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The Fuel Subsidy Removal Plan

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The contract between the estate where I live and the facility manager will expire in a couple of days. The manager is interested in having the contract renewed but the executive members of the estate’s residents’ association wouldn’t unilaterally decide on whether to renew the contract or not. The opinion of all the residents must be sought before such an important decision is taken. In view of that, an online questionnaire was created to enable the residents to assess the performance of the facility manager and decide whether the estate should continue with its services or not.
Hardly anything is done in the estate without the opinion and support of the residents being sought and, that way, there is cooperation of virtually everyone in developing the estate and solving whatever challenge the community may face. I have no doubt that a similar scenario plays out in many other estates in different parts of the country.
Looking at what happens in the larger society, especially in the political sphere, one wonders why our political leaders cannot adopt this democratic way of doing things in the administration of our local government areas, states and the nation. Why are Nigerian citizens rarely given the opportunity to have a say on how things are done in the country?
Often, projects or programmes are initiated without first feeling the pores of the people for whom those projects are meant. Many times the government’s mindset towards certain issues in the country or some government plans are made known either during interviews outside the shores of the country or at other public functions.
Let’s take a look at the current controversy over the government’s plan to remove fuel subsidy and payment of N5,000 transport grant to poor citizens of the country. The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, released the bombshell during the launch of the World Bank Nigeria Development Update (NDU) last week. The reactions that have trailed the disclosure indicate that the necessary consultation and reaching out were not done before the announcement.
Otherwise, how can the National Assembly, the representatives of the people, not be aware of the proposal? The Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, who described it as a rumour, told newsmen: “if there is something like that, a document needs to come to the National Assembly and how do they want to identify the beneficiaries. This is not provided for in the 2022 budget proposal, which is N2.4 trillion”.
The Nigerian labour leaders also expressed shock over the minister’s announcement because according to them, it was a unilateral decision without the input of Labour. In the words of the Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Musa Lawal, ”We are surprised and shocked with the government’s pronouncement. We do not know how the government came about it. The government is calling for trouble if they think they can go ahead with subsidy removal without labour. The Presidential Committee made up of government representatives and Labour has not concluded its assignment. Our last meeting was in April. This new position is totally unacceptable to us”.
My point is that governments at various levels in Nigeria should begin to make deliberate efforts in carrying the people along in whatever they do. Opinion of the people should count. This will reduce a lot of friction between the leaders and the led and help in building trust between the two parties and a better nation.
Why can’t the government use every means possible to sensitise and educate the citizens on the benefits or otherwise of fuel subsidy removal. A lot of people are asking the criteria that will be used to determine who the ‘poor citizens’ are; how the decision to give payment of N5,000 each to about 40 million citizens came about and others; and it is the duty of those in power to provide sincere answers to these questions before going ahead with the project.
It is the responsibility of the leaders to convince Nigerians that the proposed N5000 monthly stipend will not go the way of other social intervention schemes of the government like conditional cash transfer, tradermoni, COVID-19 palliative, free school feeding and many others.
Some useful suggestions have been made on how to cushion the effect of subsidy removal should it materialise instead of the paltry sum of N5,000 which, by the way, the Minister of Finance said is not going to last for more than a year. One of them is that the government should deploy such funds to free medical services and free transport schemes for the target category of citizens. Nothing could be as reliving to a poor farmer for instance, as knowing that there is free movement of his goods from the farm to the locations where they will be sold and that he is sure to receive free, quality medical attention when faced with a health challenge. Government must listen to this strong view.
That being said, one thinks the labour unions, the students’ union and other bodies and individuals kicking against the total removal of subsidy should try to engage properly and consider  the long term benefit of the removal. Many business men, economic experts and players in the oil sector have posited that the gains of the removal far outweigh its retention, that though the initial hardship will be inevitable, in the long run, Nigerians will be better off just as it is currently happening in the telecommunications industry.
The Director of Green Zeal Oil and Gas Ltd, Mr. Christian Wigwe in a chat noted that as long as the government continues to subsidize the importation of fuel, the Nigerian oil sector will never develop. He observed that none of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) licensed to operate in Nigeria has been able to build refineries in the country because it is not profitable owing to the fact that the government subsidises the importation of fuel from other countries.
He opined that if we do not take the bull by the horn now, stop the subsidy and grow our economy, if we keep borrowing money from all corners of the planet to run the country while also collateralising the loans with public infrastructure, a time will come when our creditors will take over the railways, the airports and other collateralised infrastructures and the cost of transportation we are running away from will be ten times what it is today.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

 Electoral Bill: Why Buhari Withheld Assent

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On 21st December, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari alarmingly declined assent to the long-awaited Electoral Act Amendment Bill through a letter to the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila. From the tone of the memo, Buhari exuberantly, largely aligned with the Act amendments except the clauses that provided for mandatory direct primaries for all political parties.
Discernibly, the president amid the rebuff acknowledged the energies, nonetheless urged the lawmakers to review the objected clauses, and also requested it be transmitted back for his assent after review. Least expected, Buhari’s major critic, Dr Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor, overtly backed the president’s decline of assent over the direct primaries.
Irrepressibly, the president’s action has continued to generate controversies in the polity with the civil society organizations (CSOs) threatening fire and brimstone and many public commentators seething over perceived mischief and insensitivity. On the whole, three categories of thoughts exist.
Whilst one backs the president against mandatory direct primaries, the second group; mostly from opposition parties, endorsed it. Then, the third category which includes Chief Nyesom Wike, Rivers State governor, admitted the flaws but argued that the assent ought to have been given, notwithstanding the defects, for a review later as Buhari handled the Petroleum Industry Bill (now PIA).
This idea isn’t bad. However, the big question is; what will be the fate if after giving assent, the anticipated review hits the brick wall? It must be carefully noted that the Electoral Act, if flawed, can set the polity ablaze unlike the PIB due to vast interests.
In the legislative zone, the experience is not different. While some accepted the development in good faith and progressively prepared for a critical review, the other side seemingly insisted on a supremacy battle to override the president’s veto. However, the leadership of the two chambers so far, astutely arrested the situation, and opted for wider consultations. Be that as it may, Section 59(4) of the 1999 Constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended provides a window to override the president by the National Assembly where he withholds assent to a bill presented to him after 30 days.
Buhari’s divergence is the clause for mandatory direct primaries for political parties citing the financial implications on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to monitor primary elections across all the wards. There are 8,809 wards in the federation. Buhari also argued that political parties must be given a free hand to determine how to elect their flagbearers within their strength, and also, that security factor must be put into consideration underlining that security agencies could be overstretched in ensuring hitch-free primaries which may overheat the polity.
Ostensibly, many frowned at Buhari’s objection — having vetoed the Bill earlier in 2018 ahead of the 2019 General Elections principally on grounds of wrong timing. In fact, a lawmaker while reacting on Channels Television fumed that a bill, overwhelmingly passed by the two chambers after legislative processes which he participated in was ‘insensitively’ rejected by the president; just one man. Logically, his concern was an ego thing, widely far from objectivity. Incidentally, that’s the rule of the game – democracy.
Besides, the oversight of the lawmakers is glaring as the reasons adduced by the president against adopting mandatory direct primary are compelling.
Possibly, the lawmakers didn’t look at it broadmindedly. For instance, if signed into law, it will require INEC to seek a larger budget on logistics and allowances to monitor primary elections across the 8,809 wards in the country for each political party to validly choose a presidential candidate. Let’s say 20 political parties plan to field presidential candidates respectively, it will require INEC’s workforce to go round all the wards for each of the registered political parties to ably elect a valid candidate which has a heavy financial implication. To conduct the 2023 General Elections alone, INEC demands a whopping N305 billion from the treasury.
Sensibly, for INEC to monitor the primaries of all the political parties across all the wards in the country, the task could push the commission’s budget up to many trillions of naira. Then, where there are security challenges that discourage public gatherings, people must notwithstanding embrace direct primaries at the risk of their lives or end up in an inconclusive primary election. In other words, failure to conduct direct primaries across all the wards may deny a political party an opportunity to field a valid candidate in any election.
Deductively, these arguments strongly suggest that mandatory direct primaries could spontaneously force smaller political parties into extinction due to financial constraints and also create unmanageable logistics and security crises.
Another strong fear is beating the time frame for primaries by political parties. As known, primary elections follow INEC’s timetable, and it is rare to find any political party that produced its candidate without internal squabbles which, most times, resulted in late primary election leaving members to resort to any possible means; direct, indirect or consensus to be able to field a candidate within time. If the law should exclusively endorse mandatory direct primaries, practically, it will lead to inconclusive primaries in virtually all political parties. Government is a team work and that’s the strong reason laws must pass through the two arms – Executive and Legislature.
In fact, the bureaucracy for INEC to mobilise workforce alone including ad-hoc staff, managerially allocate tasks can frustrate many political parties due to time. It will also put a heavier burden on the Judiciary to entertain frivolous lawsuits from wards where direct primary perchance didn’t hold by circumstances beyond the control of political parties.
Thus, primary elections should logically, remain flexible and at the discretion of political parties. To be emphatic, the financial implications on the treasury, overstretching security agencies, operability to political parties and also, overstraining the Judiciary are cogent reasons to reconsider the Bill in overriding public interest.

By: Carl Umegboro
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst.

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Opinion

Stop This Begging Attitude

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Are Nigerians all turning to beggars? What is going on? At every institution, many public places, you see well-dressed men and women subtly begging for money. I went to a shopping mall for a business transaction recently and at the gate was a well-dressed, cheerful security guard who zealously ushered me into the compound. I wanted to park my car at one end of the compound but he insisted that I should go another direction which truly was more spacious. And in my mind I was like, “what a dutiful staff?”
He was not done yet. As soon as I switched off my car ignition and was about to open the door to come out, he rushed and did it, smiling from one side of his mouth to the other, offering unsolicited information and a guide on my whereabouts in the facility. I sincerely thanked him, hoping all the VIP treatment will not be a subtle way of begging for gratuity.
Behold, I was wrong. As I made to step into the building, he whispered “Madam, no forget the favour way l do you oo”. I had just encountered another corporate beggar. A day before, I had a bitter encounter with one, a pump attendant, at a petrol station who called me names for refusing to part with my hard-earned money. Having enquired about the well-being of my family, admired my car and showered all unasked encomium on me, he expected a monetary appreciation which was not forthcoming and the next thing I heard was “stingy woman”.
They are everywhere. At petrol stations, banks, offices, both public and private hotels, you see a lot of people begging while on duty. At the airport, train station and in practically all-important offices in the country, “anything for the boys, your boys dey loyal oo”, seems to have become part of the official language.
Of course, this shameful attitude did not start today but it has taken a more serious, disturbing dimension in recent times. Many people, particularly the security personnel, front desk officers, customer relations officers have turned their duty posts to begging offices. They would always blame the current economic downturn for their unbecoming attitude which cannot be totally true because, at least, they are working and earning salaries, no matter how little.
What about the millions of people who are jobless and have no means of livelihood? Have they all taken to the streets to beg?
One thinks it is a social malaise which has a lot to do with our ethical values. A lot of people in the country value money and other material things far and above integrity, self-respect and self-dignity. And so, they will do anything, no matter how shameful, to acquire them.
A teacher once made an analogy of two families, one has four members and the other was a family of 11 people. Both families were given N200,000 each to spend for a month. According to her, half way into the month, the family of four almost exhausted their money and could hardly pull through till the end while the other family of nine comfortably made do with the amount they had and even had some balance. What was their secret? Prioritisation and prudent management.
Therefore, it is not so much about how much we make through our salaries, begging and other means but how we manage the money. There is hardly anybody in the country today that is not feeling the economic bite and the only thing that will help everybody both the low- and high-income earners is to set their priorities right and learn how to live within their income instead of hoping on tips from some “big men and women” and doing all kinds of ridiculous things to attract their attention and the crumb. And we forget that the so-called big men most times also have loads of financial responsibilities.
On the national level, we also have to consider the damaging impact of official begging and do something about it. Obviously, taking little tips from people would make officials skimp on their responsibilities, thereby making some unscrupulous elements have their way, exposing the country to avoidable vulnerability.
It is, therefore, imperative we must begin to build a new ethos that places emphasis on self-respect and dignity of labour. As part of the country’s 60th Independence celebration, the National Ethics and Integrity Policy was launched. It contains the nation’s core values of Human Dignity, Voice and Participation, Patriotism, Personal Responsibilities, Integrity, National Unity and Professionalism. All these values and how they will be practised to make for a better country and more cordial relationship among the citizens are thoroughly spelt out.
For instance, section 4.5.2.5, talks about Honour under Integrity states, “We shall at all times maintain uprightness of character, personal integrity and pride in ourselves as individuals, as one community, and as one nation. Therefore, in all spheres of life, we shall do what is demanded by our common values and laws that we hold to be true, in accordance with our national identity and in accordance with the values enshrined in our national laws and practices as one country. As Nigerians, we shall stand up to challenge those vices that impede the pursuit of our existence with uprightness. We shall celebrate those Nigerians who are upright”.
But then the big questions are: how many Nigerians are aware of this policy? What efforts are being made to educate the citizens on these core values? We have the National Orientation Agency, the Ministry of Information at various tiers of government, what are they doing to educate people about this code of conduct so that the people internalise it and make it a true guide for the citizens,
It is not enough that time, energy and resources were spent in packaging the booklet, let adequate sensitisation be carried out, using the media, both conventional and social media and other means of communication to reach to people at every nook and cranny of the country because many Nigerians are losing it when it comes to integrity and the time to get them back on the right track is now.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Shape Of Things To Come

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In monitoring and surveillance activities, there are two abbreviations that are given priority attention, namely: STC and DEWS, which stand for Shape of Things to Come and Distant Early Warning Signs. From aviation, to health and security industries, shape of things to come and distant early warning system are taken seriously, with appropriate precautionary measures sought and put in place immediately such alert features. Whatever may be the nature of issues concerned, various activities and organisations put precautionary measures in place, and people given some orientation on how to respond to alert.
The Tide, Friday, January 7, 2022, Opinion: Page 9, “That Buhari’s Interview”, by Calista Ezeaku, contained more information than an average reader would grasp. A President’s interview with a television house is obviously not a domestic affair, hence there was a detection and comment about “a close-minded approach to serious national issues”. It was not enough also that someone would say: “From the economy, to insecurity, killings of innocent farmers by terrorists … and other sundry issues, President Buhari honoured his calling as a president who has nothing new to offer”.
It is needful to add that the task of managing affairs that affect millions of people demands that when such a manager has nothing new to offer, what would follow should be an honourable resignation from the task. With regards to the tenure and performance of Buhari, distant early warning signals had long been ignored, denied or distorted, such that one man’s interests can override and become more important than those of millions of people who must bear the brunts of political amnesia.
Management failures do not always arise from wrong decisions and policies, but more often from the intrigues and shenanigans hatched and padded into a management system by a cabal or sapiental authority are not answerable to the masses but always cause great harms for which they are rarely held accountable, nor would the big boss have the courage to dismiss or detach himself from such political parasites. The result of this system of political administration is the installation of weak institutions and structures.
This is why a public analyst would observe and say that “all the abuses of powers by the governors are possible because of the flawed electoral system in the country”. From the refusal to allow for a state police as a complement to the federal police, to the lethargy involved in introducing a fraud-free electoral process, there are parallel forces in government that would not allow leakages and flaws in the system to be closed or checked effectively.
When “administrative banditry” becomes institutionalised, the result would be the situation which we experience currently in Nigeria. Since this anomalous situation had been going on, long enough for more and more Nigerians to know the tricks, it would not be hard to predict the nature of mass reaction to the malpractices. Especially when each federating unit which should be independent and able to have state police and manage indigenous resources cannot be allowed to do so, it is easy to see the shape of things to come in the near future.
For the information of obtuse members of the Nigerian ruling elite and the groups or institutions that shield and protect them in their malpractices, there are glaring signals that the Nigerian masses are wiser now. Even if new tricks are introduced to create a semblance of change from the old system, that would not be enough to avert the shape of things to come. There was a distant early warning signal that the movement of cattle and herders Southwards was a ploy to pursue some hidden agenda.
To quote Mrs Ezeaku again: “It is also worrisome that in this age, the president still believes that establishment of grazing routes would solve the persistent problem of farmers-herders clashes in the country”. Rather than admit that there was a definite hostility against farming communities in Southern parts of Nigeria by herdsmen, President Buhari told American audience that the issue was a cultural one, rather than acts of terrorism. Check all the antics and shenanigans, from Ruga to the quest for allocation of land and huge donations to patrons of cattle business in Nigeria by the federal government, it is easy for anyone to see and read the “handwriting on the wall”.
To have a mindset that all Nigerians can be fooled and bamboozled all the time, would be to cultivate “a close-minded approach to serious national issues. The worsening state of insecurity in Nigeria requires a more broad-minded approach to address the challenge. Not a few Nigerians suspect a possible re-enactment of the Afghan/Taliban experience in Nigeria, whereby a section of our security forces can be described as complicit. General T. Y. Danjuma raised such alarm long ago.
Recently, a Nigerian professor was quoted as picking holes with the observance of New Year on the ground that it is associated with Christian calendar. The idea is that since Islam has a different calendar and new year, the Julian Calendar introduced in 46 B.C. by Julius Caesar, with 365 days in the year, should cease to be. The other alternative would be to recognise and observe the Islamic calendar alongside. Already, there is a similar move to make Friday a work-free day, like Sunday.
There are a few zealots and fanatics carrying these issues too far, to the extent of sponsoring terrorism as an act of proselytism, with recognition and implementation of Sharia law as a mission. This is where the influence of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) needs to be examined, to ensure that democracy and secularism are not placed in jeopardy.
There are glaring pitfalls which Nigeria must strive to avoid, if the nation must survive current challenges. There is a need to re-organise the security and intelligence organs of the nation, revisit the issue of the true federalism and ensure that no ethnic group or power bloc boasts of being Born to Rule. There is more to the glib talks about corruption than what we put emphasis on. To allow current imbalances and inequities to continue would be chaotic!

By: Bright Amirize

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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