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Celebrating World Teachers’ Day

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Today, many countries worldwide celebrate World Teachers’ Day, a day set aside by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), to honour one of the world’s oldest and hard working profession.
The UNESCO identifies the WTD as an opportunity to commemorate teachers organisations worldwide and also aims to activate support for teachers and to ensure that teachers continue to supply to the global framework of needs and requirements condu-cive in building a well-founded footing to a sound and greatly enabled future generation.
In line with the theme of this year’s celebration “Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status”, government at various levels particularly in Nigeria and the entire citizens should use the opportunity to reflect on the value placed on our teachers and the future of the teaching profession in the country.
No doubt, teachers play very pivotal role in any society. Nobody, no country can claim to be anything without the impact of teachers.
Incidentally, like the biblical saying of the stone that was rejected by the builders which became the cornerstone, teachers in many countries are not valued. They are paid less respect, less money than those in many other comparable professions. The story of how teachers’ salaries are owed for months in Nigeria is no longer news. Successive governments deem it unnecessary to invest in the education sector resulting in poor funding, staffing and training of teachers.
Even parents, who expectedly should value teachers for the formative roles they play for their children, most times do the opposite. Often stories are told of how some parents go to schools to abuse and insult teachers who discipline their children or wards for wrongdoing. “Teachers are not motivated or encouraged by the parents, government and the society”, recently lamented a teacher. The young woman made it clear that such negative attitude towards teachers was causing good, experienced educators to flee the ship of teaching.
Researchers have shown that a greater percentage of today’s teachers in the country take up the job not because they have interest in teaching, rather they are there because they could not secure better jobs.
Every smart graduate, even those that studied education, wants to be a banker, a politician, an oil company staff etc, abandoning the classrooms to the “unsharp, unsmart and unconnected ones”. No parent wants his or her child to be a teacher.
Not even teachers themselves want to encourage their children or any other person to take up the teaching profession so as not to end up poor, wretched, not valued.
If these are not signs that teaching as a profession is in trouble in Nigeria, then how can you describe it?
This is a situation that should be of great concern to anybody who means well for the country, especially our leaders. Yes, World Teachers’ Day should be a period to celebrate and appreciate those who have kept the teaching profession alive in the country despite all odds. But it should also provide our leaders, parents, stakeholders in the education sector and indeed entire Nigerians an opportunity to ponder on the future of the teaching profession and education entirely.
If education is truly the bedrock of any society, then it stands to reason that the welfare of those who run the sector should be of top priority. Teachers should be motivated, compensated empowered to perform their jobs. Training and re-training of teachers should no longer be toyed while government at all levels should invest adequately and properly in the education sector.
Most importantly, one thinks that going forward, only those who are genuinely interested in teaching should be employed and trained as teachers.
Making the teaching profession a dumping ground for all frustrated graduates will only help in destroying the education sector and indeed every other sector the more.
At a public function recently, the Governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Aminu Masari, attributed the lingering leadership problems facing the country to poor education. He said the quality of teachers to some extent directly impacts on the quality of students.
The former speaker of the House of Representatives said that if we continue to select those with poorer academic performance to train and teach our pupils and students, we cannot expect our students to be high achievers. If through their formative academic years, the teachers to be are separated from the brightest minds who are admitted in the universities, then the country is doomed. He said this in reference to the disparity in the cut-off marks for admission into the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, with that of the colleges of education being the lowest.
Although many people have faulted Masari’s position, saying that while good education is an important element for good leadership, it only makes up for about 20% of the things that form a human being and make him a good leader, setting a lower standard for the teachers will definitely do the country more harm than good.
Teaching profession should be for the best brains as it is obtainable in many other civilized countries.
It is also advisable that teachers should see their profession as a noble one and be proud of it. This year’s celebration should cause the leaders of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) at both federal, state and local government levels to reassess and rededicate themselves to their chosen profession by discharging their duties with renewed vigour and great sense of responsibility.
We need more dedicated, committed, passionate, smart teachers, especially in our public schools; not teachers who collect salaries even when they do not carry out their responsibilities to the pupils, students, the state and the nation. We no longer need teachers who sell all kinds of wears in the school premises during school hours, abandoning their duties.
To save the teaching profession, both the teachers, government, parents and indeed every Nigerian has a role to play and the time to start is now. Happy celebration, our worthy teachers.

 

Calista Ezeaku

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Cautious Optimism As Naira Rebounds

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It has been good news since the past three weeks as our national currency, the Naira, continues to regain its lost value. The recovery follows frantic efforts by a government whose ill-advised, inaugural policies had set the legal tender, and the whole economy, tumbling.
The naira took an unprecedented plunge from last June and hit bottoms by the middle of March, 2024, following a hasty decision by President Ahmed Tinubu’s administration, to let it float freely on the market forces of demand and supply, in addition to removing petroleum subsidy, in disregard of the handicap of Nigeria’s import-dependence.
Without provisions to boost productions that satisfy domestic demands, or prime export capacities to balance import pressures on the local currency, a floating naira depreciated by 25 per cent in a single day in June, 2023, dropping to N1,950 per dollar in March, 2024, from about N750 per dollar earlier in May, 2023, while the price of petrol jumped overnight to 295 per cent, from N189 to N557. By December, 2023 overall inflation, according to official estimates, reached 28.92 per cent and food inflation shot beyond 33.33 per cent.
According to a World Bank report, whereas about 24 million Nigerians crossed the poverty line during the first half of 2023, in the twilight of the Buhari administration, situations got worse by the end of 2023, when accelerating inflations ushered-in by Tinubu’s hasty policies, pushed 63 per cent of Nigerians (about 133 million) into multi-dimensional poverty.
By the first quarter of 2024 hardships drove restive youths to near-uprising, which forced government into another haste – a concoction of palliatives – ironically, a form of subsidy, which it had earlier denounced as government wastefulness.
With the naira regaining its losses, it appears a panicky government has finally groped unto a solution. But if Mr President’s men are remorseful for the havoc done to Nigerians, they should be more sober this time in their computations to avoid distressing the country further.
The Federal Government has resorted to offloading dollar raised from sovereign bonds (in essence, loans), petroleum export proceeds and drawdowns from the external reserves, into the economy to reduce Foreign Exchange (FX) supply pressures, and to help it buy time in the hope of finding solutions to the wider unfavourable economic fundamentals bedevilling the economy.
On the dollar demand side, government has freed-up official restrictions that it believes created artificial scarcities that favour the black market. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has also cleared-off a backlog of FX obligations to assure investors, lifted the ban on sale of dollar to Bureau De Change Operators (BDCs), clamped down on currency speculators, closed down Binance, a crypto platform government accused of opaque dealings with money launderers, and borrowed dollar through short-term, sovereign bonds to ‘defend’ the naira.
Ever since, the CBN has offloaded dollar to BDCs at progressively reduced rates in the hope of prompting currency hoarders to cut losses and release supposed stockpiles. But in a clime where looted funds are desperately exchanged and exported, not much may be squeezed from hoarders, if surveillance is not stepped up. However, as at April 8, 2024, the CBN has offloaded a second tranche of $10,000 per BDC operator at N1,101 per dollar with a charge not to sell above 1.5 per cent margin. Many predict the CBN would offer the dollar below N1,000 in the coming weeks.
But for how long can the CBN go on with its bonanza to ‘defend the Naira’?  And what has been the cost of that defence? While the impact of strengthening naira is yet to reflect on commodity prices in Nigeria, the nation’s foreign reserve has dropped within 18 days by $0.95billion, down from $34.45billion on March 18, 2024, to N33.50billion on April 3, which represents a daily average depletion rate of $52.78 million. This is despite the $3billion loan from the AFREXIMBANK and petro-dollar revenues also thrown into the fray. To sustain its strengths, reports say the federal government plans to take stabilisation loans by June, 2024, speculated at a tune of $15billion, through the issuance of domestic bonds denominated in foreign currency. FG seeks the loans within the window of short-term, volatile Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) bonds which may disappoint the country in times of crises, as against Foreign Direct Investments which are more reliable. According to Bloomberg reports, FG has contacted investment banks, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Goldman Sachs and Citibank NA, for advice on Eurobonds, but Nigeria’s Debt Management Office denies Federal Executive Council’s approvals for such.
Certainly, a stronger currency is beneficial to an import-dependent nation like Nigeria, but without strengthening national productivity to generate surpluses for trade-balancing exports, the pursuit of merely high currency valuation becomes a vain strategy. While the naira strengthens, the reality of the adverse economic fundamentals that erode its worth remain unchanged, implying that its buoyancy rides merely on costly FX floods being pumped by the CBN. It is easy to guess the result, should the CBN halt supply.
For years Nigeria relied on its petroleum sector which at present provides about 78 per cent of FX earnings, but constitutes far less than 10 per cent of its real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), implying that to stabilise, Nigeria needs to grow its non-oil sector of over 90 per cent of GDP. Even the petroleum revenue is endangered by sabotage, illegal bunkering, dwindling investments and insecurity.
The FG may have taken the bet that sustaining the naira could buy it time from hard-pressed Nigerians, in the hope that a number of tangible local productions might kick-off. Notable among the expectations is the Dangote Refinery which, with its 650,000 barrels per day refining capacity, is expected to satisfy local demands of petroleum products to ease the huge FX demand in that front, and may hopefully earn FX through exports. Already, Dangote’s recent release of 100 million litres of diesel crashed the price of the product from N1,700 to N1,350, with another batch of 100 million litres expected to crash prices further, while the company plans to supply petrol by next month, but government-owned refineries which have drained so much resources remain dysfunctional. Again, the recent break through against reprocity flight barriers between the UK and Nigeria by Airpeace, reportedly crashed ticket prices to UK by 60 per cent.
FG may also see reliefs in the successful take-off in Aba, of 24-hour power supply by the Geometric Group and the recent commissioning of 700 Megawatt Zungeru hydro-electricity station, a tomatoe processing plant in Nassarawa, and a steel mill in Kaduna. However, agricultural, petroleum and manufacturing sectors remain at  their lowest and beseiged by insecurity, while the financial services sector appears to be strong but has incommensurate impact on industrialisation. If government does not encourage productivity in the real economy, its efforts in buoying the naira would be hopeless, while Nigeria falls deeper in debts. Already, as at December 31, 2023, Nigeria’s total debt stood at $106billion, while the 2024 budget of N28.7 trillion projects a deficit of N9.8 trillion to be debt-financed.
When public debt grows fast ahead of GDP growth rate, mounting debt service costs under-cut funds required for investment. That became the plight of Nigeria from Buhari’s era, when from 2016 to 2022 public debt grew by yearly average of 52.4 per cent, and GDP below 2 per cent. In that fateful 2022, debt service cost exceeded government revenue, which is why we are where we are.
The International Monetary Fund projects that Nigeria’s reserve would plummet to $24billion by end of 2024. Meanwhile, a nation’s FX reserve reflects the country’s balance of payments and its ability to settle international obligations. Severe declines in reserve may erode investor confidence and lead to downgrading of its credit ratings, which further worsens the nation’s borrowing costs.
Therefore the current approach towards buoying the Naira through loans can not be any other thing, but a gamble.

By: Joseph Nwankwo

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Agriculture: Solution To Hunger, Inflation, Food Insecurity

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In recent times, Nigerians have voiced their concerns about the persistent challenges of hunger, inflation, and the general increase in prices of goods and services. These issues not only affect the livelihoods of individuals and families but also pose significant threats to food security and economic stability in the country. In response to these pressing challenges, an educationist who is also an agricultural expert, Kazeem Akande, has shared insightful solutions aimed at tackling the root causes of these problems and fostering sustainable development in Nigeria.
In January, the UN estimated that more than 25 million people in Nigeria could face food insecurity this year—a 47 per cent increase from the 17 million people already at risk of going hungry, mainly due to ongoing insecurity, protracted conflicts, and rising food prices. An estimated two million children under five were estimated to be pushed into acute malnutrition in 2023. (Relief web, 2023). In response, Nigeria declared a state of emergency on food insecurity, recognising the urgent need to tackle food shortages, stabilise rising prices, and protect farmers facing violence from armed groups. However, without addressing the insecurity challenges, farmers will continue to struggle to feed their families and boost food production.
In addition, parts of northwest and northeast Nigeria have experienced changes in rainfall patterns making less water available for crop production. These climate change events have resulted in droughts and land degradations; presenting challenges for local communities and leading to significant impact on food security.  In light of these daunting challenges, it is imperative to address the intricate interplay between insecurity and agricultural productivity in Nigeria comprehensively. This necessitates a multifaceted approach that encompasses enhanced security measures, conflict resolution mechanisms, infrastructure development, climate-resilient agriculture, improved access to finance, and capacity building for farmers. By adopting such an integrated strategy, Nigeria can work toward ensuring food security, reducing poverty, and fostering sustainable economic growth in its vital agricultural sector. In this article, I  suggest solutions that could enhance agricultural production and ensure that every state scales its agricultural production to a level where it can cater to 60 per cent of the population.  I commend the efforts of the Oyo State Government under the leadership of Governor Seyi Makinde, who has paid due attention to developing agriculture in the state.  The governor has implemented brilliant initiative to boost agriculture such as the construction of Oyo-Iseyin road, suspending revenue collection on farm produce, and providing funds for tractors and fertilizers.  These solutions include:
Partnerships with tertiary tnstitutions: There is a need to emphasise the importance of collaborating with tertiary institutions to harness the potential of innovation and technology in boosting agricultural productivity. By partnering with these institutions, the government can leverage research findings and expertise to improve farming practices, develop high-yielding crop varieties, and enhance agricultural techniques. Additionally, providing access to farmlands for farming activities enables farmers to increase their production capacity and contribute to food security in the country.
Enhanced security for farmers: One of the critical barriers to agricultural productivity in Nigeria is the lack of security for farmers, particularly in rural areas. While I suggest ensuring safety and protection of farmers and their crops is essential for promoting food security and stimulating economic growth. By deploying security forces to agricultural regions and implementing proactive measures to combat rural insecurity, the government can create a conducive environment for farmers to cultivate their lands without fear of theft, vandalism, or attacks.
Engagement with research institutes: while there is also need to partner with research institutes; IITA, CRIN, NIHORT, IAR&T, FRIN, NCRI, NACGRAB, to drive innovation and knowledge exchange in the agricultural sector. By collaborating with these institutions, policymakers and stakeholders can access valuable insights, data, and expertise to inform evidence-based decision-making and policy formulation. Additionally, investing in agricultural research and development initiatives can lead to the discovery of novel solutions to pressing challenges, such as improving crop resilience to climate change and enhancing soil fertility.
Investment in mechanised farming and arable land allocation: State and local governments play a pivotal role in promoting mechanised farming and providing arable land for farming in communities. Additionally, allocating arable land enables smallholder farmers to expand their operations and contribute to food security at the grassroots level. Nigeria can unlock the potential of its agricultural sector to address the pressing need of its population and achieve sustainable development. Policymakers and stakeholders must heed Akande’s recommendations and take decisive action to ensure a food-secure future for all Nigerians.
Akande, a public affairs analyst, wrote in from Abuja.

By: Kazeem Akande

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Opinion

Folly Of Leaping Before  Looking

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Look before you leap”, is one of the wise sayings that over the years I have been emotionally attached to. It means so much to me.  It teaches me to  be thoughtful,  articulate, dissective, dispassionate and solicit for advice of the experienced and reasonable people where necessary. I have seen people  reveal their stark ignorance because they took decisions rashly and without  considering the implications of their actions or inactions. It has therefore, become  necessary to “look before you leap”. Rehoboam, son of Bible’s King Solomon lost 10 tribes of Israel to Jeroboam. The negative consequences of lack of conscientious and enlightened  guide before taking action has landed many in avoidable regrets.
The recent judgment of a Federal High Court, Abuja sacking 20 Cross River State House of Assembly members should serve as an object lesson for thoughtless lawmakers’ and elected representatives who want to defect from the party on whose platform they were elected to a preferred political party whether the choice was based on sound judgment, ignorance or pecuniary gains, to learn the wisdom of looking before leaping.
The Electoral Act is unambiguous and crystal clear so does not make judicial interpretation necessary, on the ground for an elected representative to leave his or her political party for a preferred one either by inducement, anticipated pecuniary benefits or blind loyalty.
And the sublime reason must be premised on irreconcilable crisis in the  political party of  those elected who want to decamp or cross-carpet.
Recall that on Monday,  March 18, 2024, a Federal High Court in Abuja  sacked 20 members of the Cross River State House of Assembly.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had instituted a suit against the lawmakers over their defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The judgment in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/975/2021 was delivered on Monday. Ruling on the case, Taiwo Taiwo, the presiding judge, held that the lawmakers should vacate their seats, having abandoned the political party that sponsored them to power.
The affected lawmakers are Michael Etaba; Legor Idagbor; Eteng Jonah William; Joseph A. Bassey; Odey Peter Agbe; Okon E. Ephraim; Regina L. Anyogo; Matthew S. Olory; Ekpo Ekpo Bassey; Ogbor Ogbor Udop; and Ekpe Charles Okon.
Others are Hillary Ekpang Bisong, Francis B. Asuquo; Elvert Ayambem; Davis Etta; Sunday U. Achunekan; Cynthia Nkasi; Edward Ajang; Chris Nja-Mbu Ogar; and Maria Akwaji.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Speaker of the House of Representatives, National Assembly, Clerk of the National Assembly, Cross River State House of Assembly, Clerk of the Cross River State House of Assembly and the All Progrssives Congress (APC), were also joined as defendants in the suit.
Though, in their defence, the lawmakers argued that there was rancour in the Peoples Democratic Party  (PDP),which led to their expulsion from the party, the judge held that the defendants had intentions to mislead the court. He said he found gaps and loopholes in their defence as they tried to twist events to suit their own narratives.
“They wined and dined under the umbrella of the plaintiff who also gave them shelter,” he said.
Taiwo noted that they not only defected loudly, “they took pictures of their defection and were received by the officials of the 26th defendant”.
“There is no doubt that the defendants can belong to or join any political association and assembly as they are free to do so,” he ruled.
“I consider the attempts of the 6th – 25th defendants to justify their defection, feeble in the circumstances of this case.”
Taiwo said the public voted for the lawmakers through the plaintiff who sponsored them and they were not elected as independent candidates.
“They had a vehicle which conveyed them and that vehicle belongs to the plaintiff. They cannot abandon the vehicle,” he held.
Justice Taiwo’s judgment remains a landmark and precedent to determine whether the 27 Rivers State House of Assembly members elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have the locus to publicly decamp to the All  Progressives Congress (APC) and still retain their seats in the House as elected and honourable  members of the House.
Though concerned groups are challenging the legality of the 27 decampee legislators to constitute a legitimate House of Assembly with the  affected members having the  capacity  and audacity to still hold legislative functions, it baffles  me that they constitute themselves into what seems like a parallel administration and a distraction to Sir Siminalayi Fubara-led Rivers State Government, instead of thinking about how they would get nominations on the platform of their new political party and win the bye-election for their seats that will be declared vacant by the Independent  National  Electoral Commission (INEC), if the judgment and the dictates of electoral law and Constitution can find expression in the Rivers 27.
If it is true that the aroma of the fart tells the substance of the poor, then, the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja should send a warning to the defectors in the Rivers State House of Assembly to swallow their vomit or start packing to vacate the reins of legislative functions in the House.
The wise man learns from the experiences of others and  history. History repeats itself because people have refused to come to understanding. They are close-ended in learning. The essence of history is to avoid a reinvent of the negative past, use the ugly past to reconstruct the future.
Legislators are elected to represent constituency consisting of people of all walks of life. They should rather strive to serve the people, solicit the consent of popular opinions on critical issues rather than thinking for the people and serving their selfish interests. Those elected should see themselves as stewards and as stewards, they are accountable to the people and God, not their political godfather with attendant characteristics to mislead and self-serving.
It is high time our political leaders knew that the legitimacy of their positions is derived from the magnanimity of the people. They should therefore not take decisions without taking into cognisance the interest of the people they are representing,  through intentional consultation.

By: Igbiki Benibo

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