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Lagos-Calabar Highway  Must Wait

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Had the Presidency not responded to the allegations of the former Vice President, Atiku Abukakar, concerning the process of awarding of the contract for the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway, it would have been most surprising. People must do the job for which they were employed and that includes ensuring at all costs that their principals and their families are constantly blameless and spotless.
Atiku, through  his Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, had alleged that President Bola Tinubu’s son, Seyi Tinubu,  being a board  member of one of the firms  owned by Gilbert Chagoury, the owner of Hitech, the contractor that was awarded the contract  constitutes a conflict of interest; that the contract was awarded in contravention of the procurement laws, that it is being done in a hurry purely because of the business relationship between President Tinubu and Gilbert Chagoury, that the project is  expensive, ill timed  among others.
But in a swift response the presidency through a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, countered Atiku’s claim, saying that as an adult Nigerian, Seyi has the right to do business in the country and that his membership of the board of CDK in no way constitutes a conflict of interest.
Onanuga went down the memory lane, recounting how the former Vice President had revealed that he formed Intels Nigeria with an Italian businessman when he was serving in the Nigeria Customs Service, which in his view is a clear breach of extant public service regulations; how, as Chairman of the National Council on Privatisation, Atiku approved sales of over 145 State-owned enterprises to his known friends and associates and openly said during his failed campaign for the presidency last year that he would do the same, if elected.
The Special Adviser dwelt so much on Atiku’s past that he probably forgot to address some other key issues raised by the former VP about the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway project which had also been harped on by several other Nigerians. First is the issue of the contract’s awarding process and priority. Nigerians needed to hear directly from the presidency whether this huge project went through a competitive bidding process as required by law or not.  Section 16 (1) (c) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 provides that “All public procurement shall be conducted by open competitive bidding.” Section 16 (1) (d) stipulates that all public procurement shall be done in a transparent, equitable manner to ensure accountability. Was the contract awarded in compliance with this and other relevant laws?
There is also the issue of the highway project not complying with the Environmental Impact Assessment Act. The Pan-Yoruba Socio-Political Organisation, Afenifere, had through Prince Jide Faloye of its Publicity Department joined some other groups and individuals to raise concern about the serious issue. The organisation said, “The Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway project must be re-examined, for not only breaching competitive tendering stipulations but for also contravening the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, as stipulated in EIA Decree No. 86 of 1992, which places the project type in Category 1 and affecting the natural environment, making an ESIA report mandatory before commencement.”
Afenifere also noted that, “the $13 billion Lagos-Calabar project is not only environmentally and economically destructive, but also irrationally replaces the 1,400km $12 billion Lagos-Calabar railway project along East-West Road, adjudged to be the single most important economically empowering infrastructural development project in Southern Nigeria in over 100 years, commissioned by both the Jonathan (2014) and Buhari (2021) governments.”
Convincing explanations to their salient concerns are what Nigerians want from the presidency, the Minister of Works, Dave Umahi and other relevant authorities instead of them resorting to name calling and describing the views as “ intrinsically superficial, baseless, self-serving and politically motivated to imprint malice in the minds of unsuspecting members of the public, especially the gullible”, as the Special Adviser (Media) to the Minister of Works, Orji Uchenna Orji did in a statement a few days back.
Government is all about the people. Fortunately, Nigeria is operating a democratic system of government widely known to be the government of the people, by the people and for the people. Therefore, the leaders put in power by the people should listen to the people and should always prioritise the interest of the people.
And talking about priority which was among the issues raised by Atiku, is the Lagos-Calabar highway the most critical need of the country right now? Yes, the road when completed will be of immense benefit to the coastal states and the country in general. Economic growth, easy transportation, improved quality of life will be assured, but is that what we need now in Nigeria?  Two weeks ago, Rivers State and the entire nation were thrown into mourning as a result of the vehicular accident that happened in the Eleme axis of the East-West which claimed several lives and damaged property. The lamentation of many people, including the State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, was that the accident and the great losses could have been avoided had the road been fixed.
The about 328-kilometer road which was awarded in 2006 by the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, and meant to be completed in 2010 is yet to be completed despite the billions of Naira that has gone into it. The Enugu-Onitsha road, Makurdi-Enugu road, Port Harcourt-Enugu express road and many other federal roads across the country have long become death traps. People have protested, demonstrated, appealed to the authorities to have them fixed, yet little or nothing has been done on most of them.
Could it not have been better to fix these roads before embarking on a new road that will cost nothing less than N2.8 trillion? A ready answer by the works minister and other government functionaries might be that N300 billion was provided in the 2023 supplementary budget to address the poor federal roads but how far can that go?
There is undoubtedly nobody in Nigeria that is not feeling the pinch of the current harsh economic realities in the country. Prices of food and other items in the market keep skyrocketing every day. The cost of transportation has quadrupled since May 29 when the announcement that “subsidy is gone” was made. For some weeks, there has been fuel scarcity in Abuja and other parts of the country which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) blamed on “logistic issues”.
The NNPCL keeps shifting the goal post on when Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna refineries will become operational. The latest being that the Port Harcourt Refinery will start functioning by the end of March. In the second week of March, the Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) of the (NNPC) Mele Kyari, reportedly told the senate ad hoc committee investigating the various turnaround maintenance (TAM) projects of Nigerian refineries that, “In the next two weeks, production will start. We did mechanical completion of  Port Harcourt Refinery, that was what we said in December 2023,”
“That means we are done with our rehabilitation work, now you are to test if this completion is okay.” Has this happened?
The point is that the federal government should suspend the massive, flamboyant Lagos-Calabar coastal highway project pending when the economy is up and running and some critical infrastructure in the country are adequately attended to. If part of  this huge sum could be used to build new refineries and make the old ones bounce back to life, Nigeria will be on the way to achieving energy security which will impact positively on every sector of the economy and the lives of the citizens. Efficient and transparent use of the nation’s scarce resources is an important quality that our leaders must imbibe.

Calista Ezeaku

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Rescuing Local Government From Limbo

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The local government system is one of the three tiers of government, set up by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to discharge different levels of social contracts with the Nigerian people. These governments – the federal, state  and local,  draw funds monthly from a pool of the nation’s commonwealth which accrues through the federation’s  account to enable them  function.  While the other two tiers independently articulate their respective affairs to pursue various governance goals and objectives, the local government has over the years remained under the dictates of the second-tier when in the real sense, the local government,  being the closest to the grassroots, should be the most important government level. Moreso, the local government area has the advantage of uniformity in ethnic, linguistic and cultural harmony, which enables for greater understanding, acceptability and mutual trusts, as against the polarising diversity encountered by the wider tiers.
It is therefore, unfortunate that the local government found itself  hamstrung by the actions of state government, the inadvertent acquiessence of the federal government, as well as by the pliability of some local government officials. The unhindered functionality of local councils should have created the vital governance connections needed between Nigeria’s leaderships and its peoples, as well as form  the foundations from which local officials, groomed in good governance affairs, are raised for both state and federal duties. It was therefore cheering when the news filtered that the federal government, through the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, had filed a suit at the Supreme Court against the 36 state governments to demand full autonomy for all LGAs in the country. It should be recalled that the National Assembly during the past regime of President Muhammadu Buhari had passed a bill for full local government autonomy but the process got stalled by non-ratification by state houses of assembly. The present National Assembly is also working on a bill that would empower the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), rather than governor-controlled State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), to conduct local government elections. These are trail-blazing reforms, and deserve some  commendations.
In the latest onslaught by the Federal Government to ensure that democratically elected governments run the local councils, it has secured a Supreme Court order “restraining the governors, their agents and privies, from receiving, spending or tampering with funds released from the Federation Account for the benefits of local governments when no democratically elected local government system is put in place in the states,” with a further order stopping state governors from embarking on unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local governments, while permitting that funds in the credits of local governments be directly paid to them from the federation account in line with the provisions of the constitution as against payments to joint accounts with state governments.  The court went further to bar governors from further constituting caretaker committees to run the affairs of local governments, as governors like Prof. Charles Soludo of Anambra State is bent on doing. Prof Soludo, having come from outside the usual pack of Nigerian politicians, his case has become the most bizzare, infamous and disappointing  for a prominent economist who supposedly knows the impacts of micro and macro economic policies, and had promised during his swearing-in on March 17, 2022, that “We will conduct local government elections. No doubt, the uniform local government system as the third federating unit is one of the contesting features of our federalism, but we must make the best of a bad system by unleashing the potential of governance at a lower level.”
Despite these reassuring statements, Prof Soludo rather broke the records by infamously appointing seven regimes of local government Transition Committees in just two years, each serving a tenor of three months. Yet, he has just dissolved the seventh set of committees to appoint an eighth, before recent court orders. Actions by the likes of Governor Soludo are capable of disorienting local government officials to the point of being inadequate in the discharge of constitutional duties. As part of outcries elicited by Governor Soludo’s baffling intransigence, member representing Ogbaru Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives and Labour Party’s House of Representatives Caucus Leader, Hon. Afam Ogene, in a press statement condemned the move while saying that, “This puppeteering style of leadership, which toys with the destiny, aspiration and desires of the grassroots, must be resisted and not allowed to continue to shrink the development potentials of the LGAs”. While emphasising that local councils should not be at the whims of state governors, Hon. Ogene said that, “Such undemocratic practice of appointing LGA administrators, rather than democratic election, is an enabler of impunity and lack of democratic accountability and also hurts transparency in the local government  and   state as a whole, as those so appointed would only scramble for personal interests during the three months of their stay in office.”
In a similar move, a lawyer, Chukwuebuka Mmeni Esq, in a suit filed against the Anambra State governor at an Abuja High Court secured an order, restraining the Accountant General of the Federation and the Federal Ministry of Finance from further remitting funds due to the 21 LGAs of Anambra State to the Soludo-led state government. The era when governors see monthly local government allocations as windfalls that grease their political ambitions should not be encouraged. When the local governments eventually get their full autonomy, it would enable them decisively tackle the challenges of poor basic educational infrastructure, disfunctional primary healthcare systems, poor environmental sanitation and erosion controls, rural markets, town planning and building developments, rural agriculture and sports development. It is pertinent at this point to note that local councils had greater freedoms ab initio, much of it during the military era, but due to failures to regularly pay the salaries of staff, especially primary school teachers and primary healthcare officials, state governments seized the opportunity to form joint accounts with which payment of council staff salaries have been somewhat regular, yet much staff still suffer stagnated promotions.
That incursion by state governments has created opportunities for impunity on the parts of many governors, leading to greater alienation of municipal administration and the neglect of its other crucial roles. Therefore, in the genuine pursuit of restoring full local government autonomy, a guiding framework should be put in place to forestall a repeat of the mistakes of past local administrations. The opportunity to undergo the learning process of state building at the basic level of society is, however very vital.

Joseph Nwankwo

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Build The City, Also Build People

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The effectiveness and relevance of a government is measured by its impacts on the people. Projects and Programmes not having direct bearing on the welfare of the people is to say the least, a waste of public funds. Every project must be consequence of the felt-need of the people. Looking at Governance in Rivers State in the last 24 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria (May 1999 – May 2023), the governments of Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and Sir Dr. Peter Odili have done well in terms of selfless services and putting the people first. Others have also performed according to what their perspective about governance is. A Leader can only deliver by dictates of vision and mental capacity. They can only take the State to the place of their mental picture and their preferred destination. So development is a function of Leaders’ vision. Every society rises and falls on the vision of the leader. Rotimi Amaechi and Dr. Peter Odili balanced governance between infrastructure and human capital development. For instance, not only did Rotimi Amaechi built 105 health centres, 350 state-of-the-art primary schools, about 23 Model Secondary Schools, roads etc, he also built thousands of people. He initiated the Greater Horizon and Opportunities Programme (GHOP) to avail the less privileged in the 23 Local Government Areas of Rivers State the opportunity to be developed in capacity through the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA). Thousands of Rivers’ people were given fully paid educational scholarship to be trained outside the shores of Nigeria. The eligibility for the overseas’ scholarship, under Amaechi’s administration was devoid of partisan, ethnic/tribal, religious, and nepotistic sentiments. That was why children from poverty-riddled background could travel outside the shores of Nigeria to study courses of economic value and foster development of Rivers State.
Unfortunately, the immediate past administration of Chief Nyesom Wike did not see the merit to sustain the laudable and lofty human capacity development programmes of his predecessor. Not only did he not kill the programmes in preference for project-infrastructure: roads, bridges, housing, Chief Wike also disbanded the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA) who midwifed and drove the implementation of the human capacity development programmes. The immediate past administration in the State did not consider the harsh socio-economic implications of his actions on the staff of the RSSDA and their dependants. Staff of Demonstration Schools of State owned tertiary institutions and the Rivers State Transport Company (RTC), non payment of bursary to students for eight years, non promotion of civil servants and denial of increments for eight years are eloquent testimonies and testimonials of apathy and utter neglect of the immediate past administration to human capacity development. Value was disproportionately placed on capital projects  rather than human capital development.
In the words of the Russian Philosopher and educationist, Lao Russell, “In vain you build the city if you don’t first build the man”. The reason is not far-fetched: the man that is not built can become savage and destroy the magnificent city: the roads, bridges, houses, etc. Economists hold the view that in the value chain of production, manpower, not capital is the most critical factor of production because   inefficient workforce will inevitably translate to ineffective, unproductive, failed corporate goal and moribund institution. Humans are invaluable assets, they create wealth, drive implementation of government policies and programmes.
It is good for government at all levels to embark on capital projects but it is better to build the people. Capital projects should not be done at the expense of workers’ welfare. Peter should not be robbed to pay Paul.
Consequently, the neglect and sacrifice of human capital in preference for infrastructure has become a norm in Nigeria. This explains why negotiations for an upward review of acceptable wage regime is more often than not, deadlocked and fraught with incessant arguments that were settled by threat of, or industrial dispute between government and the central labour unions: Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
While workers-friendly governors such as Godwin Obaseki of Edo State has increased minimum wage of workers of that State from N40,000 he was paying workers ( as against the Federal Government’s N30,000) to N70,000 without pressure from labour unions in Edo State, the Federal Government under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that assured Nigerian workers of a “Living Wage”  is offering a paltry N60,000 despite the harsh socio-economic challenges posed by  a depressed economy. It is baffling that a Federal Government proposing N60,000 minimum wage on the ground of economic challenges is spending heavily on frivolities: N6 billion Abuja car park, N90 billion Hajj Subsidy and several other programmes that are outrageous and wasteful.
It is being speculated that some government prefer spending on capital projects  to human capital because the former serves as a conduit to siphon public funds and corrupt enrichment.
It does beat my imagination how some governors could acquire with impunity, properties and make investments for personal use with public funds.
Government at all levels and the organised Private Sector should prioritise workers’ welfare and human capital development to drive development of the society.
The struggle will continue if infrastructures are built but humans are not built. Society exists for the people, if the people are neglected, the infrastructure will suffer decay and destruction.

Igbiki Benibo

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Tinubu’s “Living Wage”: A Dashed Hope?

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It is  more than one year today, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu assured Nigerian workers that his administration will correct the anomalous hardship workers in Nigeria faced because he was irrevocably committed to doling out a “Living Wage” to them.
Nigerian workers under the two central Labour organisations: Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and Trade Union Congress (TUC) were captivated in an euphoria of Mr. President’s mouth watering promise. President Tinubu has whipped up the pleasant sentiment and sensation of workers to believing that at last a messiah in his person (the President Tinubu) has appeared and the era of the litanical, “ aluta, struggle continues” will be  consigned to history. Workers heaved a sigh of relief that a corrective and workers’ friendly regime that never was, is in the saddle at the centre. President Tinubu (then President -elect) had told workers in his goodwill message on the May 1 Labour Day, “In the Nigeria I shall have the honour and privilege to lead from May 29, workers will have more than a minimum wage. You will have a living wage to have a decent life, and provide for your families.
“On this special day as your President-elect, I extend my hand of friendship to Nigerian workers through the two central Labour unions- Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress. In me you will have a dependable ally and a co-labourer in the fight for social and economic justice for all Nigerians, including the working people. Your fight will be my fight because I will always fight for you. My plans for a better welfare and working conditions are clearly spelt in my Renewed Hope Agenda for a Better Nigeria. It is a covenant born of conviction and one I am prepared to keep”. In Nigeria today, can Mr. President say without iota of doubt that N54,000 is a “Living Wage”?
Today the  Mr. President’s covenant with workers is a mirage, it is translating to a delusion .
Workers under the President Tinubu seem to have suffered more hardship than in past administrations, civilian or military. Hope for a “Living Wage” seems dashed.
Considering the protracted dialogue on what is supposed to be a marked departure and turning point from previous  minimum wage regimes, Nigerians and workers can now decide if Mr. President really meant to give a Living wage to workers with the present Federal Government’s position on N54,000 against Trade Union Congress and Nigeria Labour Congress’ N500,000 as minimum wage.
When the nation’s House of Representatives proposed a N100,000 minimum wage many workers were dissatisfied with the proposal which they said was pre-emptive of the 37-members Minimum Wage Committee report. Workers had hoped the outcome of the negotiation would be more than N100,000 proposed by the House of Representatives. I believe workers can realize that the Representatives are empathetic and in touch with the plight of  Nigerian workers better than the Presidency.
It is crystal clear that  President Tinubu never meant what he said about a “Living Wage” for workers. While the Federal Government hinges its decision to pay workers on sustainability of new wage regime because of economic challenges the nation under the present leadership faces, one wonders how a nation grappling with multi-dimensional socio-economic challenges will be enmeshed in frivolous expenditures. For instance, the recent approval of N6 billion for a car park in Abuja, the N90 billion Hajj Subsidy, barefaced looting of public funds by some public officers, myriad of corrupt practices that are associated with some of those in Government and the extravagant expenditures by members of the National Assembly, some State Governors political office holders, clearly show that the Federal Government is not committed to a ‘Living Wage” to ameliorate the plight of workers.
Workers under the present administration of President Tinubu have suffered loss of purchasing power. In less than one year of President Tinubu-led administration, the prices of petroleum products have been increased several times. Today, premium motor spirit is about N900 a litre. And this unfriendly price regime rubs off negatively on every Nigerian, because at the centre of commercial and economic activities is petroleum products. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, prices of food items are outrageous, outside the reach of the common man: a  basin of garri sells for N18,000, rice, beans etc are food the rich only. House rent has gone up. A self contain that was between N60,000 and N80,000 is N250,000.
The adverse  social-economic realities informed the Labour’s insistence on N615,000, which they have reviewed downward to N500,000.
Breaking down the figure the National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero said the N615,000 was a fair demand considering the socio-economic realities of the country.
Discussion on another minimum wage regime, therefore, should not be an exercise in futility, because since  the N30,000 Minimum Wage became a legal document in April 18, 2023 most State Governors and Local Government Area chairmen across the country, have refused to implement it. And the Federal Government could not enforce compliance.
It is also speculated that some governors who claimed to have implemented the National Minimum wage only paid the difference of what their predecessors were supposed to pay  workers consequent on the shortfall of financial benefit due workers.
With the veiled liberalisation policy of the National Minimum Wage which mandates the Labour unions in the State  to negotiate with their various State Governments on what is feasible for States to pay, based on their financial capacity, State governors now have the power to determine how much to pay their workers based on outcomes of negotiation with the workers under their umbrella bodies. That is why Labour-friendly Governments of Lagos, and Edo, among other States of the Federation have approved  N70,000 National Minimum Wage with effect from May, 2024, at a time some State Governors, such as Soludo of Anambra are foot-dragging to pay the old wage which expired April, 2024.
It is mind boggling that while elected officers and political office holders go home with mouth watering salaries at the end of every month and severance benefits, the civil servant wage is paltry, a peanut and they have to wait for years to access their gratuity and pension which cannot be compared to political officers salaries. Some never received after all. They died while waiting for their benefits.
While the Nigeria Labour Congress and its Trade Union Congress counterpart negotiate with the Federal Government’ on increase of Minimum Wage they should ensure that no stone is left unturned towards achieving a “Realistic” living wage.  A Living Wage, according to “investopedia” is “a theoretical income level that allows individuals or families to afford adequate shelter, food and other necessities.
Though the N500,000 minimum wage proposed by Labour is not realistic considering the economic realities in the country, the  least minimum wage the Federal  Government should consider is N100,000 proposed by the House of Representatives.
Most State Governors have refused to pay the expired N30,000 minimum wage on the unacceptable reason of unavailability of funds.
But if the looting instincts, leakages and frivolous spending of public funds were checked, an upwardly reviewed  wage could be paid with ease.
A situation where elected public officers build estates and leave  trans-generational assets for their children after eight or as the people’s mandate last, while the civil servant retires home after 35 years with virtually nothing, is repugnant to good conscience, equity and morality. In fact it is heartbreaking.
Both elected public officers and civil servants are exposed to the same socio economic realities.

Igbiki  Benibo

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