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Editorial

That Bailout Call By Rice Farmers

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Self-sufficiency in food production in Nigeria has for years, remained an elusive national aspiration in spite of the fact that successive federal governments have made it, or so claimed, to have it as key priority. Yes, the country had at various times embarked on projects such as Operation Feed The Nation (OFN) and Green Revolution (GR), yet, scarcity of food still persists in the country to the extent that most families are badly hit.

Obviously, such food crops such as rice, vegetable, yam and cassava have become the staple needs. Indeed, a number of indigenous corporate organisations have invested their resources into rice farming as a means of increasing the availability of the staple in Nigerian markets, but such efforts have failed to bridge the yawning gap between demand and supply of the essential staple.

The reasons for poor rice production in the country are not far-fetched. They include the non-availability of improved seedlings, lack of capacity utilization, poor funding, lack of encouragement, dearth of modern farming implements, crass lack of commitment by government, too much focus on the oil and gas industry, and inability to change from primitive to modern method of farming, especially mechanised farming, among others. All these factors have collectively hindered the ability of local rice farmers to produce sufficient quantity and high quality rice to feed Nigerians, and sustain the economy.

It is against this backdrop that we see the recent call by Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) for a freeze in rice importation as a paradox of sorts. On the one hand, it should evoke the support of well-meaning Nigerians, who believe that increased local production would create more job opportunities for our youths, ensure food security and promote an alternative revenue source for the economy. On the other, the call deserves to be treated with caution in view of the fact that ban on importation of rice could subject the citizenry to a season of hunger and starvation, particularly as the potentials of the agricultural sector have not been fully tapped.

No doubt, self-sufficiency in local production of rice would provide the catalyst for the nation’s socio-economic development. However, every effort to encourage individuals and groups in the agricultural sector to improve their productivity, over the years, has not yielded the desired result for very obvious reasons.

We recall that a few years ago, same arguments being made now by RIFAN were made, which resulted in a provisional ban on rice importation. But shortly thereafter, government’s patriotic response had to be relaxed because the rice farmers could hardly fill the gap created by the ban, without the much anticipated increased production. Given the prevailing circumstances, it is difficult to see how RIFAN hopes to fill that gap now.

The Tide, therefore, urges the government to encourage not only rice farmers but others with a view to increasing their productivity by availing them improved crop varieties, and tax waivers as well as modern agricultural machines, to help boost commercial production. We also reckon that rice farmers, just like textile sector movers, need government bail-out to enable them meet the consumption needs of Nigerians, and if possible, for export. A mechanism should be put in place to ensure that only qualified and accredited farmers benefit from the government’s intervention measure.

Even so, we call on the three tiers of government to join hands with RIFAN to implement strategic policies that would add value to rice production, processing, distribution and marketing, and check the intermittent resort to the strategic reserves for the supply of grains in Nigeria. This way, we believe that the N23million contract awarded in 2009 by the Federal Government for the construction of small-scale rice processing centres in the country would make meaningful impact in the economy.

 While The Tide believes that rice farmers can close the gap between demand and supply of the staple, if given the necessary encouragement, we also note that the farmers need to rededicate themselves to their calling by being productive, and avoid the pit-falls of the past. It is on this basis that we support the bail-out call by rice farmers. But not the canvassed ban on importation of rice, which in our view, shall be hasty.

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Editorial

Towards Cutting Cost Of Governance

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After many years in limbo, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has given approval to the 2012 Steve Oronsaye Committee Report, which suggests merging, scrapping or subsuming certain ministries, departments, agencies (MDAs) and commissions of the government with similar functions. The approval was given at the FEC meeting on Monday, February 26. This decision is aimed at reducing the cost of governance and improving efficiency within the government.
The administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, which established the committee in 2011, did not follow through with the recommendations. Instead, it issued a White Paper to show executive acceptance. Similarly, former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration released a White Paper on the report and made efforts to put it into action. However, it later reversed course after taking a few initial steps, leading to the consolidation of few government agencies.
Recall that the Oronsaye committee submitted a report consisting of 800 pages on April 16, 2012. The report on public sector reforms revealed that there are 541 Federal Government parastatals, commissions, and agencies and suggested that 102 agencies and parastatals should be abolished or merged, while others were suggested to be self-funding. The committee identified a significant amount of competition among multiple overlapping agencies. This competition not only caused resentment among government agencies but also led to unnecessary wastage of funds.
Also recommended by the committee, among other things, was the stoppage of government funding for professional bodies and councils. The main aim of these measures was to prudently allocate funds for essential infrastructure projects all over the country. Oronsaye’s report received a mixed response as job cuts were expected. But, many people believed that despite the impact on agencies and individuals, the civil service would become stronger and more efficient.
A statement signed by the Special Adviser on Information and Strategy to President Tinubu, Bayo Onanuga, in Abuja, provided the details of the resolutions reached during the FEC meeting. According to Onanuga, an eight-man committee had a 12-week deadline to ensure that the necessary legislative amendments and administrative restructuring needed to implement the reforms were effected efficiently.
Among the principal suggestions are the inclusion of the National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission under the Fiscal Commission and Revenue Mobilisation departments. The Bureau of Public Enterprise will merge with the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission, renaming it the Public Enterprises and Infrastructural Concession Commission. Public Complaints Commission and National Human Rights Commission will merge.
The report proposes the restructuring of several agencies, including the scrapping of the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), merging the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and National Commission for Refugees into the National Emergency and Refugee Management Commission, and renaming the Border Communities Development Agency as a department under the National Boundary Commission. The report also consolidates the Code of Conduct Bureau, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission as National Anti-Corruption Commission.
The Federal Ministry of Science will oversee a new agency combining NCAM, NASENI, and PRODA, while the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and Gallery of Arts will merge into a single entity. The National Theatre will become one with National Troupe, and the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa and Directorate of Technical Aid Corp will unite under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among others.
We applaud the Tinubu administration for taking bold steps to address high governance costs by incorporating recommendations from the Orosanye report. In a time when many Nigerians are facing challenges and the economy is showing signs of weakness, reducing the expenses associated with governance will help redirect resources to areas of greater need and stimulate economic growth.
It is truly heartwarming to see that after many years of hesitation and a lack of political will to take the necessary actions to achieve the desired results, especially following the release of the Jonathan and Buhari White Papers on the report, the Federal Government has finally recognised the importance of fully implementing the recommendations of the Oronsaye report on civil service reform.
This report should be implemented without further delay, as many MDAs are not only draining the economy but were established for political purposes. The funds saved from the consolidation and elimination of these agencies could be better utilised to establish industries and create employment opportunities across the country. The industries should be self-sustaining, reducing the need for annual budgetary allocations.
There is a fear that implementing the report could lead to mass layoffs of workers. But the Federal Government has assured Nigerians that genuine employees of the affected MDAs would be redeployed to appropriate offices without any job losses. We hope that the Federal Government will see this task through. While the assignment may seem challenging, it is definitely achievable with determination. This is an area the Tinubu government can make a positive impact. And if religiously implemented, it obviously will help cut down the cost of governance to save scarce resources and funds for areas of critical need. This is the right way to go!

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Editorial

Towards Sustainable Tourism In Nigeria 

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In a resolution passed on February 6, 2023, the UN General Assembly declared February 17, to be Global Tour-
ism Resilience Day. The resolution emphasised the importance of encouraging sustainable tourism development. The disruptive and critical effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the travel and tourism sector informed this decision. Additionally, it drew upon precedent UN resolutions, conferences, and agendas highlighting environmental sustainability and bolstering industry resilience.
Tourism is a vital industry that contributes to sustainable development and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in developing countries. It provides income, foreign currency earnings, tax revenue, and employment, and connects people with nature, promoting environmental responsibility and conservation. This cross-cutting industry is particularly beneficial for Africa and middle-income countries.
Sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, promotes economic growth, poverty alleviation, employment, and decent work. It accelerates lasting consumption, promotes sustainable use of oceans and marine resources, and enhances local culture. It improves the quality of life for women, young people, indigenous communities, and rural populations, ultimately contributing to the achievement of the SDGs.
Utilising endurable and resilient tourism as a means to promote continuous and inclusive economic growth, social development, and financial inclusion facilitates the formalisation of the informal sector. It also supports domestic resource mobilisation, environmental protection, the elimination of poverty and hunger, as well as the conservation and tenable utilisation of biodiversity and natural resources. Moreover, sustainable tourism encourages investment and entrepreneurship in the industry.
Tourism plays a vital role in supporting numerous direct and indirect employment opportunities globally, especially benefiting women and young individuals. In certain small island nations and developing economies, tourism makes up more than 20 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The economic impact of tourism, indicated by the tourism direct GDP, was calculated at $1.9trillion in 2021, surpassing the $1.6trillion reported in 2020. However, it still remains lower than the pre-pandemic figure of $3.5trillion.
Tourism is a rapidly growing global economic sector, and destination countries must develop it sustainably to maximise benefits. Nigeria, with its vast geography, cultural diversity, and historical sites, has established tourism ministries to capitalise on its potential. The country’s landscape holds great potential for a sector that can compete with black gold in terms of foreign exchange earnings, making it an attractive destination for tourists.
However, owing to the considerable financial gains obtained from the oil industry, tourism, along with other sectors of our economy such as agriculture and solid minerals, has been severely overlooked. For instance, the annual Osun Osogbo Festival and the Calabar Carnival have been sustained; thanks to the dedicated initiatives of private sector contributors. These events have propelled the city of Calabar into international recognition in recent years.
The previously lively Argungu Fishing Festival, the renowned Argungu Motor Rally, the Yankari Game Reserve, the Jos Wildlife Park, the Olumo Rock, the Asop Falls, and the boat regatta in the coastal regions of Nigeria, particularly Opobo and Andoni, have all seen a decline.
In contrast, the Elmina Slave Castle in Ghana remains a popular destination for tourists seeking to learn about the tragic history of trans-Atlantic slave trade victims. Monuments in Nigeria such as those in Calabar, Lagos, and Badagry are gradually losing their significance in the global tourism landscape.
The Mambilla Plateau, Gashaka-Gumti Game Reserve, Ngel-Nyaki Forest Reserve, and Taraba’s indigenous festivals are potential tourism destinations that could generate revenue comparable to Nigeria’s oil sector earnings. Proper promotion of these attractions could boost the states’ economies and improve their status as one of the poorest in Nigeria. Yobe and Borno states also have the Dagona Birds Sanctuary, attracting diverse bird species from Europe, North America, Australia, and Asia.
Several key landmarks showcase Nigeria’s rich history and potential, such as the 8,000-year-old Dafuna Canoe, the Tulo-Tulowa – dubbed the ‘Desert Land of Hope,’ – as well as the shrinking Lake Chad, which could have thrived as a critical tourist and economic centre. More could have been done by the government to preserve and support these treasures.
The pertinent government bodies must safeguard our biodiversity by penalising those who partake in haphazard bush burning and deforestation. The government should increase funding for infrastructure development and showcase Nigerian tourism attractions globally on international media platforms and embassies. There should be private sector involvement. The authorities should also intensify efforts to tackle security challenges in areas that could negatively impact the sector, such as terrorism, armed banditry, kidnapping, and other allied crimes. Tourists would not visit a country suffering acute security challenges, despite the attractiveness of its tourism destinations.
To address spending deficits and inflation, diversifying the economy is crucial. Tourism, with its substantial revenue sources, can fund government policies and programmes. States like Rivers can use tourism to stimulate economic growth, create new jobs, and foster community connections. This initiative will boost revenue, fuel developmental efforts, strengthen social bonds, and promote peace and cultural unity.
Exploring new investment opportunities in tourism in areas like Port Harcourt, Bonny, Andoni, Opobo, Kono, Okomoko, Oyigbo, Umuebule, Abonnema, Degema, Buguma, Mbiama, Ndoni, Isaka, Okrika, Ogu, and others, will not only attract tourists but also drive development to these regions. With their beautiful beaches and other tourist attractions, these areas have the potential to become popular destinations, creating jobs and boosting the local economy.
The Songhai farm has the potential to be revived, offering opportunities for tourists to appreciate the vast resources available in the state, just as it did in the past. Similarly, the waterfronts in Port Harcourt can be transformed into beautiful beaches for tourists to enjoy. With these in place, the social life in the city can be restored with exponential investments in tourism. Not only will tourists have a new attraction to visit, but residents will also benefit from improved living conditions.
This is why we urge increased government investments in tourism through a pragmatic diversification policy that is inclusive and innovative. We commend a vigorous private-public partnership that taps from the abundant tourism potential in the state to create an enabling environment for enduring peace and sustainsble development. We insist on a deliberate government strategy to boost investments in tourism and broaden citizen interactions to enhance healthy living and wellness in the state.

 

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Editorial

Fubara: Champion Of Service, Compassion

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The decision of the Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, to grant immediate promotions,
accompanied by full financial benefits to local government workers in the state serves as a significant milestone in his administration. The governor’s pronouncement is apt because local government workers provide services that enable the state to function optimally and ensure the well-being of its people at the grassroots.
The approval was granted during a private meeting held at the Government House in Port Harcourt last Monday. Principal officers representing all 23 local government areas, alongside the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), were present at the gathering.
Fubara also approved the immediate implementation of a N30,000.00 minimum wage for local government workers and the immediate implementation of the N35,000.00 wage award approved by the Federal Government to cushion the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy. He further acknowledged the importance of including NULGE as a member of the Local Government Pensions Board, as mandated by law.
This decision reflects his commitment to ensuring fair representation and the protection of the rights of local government workers. Furthermore, he emphasised the implementation of a consolidated salary structure for local government employees retiring at grade level 17.
The welfare of local government employees in Rivers State has been a topic of discussion and controversy for several years. The workers have consistently voiced their concerns, particularly through the media, regarding the lack of staff promotions for nearly eight years, and the failure to implement the approved N30,000 minimum wage, along with other benefits and entitlements since 2019. These issues have sparked protests and dissatisfaction among the staff.
Clearly, Fubara emerges as a towering figure, embodying unwavering commitment to Rivers people. With tireless efforts, he has not only touched but also transformed numerous lives at the grassroots. Fubara’s genuine concern for the well-being of his fellow citizens has been the driving force behind his remarkable achievements. His selfless actions have brought about positive change and uplifted communities.
The governor’s recent decision to approve the immediate payment of the N30,000 minimum wage for all local government staff in the state reflects his deep-rooted empathy and understanding of the challenges faced by the working class in the local government areas. This move demonstrates his commitment to improving the lives of the people he governs.
Also, his directive to pay N35,000 wage award to the workers to cushion the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy is commendable. It demonstrates his proactive approach in addressing the economic hardships faced by the workers. Moreover, his mandate for the prompt settlement of withheld allowances, gratuities, promotions, and accrued benefits validates a profound sense of justice and fairness.
In the light of the prolonged period of stagnation and uncertainty faced by the workers over the past eight years, the governor’s recent compassionate gesture exhibited profound necessity. It serves as a lifeline for these individuals who have grappled with an unbearable sense of insecurity and disarray within their professional lives.
Fubara’s actions transcend mere words, representing a resolute commitment to improving the welfare and preserving the dignity of each and every individual placed under his responsible guidance. The gravity of this gesture cannot be understated; it holds the potential to reinvigorate the spirits of those who have become disheartened by the persisting conditions of their employment.
Regrettably, the local government chairmen in the state seem uncertain about supporting this initiative, presumably for political reasons. Such a stance underscores the prevalence of politicking on issues where social welfare should remain paramount. Their legal challenge option, in this case, could result in unnecessary strains on our already burdened judicial system, prolong uncertainty for the workers, and essentially serve as another testament to the division and gridlock that retarded ongoing progress. Besides, the chairmen should know that the minimum wage is backed by law properly legislated upon by the National Assembly. In addition, the wage award is a Presidential Proclamation which also has the force of law as an Executive Order. Promotions, pension and gratuities are the rights of workers, which no law can deny them.
Therefore, instead, the chairmen should focus more on constructive dialogue and negotiation with the aim of arriving at a mutually beneficial resolution. The chairmen should find a common ground with the governor by acknowledging the far-reaching benefits of his proposition while actively voicing their concerns. Such an approach would promote a culture of collaborative governance. This is more likely to elicit public trust, affirming the role of the government as a protector and promoter of the people’s welfare.
Beyond its positive economic implications, this move also mirrors the administration’s moral responsibility towards its employees. It is necessary for the public sector to set an example as a fair and responsible employer by appreciating and rewarding staff members’ efforts adequately. Therefore, Fubara’s move helps to build trust between the government and its employees, promoting a more harmonious and respectful working environment, which is fundamental to productivity and employee satisfaction.
We express our admiration and unreserved appreciation for the governor, a paragon of exceptional leadership, humility, unwavering dedication to service, and an unyielding commitment to forging a bright and equitable future for all. His love for peace, respect for rule of law, fairness, equity and justice is unprecedented. Every facet of his character and endeavours exemplifies the epitome of excellence, inspiring others with his remarkable achievements and fostering a profound sense of unity and advancement. This is why we stand with Fubara on this move.

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