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Editorial

No To Pension Fund Borrowing

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Being a country most notorious for borrowings, it does not come across as a consternation that Nigeria would ask to take a N2 trillion loan from the dedicated Pension Fund. Expectedly, the proposal has raised the ire of labour unions, workers, groups and critical stakeholders who have vehemently repudiated the idea. Despite that, the federal government seems intent on going ahead with the planned action.
The Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, confirmed the government’s position at the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting he presided lately where he revealed that plans had been perfected to take N2 trillion from the current N10 trillion domiciled in the pension till to finance the rejuvenation of decomposing infrastructure.
However, if the glitches that characterised the pension schemes prior to 2004 are anything to go by, then, this is a fatal move that must be halted. Our suspicion is deepened by the fact that at the moment, the government’s indebtedness to pensions in accrued rights, pension differentials, minimum pension guarantee, pension increase is well over N400 billion.
Government needs to be reminded that the Contributory Pension Scheme came into existence in 2004 to replace the moribund Defined Pension Scheme. It is fully funded by workers and employers and privately managed by Pension Fund Administrators. The monies are in the individual Retirement Savings Account (RSA). Therefore, it is significant that the consent of the workers is, at least, sought.
While infrastructure is a colossal asset around the world, and especially in most advanced countries in which private investors could invest Pension Fund and make high returns, here, infrastructure is yet to be an asset because Nigeria runs a dysfunctional economy, morbidly dependent on crude oil revenue. It is an economy that sustains enormous corruption and relies ponderously on the importation of goods and services that can effortlessly be generated here.
A recent Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) report indicated that the Federal Government registered N4.62 trillion deficit in 2019. That year, its highest expenditure went on recurrent at N4.05 trillion out of a budget of N8.9 trillion. This is certainly an unworkable economic exemplification. A country which keeps allocating more resources to consumption cannot guarantee that the funds its government seeks to borrow will not be frittered on politicians and civil servants.
We firmly believe that the government does not have to borrow to erect or maintain infrastructure if it can cut on its garish lifestyle. For example, besides the prodigious sums expended on federal lawmakers, fuel subsidy alone cost the nation N2.95 trillion in 2018. With this, we find it hard to comprehend why the four refineries that gulped about $400 million between 2013 and 2015 cannot be auctioned to private investors who can run them efficiently.
Again, a report by the Debt Management Office (DMO) stated that as of September 2019, Nigeria had a debt profile of N26.21 trillion or $85.3 billion while debt servicing alone costs N2 trillion annually on average. This has more severely compromised the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio. The obvious implication is that the current ratio cannot sustain  a serious borrowing any longer. So, what is the repayment plan for the N2 trillion when debt servicing guzzles so much?
In a surprisingly bold statement, the Federal Government claims it needs the N2 trillion to plough into infrastructural upswings like the rails, roads and power. These are desirable projects, no doubt, but it will be harmful to divert pension capital to them. In the first place, it doesn’t make sense to keep plunging public funds into power when in the privatisation exercise of November 2013, N1.7 trillion was disbursed to stabilise the sector without the anticipated result. The way it is, if the entire N2 trillion is assigned to the sector, no improvement may be recorded.
During the 2008 economic crisis, the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria deployed N5 trillion to bail out some ailing firms. But because there is a consistent dearth of political will in the country, that large sum is yet to be recouped by various administrations till date. Why look elsewhere when this money is more than twice the N2 trillion being sought for? Furthermore, what happened to funds granted private organisations like the Aviation Fund and Textile Fund? Of course, they have gone down the drain and unaccounted for while the culprits walk unhindered.
It is a fact that pension depositories are used to construct infrastructure in developed countries, particularly those with a vast ratio of Pension Fund to GDP. However, with a Pension Fund to GDP ratio of 6.7 per cent, Nigeria cannot cut a slice of its pension reserves to invest in infrastructure without jeopardising workers’ fortune. To be suitable to do that, our infrastructure market must be developed and well regulated.
We express grave concern at the fate of Nigerian workers in the face of incessant borrowings by our governments without corresponding development. It is unthinkable to borrow from the Pension Fund when the citizens have not felt the impact of the mounting debts foisted on the country. What is paramount to contributors and other stakeholders alike is the safety of the Fund, which, unfortunately, government cannot guarantee. This action of government has the potential to threaten the scheme and erode contributors’ confidence.
Accordingly, we strongly apprise the federal government to think twice and desist from overstepping the Pension Reform Act 2004 to gratify its crave to build infrastructure. This was the issue with Argentina when its then President, Cristina Fernandez, manoeuvred the parliament and clutched the country’s $30 billion Pension Fund. Instantly, international investors’ confidence wiggled and the economy went into a free fall.
As the regulatory agency, the National Pension Commission (PenCom) should not subject pension revenue to undue hazard by granting political office holders access to the Fund. Like birds of passage, politicians have no stake in the pension money; as such, they have to be prevented by all means from intruding on the future of Nigerian workers. The government with their itchy fingers should maintain a distance from the pension proceeds to stave off Argentina’s ugly experience.

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Editorial

Ridding The World Of Nuclear Weapons

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After a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament on September 26, 2013, the United Nations General
Assembly (UNGA) designated September 26 as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. This Day provides an opportunity to highlight the need to eliminate nuclear weapons and the social and economic costs of perpetuating them.
The United Nations has commemorated the Day each year since 2014, providing an opportunity for governments and some civil society groups to discuss progress and priorities for nuclear disarmament. One of the oldest goals of the United Nations is achieving global nuclear disarmament. But today, around 13,080 nuclear weapons remain. Countries possessing such weapons have well-funded, long-term plans to modernise their nuclear arsenals.
In 1946, the General Assembly’s first resolution established that the Atomic Energy Commission had the mandate to make specific proposals for the control of nuclear energy and the elimination of not only atomic weapons but also all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction. UNGA endorsed the objective of general and complete disarmament in 1959. The first Special Session of the General Assembly Devoted to Disarmament, held in 1978, further recognised that nuclear disarmament should be the priority objective.
The United States, the former Soviet Union and the United Kingdom signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which limits the spread of military nuclear technology by the recognised nuclear-weapon States to non-nuclear nations wishing to build or acquire atomic weapons. The NPT is uniquely unequal and ineffective, as it obliges non-nuclear States to forgo the development of nuclear weapons while allowing the established nuclear States to keep theirs.
On July 7, 2017, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) was adopted. This Treaty is significant because it is the first multilateral legally-binding instrument for nuclear disarmament and elimination to have been negotiated in 20 years. The treaty was subsequently adopted by a vote with 122 States in favour. While this is commendable on its own, the efficacy of the treaty is questionable because none of the current nuclear-armed States supports the treaty or has signed it.
As the world grapples with new security challenges, it is pertinent now more than ever for global leaders to uphold the rules and principles of international humanitarian law in ensuring that weapons with catastrophic humanitarian outcomes, such as nuclear weapons, are eliminated from the earth. The 2017 TPNW presents an opportunity to achieve that goal. Accordingly, we call on all States to fulfil their commitment to nuclear disarmament by becoming parties to the treaty.
The beginning point in any discussion about nuclear weapons should be their terrifying explosive yield. Historical records of the disastrous impacts of the detonation of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August and September 1945 reveal horrid facts about the devastation caused by weapons of much lesser effects than the ones harboured in the military arsenals of some nuclear weapons’ possessors today.
The devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki raised the consciousness of the international community about the dangers of nuclear weapons. The ensuing clamour to regulate nuclear weapons jump-started the development of an international legal framework to prevent the proliferation of deadly weapons. Regrettably, the nuclear weapons question is embroiled in the politics of power and dominance, causing nuclear-possessing States to drive deliberations on nuclear weapons with a focus on the control of proliferation rather than on total elimination.
The real focus of the major treaties on nuclear weapons is either to prevent proliferation or elimination of nuclear ammunition. However, it is sad that the nuclear-possessing States have wavered in their commitment to complete disarmament. The International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has engaged to name and shame States that are not a party to TPNW, but how effective that effort will be remains to be seen. Their refusal to adhere to the treaty undermines its effectiveness, and there has been little pressure on these States to change their minds.
It seems superfluous to point out that for the treaty to be successfully and comprehensively implemented, Nuclear Weapons States have to cooperate, be parties to it and proactively implement it, as a large part of it addresses them. The treaty has an embedded acknowledgement that it would have opposition, hence Article 12 enjoins each State party to encourage others to sign, ratify, approve or accede to it, with the motive of universal adherence of all nations, eventually.
Undoubtedly, any use of nuclear weapons in the war between States or indiscriminate attacks by non-State actors would create catastrophic situations for humankind and the natural environment. The possibilities of nuclear accidents also remain, and every day that nuclear weapons remain on earth, someone is suffering from health degradation as a result. As long as some countries continue to have nuclear weapons, others will feel entitled to them as well.
The Russia–Ukraine war has raised the spectre of a nuclear disaster. The recent Russia’s missile attack on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia atomic plant points to that. This should attract more severe global sanctions on Russia, as the act represents a dire threat to the world. It was the first time that a nation has attacked a fuelled and functioning nuclear power plant. The unprovoked attack could endanger the safety of entire Europe. Russia must be stopped from carrying out military activities around the site.
Every drop of energy exerted in fighting for a world free of nuclear weapons is crucial. World leaders and policy-makers, non-governmental activists; all have a role to play in their circle of influence, from the diligent ratification of the relevant treaties to a march to raise awareness and spread the word. The Chernobyl disaster in former Soviet Ukraine in 1986 stands as a lasting example of why it is vital to ensure all nuclear power plants are dismantled or at worst have the highest standards of safety and security.
With the looming threat of a new Cold War, it is expedient for all nations, particularly countries in possession of nuclear weapons, to consider the tragic humanitarian consequences of the use of these weapons on human health, the environment, and vital economic resources, among others. Everyone has a role to play in building a future without nuclear weapons. There is no alternative to eliminating these horrible projectiles and creating a sustainable global peace based on common security.

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Editorial

Enough Of Killings In Anambra

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Tragedy struck again in Anambra State just at a time the people of the state were hilariously heaving a sigh of relief that normalcy was gradually returning after over one year of living in deep-seated fear, following the activities of “unknown gunmen” that killed and maimed several people.
This time around, the victims were Senator Ifeanyi Ubah representing Anambra South Senatorial Zone in the country’s upper legislative chambers and his aides, who were returning to the Senator’s hometown, Nnewi, from a function. The September 11 assault on the convoy of Senator Ubah in Enugu-Ukwu, Anambra State, draws attention to the dire security situation in the South East.
Two police officers, two Ubah’s aides and a Department of State Services (DSS) operative were among the dead. Also among the dead was a businessman from Nri, Anaocha Local Government Area. It was reported that the businessman was based in Lagos but relocated to his hometown, following alleged attempts on his life after a failed business deal. The attackers were after him, only for the Senator’s convoy to arrive at the scene when the gunmen had ambushed their target.
Another version indicated that it was a targeted assassination attempt on Ubah. According to reports, the foray on the Senator had a link with the sacked Chairman of Nnewi North Local Government Council, whose wife died mysteriously. It was gathered that the man was Ubah’s boy, whom the Senator brought to political limelight. The source added that another businessman allegedly having issues with Ubah influenced the man’s political predicament.
Recall that some parts of the South-East, especially Imo State and Anambra State, have been reeling from incessant attacks by “unknown gunmen”. The situation worsened following the April 5, 2021 blitzkrieg on the Imo police headquarters and the correctional centre. About 1,844 inmates were freed, some of them hardened criminals. Since then, police stations have been assailed and arms carted away.
Ahead of the attack on Ubah and his convoy, prominent South Easterners had been gruesomely murdered in the region. Dr Chike Akunyili, husband of the late Minister of Information, Prof Dora Akunyili, was killed along with eight others at Nkpor in the Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra. Director-General, Scientific Equipment Development Institute (SEDI), Enugu, Prof Samuel Ndubuisi, and a police officer attached to him were shot dead in Enugu.
Also, the member representing Aguata State Constituency in the Anambra State House of Assembly, Okechukwu Okoye, and a former member of the State House of Assembly, Nelson Achukwu, were beheaded by unknown persons. Traditional rulers and religious leaders were equally not left out. Some were kidnapped and never seen again. Many security operatives, remarkably policemen at checkpoints, have been brutally murdered in the region.
Most villagers have fled their homes, while those living in cities have ceased from travelling home. Many who journey home hardly use their vehicles for fear of being identified, abducted or even killed. Although security agents may be doing their best to bring the violence to a halt, they have also been accused of engaging in extrajudicial activities. Some, especially young men, have had to flee for fear of arrest and detention.
The recent bloody incident in Anambra is deeply regrettable. It is wicked, barbaric, senseless and knavish. We condemn the savage attacks on Ubah and his aides and call for the strengthening and overhauling of the security architecture of the state in particular and the nation at large. Law enforcement agents should work harder to fish out the perpetrators and prosecute them. It should matter less what organisation such criminals are representing.
One worrisome development for us is the continuous attacks despite repeated government assurances to address the ubiquitous security crisis. But even more discommoding is the fact that the perpetrators remain unknown, while their grouse and motive are unspecified. The Federal Government should intervene urgently, failure of which the heinous and barbaric killings may continue unabated, subjecting Anambra people to untold apprehension and suffering.
We think that the failed assassination attempt on Ubah and the killing of others, just like many other attacks across the South-East geopolitical zone, are perpetrated by implacable enemies of Ndigbo. We maintain that the provocative action signposts the collapse of the country’s security architecture, which, in turn, has rubbed off on the capacity of security operatives to tackle crime and criminality frontally.
The apparent dilemma in the South-East is an obvious pointer that the elite and political leaders have completely lost touch with the people. The widening gap between the rich and the aggrieved poor in the country is rearing its ugly head in the type of violence that society is exposed to in recent times. Therefore, political leaders have to rise above mischief and find a way to calm down the youths.
Leadership in the embattled zone has taken a nosedive and the people are more divided than ever. The governors, including Soludo, need immediate assistance and full support from traditional rulers and other stakeholders to stop the violence in the region. It is not enough for both the state and central governments to express alarms about the killings or offer a huge amount of money to unravel the killers. They must find a lasting solution and end the appalling massacres.
The Anambra people want to see what the government is doing to arrest the lingering insecurity before the situation gets out of hand. It is all about the safety and welfare of the people, which is the primary purpose of government. The “unknown gunmen” should not be more powerful than the state apparatus.

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Editorial

For Sustainable Global Peace

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In recent times, world peace has come under distinct threats of natural disaster, war, poverty and hunger, un
evenness and climate change, among others. These perils have been the norm in some parts of the world. Other areas of the world have discovered diverse ways to co-exist despite the raging challenges. To live above the global vicious realities faced by many, the United Nations in September 1981 proclaimed that September 21 every year be set aside to celebrate International Day of Peace.
The International Day of Peace aims at facilitating global peace among countries and combating hostility and all forms of threats to peace. It encircles a broad range of issues including poverty, health, education, climate change, hunger, gender equality, water, sanitation, environment, racism and social justice. Its objective is to provide globally shared date for all humanity to commit to peace above all dissimilarities and to contribute to building a culture of peace.
Each event has a different theme. For example, in 2020, the theme was ‘Shaping Peace Together’, while in 2021, it was ‘Recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable World’. For this year, the theme is ‘End Racism. Build Peace’. The UN has earmarked today to strengthen the ideals of peace through a non-violent permanent cease-fire. It also aims to address hate speech and violence against racial minorities through anti-racism messages and education.
The central theme is imperative as the time to end racism is now. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterrez, declares that, “Racism continues to poison institutions, social structures, and everyday life in every society. It continues to be a driver of persistent inequality. And it continues to deny people their fundamental human rights. It destabilises societies, undermines democracies, erodes the legitimacy of governments, and … the linkages between racism and gender inequality are unmistakable.”
Peace, an integral portion of human daily life, is not only germane to growth but also serves as the bedrock upon which development and other strides, tailored for humanity, are hinged. This informs why it has always been a major subject of discourse across regional, national and international bodies such as the African Union, European Union and other blocs. These coalitions have expended so much of their budgets to ensure that peace is imbibed across religious, cultural, ethnic and political divides globally.
But achieving true peace entails much more than laying down arms. It requires the building of societies where all members feel that they can flourish. It involves creating a world in which all are treated equally, regardless of their race. The 16th edition of the annual Global Peace Index (GPI) report, the world’s leading measure of peacefulness, reveals that the average level of global peacefulness eroded by 0.3 per cent in 2021. This is the 11th deterioration in peacefulness in the last 14 years, highlighting that countries degenerate much faster than they improve.
Iceland remains the most peaceful country, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the Index by New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, and Austria. For the fifth consecutive year, Afghanistan is the least peaceful country, followed by Yemen, Syria, Russia, and South Sudan. Two of the five countries with the largest deterioration in peacefulness were Russia and Ukraine. They were joined by Guinea, Burkina Faso and Haiti. All this deterioration was due to ongoing conflicts.
As 2022 drags to an exhausting end, the international strategic outlook remains bleak. Authoritarian regimes are threatening conflicts in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The pivotal democracies look distracted, internally riven and unwilling to defend the global order they originally designed. It was not meant to be this way. The formal dissolution of the Soviet Union on 26 December 1991 was supposed to usher in an era where liberal democracies would flourish. Instead, this year faces its toughest test.
About seven months into the Russian war against Ukraine, there seems to be no end in sight and Russia’s most recent actions even point to an intensification of the fight. The world must compel President Vladimir Putin to terminate the aggression and reconsider the unacceptable path he has chosen. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a threat to global peace and a just world order. It contradicts the core principles of international coexistence as reflected in the UN Charter.
Continued fighting in some countries jeopardizes world peace. The Syrian civil war, regarded as the second-deadliest in the 21st century, is still ongoing. Since 2014, Yemen has been going through a civil war that claimed over 20,000 deaths in 2019 alone. Somalia remains at war since the 1980s while Libya has been unstable since 2011 when its leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was killed. The recent escalation of tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan has the potential to further destabilise the region. The UN has to perform its task of maintaining peace in these countries and others experiencing fighting.
It is time all nations and people lived up to the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognises the inherent dignity, equality and inalienable rights of all members of humanity. This year’s celebration inevitably presupposes that the UN frowns on all forms of racial and inhuman treatment and as such member-states should replicate and imbibe this campaign.
Today, Africa is laced with some of the most obstinate conflicts, most of them constructed from disagreements in religious and ethnic identities. Religious and ethnic nationalism has led to unnecessary conflicts about control of state power, unequal allocation of resources, citizenship issues, state collapse, economic decline and ethno-religious clashes. Nigeria is known for such intense divisions which cause major gaps along ethnic, religious and regional lines.
In defiance of the current realities in the country which include calls and agitations for secession, communal clashes, Fulani-herder crises, terrorism, perceived superiority of one ethnic group against another, banditry, kidnapping, sexual violence, among other heinous crimes against humanity, Nigerians have to unite to build a strong and inclusive nation.
We hope that the government will utilise the occasion to deal with the many salient challenges confronting the country, as peace cannot be substituted with any other variables. This is quite pertinent because for decades the nation has had a large spectrum of repulsive events, making peace an illusion. Peace is crucial, as practically no part of the country is completely free from ethnic or religious feuds, endangering and setting most of the people against themselves.
Nigerians have to shun divisive comments and embrace stability for the country’s progress. We must jettison violence and conflict for dialogue and harmony. The Peace Day is a reminder to governments at all levels to put more efforts into battling insecurity and creating enabling environments through good governance for socio-economic growth, economic opportunities and poverty alleviation. This will ensure a lasting cordiality and peaceful cohabitation among all tribes in the country.

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