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Weathering The Storm Of Public Office

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Ever since the present executive was inaugurated by President GoodLuck Jonathan , the Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Madueke appears to be the most vilified, most controversial and most hated by a section of the country. The reasons are  obvious. First, she and the president come from the same   region, the Niger-Delta and, secondly, she is sitting on top of a sector that is the major cash-cow of the Nigerian economy and therefore poses a threat to an entrenched cabal whose interest in primitive enrichment through the sector will be checkmated.There is also the fear that her closeness to the president is too close for comfort and therefore every engagement should be employed to remove her.

The macabre dance started as soon as than she was nominated as a cabinet member designate when some people went to court to obtain a court injunction restraining her confirmation by the National Assembly, alleging that she was not qualified to take up such position having failed to honour a mandatory one year service of her fatherland after graduation.

Next was the allegation about as reported by an Alison Madueke’s buying of 20 million Euro worth of mansion at Vienna , capital of Austria Austria-based newspaper, Heute in November 2011. The spread of the allegation was fuel by on line net work.

The newspaper’s Headline titled, “Female Minister from a country of hunger”alleged that the Minister bought a villa in Vienna worth 20 Million Euro – even though a major part of the population in her home country is living below the poverty line and children are dying daily of starvation. The report revealed that the exact location of her luxury lodging is secret, but Allison-Madueke is enthusiastic about the big garden and the estate referring to it in the internet as “architectonic masterpiece”.

Trust Nigerians. As soon as the news became a public issue, Nigerians went haywire calling for the immediate prosecution of the Minister. A citizen of Nigeria resident in Vienna,  Austria , Mr Uzoma Ahamfule called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to arrest and prosecute her immediately. He wondered how she got the money to buy the mansion in this global economic hardship.

How did the minister get this huge amount of money to buy such a mansion? When did she buy the “Villa”? Could it be before she became a minister or after? Could this be her only mansion outside Nigeria? Is she the only minister or government official involved in this wickedness? If this money should be in Nigeria it will definitely help our economy. With this money, factories could be comfortably opened and jobless graduates roaming around the streets gainfully employed and crime reduced. How did this get exposed you might ask? Nigerians are very curious and furious. It was even rumoured that the luxury mansion was close to that of the former Oil Minister, Rilwanu Lukman. What it could mean is that the former ex-oil minister’s house cannot be anything less than Allison Madueke’s mansion in terms of value and luxury, if not more. Critics equally called for the probe of Rilwanu Lukman.

During the fuel subsidy removal crisis, Allison Madueke was the whipping child among Jonathan’s ministers. She was accused by members of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and civil liberty organizations to have generated the idea of fuel subsidy removal so that she and her colleagues would have more money to steal and stash away in overseas countries.While critics were busy lambasting Allison Madueke, while asking for her flesh, she kept her cool probably out of shock. It was the late Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), Dr. Levi Ajuonuma who came to her rescue by refuting the allegation in some online news media. In a chat with journalists in Abuja, the late NNPC spokesman noted that no right thinking news medium would fall for such cheap and unsubstantiated rumour peddling.

“As professionals, we know that comment is free but facts are sacred. Now if you are saying in this age and time that somebody bought a 20m euro mansion in a very conservative city like Vienna , then you must be able to produce the picture of the so called mansion, the transfer wire number for the said purchase, as well as other details of the transaction. 20m euro is no small money anywhere in the world,’’ Ajuonuma stated.He recalled that a similar unsubstantiated story was culled from the Jakarta Post and spread by the online news media in September 2011 accusing the NNPC and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources of planning to invest in a multibillion-naira refinery project in Indonesia .

“Interestingly when the Jakarta Post retracted their phantom story and apologised on front page to the NNPC for the fake story, the online media never bothered to publish same because they are usually not interested in facts,” he said. He implored newspaper editors and gate-keepers to cross check news stories from foreign tabloids and online media in good time for publication.

“With the aid of forensic accounting, it doesn’t take rocket science to track any financial transaction. You cannot conduct a 20million euro deal anywhere in the world, without attracting red flag from relevant international agencies,’’ he said.

Ajuonuma assured that the Minister of Petroleum Resources is not perturbed by such publications, noting that the focus now is on ensuring the full activation of President   Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda in the oil and gas industry.

Being a law abiding citizen with clear conscience and following the principles of he that goes to equity must go with clean hands, Allison Madueke approached the Vienna based Regional Court for Criminal Matters to seek redress on the abuse of her fundamental human rights. On hearing the application, the Vienna based Regional Court for Criminal Matters slammed Heute newspaper of Vienna over the phantom story.

In a ruling made in pursuant of an application brought before the court by Mrs. Alison-Madueke, the Judge ordered AHVV Verlags GmbH, owners of the Heute Newspaper, to do a `public revocation’ by publishing a counter-statement in the newspaper within five working days from the announcement of the verdict.

In line with the ruling, the Heute newspaper has since published the retraction cum counter-statement whose German to English translation read thus:” This statement of facts is false. The Honourable Minister, Mrs. Diezani -Alison-Madueke did not buy any real estate in Austria , in particular no house or villa in Vienna for several million Euros. Further more, the Hon Minister, Allison -Madueke did not purchase the large garden and the architectural masterpiece on the internet as alleged”.

As a matter of fact, the Petroleum Minister has taken the right step by seeking redress in court instead of running away from justice. How many government officals accused of corruption will ever do what Alison-Madueke did by going to court. They would rather run way from justice by fleeing from the country to prosecution. We have seen a former governor who escaped from United Kingdom in order to escape money laundry charges. We have also heard of a former govenror who fought his extradition case from Dubai to United Kingdom to face money laundry charges.

For Allison-Madueke to have gone to Austria to challenge the allegation showed that Nigeria still have leaders that are above board. She deserves praise for taking the bull by the horns. It is argued that Nigerian politicians are too corrupt, because a country naturally blessed like Nigeria is not supposed to lack fundamental needs like water, electricity, good roads, quality schools and standard hospitals, etc. That is right.

However, the media must be honest with their reports because you can neither fight evil with evil nor can you tackle corruption through corrupt means.

 

Ifeanyi Nwabugu

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Opinion

Rescuing Local Government From Limbo

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The local government system is one of the three tiers of government, set up by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to discharge different levels of social contracts with the Nigerian people. These governments – the federal, state  and local,  draw funds monthly from a pool of the nation’s commonwealth which accrues through the federation’s  account to enable them  function.  While the other two tiers independently articulate their respective affairs to pursue various governance goals and objectives, the local government has over the years remained under the dictates of the second-tier when in the real sense, the local government,  being the closest to the grassroots, should be the most important government level. Moreso, the local government area has the advantage of uniformity in ethnic, linguistic and cultural harmony, which enables for greater understanding, acceptability and mutual trusts, as against the polarising diversity encountered by the wider tiers.
It is therefore, unfortunate that the local government found itself  hamstrung by the actions of state government, the inadvertent acquiessence of the federal government, as well as by the pliability of some local government officials. The unhindered functionality of local councils should have created the vital governance connections needed between Nigeria’s leaderships and its peoples, as well as form  the foundations from which local officials, groomed in good governance affairs, are raised for both state and federal duties. It was therefore cheering when the news filtered that the federal government, through the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, had filed a suit at the Supreme Court against the 36 state governments to demand full autonomy for all LGAs in the country. It should be recalled that the National Assembly during the past regime of President Muhammadu Buhari had passed a bill for full local government autonomy but the process got stalled by non-ratification by state houses of assembly. The present National Assembly is also working on a bill that would empower the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), rather than governor-controlled State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), to conduct local government elections. These are trail-blazing reforms, and deserve some  commendations.
In the latest onslaught by the Federal Government to ensure that democratically elected governments run the local councils, it has secured a Supreme Court order “restraining the governors, their agents and privies, from receiving, spending or tampering with funds released from the Federation Account for the benefits of local governments when no democratically elected local government system is put in place in the states,” with a further order stopping state governors from embarking on unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local governments, while permitting that funds in the credits of local governments be directly paid to them from the federation account in line with the provisions of the constitution as against payments to joint accounts with state governments.  The court went further to bar governors from further constituting caretaker committees to run the affairs of local governments, as governors like Prof. Charles Soludo of Anambra State is bent on doing. Prof Soludo, having come from outside the usual pack of Nigerian politicians, his case has become the most bizzare, infamous and disappointing  for a prominent economist who supposedly knows the impacts of micro and macro economic policies, and had promised during his swearing-in on March 17, 2022, that “We will conduct local government elections. No doubt, the uniform local government system as the third federating unit is one of the contesting features of our federalism, but we must make the best of a bad system by unleashing the potential of governance at a lower level.”
Despite these reassuring statements, Prof Soludo rather broke the records by infamously appointing seven regimes of local government Transition Committees in just two years, each serving a tenor of three months. Yet, he has just dissolved the seventh set of committees to appoint an eighth, before recent court orders. Actions by the likes of Governor Soludo are capable of disorienting local government officials to the point of being inadequate in the discharge of constitutional duties. As part of outcries elicited by Governor Soludo’s baffling intransigence, member representing Ogbaru Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives and Labour Party’s House of Representatives Caucus Leader, Hon. Afam Ogene, in a press statement condemned the move while saying that, “This puppeteering style of leadership, which toys with the destiny, aspiration and desires of the grassroots, must be resisted and not allowed to continue to shrink the development potentials of the LGAs”. While emphasising that local councils should not be at the whims of state governors, Hon. Ogene said that, “Such undemocratic practice of appointing LGA administrators, rather than democratic election, is an enabler of impunity and lack of democratic accountability and also hurts transparency in the local government  and   state as a whole, as those so appointed would only scramble for personal interests during the three months of their stay in office.”
In a similar move, a lawyer, Chukwuebuka Mmeni Esq, in a suit filed against the Anambra State governor at an Abuja High Court secured an order, restraining the Accountant General of the Federation and the Federal Ministry of Finance from further remitting funds due to the 21 LGAs of Anambra State to the Soludo-led state government. The era when governors see monthly local government allocations as windfalls that grease their political ambitions should not be encouraged. When the local governments eventually get their full autonomy, it would enable them decisively tackle the challenges of poor basic educational infrastructure, disfunctional primary healthcare systems, poor environmental sanitation and erosion controls, rural markets, town planning and building developments, rural agriculture and sports development. It is pertinent at this point to note that local councils had greater freedoms ab initio, much of it during the military era, but due to failures to regularly pay the salaries of staff, especially primary school teachers and primary healthcare officials, state governments seized the opportunity to form joint accounts with which payment of council staff salaries have been somewhat regular, yet much staff still suffer stagnated promotions.
That incursion by state governments has created opportunities for impunity on the parts of many governors, leading to greater alienation of municipal administration and the neglect of its other crucial roles. Therefore, in the genuine pursuit of restoring full local government autonomy, a guiding framework should be put in place to forestall a repeat of the mistakes of past local administrations. The opportunity to undergo the learning process of state building at the basic level of society is, however very vital.

Joseph Nwankwo

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Build The City, Also Build People

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The effectiveness and relevance of a government is measured by its impacts on the people. Projects and Programmes not having direct bearing on the welfare of the people is to say the least, a waste of public funds. Every project must be consequence of the felt-need of the people. Looking at Governance in Rivers State in the last 24 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria (May 1999 – May 2023), the governments of Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and Sir Dr. Peter Odili have done well in terms of selfless services and putting the people first. Others have also performed according to what their perspective about governance is. A Leader can only deliver by dictates of vision and mental capacity. They can only take the State to the place of their mental picture and their preferred destination. So development is a function of Leaders’ vision. Every society rises and falls on the vision of the leader. Rotimi Amaechi and Dr. Peter Odili balanced governance between infrastructure and human capital development. For instance, not only did Rotimi Amaechi built 105 health centres, 350 state-of-the-art primary schools, about 23 Model Secondary Schools, roads etc, he also built thousands of people. He initiated the Greater Horizon and Opportunities Programme (GHOP) to avail the less privileged in the 23 Local Government Areas of Rivers State the opportunity to be developed in capacity through the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA). Thousands of Rivers’ people were given fully paid educational scholarship to be trained outside the shores of Nigeria. The eligibility for the overseas’ scholarship, under Amaechi’s administration was devoid of partisan, ethnic/tribal, religious, and nepotistic sentiments. That was why children from poverty-riddled background could travel outside the shores of Nigeria to study courses of economic value and foster development of Rivers State.
Unfortunately, the immediate past administration of Chief Nyesom Wike did not see the merit to sustain the laudable and lofty human capacity development programmes of his predecessor. Not only did he not kill the programmes in preference for project-infrastructure: roads, bridges, housing, Chief Wike also disbanded the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) who midwifed and drove the implementation of the human capacity development programmes. The immediate past administration in the State did not consider the harsh socio-economic implications of his actions on the staff of the RSSDA and their dependants. Staff of Demonstration Schools of State owned tertiary institutions and the Rivers State Transport Company (RTC), non payment of bursary to students for eight years, non promotion of civil servants and denial of increments for eight years are eloquent testimonies and testimonials of apathy and utter neglect of the immediate past administration to human capacity development. Value was disproportionately placed on capital projects  rather than human capital development.
In the words of the Russian Philosopher and educationist, Lao Russell, “In vain you build the city if you don’t first build the man”. The reason is not far-fetched: the man that is not built can become savage and destroy the magnificent city: the roads, bridges, houses, etc. Economists hold the view that in the value chain of production, manpower, not capital is the most critical factor of production because   inefficient workforce will inevitably translate to ineffective, unproductive, failed corporate goal and moribund institution. Humans are invaluable assets, they create wealth, drive implementation of government policies and programmes.
It is good for government at all levels to embark on capital projects but it is better to build the people. Capital projects should not be done at the expense of workers’ welfare. Peter should not be robbed to pay Paul.
Consequently, the neglect and sacrifice of human capital in preference for infrastructure has become a norm in Nigeria. This explains why negotiations for an upward review of acceptable wage regime is more often than not, deadlocked and fraught with incessant arguments that were settled by threat of, or industrial dispute between government and the central labour unions: Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
While workers-friendly governors such as Godwin Obaseki of Edo State has increased minimum wage of workers of that State from N40,000 he was paying workers ( as against the Federal Government’s N30,000) to N70,000 without pressure from labour unions in Edo State, the Federal Government under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that assured Nigerian workers of a “Living Wage”  is offering a paltry N60,000 despite the harsh socio-economic challenges posed by  a depressed economy. It is baffling that a Federal Government proposing N60,000 minimum wage on the ground of economic challenges is spending heavily on frivolities: N6 billion Abuja car park, N90 billion Hajj Subsidy and several other programmes that are outrageous and wasteful.
It is being speculated that some government prefer spending on capital projects  to human capital because the former serves as a conduit to siphon public funds and corrupt enrichment.
It does beat my imagination how some governors could acquire with impunity, properties and make investments for personal use with public funds.
Government at all levels and the organised Private Sector should prioritise workers’ welfare and human capital development to drive development of the society.
The struggle will continue if infrastructures are built but humans are not built. Society exists for the people, if the people are neglected, the infrastructure will suffer decay and destruction.

Igbiki Benibo

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Tinubu’s “Living Wage”: A Dashed Hope?

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It is  more than one year today, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu assured Nigerian workers that his administration will correct the anomalous hardship workers in Nigeria faced because he was irrevocably committed to doling out a “Living Wage” to them.
Nigerian workers under the two central Labour organisations: Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and Trade Union Congress (TUC) were captivated in an euphoria of Mr. President’s mouth watering promise. President Tinubu has whipped up the pleasant sentiment and sensation of workers to believing that at last a messiah in his person (the President Tinubu) has appeared and the era of the litanical, “ aluta, struggle continues” will be  consigned to history. Workers heaved a sigh of relief that a corrective and workers’ friendly regime that never was, is in the saddle at the centre. President Tinubu (then President -elect) had told workers in his goodwill message on the May 1 Labour Day, “In the Nigeria I shall have the honour and privilege to lead from May 29, workers will have more than a minimum wage. You will have a living wage to have a decent life, and provide for your families.
“On this special day as your President-elect, I extend my hand of friendship to Nigerian workers through the two central Labour unions- Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress. In me you will have a dependable ally and a co-labourer in the fight for social and economic justice for all Nigerians, including the working people. Your fight will be my fight because I will always fight for you. My plans for a better welfare and working conditions are clearly spelt in my Renewed Hope Agenda for a Better Nigeria. It is a covenant born of conviction and one I am prepared to keep”. In Nigeria today, can Mr. President say without iota of doubt that N54,000 is a “Living Wage”?
Today the  Mr. President’s covenant with workers is a mirage, it is translating to a delusion .
Workers under the President Tinubu seem to have suffered more hardship than in past administrations, civilian or military. Hope for a “Living Wage” seems dashed.
Considering the protracted dialogue on what is supposed to be a marked departure and turning point from previous  minimum wage regimes, Nigerians and workers can now decide if Mr. President really meant to give a Living wage to workers with the present Federal Government’s position on N54,000 against Trade Union Congress and Nigeria Labour Congress’ N500,000 as minimum wage.
When the nation’s House of Representatives proposed a N100,000 minimum wage many workers were dissatisfied with the proposal which they said was pre-emptive of the 37-members Minimum Wage Committee report. Workers had hoped the outcome of the negotiation would be more than N100,000 proposed by the House of Representatives. I believe workers can realize that the Representatives are empathetic and in touch with the plight of  Nigerian workers better than the Presidency.
It is crystal clear that  President Tinubu never meant what he said about a “Living Wage” for workers. While the Federal Government hinges its decision to pay workers on sustainability of new wage regime because of economic challenges the nation under the present leadership faces, one wonders how a nation grappling with multi-dimensional socio-economic challenges will be enmeshed in frivolous expenditures. For instance, the recent approval of N6 billion for a car park in Abuja, the N90 billion Hajj Subsidy, barefaced looting of public funds by some public officers, myriad of corrupt practices that are associated with some of those in Government and the extravagant expenditures by members of the National Assembly, some State Governors political office holders, clearly show that the Federal Government is not committed to a ‘Living Wage” to ameliorate the plight of workers.
Workers under the present administration of President Tinubu have suffered loss of purchasing power. In less than one year of President Tinubu-led administration, the prices of petroleum products have been increased several times. Today, premium motor spirit is about N900 a litre. And this unfriendly price regime rubs off negatively on every Nigerian, because at the centre of commercial and economic activities is petroleum products. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, prices of food items are outrageous, outside the reach of the common man: a  basin of garri sells for N18,000, rice, beans etc are food the rich only. House rent has gone up. A self contain that was between N60,000 and N80,000 is N250,000.
The adverse  social-economic realities informed the Labour’s insistence on N615,000, which they have reviewed downward to N500,000.
Breaking down the figure the National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero said the N615,000 was a fair demand considering the socio-economic realities of the country.
Discussion on another minimum wage regime, therefore, should not be an exercise in futility, because since  the N30,000 Minimum Wage became a legal document in April 18, 2023 most State Governors and Local Government Area chairmen across the country, have refused to implement it. And the Federal Government could not enforce compliance.
It is also speculated that some governors who claimed to have implemented the National Minimum wage only paid the difference of what their predecessors were supposed to pay  workers consequent on the shortfall of financial benefit due workers.
With the veiled liberalisation policy of the National Minimum Wage which mandates the Labour unions in the State  to negotiate with their various State Governments on what is feasible for States to pay, based on their financial capacity, State governors now have the power to determine how much to pay their workers based on outcomes of negotiation with the workers under their umbrella bodies. That is why Labour-friendly Governments of Lagos, and Edo, among other States of the Federation have approved  N70,000 National Minimum Wage with effect from May, 2024, at a time some State Governors, such as Soludo of Anambra are foot-dragging to pay the old wage which expired April, 2024.
It is mind boggling that while elected officers and political office holders go home with mouth watering salaries at the end of every month and severance benefits, the civil servant wage is paltry, a peanut and they have to wait for years to access their gratuity and pension which cannot be compared to political officers salaries. Some never received after all. They died while waiting for their benefits.
While the Nigeria Labour Congress and its Trade Union Congress counterpart negotiate with the Federal Government’ on increase of Minimum Wage they should ensure that no stone is left unturned towards achieving a “Realistic” living wage.  A Living Wage, according to “investopedia” is “a theoretical income level that allows individuals or families to afford adequate shelter, food and other necessities.
Though the N500,000 minimum wage proposed by Labour is not realistic considering the economic realities in the country, the  least minimum wage the Federal  Government should consider is N100,000 proposed by the House of Representatives.
Most State Governors have refused to pay the expired N30,000 minimum wage on the unacceptable reason of unavailability of funds.
But if the looting instincts, leakages and frivolous spending of public funds were checked, an upwardly reviewed  wage could be paid with ease.
A situation where elected public officers build estates and leave  trans-generational assets for their children after eight or as the people’s mandate last, while the civil servant retires home after 35 years with virtually nothing, is repugnant to good conscience, equity and morality. In fact it is heartbreaking.
Both elected public officers and civil servants are exposed to the same socio economic realities.

Igbiki  Benibo

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