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Editorial

No To Proposed Telecoms Tariff Hike

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Telecommunications consumers in Nigeria may need to constrict their belts in the days ahead as the Federal Government has completed plans to impose a five per cent excise duty on all telecommunications services ranging from calls, SMS, and data services.
The Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, disclosed this at a stakeholders’ forum on implementation of excise duty on telecommunications services in Nigeria in Abuja. The event was organised by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). Since the disclosure, Zainab has been pressing that the scheme must be implemented as proposed despite opposition by stakeholders.
According to reports, the five per cent will be added to the already existing 7.5 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on telecommunications services. Zainab said the five per cent excise duty is a provision in the Finance Act 2020 but was not carried out. She attributed the delay of its implementation to government’s engagement with stakeholders. The proposed tax, if enforced, will increase impost in the sector to a total of 12.5 per cent.
Like many other countries around the world, Nigeria’s economy has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, insecurity and the recent ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. A recession is imminent, food shortages are looming, chronic oil theft continues to compound the problem, leaving the mono economy huffing and puffing.
The 36 state governors have chimed the alarm that they may not be able to pay workers’ salaries in the coming months because of the fast depleting income in the federation accounts. Following these concerns and more, the Finance Minister has seen telecommunications as a sub-sector with the magic wand to save the collapsing economy. The Federal Government must realise that Nigeria’s fiscal challenge is not generaion but reckless expenditure.
The present economic realities in the country render the introduction of such taxes unrealistic and insensitive. The Finance Minister should pay very close attention to the comments of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof Isa Pantami, who described the proposed tax as “ill-timed”. Pantami deserves commendation for being on the side of the masses who are suffering the worst economic policies in the history of the country.
At the maiden edition of the Nigerian Telecommunications Indigenous Content Expo (NTICE) organised by the NCC in Lagos, Pantami said he had not been informed officially about the proposed excise duty and promised to challenge the decision. This is an indication that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is working at cross purposes. Although the government will make about N165 billion annually from the tax regime, the decision will impoverish millions of Nigerians.
Excise taxes are usually imposed to discourage the consumption of certain goods such as alcohol and tobacco. In a digitized world, increased taxes on telecommunication services like calls and data will inhibit social interaction and the provision of goods and services. This will adversely affect learning as many institutions now conduct lectures through online channels. It will also limit access to information and participation.
Our standpoint on the mooted tax is consistent with Pantami’s perspective. We reject it because it is insensitive and coming at the wrong time. The scheme would negatively impact the sector. Having observed the immense contribution of the telecom industry to the economy, we urge the Federal Government to rescind the decision forthwith. Such imposition would further aggravate the agony of the Nigerian masses who have already been shoved into adversity and intense poverty.
Similarly, major stakeholders in the sector are kicking against the initiative. The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS) are together indisposed to the plan, describing it as anti-people, provocative, strange, insensitive and irresponsible.
Furthermore, the suggested new tax regime is a bizarre idea and a unique development as it is being introduced amid 39 disparate taxes payable by the telecom operators in the country. Certainly, this new tax burden would be passed on to subscribers. Globally, excise duty is charged on goods and products. We are thunderstruck and at a loss as to why this is on services. That is not the case with many other countries.
Rather than saddle Nigerians with manifold taxes, the Federal Government should activate other sources to address the current economic challenges, alarming unemployment, plummeting exchange rate and financial hardship on the citizens. The economy is at its lowest ebb as the purchasing power of Nigerians has dwindled in the face of galloping inflation. Basic domestic commodities, power, energy, and transportation are unreachable for the average Nigerian.
If the five per cent duty tax is put into effect, it is conjectured that it could cost several jobs and lead to a crucial contraction in the sector. The ripple effect could be ill-fated to Nigerians who are burdened with numerous taxations. The government should discontinue the measure, dialogue with stakeholders and find long term solutions to revenue shortfalls in the country, not by frequent resort to desperate quick-fix solutions.
Granted the government needs money, but taxing the telecom sector should not be the only pathway it always seeks to explore. The sector already contributes a lot to the Nigerian economy, and adding more taxes could impact its growth negatively. It will virtually raise tariffs with no direct advantages for either the subscribers or operators. Perhaps, it is time the government began to contemplate taxing other sectors of the economy that are not contributing to national development.

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Editorial

For Peace In The M’East

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Tensions in the Middle East have been a cause for concern for decades now. The region has been plagued by conflicts, violence, and instability, with countries such as Israel, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria being at the centre of many disputes. The failure to resolve these concerns may have devastating consequences for the people living in the region. It also has what it takes to escalate into much larger encounters.
If the international community fails to act swiftly to end the hostilities, there is a real risk that a Third World War might ensue. The clashes in the region are perplexing and passionately rooted in historical, religious, and political distinctions. The inability to address these underlying matters and uncover peaceful solutions has only fueled the fire of discord and contentions among the nations involved.
The Middle East is a crucial geopolitical region, with significant reserves of oil and natural resources, as well as being a hotbed of religious and cultural diversity. The fracas in the region has far-reaching socioeconomic aftereffects. Any intensification in the brunt could have widespread upshot for global security, trade, and stability.
No one should take the probability of a Third World War arising from the region lightly. The use of nuclear weapons, the involvement of major world powers, and the potential for an expansive regional conflagration could have catastrophic backlash. The international community must unite to address the root causes of the apprehensions in the region and work towards sustainable solutions.
The ongoing feud between Iran and Israel suggests that there may be challenging days ahead for international peace. It is troubling that what started with Israel’s offensive on Iran’s consular building in Syria on 1st April may not end with Tehran’s Operation True Promise. The bombing in Damascus, which killed at least two top Iranian generals, resulted in the first-ever direct strikes launched against Israel from Iranian territory. The Jewish State’s recent reprisal for the Iranian onslaught may open a new vista in the conflict.
During the intrusion, Iran reportedly launched more than 300 missiles and drones. Almost all were annihilated by Israel’s air defences, augmented by forces from the United States, United Kingdom and Jordan. The Iranians had made their intentions clear, giving Israel and its allies time to prepare themselves, and quickly issued a statement at the United Nations in New York that their retaliation was over.
With the current war in Gaza between Israel and Palestinians, there are fears that the region is on the brink of an all-out war, with conceivably fatal aftermath. This is a defining moment in the Middle East. That is why it is right for world leaders to pressure Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to exhibit restraint. Then both Israel and Hamas could engage in talks to free Israeli hostages and end hostilities.
In addition to the Israel-Palestine strife, the civil wars in Syria and Yemen have further exacerbated the crisis in the region. The fray has resulted in massive deracination of people, extirpation of infrastructure, and loss of lives. The international community must seek a political solution to these inessential wars and provide humanitarian abetment to those affected by the violence.
Moreover, the rise of extremist groups such as ISIS has also destabilised the region, posing a threat to global security. Nations in the locale and beyond should interface and combat terrorism and extremism. A coordinated effort is required to address the very causes of the commination, such as poverty, lack of education, and political marginalisation. Clearly, the status quo in the bailiwick is unsustainable. A new approach is vital to end the dire straits in the region.
Intense diplomatic endeavours, dialogue, and cooperation are cardinal in resolving the impasse in that portion of the world. The use of military force or unilateral actions will only further escalate the situation and increase the risk of a larger conflict. It is time for all parties involved to set aside their disparities, and build a stable future for the Middle East.
Global amity is indispensable for the well-being of all individuals and nations. It is the foundation upon which sustainable development, economic prosperity, and human rights can thrive. The United Nations was established with the primary goal of advancing peace and security among countries, and it is obligatory that the organisation achieves this objective.
Super powers should animate collaboration and diplomacy to attain harmony. These nations have the wherewithal to make necessitous strides in promoting stability and security on a global scale if they set aside political dissimilarities and focus on common goals. Through open communication and mutual respect, super power countries can lead by example and inspire other nations to follow suit in creating a more nonbelligerent world for present and future generations.
Efforts must be made to avert a Third World War. Its idea is deeply disturbing and contentious. It is one that evokes fear, uncertainty, and global disquietude. The possibility of such a cataclysmic event occurring is something that many would rather not think about, yet the signs and anxieties among countries are becoming increasingly apparent. States must be vigilant, proactive, and committed to building a better future for the world.

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Editorial

Governor’s Pension Law Repeal, Otti’s Example 

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Abia State’s decision to repeal the governor’s pension law is a momentous move towards cutting down on
the expenses of governance and focusing on the welfare of pensioners in the State, who were last paid in 2014. Governor Alex Otti’s bold action in overturning this law demonstrates a dedication to financial prudence and transparency. This resolve will help in reducing the financial burden on the State.
Pension for governors and their deputies has been a contentious topic in Nigeria, with concerns raised about the ethics and morality of providing lifetime benefits to public officials who may only serve a limited term in office. Abia State has taken a bold step by repealing this law, setting a positive example for other States to follow. This move has sparked a much-needed conversation about the need for accountability and responsible governance in the country.
Governor Otti’s argument for repealing the governor’s pension law to alleviate the financial burden on the State and address the issue of unpaid pensions for Abia’s retirees is compelling. By prioritising the needs of the people over political considerations, Governor Otti is demonstrating strong leadership and a commitment to serving the best interests of the citizens.
The Abia State Governors and Deputy Governors Pension (Repeal) Law of 2024 has been widely reproached for its excessive provisions for former office holders. Not only does the law guarantee former governors and former deputy governors 100 per cent of the operative salary of their successors, but it also includes the provision of three police officers and two Department of State Services officers for life. Additionally, the State is responsible for paying for their domestic staff and building mansions for them in both their home State and in Abuja.
Proponents of these benefits assert that they are necessary to ensure that former governors are appropriately provided for after their tenure in office. They maintain that these benefits are in line with the sacrifices and responsibilities that come with holding a public office. Furthermore, supporters of the entitlements contend that these provisions are intended to attract qualified individuals to compete for gubernatorial positions, with the assurance that their welfare will be looked after once they leave office.
Despite efforts to eliminate these schemes in some States, about 18 States still retain pension for their former leaders, which many Nigerians view as a form of political hedonism. Zamfara set a precedent in 2019 by eliminating its pension law, signaling a shift away from the traditional practice of providing lucrative benefits to former governors and their deputies. Many other States continue to operate this practice, allowing former leaders to receive substantial pension and other perks even after leaving office.
In 2020, both Lagos and Kwara States announced their intentions to scrap their pension laws, acknowledging the increasing public outcry over the issue. Kwara went a step further by officially abrogating the law in January, 2021, demonstrating a commitment to reforming the system and promoting accountability. Meanwhile, Lagos took a more gradual approach by reducing the benefits for former leaders by 50 per cent in August , 2021. This move was perceived as a compromise between completely abolishing the scheme and maintaining the status quo.
According to the World Poverty Clock and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria has been listed as the poverty capital of the world, with millions of people living in extreme poverty. The fact that States would continue to record more ex-office holders after every tenure only adds to the financial strain of these pension schemes. With the number of former office holders increasing each year, the costs associated with their pension become unsustainable for many States.
The funds that could be allocated towards alleviating poverty and improving infrastructure are instead being spent on providing lavish retirement benefits for a select few. The current pension schemes for ex-governors in Nigeria are not sustainable in the long term, especially in the face of the present economic realities. Reforms are needed to ensure that public funds are used more efficiently and effectively, and that the needs of the most vulnerable in society are given preference over the comfort of former government officials.
Pension for former governors often result in the enrichment of the wealthy elite at the expense of the struggling masses. These politicians typically only served in office for a maximum of eight years, yet, they are able to secure generous pension that allow them to maintain a life of luxury. Some even go on to hold positions as Ministers or Senators, further perpetuating their unjustified wealth.
Curiously, the 10th National Assembly is home to more than 12 former governors who continue to benefit from these lavish retirement benefits. In stark contrast, many public workers dedicate 35 years of their lives to serving the public and the government, only to receive meagre pension or sometimes none at all. Tragically, some pensioners pass away before ever receiving the benefits they are owed.
Other States should look to Abia State as a model for promoting democratic values and accountability. The active participation of civil society organisations, pressure groups, taxpayers, and activists is critical in upholding the principles of democracy and ensuring that the government is accountable to the people. The scandalous pension laws that have been passed in many States are not only unjust but also a detriment to the democratic process.
Nigerians should engage with their legislators and demand the immediate annulment of these obnoxious laws that serve to enrich a select few at the expense of the public. Citizens can help ensure that their voices are heard and that their rights are protected by actively participating in the legislative process and holding their representatives accountable. Abia is a constant reminder that democracy is a continuous process that requires the active involvement of all.

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Editorial

Enough Of Legislative Rascality In Rivers

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The political deadlock in Rivers State is showing no sign of abating, with the State House of Assembly voting once more to nullify Governor Siminalayi Fubara’s veto of the Rivers State Assembly Service Commission Bill. This is in addition to the one that occurred in January, when the legislators went against some of the governor’s decisions about four other bills, claiming it could cause chaos and violate certain laws.
The four bills include the Rivers State Local Government Law (Amendment) Bill; Rivers State Traditional Rulers’ Law (Amendment) Bill; Rivers State Advertisement and Use of State-owned Property Prohibition (Repeal) Bill and Rivers State House of Assembly Fund Management Bill. Unlike before, the amendment to the Assembly Service Commission Law now permits the Assembly to appoint the chairman and members of the Commission, not the governor.
But legal experts say that the amended law violates the 1999 Constitution, which prohibits the Assembly from overstepping the governor’s authority to appoint the chairman and other members of the Commission. If that position is accurate, then the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission (Amendment) Law, 2024, is legally void. The question is: why is Rivers State different if the President, working with the National Assembly, nominates members of the National Assembly Service Commission?
In yet another controversial move, the State Assembly has passed a bill to amend the Rivers State Public Procurement (Amendment) Law No. 1 of 2021. The bill, which was put forward at the 127th sitting, aimed to delete Section 3 of the 2021 Amendment Law to limit mobilisation fees to suppliers or contractors to not more than 20 per cent. We condemn this ill-motivated enactment, as the same Assembly had previously amended the law in 2021 to allow for 100 per cent payment of mobilisation fees to contractors.
While the House maintains that the laws are intended to bring more balance of power, we perceive it as an audacious endeavour to humiliate the governor and diminish his position. This power contest between the legislative and executive arms is unsettling and detrimental to the state. It is incomprehensible why the same Assembly members failed to challenge any bills during former Governor Nyesom Wike’s tenure, which period they also served as lawmakers.
We advise the state lawmakers to be wary of their actions and always prioritise the well-being of Rivers people by operating collaboratively with Governor Fubara. They should set aside their deep-rooted prejudices and concentrate on enacting good legislation to benefit the citizens. We insist that the governor should be allowed to administer the state freely in line with his constitutional mandate to ensure stability and progress in the state.
It is time for our renegade legislators to pay attention to their duties and not allow their paymaster to manipulate them for his narcissistic purposes. We find it disappointing to see those in power succumb to high-level corruption and disregard the people’s needs because of politics. What we need now is unity and cooperation, not the constant harassment of Fubara to create tension and division.
When individuals who are supposed to uphold the law and safeguard the people’s interests are being used as pawns in a murky political game, it is a sad state of affairs. The lawmakers need to understand that they owe it to the people of Rivers State to buck any attempts to jeopardise their integrity and independence. The trust of the people they represent is undermined by letting themselves be controlled, which also erodes their credibility.
Repealing and re-enacting laws without careful consideration by these lawgivers is reckless and unacceptable. Their actions could cause a crisis in the state, making governance more challenging. They need to understand that any problem they ignite will not only affect the general public but also themselves and their loved ones. That is why the legislators must contemplate the repercussions of the laws they revoke or make and how such statuses will impact their interests and all residents of the state.
Speaker Martins Amaewhule and his cohorts are pushing the boundaries of their rascality too far. After elections, politics in most states ends, allowing for genuine governance to take over. Unfortunately, this is not the scenario in Rivers, where political turbulence is destroying the state’s economy. If these parliamentarians truly cared about the state in which interest they have always claimed to act, they would end the ardent political imbroglio and unnecessary power struggles causing divisions and increased insecurity
Political tenseness in a state can sidetrack the attention of the government away from enforcing impressive policies to tackle challenges and promote progress. It is estimated that Rivers State has lost about N2 trillion in public sector investments over the past 12 years due to unrest in the political arena. Numerous projects valued at over N1.91 trillion have been impeded, along with other economic activities that could have profited many.
Some of the losses include the N250 billion bond approved in 2010 to build listed projects. However, a political dire straits in 2012 compelled the state to resort to bridging loans from commercial banks, as opposed to Lagos State that took bonds. The World Bank water project, that was supposed to transform Port Harcourt into a modern city, was allegedly not endorsed by the Goodluck Jonathan administration following political upheavals in the state.
To transform Port Harcourt into a fast and efficient transportation centre, the government invested over N20 billion in the monorail project. However, once Wike became the governor, he abandoned it. Former Governor Chibuike Amaechi used to set aside N100 billion each year for the Greater Port Harcourt City project, but Wike, following political disagreements with his predecessor, neglected it and instead used it as a means to reward his supporters. The unstable political climate prevented the realisation of these public sector investments, which could have greatly expanded the state’s economy.
Rivers people are indeed fed up with waking up every day to distressing news from the political space. Amaewhule and his troublesome allies must be told that enough is enough. The inept lawmakers should put aside their personal interests and those of their principal and work with Governor Fubara, who has been brandishing the olive branch to advance the state. Rivers State needs peace and development.

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