In June, 2021, Nigeria’s Federal Government announced plans to concession four airports for 20-30 years. The airports include the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA), Lagos; the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja; Malam Aminu Kano Airport, Kano, and Port Harcourt International Airport, Port Harcourt.
Penultimate Wednesday, the government announced the emergence of preferred and reserve bidders for three out of four airport and cargo terminals as approved for concession after the Request for Proposals (RFP) phase of the Nigeria Airports Concession Programme (NACP). Only Port Harcourt International Airport (PHIA) did not receive any proposals and as such has not had preferred and reserve bidders attached to it.
There is no doubt that the rejection of the airport by the bidders is connected to its poor infrastructure status, impeding it from properly operating as an international airport. Stakeholders in the aviation industry have been calling for the closure of the airport over safety concerns. Currently, there is lack of critical infrastructure on the runway, which makes landing at the airport very difficult, especially at night.
The number of serious incidents and accidents that had occurred at the airport over the years made it somewhat unsafe for flying. The runway lacks critical facilities, including Instrument Landing System (ILS), which guides aircraft to land, low-level wind shear indicators, which notifies the weather conditions, lack of comprehensive marking of the runway and taxiway. The absence of these facilities hamper safe airline operation.
Disappointingly, these facilities have been in poor state over the years and regrettably contributed to loss of lives and equipment in the past accidents and incidents that had taken place at the airport. There is every need for the rehabilitation of the critical facilities and equipment that will enhance safe air operations to instil confidence in passengers and users of the airfield.
Most of the accidents that happened at the airport were identical and preventable if the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and other aviation agencies had performed their duties creditably. It is important to know how often the calibration exercise of flying equipment, especially at the Port Harcourt airport, is effected. Such exercise ought to be carried out every six months.
The stretch of road from the domestic wing to the international wing which goes further into the airport communities has turned into not only an eyesore but a source of threat to passengers and other users. This seems to make a mess of the glittering facilities of the airport. Users have continued to express apprehension over the intimidating darkness that envelops the area at night, with attendant attacks by hoodlums and other criminal elements.
Even though it is designated a federal infrastructure, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, offered to rescue the entire ageing road from the Port Harcourt–Owerri highway to the international airport at Omagwa. Governor Wike also pledged that the state government would make critical interventions at the airport to improve the international acceptance of the facility by building a VIP lounge. That promise was fulfilled recently.
A few years ago, the Port Harcourt airport was listed third worst airport in the world. This poor ranking, which gave the country bad press, can hardly be blamed on foreign media prejudice. Anyone familiar with the airport will easily concur with the dismal rating, especially when compared to the experience at airports in some other parts of the world. Additionally, aggressive corruption is the biggest problem, with airport officials and staff demanding bribes for pretty much everything.
Recall that the Federal Government embarked on an ambitious project of constructing five new international terminals at the nation’s five international airports including Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu during the tenure of the then Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah. The deplorable state of our airports, then, prompted the launch of the Airport Re-modeling and Rehabilitation programme in 2012. The work stopped at 30 per cent stage in Port Harcourt.
The airport is poorly maintained and inefficiently run. The air conditioners at the arrival and departure halls often fail to work. The toilets are sometimes either locked up, without running water or unserviceable. The conveyor belts function intermittently, sometimes leaving passengers waiting for long before they can collect their luggage. With those objective deficiencies, how can anyone honestly bid for this airport?
Our aviation authorities and the Federal Government have to wake up and address these challenges. With a bushy and dirty environment, the Port Harcourt airport gives the nation a bad image, and the earlier the authorities wake up to the sad reality, the better for the country. It is sad that Rivers State always gets unfair treatment from the federal, despite its economic significance to the nation.
The lack of proposals for the Port Harcourt airport is worrisome and therefore unacceptable. The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, must act immediately to remedy this embarrassing situation. Sirika should put the next stage of the programme, which is negotiations and due diligence, on hold and quickly consult the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) on the issue. Efforts must be made by the authorities to upgrade the airport and qualify it for bidding.
CBN’s New Cash Withdrawal Limits
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.
Responding To NARD’s Alert
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.
Paternity Leave Policy Good, But…
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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