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Friday, October 14, 2016

Perception baggage of the Buhari presidency

Those who prophesied that then General Muhammadu Buhari would win the presidential election did not see beyond their nose, and Nigerians were too preoccupied with the ‘trophy’ and ‘who will carry the day’ to worry about its aftermath. That aftermath is here with us today. Indeed, the 2015 presidential election was keenly contested between ex-President, Goodluck Jonathan and now President Muhammadu Buhari. Nigerians had grown tired of what they referred to as 16 years of PDP’s misrule and Jonathan’s lacklustre performance. With the benefit of hindsight now, the national consensus that favored Buhari’s emergence was more of ‘PDP fatigue’ than Jonathan’s abysmal performance. Arguably, Jonathan might have been a beneficiary and an undertaker. The fall of the PDP actually predated him.

At the peak of Olusegun Obasanjo’s imperial presidency and PDP’s reign, it was easy to convince wannabes to keep their ambitions at bay, while the party hierarchy as headed by OBJ determined who got what in a classic case of lack of internal democracy. For those who tried to be stubborn, the president would unleash his attack dog, the EFCC on them. Your book of record, sins and misdeeds are presented to you to shut you up. This was the scenario that ensured the emergence of an ailing President Umaru Yar’adua in 2007. In order to appease the Niger Delta and curb the region’s restiveness, the same Obasanjo single-handedly made Jonathan, Yar’adua’s vice president under the PDP. Then Yar’adua passed on, and the rest as they say is history. By 2011, when Jonathan insisted on running for the presidency against the party’s own gentlemen’s power-rotation agreement and internal zoning mechanism, the seed for the eventual capitulation of PDP was already planted. So, affirmation instead of election and other undemocratic tendencies were issues that the emerging APC took advantage of in the 2015 presidential election, and the only credible symbol of opposition that the party could rally round, to lead it to victory, was Buhari.

With this background, it was easy for crystal ball gazers to predict Buhari’s victory, without predicting the possible reenactment of his past. They said he was a changed man, a converted democrat and a man whose wisdom has come of age and a dogged fighter to boot having contested for the presidency four times. We were told his past (mis) deeds did not count for anything. A quick peep down memory lane will suffice. Buhari first came to power via a military coup. He ruled with iron fist, and instilled fear in the populace. His economic policies were mundane; all that people could remember was the absence of essential provisions from their family shelves. His laws were draconian; journalists and politicians were sent to the gallows without proper hearing and trial. Those in the know say the brain behind his most successful societal orientation programme; the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) was his late second in command, Tunde Idiagbon. They attributed the failure so far of WAI’s successor programme, Change Begins With Me, to the man’s lack of interest in the ideals in the first instance. Yet, another tale has it that Buhari was an aloof head of state, who was only a symbol of the office while his lieutenant and cronies were into governance.

Fast-forward to today’s Buhari and you will see all the ingredients of the past. Pundits say he could be apathetic and the evidence is emerging. The passion of the president is sometimes at variance with the personal preferences of his cronies or associates. They make references to the opulent lifestyles of his immediate family and many of his associates, making them conclude that, perhaps change begins (and ends) with the president only. That says a lot about the anti-corruption war.

Again, let’s take a trip to the past. As a military head of state, he was autocratic and dictatorial. That was expected. His handlers told us he has changed. Really? The event of the last weekend has cast doubt on Buhari’s new image as a converted democrat. In a Gestapo military style, reminiscent of his past, the judiciary, the third arm of the institutional tripod, was viciously attacked. Residences of some supreme, high and appeal court judges were raided and monies allegedly recovered, all in an attempt to deepen the anti-corruption war. No Nigerian in his right senses would defend corruption or the stupendous wealth associated with some of the judges, but the manner of the raid calls to question the president’s leadership style.

A clean-up of the judiciary should be total and holistic and should start from the magistrate court right up to the Supreme Court. However, the latest swoop on some judges by an unlikey agency of government smacks of vendetta, witch-hunt and a hidden agenda. Last week, the presidency and the High Court discontinued the forgery trial against the Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.  I hope this judges’ case, when it gets to the courts, as it will surely do, will not end up like the forgery case.

In fighting corruption, you don’t pick, choose and don’t politicise, otherwise it will lose its essence. However the judges’ case goes in the end, it has already detracted from Buhari’s anti-corruption posture and his government’s credibility. Meanwhile, those who doubted his democratic credentials initially are daily being proved right.

National assets sales and elite conspiracy

Just because the richest man in Africa, Alhaji Aliko Dangote proposed the idea of selling off national assets to stave off economic recession, cannot and should not make it the gospel truth. When Dangote first mooted the idea, a lot of people felt he was flying a kite. However, when the National Economic Council approved the plan but which the Senate roundly rejected, it became obvious that there were hidden hands behind the idea; it is a clear conspiracy by the moneybags and the people that control the levers of power to take advantage of a very bad situation to further enrich themselves.

The proposal to sell national assets was borne out of the need to take the country out of the economic recession it has found itself, according to the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo after the Minister of National Planning, Udoma Udoma presented the plan to the council. Although the assets to be sold off were never itemized, speculation is focused on Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) and refineries, which the government hoped would fetch it $50B to fund the 2016 budget.

In an info-graphic published by Daily Trust last Friday, the Federal Government owns 100% stake in the four refineries, 100% in the 22 federal airports, 45% in NLNG, 42.5% in African Finance Corporation, 24.9% in West African Gas Pipeline and six joint venture oil assets. If we sell these off, what else do we have to our name as an independent entity? And what do we leave for the coming generations?

This must be voodoo economic thinking. Our past experiences do not hold much hope for this new thinking. When previous governments went into privatisation frenzy, government corporations were cannibalised and sold off as scraps; the new buyers stripped the assets, after they had gulped millions of taxpayers’ money. What did we get in return? A few people were enriched and loss of jobs by workers in the process compounded the nation’s woes. The Assets Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON was set up to buy debts back and keep companies running; that too ran into troubled waters. If recession is only a temporary downturn, and assets are permanent, why do we have to do away with permanent assets to solve temporary challenges?

There might be some economic sense in selling off non-viable government corporations, but because of the political dimension the sale might take, it is not worth considering. The government earns almost $2B from the NLNG. When this government came in newly, it was to NLNG it ran, to get money for the first bailout to states. (The NLNG has injected $46B into the economy). The politics of it is very obvious; only cronies, moneybags, and supporters of this government, who, because of economic recession, are probably finding it difficult to recoup the money they lost through election funding, might be given the opportunity to buy. Is that why the government is considering the idea?

The mere thought of this has further deepened the loss of trust and confidence in this government. Elsewhere in the world, governments never cease to intervene in public and private corporations to help them come out of the woods. When Obama came in newly, America was in recession and several companies were threatened, but the Obama government bailed them out. They remained and have remained in business to continuously keep the economy going. State intervention in business is legendary and allowing market forces or selling off assets are definitely not a way out. Imagine selling off today, and in the next few years, the nation witnesses another recession, what are we going to sell then? In stimulating the economy, we can borrow a leaf from countries that have successfully done it: increase taxes of the rich and ostentations, cut down on benefits for the top echelons.

Although economic recession is almost global, Nigeria’s is biting hard because of mono-dependent economy, profligacy of the past, and the exportation of scarce forex to oil our lavish lifestyle and import consumption of foreign goods. The logical thing to do is to look for solutions in the problems: Produce what you consume, earn foreign exchange through the development of other sectors, cut down on wastages and reduce expenditures. And this can only be effective if we start from top to bottom. The executives and lawmakers should reduce their remunerations, and the number of their aides; presidential jets, which are almost 10, should be reduced to at least two.

It is not a surprise that Organized Labour and PENGASSAN in particular are planning to shut down the nation if this government goes ahead with its sinister plan. Workers are always the first casualties of such decision, as did happen with the privatisation of NEPA, steel companies, NITEL oil companies,Daily Times newspaper etc. This time around Nigerians will not allow this government to go away with blue murder, because that is what it is. They went scot-free with constant hike in the pump price of fuel, tax increases on ordinary people, hike in school fees, TSA, and all such tough measures and hard programmes that only inflict pains and hardship on Nigerians. It is now a different ball game. Government should not stretch the patience of Nigerians to its elastic limit. The 2012 fuel scarcity strike set the stage for the eventual defeat of the Jonathan PDP government. The APC government of Buhari can at best take a cue from that ugly past

Dame Patience: Back with a bang!

The former first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan obviously enjoys the glitz of life in the limelight, even if such publicity is negatively skewed against her. This past week has seen so much of that, but the glamorous and powerful woman of yesteryears appears unperturbed about her perception by many as a bad representative of that office.

And so it was that the ex-first lady, according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigation, was said to have been linked to $22.3M dollar in five different accounts in one of the new generation banks, out of which $19M has been frozen by the EFCC and more likely to be confiscated. 

According to The Nation’s report of last Sunday, besides the $22.3M in question, a fresh probe is ongoing over a N5B property in Abuja alleged to have been owned by the former first lady. The sleaze was perpetuated in collusion with 10 others among them, some bankers and domestic staff of the erstwhile first family.

The accounts according to the former first lady’s media office were opened to facilitate her access to fund while on medical trips abroad. An ailment that requires such an amount to treat could have claimed its victim. There is also a brewing controversy between Madam Patience’s media aide, Chima Osuji and Dr. Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, the former special adviser on Domestic Affairs to her husband, ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, on how the latter tried to shortchange the former first lady in the course of opening the accounts. 

 Over time, the EFCC has been accused of trying people in the media only for such people to get reprieve from the law courts. This time around, the former first lady took up the gauntlet: she has sued the EFCC demanding the release of $31M belonging to her.

Really, we live in interesting times. Mrs. Jonathan wants the courts to justify her claims to the money, because the accounts are in her name.  No problem, as she herself would retort. Conversely, Nigerians also have the right to ask for the sources of her sudden wealth, since running to court ‘to repatriate her confiscated money’ in the first instance is an admission of culpability and ownership of all the companies involved in laundering the looted funds. Indeed the former first lady is walking on a tight rope. Four of the associate firms in the money laundering case have pleaded guilty. The two aides of the former first family are opening up on what was originally in the closet. How then can she wriggle herself out of the money mess? What was Mrs. Jonathan’s worth before becoming Nigeria’s first lady? Can her total emoluments in life, even as a permanent secretary match what she is currently worth?

Nigerians are conscious of the enormous goodwill and patronages that accrue to the office of the first lady, solicited and unsolicited. Nonetheless, no one would   imagine the quantum of sleaze and stolen money stashed away by Mrs. Jonathan. With Dasukigate, we thought we had seen the end of primitive accumulation and acquisition of ill-gotten money, but with Mrs. Jonathan’s admission of guilt, associates and appointees who may be convicted in this case need some psychiatric examination, because it does not make sense to accumulate wealth that even two or three generations cannot exhaust. 

$22.3 at the exchange rate of N400 per dollar is about N8.9B. To say the least, this is more than stealing and daylight robbery. It’s is madness of the highest order and shameful. It is impunity taken too far. Nigerians have always been circumspect about the power, perks and perquisites that go with that office. With these revelations, their suspicion is now heightened.

 Over time the office of the first lady has been overwhelmingly powerful with the capacity to dispense appointments, goodwill and receive gratification in cash and kind in return.  They take advantage of their Olympian height as spouses of presidents or governors to commandeer and corner resources and appointments which they share to their cronies. That must have accounted for Mrs. Jonathan’s stupendous wealth. But even at that, she is in a different class among Nigeria’s first ladies.

The former first lady will not bury her head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. She is not in a hurry to leave the stage. In or out of office she loves to grab the headlines. She was lord when she reigned and won’t go down without a bang. If not, how would a woman, who should be sued on behalf of the IDPs, nursing mothers, pregnant women, school children, market women and the sick, all of who had suffered deprivation, on account of the activities of her husband’s government in which she was an active participant, have the effrontery to sue the EFCC for peeping into her closets of looted funds?

Time has come for us to rethink the office of the first lady, now that it has become an office for slush funds and for abuse by those who should protect and preserve its sanctity. That office should be sanitised, thoroughly over-sighted or scrapped since it does not even exist in our statutes books. Instead of the first ladies to support their husbands in office through input in policies, especially gender-based issues affecting women and children, they, through their aides and cronies, dip their hands in the till, yet they have no constitutional roles. Mrs. Jonathan, who in office was known for her drama and theatrics won’t go down without living an indelible mark.  Her recent legal altercation with the EFCC is indeed legendry and classic display of crass penchant for the absurd.

Ondo primaries:Bloody nose for the money bags

The Ondo All Progressives Congress (APC) primary election has come and gone but it has, to some extent, left sour taste in the mouth. By the way, the conduct of the election as shown in the open appeared free, fair and transparent; however, the clandestine wrangling and nocturnal intrigues that took place before the election is a throw-back to everything that democracy should be about. Sadly for the fixer- in-chief, the verdict did not favour their anointed candidate

Events preceding the primary election had shown the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, pitched against the eventual winner and his estranged godson, Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), the former President of NBA. Tinubu threw his weight behind his chosen aspirant, Dr. Olusegun Abraham, but the man lost to a less favoured man despite ‘distributing’ mind-boggling amount of money to the almost 3,000 delegates. This is majorly the crux of this piece. However, the demystification of Tinubu is another side to the story. Dr. Abraham enjoyed the support of Tinubu, the state executives and majority of the delegates, while Akeredolu was said to have been endorsed by the presidency and some ministers like Babatunde Fashola and Rotimi Amaechi. And so it was that the tide was turned against the grandmaster’s favoured aspirant. What happened in Ondo state has set the stage for political turmoil, game and betrayals that are in the offing even in other states. The true test of aspirants’ popularity, acceptability and support base in any elections against anointment, inducement with money and endorsement will be unraveling in the coming months and years.

Talking about inducing delegates to sway votes, the delegates system of electing representatives has over the years entrenched corruption, so much that the winner is not necessarily the best or most popular but the one with the biggest war chest. In the case of Ondo, Dr. Abraham, the anointed candidate was alleged to have shared about N500,000 to delegates, Dr Olusola Oke gave N300,000, while Akeredolu gave out NI50,000 each. Multiply the amount by about 3,000 delegates and the cost of doing primaries alone runs into billions. In what is dubbed election scam on the social media, the people are now questioning APC’s spending spree via-a-vis their change mantra and the economic recession.

Although the most celebrated part of the Ono story is the defeat of the highest spender who was backed by the most colourful and powerful political grandmaster of the moment, the issue is beyond him. Our delegates system needs to be reviewed, scrutinised and amended. It has outlived its time and no longer sustainable. It is one of the remote causes of budget padding and corruption in the polity. Imagine spending over N1.5 billion to win a primary election as the god father’s candidate was set to do, or the eventual winner, Akeredolu who at N150,000 per delegate must have also spent about N450,000,000 in addition, to the cost of campaigns, renting of crowd and greasing of the palms of community/election victory influencers. When they are eventually elected, their first preoccupation in office is to recoup their expenditures.

The story is told of how one of the governors in the North Central emerged as a governorship candidate some years back. His predecessor who was still in government and wanted him as his successor expended as much as N600,000 on each delegate to outspend his closest rival who had disbursed about N500,000. So, the next four years was a crisis for the backwater state, the citizens and the governor who emerged through that money-guzzling process. He (the governor) was caught in the mix and confused about how to maximise the resources of the state, pay back the ex-godfather governor and deliver on good governance. Of course the crisis of prioritization snowballed into another controversial issue of patronage in government. And because the governor could not sustain the old system of doling out money and still do the needful, the citizens could not understand his predicament. The party men, leaders and delegates who had benefitted monetarily as delegates, wanted the largesse to continue and political appointees cried foul; it was complaints galore until the party was defeated at the polls. 

An indulging system that allows one man to control the levers of power and determines who gets/becomes what is anachronistic to democratic ethos. Therefore, what transpired in Ondo was like a revolt against cronyism and god- fatherism, and a lesson to would-be godfathers who are ready to spend billions on the election of one man with the hope of returns in form of contract kickbacks, while the state(s) and citizens remain tethered to the godfather’s apron strings without basic needs.

So while the APC godfather(s) got a bloody nose from the Ondo experiment, the final result was a vindication of the power of the people to decide who governs them; what Senator Alasoadura, himself a contender in the election, described as the triumph of the supremacy and sovereignty of the people.

Hopefully, this new narrative, coupled with the card reader, should ensure that the best candidate wins the gubernatorial election in Ondo state, just as we hope the same thinking manifests in the Edo election this weekend.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Part-time legislature: IBB’s belated panacea and lawmakers’ baggage

Zainab Suleiman Okino
RENDEZVOUS,        08098209791       Text only
Part-time legislature: IBB’s belated panacea and lawmakers’ baggage 

Former military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd), does not shy away from controversies. Consciously or inadvertently, he courts them. Last week, he used the occasion of his 75th birthday to regurgitate the recurring issue of part-time law-making as a panacea to the economic recession and resultant hardship being witnessed in Nigeria.
Whenever the subject of economic downturn engendered by the drop in revenue from oil and other financial difficulties comes up, attention is always focused on members of the National Assembly and their excesses and how they have become a drainpipe on our lean national resources. On the social media, figures are bandied about to prove their culpability. The retired general’s tirade last week is not in isolation. To be sure, IBB is not alone in this thought, but coming from a former head of state and a statesman, part-time legislature is now on the top burner of our national discourse. IBB who said he made the same proposal as military president noted: “In 1989, we proposed that the National Assembly should be made a part time and I still believe if I have the opportunity, I will make it a part-time. I strongly believe in it and it is all in an effort to reduce the high cost of governance and I know I may be in trouble for suggesting part-time legislature”
With due respect to the revered general and former military president, the military institution, his constituency entrenched the skewed federalism we now practise, and which conversely brought about the centralisation of governance. Under the military-fashioned constitutions we have had, including IBB’s, the federal government wields enormous powers and controls over 50 percent of the nation’s resources. It is the same military that midwifed the current constitution and the last 16 years had not seen significant amendments. So how can a man who ruled for eight years, instituted diarchy, established a two-party system, cancelled presidential primary election that was on course to produce a candidate, annulled the freest presidential election in the nation’s history and stepped aside on his own terms say he did not have ample opportunity to make his later-day theory of part-time legislature a reality? It is either IBB did not have the political will, at a time the country had the resources, or as a converted democrat, he now has a new perspective because, a new reality has dawned on all of us.  
In the US where states are not appendages of the federal government, only about nine states out of 50 have full time legislatures. So the same military, starting from General Yakubu Gowon’s time ensured the states do not have the autonomy to do things their own way, while encouraging uniformity, in a federation that does not even allow the exploration of mineral resources on the concurrent list. That’s why back water states like Kogi, Taraba, Yobe and Ebonyi, to mention but a few, are maintaining full-time legislatures, the same way oil rich Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom; an  insignificant percentage (executive inclusive) gulping the state’s allocation/resources at the detriment of the entirety of the people and much needed infrastructure development.
To the law-makers who have been in the forefront in their condemnation of the IBB bitter pill, there is the need for reflection on current happenings at the National Assembly. How many bills on welfare and poverty alleviation, as they concern the people who voted them to office do they initiate, deliberate upon and pass into law. How many pro-people bills were passed by the 7th National Assembly?
 Since the beginning of the new dispensation, the members have spent more time on proposed immunity clause for themselves, how to curtail the powers of CCB and budget padding as it favoured them than making laws for the good of the generality of the people, while many have stopped going home, and are unperturbed about negative tendencies in their constituencies. Take the example of Rep Abdulmumuni Jibrin. He is in the House for the third time. Until the bubble burst lately, he has always wangled his way into ‘juicy’ committees in exchange for his support for the leadership of the House. Most contracts for constituency projects are always awarded to the lawmakers, who either execute the jobs haphazardly or do nothing at all after collecting the contract money depending on their political affiliation. 
Sincerely, even with our lean resources, Nigerians will not broach the idea of part-time legislature if their lawmakers think out of the box and make laws for the peace and progress of the nation. Nigerians perceive them as corrupt career politicians adept at budget padding, while abdicating their responsibilities.
Despite IBB’s later than never proposal, I’m convinced that one way to get out of our economic quagmire is to reduce expenditures, not only in the legislature, but even at the executive level. We have an agency statutorily empowered to fix the emoluments of political appointees—the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, (RMFC) which to the best of my knowledge, is also constitutionally independent.  Why is that agency keeping quite in the face of the current economic crunch? Why is it left out of this debate? Who is gagging RMFC? Is it not this same agency that fixed these bogus salaries, allowances and perquisites of office? Why has it not summoned up the courage to reduce same to reflect the current economic challenges?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Religious subsidy, budget padding in a nation of frivolities

The Nigerian political elite has a way of diverting people’s  attention from serious developmental defects to mundane matters that sometimes border on the personal interest of a few people, but which are given patriotic colouration.  Some of these overlooked issues affect our reputation as a nation but are taken for granted by those in the position of authority, making Nigeria the butt of jokes all over the world.
Penultimate week, I was on a trip to Dubai enroute to Birmingham, United Kingdom. It was supposed to be a six-hour journey from Nigeria to the UK but I ended up spending almost 20 hours. The choice of Emirates Airline to connect through to Birmingham was informed by the outrageous amount I could not afford to pay for a direct trip, so I chose the long, unwieldy route. Unfortunately, a seven-hour plus journey to Dubai became nine hours because the aircraft had to go to Accra, Ghana to get aviation fuel.
It is an irony that the world’s sixth producer of oil could not make aviation fuel available for visiting airlines. It was scandalous in the least and a huge embarrassment to the Nigerian passengers in the aircraft that their oil-rich country in an era of change failed again to measure up to a global standard. I later learnt from co-passengers that the same aviation fuel problem led to the cancellation of the Lagos to Dubai flight and passengers directed to Abuja for the combined flight. 
Closely strung with aviation fuel scarcity is the skyrocketing cost of kerosene. If you ask me, government should have continued to subsidise kerosene. Here is one product that is closest to the ordinary voting public who cannot afford gas. Kerosene currently sells between N200 and N220 per litre as against NNPC’s fixed price of N150. For years now government has been preaching against tree felling and the need to preserve the environment. Absence of funds to buy cooking gas (where food is even available) have led the masses of this country to resort to cooking with firewood.    
While President Muhammadu Buhari led-government cannot subsidise kerosene to put the basic need of man (food) on the table for the family, the same government has made another costly mistake of making forex available at the official rate to intending pilgrims by way of ‘subsidy’.  The naira is almost N400 to a dollar, but intending pilgrims will get it at the official rate. In a circular said to have emanated from the CBN, the FG would spend N11.92bn to subsidise 65.197 pilgrims at the official rate of N197.Yet the government is said to have stopped the sponsorship of pilgrimages in another classic case of policy somersaults. Apart from sending a bad signal, pilgrimage is the least worry of a hungry man and largely a private affair. It is true what they say that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’ and you can never win any argument concerning religion in this country.
Politicians do use religion to manipulate the people sometimes but definitely not all the time. On the subsidy case, they are beginning to ask questions. One such trite question went viral at the weekend on the social media.  “Why is the government spending N11.92bn to subsidise religious trips when there are over 2.1m Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in 12 Northern states and  FCT, many of whom are dying of starvation in the various IDP camps?” 
 The Naira is in a free fall, inflation is rising, taxes are being raised without commensurate improvement in people’s lives kidnapping is on the increase, robbery has not abated, wanton and indiscriminate killings are on the rise, and Fulani herdsmen are on rampage, yet the populace is only inundated with mundane and insignificant issues like the Fayose/Aisha Buhari altercation, what she wore to the US, the cost of her hand bag, etc.  
Some disputes are pedestrian, yet we dissipate energies and resources on them. More than a year after the coming into being of this government, we are still arguing over how their leadership emerged. Again, does it matter if the leadership would provide strategic direction in governance? After Speaker Yakubu Dogara’s visit to President Buhari over the budget padding controversy, he was accosted by journalists; the question was whether he would resign or not. His response was casual. “Resign for what”? For him as an experienced lawmaker, padding or insertion is within their constitutional power, and as such all the hues and cries are mere storms in a tea cup. Gullible Nigerians took over the personal problem between Speaker Dogara and Rep Abdulmumuni and tore themselves into pieces, while sleeping on their. We should look beyond the budget padding, because it is now a legal document and so a done deal. In any case, at the appropriate time, especially when 2019 is at the corner, all these warring groups would coalesce for a common purpose. 
Although there is virtually no difference between APC and PDP, Nigerians can take each other to the cleaners in defence of one against the other, but for the politicians, it is a free movement between the two. With all the insults hauled at each other by the supporters of Buhari and Jonathan, when the duo met last week, it was all smiles, exchange of banters and camaraderie on display.
Nigerians should stop fighting proxy wars; instead they should demand for good governance, and why such a promising government is falling like a pack of cards. They should ask why there is so much mediocrity in a nation of millions of smart people. Above all Nigerians should ask Buhari, his party and the men at the corridors of power why they have dashed their hopes, so early in the day.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The mess gets messier

These days, events are unfolding at such a dizzying pace; there is hardly sufficient time and space to x-ray them. In the last two weeks, I had thought of countless things to write about which I never got to doing before some other pressing issues reared their heads. A few weeks ago, there was talk of ‘government within government’, an unfortunate reference to how a powerful clique/cabal holds governments hostage, calls the shots and determines who gets what, and sometimes undermines their principal in the process.  I wanted to title it “Captives in Government House” in reference to the elected official held captives by their own appointees. This scenario exists at both the centre of governance and in the states.

 At the presidency, there is said to be heightened tension and mutual suspicion among the men (and women) around President Muhammadu Buhari, leading to questions about the constitutionality of their positions vis a vis the influence they exert on the decisions and policies of the presidency. Such influential men around the president include Alhaji Mamman Daura, Abba Kyari, the president’s Chief of staff, his wife, Aisha Buhari, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Munguno, some influential personal staff and ministers. This paper once reported on the powers chiefs of staff wield in states and their influence on the chief executives, despite not having constitutionally designated roles like the deputy governor and the secretary to the state government.

At the National Assembly, came another mess that created ripples in the polity. At a time Nigerians are hungry and angry, a time when the leadership of the Senate is under public scrutiny over forgery trial and budget padding, all they could think about was to initiate a bill to give them immunity against prosecution. Already, pressure is mounting to amend the constitutional immunity governors currently enjoy.  If only the lawmakers know that public opinion is against them and #OccupyNass is still trending, they would not dare to provoke Nigerians with the proposal of another irritating law. 

Then came the Senator Dino Melaye saga: I didn’t want to dignify Melaye and his rabble-rousing antics with any form of comments. His altercation with Senator Remi Tinubu is just an extension of the Senate President Bukola Saraki and APC national leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu’s feud over the manner the former emerged. So, how does this benefit or put food on the table of those who voted them into power?

It is disturbing that instead of engaging in people-centered policies, productive discourses and making progressive laws, all that the APC government and its elected officials have engaged in since assumption of power is supremacy battle, mutual suspicion and proxy wars. They have forgotten so soon, how Nigerians derided and rejected the PDP for taking the people for granted. They should be reminded that 2019 is not too far off and card readers are still in use, and Nigerians are much wiser.

Another issue threatening the anti-corruption stance of this government is the alleged shielding of President Buhari’s right hand men in the army procurement probe.  Chief of Army Stafff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, who previously served as Director of Procurement at the Defence Headquarters, curiously, was neither indicted nor recommended for prosecution. Not forgetting Abdulrahman Dambazzau whose era as Chief of Army Staff was cleverly left out of the probe in what is now referred to as a doctored and selective probe report; thereby creating ripple effects and casting a dark cloud over government’s sincerity.

Dambazzau served as Chief of Army staff between 2008 and 2010, so how could he have been left out of the probe hook? This is contrary to Lai muhammed’s claim that the interim report only worked on procurement and contracts awards between 2007 and 2016. Meanwhile, Gen Kenneth Minimah and Lt Azubike Ihejirika who served after Dambazzau, were indicted, and their prosecution has been okayed by the president. This amounts to changing the rules in the middle of a game. By okaying the prosecution of some people and leaving out his allies, the president did not prove there would be justice for all in his anti-graft war.

In 2006/2007, the Ribadu-led, and Obasanjo propelled EFCC went into frenzied political vendetta and issued guidelines on who was corrupt, and who was qualified or not qualified to run for office. All the ‘friends of government’ then eventually got ruffled one way or the other? A good example is Olabode George who was jailed by the Yar’Adua government after he was left off the hook by the Obasanjo government. So for everyone who had their hands in the till, or appropriated our collective patrimony or used their office to obstruct the course of justice, a day of reckoning will come their way, some day.

In the face of the myriad of problems the country is faced with, it is disheartening that the authorities at the executive and legislative levels only engage in trivial supremacy battle, personality clash and ego tripping, while serious issues of national concern are trivialized and relegated to the background.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Another bailout for governors to squander?

Even when the controversies engendered by the last bailout are still simmering, the Federal Government has begun the disbursement of N90B conditional loan facility, as it is called to 35 states that indicated interest to that effect.
The Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Kemi Adeosun announced the new elixir last month to the chagrin of Nigerians who questioned the propriety of the first bailout owing to reported cases of mismanagement and misapplication by many state governors.
Last year, the FG doled out the sum of N713.7B to the 36 states, for the purpose of solving the problem of backlog of indebtedness to civil servants across the country. However, despite that ‘magnanimity’, the chilling tales of woes coming from the states, owing to non-payment of salaries, are still worrisome. This has further elicited many questions: for how long will states continue to come cap in hand to Abuja for more money? Is it sustainable for states to be solely dependent on the FG? Is the so-called bailout facility really being channeled to the people/civil servants on whose behalf the money is made available? Is it not time for us as a nation to discuss our revenue sharing formula? For how long will the FG continue to play a benefactor role while the states remain its appendages.? With all the reported cases of mismanagement and misapplication of the previous bailout, why were there no investigation and prosecution?

 The FG said the loan facility was secured from the private sector, but a loan is a loan and can at best make the borrower poorer. Although states that applied for the first bailout supposedly did so to settle workers’ salaries and emoluments, most state governors were alleged to have diverted the funds to other purposes and left the civil servants high and dry without the much needed succour. The report of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC in conjunction with the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC’s, further revealed the excesses of the governors and how they pinched or outrightly misappropriated the bailout money.

Again, some states were said to have either exaggerated their indebtedness or had no use for the loan, yet they applied and got, only for them to divert same to what fancied their interests. The governor of Zamfara state, Abdulaziz Yari used his to pay contractors.  Rochas Okorocha was alleged to have transferred Imo’s into two commercial banks for use other than payment of workers, including diversion to Government House, payment to project account and micro finance bank. Jubrila Bindow of Adamawa state was said to have disbursed only N2.3B out of N9B. Bauchi state got over N8.6, yet it did not owe workers salaries. Gov. Samuel Ortom of Benue state governor was accused of buying cars for legislators with the states. Ditto with Nasiru El-Rufa of Kaduna state. Yahaya Bello of Kogi state got N20B but the civil servants are still groaning, because the man is holding the money. Katsina, Gombe, Nassarawa and Niger all disbursed less that what they got. The Oyo example is the most bizarre. Gov Ajimobi told Oyo workers to apologise to him for refusing to heed his call not to down tools. In a nutshell, almost all the governors came up with tactics and strategies that made it impossible for the money to trickle down. This has left agony, poverty and misery in their trail.

  When the idea of a bailout for states was first muted, Nigerians embraced it. In fact they took it hook, line and sinker until the governors bastadised the concept, tinkered with the money and squandered the goodwill behind it. Although the new bailout is coming with stringent conditions, it is doubtful if the same governors who saw the first as a form of war booty or largesse and presided over its sharing can this time, judiciously disburse it.

It is rather disappointing that a government that makes war on corruption its swansong would sweep all these allegations under the carpet without any form of investigation, while the culprits (the governors) are rather curiously being rewarded with another bailout loan that might not serve the interest of the people, but will further pauperise their states. It is a misplacement of priority and a huge fraud. Doling out money without accountability can lead to profligacy and mismanagement. If the bail out is truly meant to cushion the effect of the economic meltdown and its effect on the people, the FG should device another means of reflating the economy, and not through the governors. What is currently happening to civil servants is a throw back to those days when civil servants had to depend on odd and menial jobs to survive. In some states, civil servants have resorted to selling off their property to be able to feed their families and pay children’s school fees.

Bailout is not sustainable, and definitely not the best way to say ‘thank you’ to the electorate who trooped out to vote to effect the change mantra that ushered in this government. The solution to states’ debt overhang is not hand out in form of bailout. The governors should instead look inward and get their priorities right. They have a retinue of jobless aides, they go into projects that have no direct impact on the people, all because, they have Abuja to look unto. They should be realistic and proactive; they should know that the days of excess crude oil account money are over. They should look inwards for sources other than Abuja to augment their monthly allocations which by the way have been dwindling since last year due to crash of oil price in the international market and our own domestic problems such as renewed insurgency in the Niger Delta, corruption and wastages.