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2023: Need For Sustained Governance

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike’s admonition to the newly sworn-in Commissioners in the state to recommit themselves to the tasks assigned to them to achieve desired results is apt. The governor spoke while addressing 18 new commissioners during their swearing-in ceremony at the Executive Council Chambers of Government House, Port Harcourt, Wednesday, last week.
Governor Wike observed that because some members of the State Executive Council did not appreciate the enormity of the task given to them, they took to sycophancy while abandoning their duties. “This is the last lap of our administration. We have only seven months to end the tenure of this administration. It is very important for you to understand that you have to double your efforts to make sure that what we have started will be completed.”
This is a timely call as already, many public officeholders at the federal, state, and local government levels have altogether abandoned governance or service delivery and plunged headlong into politicking ahead of the 2023 election cycle. The governor’s clarion call to his new commissioners should trickle down to all strata of government, particularly the federal, while other state governors should follow suit in their respective jurisdictions.
The charge raises several questions concerning governance in the country, especially viewing the many unfinished and abandoned plans and projects. With the onset of the party primaries and later political campaigns, it became apparent that the pace of activities in some ministries, departments, and agencies had slowed, and political officeholders should focus on their immediate responsibilities.
At a time when public confidence in governance in the nation is waning because of the government’s inability to meet its commitments and other reasonable expectations, continued attention is required to the execution of policies and programmes to achieve service delivery goals. Governor Wike specifically emphasised the need for a proper handover to the succeeding administration to be done early and charged the new and old members of his cabinet to ensure the quick conclusion of their reports.
It is unsurprising that despite intense electioneering towards next year’s general election, governance in Rivers has not waned as the governor has been executing and commissioning projects in the state. This is a rare feat that has enhanced the governor’s profile. For this reason, he has continued to receive accolades for his unprecedented achievements in the delivery of impactful projects with candour in the face of glaring challenges.
Rather than quit governance in the short time left, political officeholders including President Muhammadu Buhari can redeem part of their battered image by correcting their misgoverning and the wrongs they have committed against Nigerians and possibly completing several projects as their heritages. This should be devoid of chicanery or false declarations of completion.
Curiously enough, Buhari also recognised the imperatives of sustainable governance regardless of the ongoing campaigns for the 2023 general election. He charged his ministers, permanent secretaries, and heads of government agencies to refrain from abandoning their primary assignments for political campaigns ahead of the 2023 general elections. He accentuated that despite the campaigns, the business of governance must continue to receive the necessary engagement.
But the President should see through his many promises in 2015 and 2019 to improve the fortunes of Nigerians. For example, the administration virtually abandoned the privatisation it promised in its over seven years in office. It can initiate the process before leaving the office. Buhari’s pledge to improve power supply through the Power Transmission Rehabilitation and Expansion Programme, and to raise power generation to 25,000 megawatts in partnership with Germany’s Siemens AG has remained unfulfilled.
The Federal Government’s report card on the four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna is scandalous. Since taking office in 2015, it has wasted N1.3 trillion on moribund refineries. But being in oblivion, the country spends billions of dollars importing refined products and trillions of naira to subsidise the price of imported petrol. The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) said Buhari has so far spent 6.88 trillion naira on subsidies and is on the way to raising it to 10.97 trillion naira.
Many governors are guilty of practically abandoning their official duties to pursue re-election or Senate seats. They must ensure that the business of government continues to receive the needed attention, notwithstanding that the nation has entered the peak period of electioneering campaigns. Guaranteeing that government business remains on course is crucial at this point because of the implication a properly arranged performance has for the transition to another administration.
Governance suffers when governors and other political office holders in the country abdicate their responsibilities for transition politics. It is irresponsible that some states at the centre of insecurity still find time to shine on the national stage while their people are murdered in droves. Those who play the role of political “kingmakers” participate in endless meetings and negotiations outside their bases.
From 1999 to the present, democratic practice in Nigeria has barely lived up to its commitments, whether in terms of representation, popular participation, people-centred planning, distribution and use of resources, security of life and property, or the preservation of fundamental freedoms and liberties. Politicians despise the people and their concerns. This mindset should change. The people themselves should hold public officials accountable through legitimate civic activism and pressure groups.

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Editorial

CBN’s New Cash Withdrawal Limits

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In an obvious move to reposition Nigeria’s national currency, the Naira, for effective performance and control of the amount of cash in circulation, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has introduced new cash withdrawal limits for banks and other financial institutions. The new policy comes on the heels of its recent currency redesign project, in which it expresses concerns about immense amounts of cash outside the banking system.
The directive on the new cash withdrawal limits was contained in the CBN letter dated December 6, 2022, which was addressed to all Deposit Money Banks, and other financial institutions like Payment Service Banks (PSBs), Primary Mortgage Banks (PMBs) and Microfinance Banks (MFBs). The letter was formally endorsed by Mr Haruna Mustafa, Director, Banking Supervision Department, CBN.
Under the new regulations, the Central Bank capped weekly over-the-counter (OTC) cash withdrawals by individuals and business organisations to N100,000 and N500,000, respectively. However, the apex bank states that withdrawals above the threshold will be charged a processing fee of 5% for individuals and 10% for corporate bodies. Also, third-party checks over N50,000 are not eligible for OTC payments, while the existing limit for cleared checks remains at N10 million.
The new cash withdrawal regime further limits maximum cash withdrawals via Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) to N100,000 per week and N20,000 per day. According to the CBN, ATMs can only load denominations of N200 and below, while the maximum amount that can be withdrawn via point-of-sale (POS) terminals is limited to N20,000 per day.
However, the Central Bank declares that in cases of last resort, not more than once a month, if cash withdrawals exceeding the prescribed limit are required for legitimate purposes, the withdrawal amount of individuals and corporate organisations shall not exceed N5 million and N10 million respectively, and shall comply with the referenced processing fee. This would be in addition to enhanced due diligence and further information requirements.
Furthermore, the CBN says that monthly re-runs of cash withdrawal transactions exceeding the prescribed limit should be referred to the banking supervisory authority. While needing to comply with existing Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism regulations related to Know Your Customer (KYC), ongoing customer due diligence and suspicious transaction reporting, among others, are required in all circumstances.
Moreover, the Central Bank encourages bank customers to use alternative channels including Internet Banking, Mobile Banking Apps, USSD, Card/POS, eNaira, etc., for banking transactions. The CBN also warned banks and other financial institutions that aiding and abetting circumvention of the new policy would attract severe sanctions.
Current moves by the CBN point to an effort to curb vote-buying ahead of the 2023 general elections, check and diminish the amount of cash in circulation. It is also aimed at containing the ease by which the Nigerian currency has been counterfeited by criminal gangs. Most significantly, these policies would help the apex bank regain control of excess cash floating in the economy, thereby upscaling the value of the Naira and curbing inflation.
The CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, had revealed in last October that out of N3.23 trillion Naira in circulation, N2.73 trillion was lying outside Nigeria’s banking system. This figure, which represents about 85%, is what the CBN is trying to mop up back into the system to be able to control the money supply. We commend the bank for the initiative, which is quite positive. Many Nigerians will benefit from the new policy.
The government and banks would equally gain from the practice in the sense that it would reduce the cost of holding large amounts of cash, and capture more e-transactions and e-revenue for the institutions. Crimes like armed robbery, burglary, and kidnapping for ransom will drop because it will be difficult to raise the huge amount of money the criminals usually demand from the banking system.
Drastically reducing cash in circulation will likewise compel more transactions to be conducted electronically. There would be less currency outside the banking system, which will make monetary policy interventions more effective. This would reduce the size of the black economy and provide more intelligence for the tax authorities to expand the tax net to economic activities which were previously under the radar. Additionally, the volume of Naira to be printed every year will reduce significantly.
Apparently, the CBN is trying to drive a cashless economy by placing stiffer restrictions on cash withdrawals. However, a more effective strategy could have been to first enhance the cashless economy infrastructure to remove or significantly reduce the challenges and irritations that people experience when transacting using electronic payments. Many Nigerians regularly experience unsuccessful electronic payment transactions either due to bad network, switch failure or even lack of electricity to charge the devices.
A different strategy could have been employed to make a cashless economy attractive as was the case with Mesa in East Africa, so people voluntarily embrace it rather than the stick approach, which will, unfortunately, punish many people for circumstances that are beyond their control, especially the large unbanked population in rural areas. If not properly handled, the situation could result in a lull in economic activities, which may slow down GDP growth in the short to medium term.
Though there will undoubtedly be implementation challenges, the policy is a step in the right direction for sanitising the economy. The excess liquidity floating around in the economy needs to be mopped to minimise price escalation. However, the slow adoption of e-banking, the rise in cybercrime coupled with an election year, and other macroeconomic factors could dramatically slow the benefits of the policy.

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Responding To NARD’s Alert

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The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) recently gave notice of the plan by 4,000 of its members to disengage their services in the country and relocate abroad for greener pastures. This came as the association expressed concerns over the government’s handling of members’ affairs. NARD disclosed that the country had already lost thousands of doctors to the outside world in the past two years and charged the government to terminate the drift by doing what is required to avoid what it dubbed disaster in the nation’s health sector.
Nigeria’s healthcare system has suffered several reversals. It is woefully under-resourced in terms of personnel and medical infrastructure. While this is a general problem, it tends to be much worse in rural areas compared to urban locations. The nation’s terrible health system has led to penurious outcomes, prompting stakeholders to call for instant government intervention. Yet, the government’s health expenditure continues to be appreciably lower than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation of 15 percent of the yearly budget.
Over the decades, the migration of medical doctors from Nigeria has increased. NOI Polls in 2018 revealed that 88 percent of doctors in our country were searching for employment abroad. Furthermore, between 2015 and 2021, about 4,528 Nigerian-trained doctors migrated to the United Kingdom (U.K). Even with the pandemic and existing health burdens in Nigeria, doctors’ migration has increased. This upsetting tendency heightens an already disintegrating health system. And it is unlikely to cease as Nigerian doctors continue to seek better working conditions abroad.
We are considerably dismayed by the saddening situation that has the best brains in the medical field jetting out to greener pastures far beyond our shores. This enormous loss has left Nigeria with only 4.7 per cent of its specialists to service the healthcare necessities of over 200 million people. Nigeria has a doctor-to-population ratio of about 1:4000-5000, which falls far short of WHO’s recommended doctor-to-population ratio of 1:600.
Although brain drain was originally limited to certain professions, it has now become a free-for-all with the introduction of visa programmes to fill workforce gaps in developed nations. This was scintillated by an economic downturn following a period of an economic boom in the 1970s and 1980s, driven by the discovery of oil wells in Nigeria. That reminds us of the Structural Adjustment Programme days of the military junta led by the famed General Ibrahim Babangida.
More notably, we should be asking ourselves about the root causes of brain drain with the salutary aim of proffering and acting on workable solutions. The answer is not far-fetched as persisting poor leadership has been fingered by some researchers as a crucial factor leading to mass brain drain. For instance, the political leaders could not manage the economic prosperity of the 1970s and 1980s, which came about through the discovery of oil wells.
Things have worsened in the sector so much that even the President, Muhammadu Buhari, alongside the political elite, does not trust the country’s hospitals enough for his medical needs. Instead, he resorts to medical tourism in the United Kingdom at huge public expense. The British Broadcasting Corporation says Nigeria spends about $1 billion annually on medical tourism, particularly to India. Consequently, doctors are now jumping at every opportunity to move out in droves. This should be addressed.
This could potentially sound the death knell on the country’s health sector, currently challenged by a dearth of medical doctors. Statistics from Nigeria Health Watch indicate that there are 80,000 doctors registered with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria as of June 2021, out of which only about 35,000 are practising in the country. The rest are working overseas –with about 4,000 in the United States and 5,000 others in the UK– while a few moved to other professions.
With over 200 million people, it would take about 25 years to produce enough doctors to cater for the population, says the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). This ominous situation can only lead to poor health effects. High child and maternal mortality rates are preventable if doctors are readily available. The link between the number of physicians and mortality rates has been documented, reflecting the negative outcomes of the lack of doctors in Nigeria.
Figures from the World Bank are likewise heartbreaking. Nigeria’s public spending on healthcare amounts to just 3.89 per cent of its $495 billion GDP, compared to 8.25 per cent in South Africa and 5.17 per cent in Kenya. In 20 years, recurrent expenses gulp 78 per cent of the total health expenditure, while capital takes only 22 per cent. Comparing the growth rate, recurrent expenditure increased by 2,822 per cent between 2001 and 2021, while capital expenditure increased by just over 400 per cent.
The rising trend in the number of migrating doctors could prove destructive and pose a substantial limitation in accomplishing Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 3 — good health and well-being — in Nigeria. It has sapped the country’s human capital, the majority of which was paid for with government’s resources. One target of SDG 3 is to enhance the recruitment, professional development, and retention of health professionals in developing countries. However, given the high rate at which doctors are fleeing the country, Nigeria may not achieve the SDG 3 targets by 2030.
Economic and social welfare conditions are among the basic causes of brain drain. Hence, a meaningful financial commitment through the provision of critical infrastructure in the health sector and improved governance would promote the retention of doctors within the country. The government should prioritise the health sector, given its link with better life quality and economic development. Workers’ remuneration should be made competitive with international standards. That would increase the opportunity cost of emigration.

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Editorial

Paternity Leave Policy Good, But…

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Just like many other countries of the world, Nigeria has introduced a new paternity leave policy designed
to address some barriers to exclusive breastfeedings, such as inadequate support for nursing mothers and suboptimal bonding with newly born or adopted babies. According to the Head of Service of the Federation, Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan, this provision is in the new Public Service Rules (PSR).
Yemi-Esan announced the approval of the paternity leave last Monday in a circular dated 25th November 2022 titled, “Computation of Leave Based on Working Days and Approval of Paternity Leave in the Public Service”. According to the circular, a male worker whose wife gives birth to a new baby will be entitled to the leave. Similarly, a male worker whose family adopts a child under four months will be entitled to the leave. Workers can only enjoy the leave once in two years for a maximum of four children.
The development came more than seven years after the Lagos State Government approved 10 days of paternity leave for any male civil servant in the state whose wife delivers a new baby. However, male workers in other states of the federation are now demanding equal treatment with their federal and Lagos State counterparts. There is a need for other states to toe this path and approve the leave.
This gesture is commendable, particularly since it is coming from a government headed by someone who everyone knows to possess extreme attributes of conservatism on issues concerning women and family. This is a President who declined to shake hands with the women he appointed to his cabinet soon after he assumed office in 2015. By this pronouncement, President Muhammadu Buhari has taken very significant steps towards the hearts of women.
Undoubtedly, Buhari’s decision boosts the ego of male federal civil servants in Nigeria and deals a heavy blow to negative patriarchy and poor enhancement of family values. Generally, men hardly get involved with the raising of their children beyond providing finance and the good things of life for their upkeep and education. The reason they have a stereotype in their head is that the man is the head of the house and their job is to give orders and their wives have to comply.
Research has highlighted some advantages of fathers taking leave, too. A paper published in 2019 in the United States showed that even nine years later, children whose fathers took at least two weeks of paternity leave after they were born reported feeling closer to their fathers than children with fathers who did not take leave. In a separate paper, academics found that for heterosexual married couples, the father taking any paternity leave after the birth of a child can also cause the divorce risk to drop for up to six years after the birth.
Some countries have made strides when it comes to men taking more parental leave. Sweden offers parents 480 days of paid parental leave per child that they are entitled to share. Each parent can transfer part of their leave to the other, but 90 days have to be reserved specifically for each parent. From 2008 until 2017, as an incentive for fathers to take more time off, families were entitled to a monetary bonus determined by the number of days divided equally between parents.
But things have changed in the world over the years as universal education, globalisation and technology unite the world and make it a global village, according to Marshall McLuhan. Our women are getting a good education and good jobs, which puts them in virtually the same position as some of their male counterparts. This policy will teach men that caring for their newborn babies is a joint responsibility of both parents, especially in the early part of the child’s life.
In 2018, the House of Representatives considered a private member’s bill proposing to introduce paternity leave into our laws. It was shot down by lawmakers on the false grounds that men should go out to work and earn money to care for their families, rather than stay home and bottle-feed their babies. This is the worst reason for jettisoning the bill. Even in the most primitive societies, men, and women have always been the joint fenders of the family. In the modern world, also, the educated woman is as much the family’s breadwinner as the educated man.
Efforts should be made to reintroduce the bill in the National Assembly. The State Assembly ought to take a cue from the Federal Government’s initiative and act in the interest of the people. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and advocacy groups should align themselves to this lofty ideal and for once, give the male folk a sense of belonging, a departure from the trend of treating the male as a gender who must forfeit some of his surplus benefits and privileges
But laudable as this policy is, it must be realised that the patriarchal system and the polygamous practices in some parts of the country are sociocultural factors which limit the adoption of the policy by male employees. Other challenges include little or no associated financial benefits, and inadequate awareness. A review of the relevant laws to stipulate the penalties for defaulting employers and adequate compensation for any victimised employees is also imperative.
The Federal Government should extend the leave from the current 14 days to a month to enable fathers or husbands to bond with their new babies as well as assist their wives adequately. This might just be the right therapy for a country that has had its values turned upside down by oil-induced corruption, materialism, ethnicity, religious bigotry and now fundamentalism. A deepening of family values would set the stage for a societal renaissance.

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