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That Needless Hijab Controversy

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Considering the numerous problems that citizens in the country are grappling with currently, one would have thought that an inconsequential issue like wearing of hijab to school or otherwise should be the last thing on their mind right now. People are being killed every day, the economy is biting harder, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is threatening to embark on yet another strike, the quality of education in Nigeria keeps going down and what some are worried about is who wears whatever clothes to school?
Last week, the lingering controversy over the use or otherwise of hijab by female students in government-funded missionary schools in Kwara State reared its ugly head again with some students of Baptist High School, Ijagbo, in Oyun Local Government Area taking to the streets to protest the use of hijab. The fracas that ensued reportedly claimed one life and left several others injured.
A similar thing happened last year as Muslim and Christian parents in one of the affected schools clashed during a protest, hauling objects at themselves after female Muslim students in hijab were denied entry to the school.
It is disheartening how family members, friends, colleagues and playmates will turn enemies within a twinkle of an eye and start fighting and wounding each other over some negligible thing like clothing. A religious head covering has now become a reason to kill and maim. But have the parents, religious leaders and those in authority in Kwara State stopped to ask what this unnecessary fight is doing to the psyche of these young ones? Have they pondered on the future relationship between these teenagers if in these early days of their lives they are being made to know that there is a difference between Christians and Muslims and that they should not coexist?
Often, we lament about how fractured the country has become. Ethnicity, tribalism, are now the order of the day. We want to remain one indivisible entity, yet by our actions and speeches, we constantly pass a different message to the younger ones. I have a Christian friend whose neighbour is a Muslim. They both have children of the same age bracket. These women forbid their children from relating with children of other religions and tribes in the compound. But behold, at the slightest opportunity, when their parents are away, you will hear “Mary, Aisha, David, Nazir come let us go and play.” That is how pure their minds are. But we adults keep spoiling them.
On the issue at hand, it has been allegations and counter allegations between the Christian leaders and the Kwara State Government over who and what started the controversy and the ownership of those schools. “All the schools are government controlled and fully funded, they are not Christian schools”, Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara State was recently quoted as saying, “No doubt, the schools were started by missionaries in Kwara State but in 1974, Yakubu Gowon’s government passed a decree taking over all the schools in the state, so, the missionaries lost schools to states. Kwara State took over the schools but out of sentiment, did not change the names of the schools like most other states did. So, when the hijab issue came up in some schools, they went to court and it was ruled that the students who wish to wear the hijab, could do so. Any private school can have their own uniform and insist on what their students must wear but female students in government schools can wear their hijab, that’s what the court said”, he added.
The governor insisted that he had nothing against Christians, but that the state was only obeying the court’s ruling; that the schools were no longer owned by the missionaries although they retained their names.
On the other hand, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kwara State chapter, continues to lay claim on the government-funded mission schools, claiming that it never signed any agreement with the state government allowing the use of hijab in all the grant-aided schools.
Speaking through their state Acting Chairman, Bishop Samson Adewole, CAN, said, “we reiterate for the umpteenth time that at no time did Kwara CAN and stakeholders sign/concede to any agreement or policy with the Kwara State Government on the use of hijab as it is being claimed by the government. The usage of hijab in Christian Missions schools in Ilorin metropolis was forcefully implemented and imposed.”
The association attributed last week’s crisis at Oyun Baptist High School (OBHS) Ijagbo to the government’s delay in responding to CAN’s appeal that the state government should intervene in the crisis brewing there.
Apparently, there is more to this issue than meets the eye.  But some of the questions that are begging for answers are: what were the terms of the government takeover of these mission schools?  Were the original owners allowed some rights over the administration of the schools? If it was a partial takeover or a sort of partnership arrangement where the two parties have distinct roles to play, then CAN’s insistence that no female student should wear a head covering to school would make more sense.
But if going by the government’s account that those schools in question are now totally government owned, meaning that the government now calls the shots then I do not see the logic in the original owners of these institutions insisting that they must have their way in the ongoing hijab controversy and in other issues for that matter. Yes, as former owners who invested so much in the schools, the government may consult them on certain issues but the government is not obligated to abide by their suggestions. Anyway, the good thing is that the matter is now at the Supreme Court. We wait anxiously to see how it pans out.
Be that as it may, what is needed in Kwara State now is peace and tranquility. Kwara State is rated as one of the few states in Nigeria where religion was never an issue. Members of the two dominant religions related very well and that should not change now because of something as insignificant as a head covering. But the needed peace cannot be gotten if the two parties in this conflict are not willing to shift grounds.  If the government’s claim that those schools are now public schools is anything to go by, then the former owners should consider allowing the government’s wishes to prevail.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

 Unemployment: Have We Lost It In Nigeria?

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Since the advent of democratic rule in 1999, one challenge that does not seem to go away in a hurry is the cross-cutting and often depressing issues of unemployment. The solar plexus of every macro economy is job creation as an instrument of poverty reduction and wealth creation. Year after year, budgets are passed and monies are appropriated, yet not much is seen in the aspect of industrialisation and employment generation. So many university graduates search for jobs eight years after they are done with national service. The rate of unemployment in Nigeria is so high that even the social cost of the menace is crippling. The lack of industrialisation and promotion of empowerment through  rejuvenation of small and medium scale enterprises, SMEs, is the reason the Buhari administration has embarked on some phoney social investment programmes such as N-power, start-up loans and school feeding programmes , which to say the least, are merely scratching the problem on the surface.
If the National Bureau of statistics put the unemployment figure at 33.3per cent, then the real figure could be much higher than 37per cent.The statistics are really bad. The National Bureau of statistics shows that 2014, 2015 to 2016, unemployment rate was 4.56per cent, 4.31per cent and 7.06per cent respectively. It was projected that in 2021, unemployment rate would hit 40per cent. For a nation eager to develop key sectors of the economy, the scourge of unemployment not only poses a serious economic threat; it also triggers security threat to the stability of the nation. Unemployment is characterised by financial hardship, poverty, reduction of family income and increase in dependency ratio.
The causes of unemployment in Nigeria are not far-fetched. Nigeria is blessed with abundant human and material resources, but successive administrations have crippled the economy by mismanaging the resources. Apart from being the poverty capital of the world, Nigeria is one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Besides, our policy makers have always adopted the wrong approach to job creation. Added to the aforementioned is the poor investment climate in the country. There is dearth of physical infrastructure, power supply,  good roads and adequate security infrastructure. Rural unemployment is mainly caused by frictional and residual factors. Most rural dwellers do not have the requisite skills and competence to manipulate economic processes.
In a country where so much of the educated population is killed, the rural folks who have no skills remain unemployed. Some people also decide to engage in occupations that can enable them sustain their households. Even when such people secure paid employments, they can voluntarily choose not to work. Seasonal unemployment occurs when people get employed during a period when certain economic activities heighten. Such people are laid off as soon as the season is over. Recently, the main cause of unemployment is the global economic crisis. This is also caused by neglect of technical and vocational education. Worse still is the neglect of agriculture which was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy in the first two decades after independence.
During the Second Republic,  President Shehu Shagari introduced the Green Revolution Programme. Prior to that, the Obasanjo military junta initiated the Operation Feed the Nation programme in 1978. Instead of making Nigeria to move towards self-sufficiency, the country imported more food. The bane of these programmes was corruption in the executive organ of government. The programmes died without changing the narrative.Unemployment has had debilitating impact on people and the economy of the Nigeria nation. So many people who have been trained to acquire high caliber manpower are wasted.
Today, so many trained pharmacists, nurses, engineers and other para-professionals are wasted or under-employed because of lack of vacancies. No economy can grow with huge aspect of its manpower being wasted. Qualified manpower is brain-drained out of the country in search for greener pastures. The feeling of hopelessness among the unemployed youths lead to despair and triggers deviance, crimes and insecurity in most urban areas in Nigeria are yet to contend with the rising spate of urban crime and its attendant negative effects. In Nigeria today because of social insecurity, the rank and file of terrorism and insurgency is populated by youths, some of them, highly educated.
There is also the challenge of low standard of living and rural- urban migration.When a huge number of youths are unemployed, the country loses a lot of tax revenue and this hinders the development of infrastructure.In the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria, unemployment heightens militancy, oil bunkering and violence associated with those activities. Similarly, in the Sahel region, it triggers farmer/herders clashes and banditry. Nigeria must use labour-intensive technology. There is need to accelerate investment in agriculture as the sector is a major source of employment and food security. No sector of the economy can provide jobs like the agriculture sector and its value chain.
Agro-allied industries are the major employers of labour in Australia, India and Canada. Nigeria provides a good climate for agro-industrialisation and diversification. The same goes to adequate investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and strategically training and employing graduates in the sector. ICT is second to oil in terms of foreign exchange. Nigeria has the advantage of population to provide market for any ICT product. It has become dear that ephemeral programmes such as N-Power, school feeding programme and other social investment ventures cannot endure because they have low penetration to affect the critical mass of those who have skills but are unemployed.
Government must evolve a policy regime through the intensification of techno- vocational education to increase the capacity of the economy to absorb millions of unemployed Nigerians in the banking, ICT, agriculture, housing and construction sector and the mainstream of the bureaucracy.

By: John Idumange

Idumange is a public intellectual.

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Opinion

Jonathan Caught The Joke

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When it was speculated in some quarter that former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan would vie for presidency on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), I considered such sentiment a mere figment of imagination. While everyone has a latitude and liberty to speculate, some of which may translate to reality, I did not need a prophet or a superior argument to convince me that former President Jonathan will never accept  any political overture or a presidential ticket, even if offered to him on a platter of gold, seamlessly and unconditionally from President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC).
The reasons are not far-fetched: Never had any Nigerian president or head of state, living or dead, suffered sarcastic and ignoble criticism from the opposition as the ebullient and peacemaker, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The criticism was so disparaging that even kinsmen and those who meant well for him preferred he should relinquish power to the blood thirsty and desperate “monkeys and bamboons” who were poised to wrest power inordinately. Unprintable comments were made about him and cartoons depicting a “dead” and ineffective government littered most western print media.
By his political antecedents, it is pertinent to state without fear of contradiction, that Dr. Jonathan could not be so desperate to forget in a hurry, the sordid spectacle of the recent past, an orgy that whoopped up sentiment capable of breaking this country. Strong advocates for Jonathan and his administration were ready for a show down.
Taking into cognisance the ugly scenario that played out about seven years ago, it is only the undiscerning mind that will eat with the devil with a long spoon. Nobody starts to use the left hand in old age, therefore even a consensual offer of the presidential candidacy by the All Progressives Congress smacks something sinister and unhealthy to Dr.  Goodluck Jonathan and the entire South-South region and Southern States. No gift from the enemy is actually free. Gifts make a way for the giver, Jonathan I believe is aware of this maxim, so did the needful by declining acceptance of the offer from the unfriendly “friend” from the Northern region.
Dr. Jonathan has an image to protect and should not allow the desperation of those in power to perpetuate party in presidency and shortchange the South in rotation equation, to rubbish his globally recognised reputation and integrity, built over the years. The scheme of the political marauders was a big joke and an “April Fool”. But Jonathan caught the Joke.
It will be recalled that until Monday the 30th March, 2015, when the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flagbearer for the March 28 Presidential Election, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in a  broadcast, conceded defeat to his closest rival, the All Progressives Congress Presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, I have viewed the polity as a self-serving, self-aggrandising game,  a game where moral values are subsumed under politicians’ whims and caprices.
In President Jonathan I found a leader whose love for his fatherland and regard for the sanctity of human life transcend the pecuniary gains associated with power. No doubt, Jonathan is not only the best democrat Nigeria had ever had and the second best in Africa after South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, He lived true and exemplified his avowed commitment to ensure a level-playing field, free and fair elections for all parties and their contestants, broaden the political space and commit to a ‘non fiction’  Independent National Electoral Commission.
At the inception of office on the 29th May, 2011, Jonathan promised  that the indivisibility of Nigeria remained sacrosanct. He said upholding the honour and glory of Nigeria was his mantra.
By congratulating Muhammadu Buhari on his purported victory at the 2015 Presidential Elections even in controversial circumstances sufficient to truncate the process and anul result, President Jonathan has kept faith with lyrics of the  National Anthem and National Pledge and proved beyond reasonable doubt that he is a statesman par excellence, a man of integrity. No doubt, Jonathan commands sterling leadership qualities worthy of emulation. A man of integrity who can find in the political space. In Dr. Jonathan is the answer,  marking him out as an exceptional leader in democratic governance in Nigeria.
Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry the wanton destruction of lives and properties in the Northern  Nigeria following the declaration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as winner of the April 2011 Presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission. The then Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), whose presidential flag-bearer at the time was Muhammadu Buhari, had alleged wide scale malpractice and had contested the credibility and transparency of the election and validity of Dr. Jonathan’s emergence as winner.
And by his unguided utterances, part of which was, “the baboons and monkeys will be soaked in blood” Buhari instigated  unwarranted and unprovoked killing of innocent Nigerians in the North including National Youth Service Corp members.
I had expected President Buhari who by his actions called for the conflagration of Nigeria because he lost election, to show a sense of remorse and apologise to Nigerians and families of those who lost their loved ones in politically motivated killings.. I am still waiting for Buhari to apologise for sabotaging the administration of Dr. Jonathan through complicity in security breaches and the attendant colossal financial and manpower losses which is haunting his administration today.
But President Jonathan has at several fora unequivocally stated that no blood of any Nigerian is worth his political ambition. What a humane, God-fearing, selfless and conscientious leader!
By the prompt and timely acceptance of the 2015 Presidential elections,’ result as announced by INEC,   President Jonathan doused the premonition of crisis and unpleasant euphoria  that characterised  release of results and declaration of Buhari as winner especially when some electronic media organisations captured under-aged voting scenario in the North.
The political scenario in Africa shows  it is  difficult to unseat a serving president. For the first time in Nigeria, Jonathan proved that saying wrong . Consequently, he made the electorate to have a flicker of hope on INEC.
Recall that it was  for the reason of self-perpetuation that Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida annulled the june 12, 1993 presidential election of Moshood Kashimawo Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who was the acclaimed winner of that election hence the change of democracy day from May 29 to June 12.  It was also for the same reason that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo instituted a process to review the constitution to accommodate a third term.
It is easier to assume power than to abdicate it because “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. For the petty and mean, leaving power is as painful as a leap into the dark or worse still, tottering on the brink of death when life is at its best.
I see the God element in Jonathan, that though he has the power to truncate the process and damn the consequences, decided to decrease for Nigeria to continue to survive as a nation.
It takes only the likes of Jonathan with a nationalistic and patriotic spirit to accept the outcome of highly flawed presidential election with a sense of decorum, rather than making inciting and inflammatory statements like Buhari did when he lost the 2011 presidential election.

By: Igbiki Benibo

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Opinion

Nigeria: The Need To Address Debt Overhang

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It does not need any rigorous analysis for the world to know that Nigeria has been caught in a labyrinth of debt for the past one and a half decades and still counting. Economists in Nigeria have dispassionately diagnosed the reasons states get involved in a debt peonage.
Most of the factors leading to heavy borrowing bother on the massive expansion of public bureaucracy and the uncontrollable rise in recurrent expenditure. The earlier argument that a decline in oil revenue led to the procurement of foreign loans is no longer tenable .What is perhaps indisputable is that Nigeria depends so much on imports for her economic survival. The over- dependence on imports is a direct result of the nations inability to leverage on the economic potentials that abound in agricultural, solid mineral resources, technology and divestment in the real sectors of the economy. In the past fifteen years, so many multinational corporations also dumped Nigeria in favour of Angola, South Africa and Ghana as preferred investment destinations. The neoliberal explanation is clear.
Nigeria suffers acute infrastructural deficit in terms of power supply, good roads, transportation and more importantly, the recurring security challenge accentuated by insurgency and banditry, has conspired to render the investment climate very unfriendly. There is also the problem of rising unemployment leading to a high dependency ratio, dwindling incomes, a decline in earnings and spiraling inflation. Today, the Naira has been devalued to the point of overkill.
In 2005, Nigeria’s external debt stood at $20.8 billion. By June 2021, Nigeria’s debt had reached $33.5 billion. When the internal debt of N21 trillion is added to the external debt, the total debt stands at N35.5 trillion. Whereas external debt is owed to the IMF, China, the Paris Club and other international financial institutions, domestic debt is sourced from the commercial banks and other financial institutions.
In 2005, under the Obasanjo administration, the Paris Club granted Nigeria a debt relief and the citizenry thought the relief would free-up resources for investment, this was not really the case. Now, Nigeria’s economy has been over-burdened by a huge debt and debt servicing. Recently, most Nigeria’s even past presidents have expressed grave concern that Nigeria’s debt is unsustainable.
As a nation, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indicates that the country is in a deep financial problem. The 2022 budget which has been passed by the National Assembly is predicated on borrowing. The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, has projected that the N16.39trillion budget was based on borrowing, as revenue could barely accommodate services. Obviously, revenue from non-oil sector have not increased as expected.
The projections of 2022 budget would have a deficit of N6.258 trillion and this could be financed by new borrowings of N5.012 trillion draw down on projects-tied Multilateral/Bilateral loans. Verily, Nigeria has been burdened by debt and unless the debt crisis is addressed, it would snowball into a full-scale financial crisis.More than ever, it has become necessary for government to make concerted efforts to invest in agriculture to create employment and maximise its value chain.
Rejuvenating moribund industries like the Ajaokuta and Aladja Steel Rolling Mills will help boost the productive capacity of the economy. In addition, government should take investment in physical infrastructure seriously. This will create a conducive atmosphere for investment. The development of infrastructure such as roads, the rail system, power supply will also attract foreign direct investment with their attendant spillover.
Over the years, there were efforts to reduce the cost of governance by pruning down layers of inefficiency. However, this has not been achieved. Government must as a matter of policy reduce recurrent expenditure by way of consciously reducing the number of ministries, agencies and departments to cut the cost of governance. This can be achieved by merging government MDAs especially agencies that perform similar responsibilities to avoid administrative overlap.
Public procurement rules and principles must be adhered to in order to reduce waste and inefficiency. Government can reduce interest rates to stimulate the economy by generating more tax revenues. Reducing interest rate will make it easier for small scale businessmen to borrow money and invest. The Central Bank of Nigeria can adjust the fiscal and monetary policies to strengthen the exchange rate of the naira in pursuance of job creation and poverty reduction.
Nigeria is undergoing a harrowing experience like a woman undergoing labour pains. There must be a drastic reduction on spending, especially on recurrent expenditure and to increase the capital component of the budget.
As it was under the Obasanjo administration, Nigeria may plead for debt forgiveness but this is also tricky. So much depends on the attitude and character of those running the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, which does remittances of our oil revenues. For politicians, the idea of reducing the cost of governance can be polarising. With our crude oil selling at above $80 per barrel, Nigeria can negotiate a debt buyback with bilateral creditors and allow our recent oil windfall to settle some of the nation’s external debts.
The nation’s debt has reduced both public and private investment. More than ever, there are fewer economic opportunities for Nigerians. Unemployment has increased astronomically and this is a threat to national security. A more enduring strategy for addressing the impending debt crisis is to increase revenues in agriculture, mining of solid mineral resources and other non-oil sectors of the economy.
Nigeria must follow the rugged path of import substitution to promote homegrown products and services to realise sustainable economic growth. The future of the Nigerian nation is mindlessly tied to dead-weight debts, and of course, a borrower is a servant to the lender. In fact a nation in debt is like a real slave, doing the bidding of the creditor.
The political class should not contemplate development without making sincere efforts at reducing the huge debt index of the nation. A nation that is eager to develop must address the challenges of debt crisis, which is capable of undermining policies designed to accelerate economic growth and social progress.
Nigeria must take budget implementation seriously to avoid waste. It is now imperative to cut the cost of governance, exploit the non-oil sector and evolve well thought-out policies to revamp the ailing economy.
We must get out of the debt trap before we trap future generations of Nigerians. However, as more and more loans are being taken by the Federal Government it remains to be seen if Nigeria will wriggle free from this burden.
John is the Executive Director, Human & Environmental Right Dynamic Advocacy Dev. Initiative.

By: Idumange John

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