killing of four of the country’s national leaders: Sir Abukabar Tafawa Balewa, the prime minister of the federation, Chief Okotie Eboh, the federal minister of finance, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto and premier of Northern Region, and Chief S.L. Akintola, the premier of Western Region.

Thereafter, Major General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi, the Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces abolished some aspects of the country’s first Republican Constitution, assumed governmental powers, and became the head of the federal military government.

On July 29, 1966, some disgruntled elements in the Nigerian Army organised a counter coup d’etat by which Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi and the Military Governor of Western Nigeria, Lt. Col. Adekunle Fajuyi were kidnapped and killed. Then on August 1, 1966, General Yakubu Gowon succeeded the late Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi as the head of the military government and abolished the unitary system of government introduced by his predecessor.

But why did the military terminate the fledgling democracy in 1966 and subjected the country to its atrocious oligarchy for donkey years?

It was a known fact that the ruling political elite became perverse and left the polity floundering. They were accused of corruption and building castles and business empires for themselves and their cronies with public funds including 10 per cent of government contract values which they cornered to themselves. Worse still, they made the political landscae volatile resulting in the bloody crisis that left a catastrophic mark on the then Western Nigeria.

In the heat of the political wrangglings that swept across the length and breadth of the country, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his aides were charged with treason and jailed.

All said and done, the developmental aspirations of the Nigerian people were not met during the country’s First Republic.

In the same vein, corruption, thuggery, political violence, unemployment, mass poverty, and other indicators of under-development brought the Second Republic which lasted only four years to its kneels in 1983. And what would have been the Third Republic, the 1989 Constitution, contrived by the General Ibrahim Babangida’s military administration did not see the light of the day as it was aborted before its birth.

Then May 29, 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo received the instrument of office from the last military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar as an elected president of the country. But when he handed over the mantle of leadership to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on May 29, 2007, would he say as the British conservative statesman and Prime Minister (1957-63), Harold Macmillan did about his country? Before Macmillan left office as British prime minister, he said: “Let us be frank about it. Most of our people have never had it so good. Go around the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms, and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my life time nor indeed ever in the history of this country”.

Yes, as the country’s president for eight years, many Nigerians can only remember Olusegun Obasanjo as a man who betrode  the nation like a colossus, fearlessly taking decisions, and not minding whether he failed or not, and whether such decisions improved the objective living condition of the people or not.

Apparently, Obasanjo’s eight years democratic governance did not yield to the nation any improvement in the areas of electric power provision, infrastructural development, food supply, employment, and poverty alleviation. The dividends of democracy accrued mainly to the elites, especially the political class and their cronies.

To the subordinate class, particularly the urban poor and the rural masses, the dividends of democracy were a mirage.

On May 29, 2007 the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua raised the hopes of all Nigerians when he said in his inaugural speech: “Relying on the 7-Point Agenda that formed the basis of our compact with voters during the recent campaigns, we will concentrate on rebuilding our physical infrastructure and human capital in order to move our country forward. We will focus on accelerating economic and other reforms in a way that makes a concrete and visible difference to the ordinary people”.

Strictly speaking, nothing significant has happened to improve the living condition of the ordinary people since the inspiring speech was made.

And the accrual from President Jonathan’s efforts at moving the national economy forward since he mounted the saddle on May 6, 2010 following the death of his predecessor, Alhaji Yar’Adua, is still in the womb of time.

In the final analysis, the truth is that the country’s 50 years journey has been indefensibly sluggish and tortuous, filled with frustrations and hiccups.

The golden jubilee should not just end with the pomp and pageantry with which it was celebrated and the endless and empty promises made by the powers that be. It should be seen as a decisive turning point in the life of the nation; a golden opportunity for the privileged and ruling elite to rise above their self-serving attitude and other perversions that have subjected the rest of the people to abject poverty and suffering in the midst of plenty.

 

Vincent Ochonma

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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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