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NASS And Scandalous Running Costs

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The parliamentary arm of the Federal Government has seemingly remained a drainpipe that impedes economic growth in Nigeria since the ongoing democratic system commenced in 1999. Comparatively, a Nigerian Senator or member of the House of Representatives earns several times more than their counterparts across the world.
Still, corruption holds sway in the chambers. In fact, during the previous administrations, ‘Ghana-must-go’ bags with megabucks were practically turned into lobbying and legislative tools for screenings, confirmation of appointments and passage of budgets.
As a result, reckless and profit-motivated impeachment motions against the President became the order of the day, particularly during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, which all ended in pecuniary deals. Later, it became a routine in successive governments until the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came on board.
In effect, do-or-die politics ruled the polity as belonging to the parliament became the fastest money-making venture.
Notwithstanding the gross aberrations, the lawmakers advantageously allocated outrageous allowances to themselves. The recently exposed monthly running costs of a whopping sum of N13.5million to each Senator, which if allocated to visible developmental projects across all the constituencies will, no doubt, boost development across the nation, remains a nightmare.
It is, indeed, heartless, iniquitous and greedy for lawmakers to allocate such a humongous amount to themselves when the people in their constituencies are living in misery and poverty. This is aside N200 million allotted annually for constituency projects that are non-existent anywhere.
This, believably, accounts for the unending attempts to intimidate the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu out of office to pave way for a pliant new helmsman.
The fundamental question for the lawmakers is; how could the Public Procurement Act they passed into law specify how projects should be bidded and executed when they indiscriminately allocated public funds to themselves even when the council is yet to be constituted? Or has the country become George Orwell’s Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others?
For example, Section 16(17) of the Public Procurement Act 2014 provides that, “a contract shall be awarded to the lowest evaluated responsive bid from the bidders substantially responsive to the bid solicitation”.
By the way, how could the legislature prepare and pass its budget and also clothe itself with powers to override the President? Indeed, this is bizarre.
It is absurd that lawmakers fantastically misappropriate public funds that could improve the economy only to always shed crocodile tears over unemployment ratio in the society. If the plights of the youths truly move them as portrayed on the controversial Peace Corps Bill, the appropriate action should be to expand the budgetary allocation, specifically as employment interventionist policy, to enable the executive absorb more youths into the system. Unfortunately, the legislature’s budget alone keeps going up and up with outrageous allowances.
Interestingly, the Red Chamber is presently manned by unique identities; commonsense advocates, anti-corruption crusaders, voices of the new generation, defenders of the down-trodden, economic empowerment strategists and many other self-imposed titles who relentlessly criticise the executive every now and then. Yet, they collaboratively overlooked, concealed and promoted for several years their fraudulent running costs, and budget for constituency projects which are sufficient enough to improve the society.
Presently, the 2018 Appropriation Bill presented to the National Assembly early enough, precisely on November 7, 2017, by the President, to stimulate the economy that was critically hit by recession, sadly still hops up and down at the end of first quarter. Incontestably, the lawmakers work for their personal interests.The constituency projects astutely envisioned has constituted conduits to the nation’s treasury.
The bicameral legislature itself is the grand drainpipe. As a developing democracy, Nigeria shouldn’t have adopted the developed system verbatim.
It, therefore, suggests that the anti-graft agency has a lot of work to do in recovering misappropriated public funds. It is an height of aberration that since 1999 when the running costs and constituency projects came into existence, it is rare to find any such projects anywhere except few boreholes in few communities or repainting of community markets with giant signposts.
It is inhuman that lawmakers freely loot public funds while the masses who voted for them are drying up in hunger and hardship. Probably, this is where Charley Boy’s “OurMumuDonDo” initiative will appropriately and effectually make sense than the defunct ‘resume or resign’ crusade. Until the legislative arm is reformed, things may hardly fall in shapes.
Umegboro, public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja.

 

Carl Umegboro

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Opinion

Road To 2023 Elections

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The race is on for 2023 elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has published  names of the candidates sent by the political parties.  The candidates of the major political parties are sensitising and orientating the public about the importance of the 2023 general elections. The masses are not left out as they have vowed to vote in 2023 elections embarked on voters registrations which was a success in many parts of the country.  As it is now, the beam light is on the following presidential candidates; Senator Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu of APC, Atiku Abubakar of PDP, Dr Peter Obi of Labour Party and Rabiu  Kwankwaso of NNPP.
According to online report by republic. com, INEC made a case for the creation of a new commission to deal with electoral offences. The proposed commission was first mentioned as a recommendation from a committee to look into electoral reforms following the controversial 2007 elections. It was published by Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and led by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Muhammadu Uwais.
The Independent National Electoral Commission’s Chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, stated that the commission’s efforts to improve the country’s electoral process would be ineffective unless electoral offenders were effectively prosecuted. He also asserted that INEC’s current mandate was exhaustive and made it difficult for it to effectively prosecute and litigate electoral offenders. He cited that, since 2015, only 60 of 125 cases of electoral offences filed in various courts have resulted in convictions. Indeed, politicians are  mending fences and some who were not favoured are defecting to new political parties. Serious political consultations are going on in the country. Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo,  has denied endorsing the presidential flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress.  In a statement, Obasanjo’s Special Assistant on Media, Kehinde Akinyemi, said the news  of the endorsement by Obasanjo making the rounds, especially from supporters of Tlnubu, is unhelpful to 2023 general elections. In anticipation of public presidential campaigns (or rallies) candidates are beginning to pay more visits to key national and state stake-holders, or mobilisers. These visits also include traditional rulers as well as former national and political leaders, for what many of them describe as ‘seek their blessing’. Thus, to boost their political ambitions for 2023 elections, Atiku Abubakar, Dr Peter Obi and the Vice Presidential candidate of APC, Shetima, attended the Nigeria Bar Association 2023 conference in Lagos.  Indeed, the frontline presidential candidates for the 2023 elections were invited to address a plenary, general conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), which was held in Eko Atlantic  City, Lagos.  Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic and Peter Obi, of the Labour Party attended and addressed the delegates present. Rabiu Kwankwaso, of the New Nigerian Peoples Party, was also invited but did not participate, while Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress was represented by his running mate, Kashim Shettima.
Candidates who attended used the opportunity to assess their popularity with members of the NBA. Atiku touched on his plans for devolution, Obi discussed his proposals to address employment, while Shettima said he would be responsible for the security affairs under a Tinubu presidency.  Supporters of Obi and Atiku have held forte for their candidates on social media with clips from the events.  The public space is charged with electoral discussions. Meanwhile, INEC has set September 28 as the date for political parties to begin public presidential campaigns (or rallies) across all the states in Nigeria. According to INEC, campaigns will last until 24 hours before the election. With the development, the spokespersons would sell their candidates within 150 days to the public before elections. The Nigerian electorate are anxious to participate in the 2023 elections. Do not sit on the fence, be part of the project 2023.

By: Frank Ogwuonuonu
Ogwuonuonu resides in Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

 Why Owe ASUU?

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The dimension of the ongoing strike action by members of the Academic Staff Union of Federal Universities (ASUU) that is worth a second look is the Government policy of “no work, no pay”. The negotiating party on the Government side is insisting on taking advantage of this policy to deny the striking workforce (ASUU) the right to their salaries for the period of the work to rule action embarked upon by ASUU, since the 14th of February, 2022. On its face value, the government may appear justified in its attempt to deprive the striking workers the salary due to them, on the ground that they did not do the work they were engaged to perform in the first place. To state it more clearly, the lecturers did not go to class to teach students enrolled by the Federal Government into the various institutions of higher learning for the purpose of acquiring knowledge, which is the statutory responsibility of the lecturers. The lecturers did not teach the students for the period in contention, so how come they are demanding to be paid for a job not done? This is a simple logic: “no work, no pay!” On what ground could anyone fault the Government position here? In the first place, the primary responsibility of the aggrieved lecturers is to impart knowledge to the students placed under their custody by the Federal Ministry of Education. If the Federal Government can be seen as the defector employer of the “erring” lecturers, how would anyone expect the Government to pay salaries for work not performed? Are the lecturers contending this point? If so, on what grounds?
The logic in the Government’s  position on this subject matter is clear: ASUU is an employee of the Federal Government, assigned the sole responsibility of imparting knowledge to students placed under its tutelage. From the beginning of the strike action to date, the lecturers have not performed this contractual obligation, recognised by law. On the contrary, the students have been sent home to their parents and guardians. In search of what next to occupy themselves with, these hopeless victims of the strike action are daily roaming the streets of our cities. Some of them have reportedly, resorted to criminal activities; while the more responsible ones among them  have constituted additional burdens to their parents and the society at large. The presence of these idle students at home for this length of time (seven months, and still counting) does not in any way endear the rest of society to sympathise with the “noble” objectives of the striking lecturers, no matter what! Among the stated objectives of the striking workers is the quest to improve the lot of the students, in terms of the environment under which learning is imparted in the various public universities; ASUU also is seeking to improve the quality of education, through proper funding for research and other deliverables. These indeed, are commendable efforts which have, to a large extent, gained the support of the student population for the leadership role ASUU is playing in this direction.
On the other hand, the protracted nature of the strike action tends to dampen the hopes of the students; how long would it take to graduate from the university? What is the economic cost of overstaying one’s welcome in the various faculties to which these students have been enrolled? What happens to the academic calendar of the Nigerian universities? Higher education in Nigeria has become increasingly elusive, since a course of study originally billed to last for three academic years can now drag on to periods exceeding four to five years, due to incessant strike actions. Who pays the price for all these discrepancies in our university system? It is the common man who cannot afford to send his child to study abroad. It is the unfortunate student whose parent is not economically buoyant enough to send him abroad for higher education. It is the entire society that bears the brunt, when nothing is done to stop the elitist class from exploiting the nation’s wealth to train their children and wards in foreign institutions of higher learning, at the expense of the masses. What can be done to create a level playing ground for the education of our children in tertiary institutions? It is for government to legislate against the practice of sending our children to foreign universities for the purpose of tertiary education; especially to obtain the first degree certificate. Any child that graduates from the secondary school must be made to compulsorily take his/her first degree courses in a Nigeria institution of higher learning. Thereafter, parents who can afford it can send their children out  for higher degrees beyond the borders of Nigeria.
It is frequently argued that those in government and public service in Nigeria who, ordinarily, ought to ensure that our university system works, are in the habit of sending their children and wards to foreign countries to pursue their post-secondary school education. Hence, they don’t really care what happens to our university system in Nigeria.  As a fall out of this ASUU strike, the National Assembly must see it as its statutory responsibility to investigate this trend, and put up an appropriate legislative constraint against this unpatriotic development. Now, does the demand of ASUU that Government pays all arrears of salaries denied its members for the period of the strike, as a condition for calling off the current strike action,  actually make  sense? If so, how? Yes, I see ASUU making a legitimate and sensible demand here. In the first place, they did not just wake up one day to embark on strike. And based on the numerous demands put forward by ASUU, no reasonable observer would dismiss their action as frivolous. The reasons postulated for their action have been overwhelmingly  upheld by various parties, and interest groups, in both the public and private sectors of the nation’s economy. Most significant is the warning strike executed in support of ASUU strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress, less than a month ago. The NLC did not mince words as to the legitimacy of the strike action embarked by ASUU, and has  gone a step further to threaten that it is ready to give full backing to the demands of ASUU, should the Government fail to do the needful within a reasonable time frame. Government officials dragging the strike have not come out with any concrete evidence of any falsehood or breach of trust committed by the leadership of ASUU in the course of prosecuting its  grievances. The argument proffered by the Government in insisting on the policy of “no work, no pay” is, to say the least, untenable.  Those orchestrating the Government’s position in this regard have not come out with any tangible reason for denying the striking lecturers their earned salaries. The position of the Government in this regard can best be described as frivolous.
In any trade dispute, there are procedures to be followed by the parties in conflict. Is there any critical procedure ASUU failed to observe in the course of prosecuting its grievances that would disqualify it to its entitlement to earn the salaries of its members? Could ASUU be single handedly held liable for the prolongation of the strike action? Did ASUU give adequate notice of its intension to go on strike?  Did it first embark on what is popularly termed “warning strike”? Did ASUU seek and follow through the prescribed arbitration process and procedures? If indeed ASUU followed due process in pursuing its legitimate grievances against the Government in the course of its strike action, then there is no basis for Government to refuse to pay the striking lecturers their earned salaries. The salaries indeed were earned; and the government’s  decision to stop their pay, in the first instance, was wrong and punitive in intent. If ASUU was not focused on its main objectives for the strike, one would have expected the leadership of the academic union to take the Federal Government and its agent to court over the protracted demand for the payment of members’ salaries withheld by the Government.
Nothing in the books would have stopped it from seeking legal redress against Government’s unilateral action in stopping the salaries of its members, in the course of their legitimate action. That ASUU is not considering this option is, indeed a demonstration of the highest level of patriotism by members of the academic union in the face of unprovoked aggression by the Government.  If salary stoppage was not aimed at primarily threatening the lecturers to abandon their legitimate demands, the best option left for government was to embark on mass retrenchment of the “rebellious” workforce. This should have been the appropriate way of letting the “erring” employees come to grip with the realities of their “ill-informed” action. The other alternative was for the Government to take the leadership of ASUU to court. I am sure that there is room for industrial court arbitration in disputes of this magnitude. Luckily, the FG has decided to toe the line at last. By experience, no genuine problem, in the public domain, ever gets solved through the committee system of conflict resolution. This is more so, if such a committee is the brain child of Government. It is an indirect way of allowing Government to arbitrate in a case preferred against it. In the light of all the factors ex-rayed in this write up, it may be safe to conclude that Government has an obligation to pay the striking lecturers their earned salaries.

By: Pius Obute
Obute is an Abuja-based writer.

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Opinion

A Week In Infamy

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The 2022/2023 school year officially began last Monday in Rivers State. Most children were excited to go back to school, to learn and play again with their friends; but for most parents, September 12 could not come quickly enough. Yet for others, the inflationary cost of school items has turned the September budget to shreds. But nobody anticipated petrol scarcity, the likes we saw last week on the first week of school. But it was a baptism by fire for most parents in Port Harcourt, making it terribly hard to juggle the activities of the start of a new schedule year.

On the radio, one caller regretted his inability to return his children to their boarding school outside the state. He was unable to find fuel to fulfill his family tradition of driving his children to school at the beginning of a new school session. Parents in Port Harcourt already knew their budgets for the new school year may not survive, but no one knew enough to factor in the consequences of artificial fuel scarcity in the first week of school. For some parents, the fuel budget for the month of September was wiped out in one week.

While others were unable to send their children to school after exhausting their fuel reserve on Tuesday. Everyone felt the pinch.It is hard to reconcile the fact that Port Harcourt residents had to resort to the black market to get petrol at such unthinkable amounts per litre. In just one week, petrol went from N180 to N350 in some filling stations, and it was not due to scarcity of the product. Most Port Harcourt residents assumed that the petrol scarcity was national; they never knew that it was localised, and artificial. On one hand was the genuine concern of NUPENG, occasioned by the incessant harassment of tanker drivers, and the risk involved. But on the other hand, was the fallout of the turf war between two factions of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) over who should collect levies at the depots. After more than a week of total halt in the distribution of petroleum products by the Port Harcourt branch of the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), a semblance of normalcy was noticed on Saturday evening with the gradual disappearance of queues at major filling stations.

But the damage had already been done, with most plans and budgets dislocated. During the one-week crisis, apart from most motorists spending whole days at filling stations without success, there were ugly tales of stranded motorists purchasing adulterated fuel that eventually led  to a replacement of fuel pumps as well as working  on the carburetors. . The dust of this infamy is yet to settle, we are already counting the cost, but I wonder if the security agents responsible for our recent ordeal are even remorseful.  Besides,  what is the guarantee that this will not happen again in the very near future? Or, how long would the measured steps taken by the Rivers State Government suffice to keep the greed of unionists in check? We may not be able to quantify the extent of economic damage dished out to individuals and businesses alike, but we knew it was huge, and everyone took the heat.

The toll on businesses,  vis-à-vis, the loss of man hours, and increased operational cost, had eaten deep into families’ revenue for the month of September. Apparently, we are used to pain, and struggles, even when there is virtually no reason for it. It is now in our DNA as Nigerians that we must suffer. But it ought not to be so. Someone once commented that as Nigerians, we were conceived and born suffering. We grow up in suffering, and some even make it in the midst of suffering. But others are not so lucky, due to the negative impact of events like what we went through last week. When you think you are starting to gain traction, and things are beginning to look good, suddenly petrol scarcity, an increase in pump price, or electricity tariff comes from nowhere to wipe out your savings, the disposable income of your customer base. Sadly, most Nigerians even crave for  suffering to feel normal. To make matters worse, those who ought to be serving us are the ones constantly, consciously, or inadvertently creating the enabling atmosphere that deepens our suffering. Like it or not, even the family members of security agents in Port Harcourt suffered with us at  last. It is the case of the man who throws stones in the market.

The full spectrum of the evil done by the police and other security agents is unimaginable. We are now familiar with the unknown gunmen ravaging the South East, but last week, we learned from tanker drivers that they are being chased to their death by an illegal task force. Many of them who spoke under the condition of anonymity alleged that police officers impound their tankers for no reason at all. Sometimes they are merely delayed; other times, their tankers are impounded based on trump-up charges according to the National Treasurer of NUPENG, Mr Williams Akporeha. But the men on the street are only foot soldiers acting on the orders of their ‘Ogas at the top. They seem not to care that chasing tankers laden with petroleum products is equivalent to flirting with disaster. This is true because in the event of  accident, it might not just be the loss of petroleum products, but the loss of lives and property. And when it happens, the security agents will only turn their trucks around and vacate the scene. It has happened on many occasions. President Buhari has done a lot of damage to our economy, he has got most of his policies wrong, but this is not his fault. We were being punished by fellow ordinary Nigerians, but the only difference is that they wear uniforms.

Some have blamed the Rivers State Government for not acting fast enough; however, it is very easy to forget that even though Governor Wike is the Chief Security Officer of the state, the commissioner of police takes his orders from Abuja.  It is the fruit of faulty security architecture. After analysing the panorama of events leading up to the seven days of warning before the strike, especially the nuanced back stories of harassment and exploitation by security agents, the strike itself, and its aftermath, it is my conclusion that this sad experience may not have happened under state police.

By:  Raphael Pepple

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