The Edo APC Fiasco

Eze Onyekpere

Just imagine, in the United States of America from where we copied our presidential system, a governor seeking second term from the Democratic Party suddenly being disqualified and the Republican Party immediately admits him and starts positioning him for the ticket to contest the governorship as its torchbearer. The is exactly the equivalent of what happened in Edo State last week. Politics without ideas; politics for the sake of pursuit of power and power for no use but personal aggrandisement. It is not about the people who are considered mere pawns in the pursuit of the zero sum game where a winner takes all.

Today, a political party calls itself progressive and goes ahead to mouth propaganda as change agents when there is no difference between the two major parties – the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party. At a time of great national crisis when the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the land; when criminals have taken over large swatches of land and killing an average of 20 persons per day and the federation of Nigeria is now insolvent as we are borrowing to pay salaries and deploying 99.3% of our retained revenue to debt service, the political leaders are not congregating in committees to think of the next steps – of how to get the country and its states out of the woods. Instead, it is just the raw pursuit of power and nothing else.

The Edo APC fiasco shows a purported democracy without democrats. Clearly, everyone now knew that the suspended APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, was playing a godfather role to Governor Obaseki and they were supposed to share the spoils of power in accordance with their laid down agreement which was done not in the interest of Edo people but the selfish interest of the gladiators. Somewhere along the line, the falcon could no longer hear the falconer and things have fallen apart. The few details in the public domain were about who became the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, how positions in the state executive were to be shared and all kinds of power play issues that had nothing to do with the overriding public interest in the state. Before Edo people understood what was happening, members of Oshiomhole’s APC ward reportedly suspended him from the party, and this was approved up to the state level. This is the legal foundation of the push in the courts for Oshiomhole to vacate the chairmanship of the party. The courts seemed to agree with this line of reasoning that since he had been suspended by his ward, he could no longer function as national chairman. Oshiomhole lost it at the High Court, got a reprieve for a month or so and now the Court of Appeal has reaffirmed his vacation of office pending the determination of the main issues.

With the full understanding of the political jungle, Oshiomhole was convinced that as a former governor of the Edo State, he could not have been suspended from the party without the prompting of the governor who most likely had the line-up of the party at his beck and call. So, he went for the kill and used the machinery of the party at the federal level to disqualify Obaseki from contesting on the ticket for the party for a second term. Obaseki was wrong; Oshiomhole was also wrong. Two wrongs do not make a right. What was the exact sin of Oshiomhole that led to his suspension? Since the crisis, no one has mentioned the unbecoming conduct of the suspended chairman which led to his suspension, not at the national level where he presided but at the ward level.  A system where some local manipulatable ward officials will be used by the puppet master to congregate for the sole purpose of sacking a national chairman cannot be described as democratic in any sense. On the other hand, turning the constitution of the APC upside down and selecting a screening and appeal committees solely for the purpose of disqualification of a governor who had been marketed to the Edo people as the best thing to happen to them since creation was a blatant abuse of power.

What is clearly lacking in the above scenarios is the doctrine of checks and balances and its application in the APC system. A situation where the governor is the virtual un-moveable mover of the party and determines the entire line-up of the parry, starting from the ward, local government, to state officials of the party cannot be democracy in action. The governor dominates his environment like a colossus and refuses to bulge or in any way share power with anyone. This is beyond the APC as it is the same position in the other parties. As a people very easy to enslave, governors find members of their party either expendable or purchasable or they use naked state power to whip members into line. Very few persons dare challenge the state governor who always rules as an Imperial Majesty.

On the other hand, godfathers are known to demand a pound of flesh before and after endorsing a candidate to become a governor. Nigeria’s recent political history has shown that godfathers hardly sponsor anyone to legislative positions. But they are often doing this in the executive, especially gubernatorial positions – a position which will oversee the finances of the state.This is the experience from Anambra, Lagos, Oyo and now Edo State. What is at stake is not just power for mere atarvism but power to take control of the purse so that an unelected person begins to determine how state resources are (mis) managed.

There is a way forward which needs to be chartered with legislation and policy. This is a call on the National Assembly to start work immediately on the amendment of the Electoral Act. The amendment should spell out provisions strengthening internal democracy in political parties, ensure the activation of one person one vote and remove the undue influence of both the governor and the godfather. The godfather should be tackled through a de-monetisation process of the political system. Furthermore, the courts should be made to play a positive role in the political crisis rather than the current situation where cases are scattered in different courts of concurrent jurisdiction; some court orders cancelling out earlier orders when the second court is not a Court of Appeal.

We cannot continue to ridicule basic notions of democracy and pretend that all is well and that we can develop through a manipulation of the system; allowing a few individuals to determine the fate of millions on the prism of their selfish interest. Democracy should be about the people and not a few well-heeled individuals. So, if the permutations go right, Obaseki will fly the flag of the PDP while Osagie Ize-Iyanmu will fly the flag of the APC, a reversal of the flags the bearers were holding four years ago.

The Edo people have a date with history. They should reject at the coming polls, all persons who have participated in this rape of democracy and its being subjected to ridicule. This is the only way to teach those who overreach themselves some lessons in democratic consolidation.

Time To Change Strategy On The Insurgency

Eze Onyekpere

Nigeria is challenged in every facet of national life. The economy is undergoing a crisis and is expected to enter a recession whilst the state is no longer able to guarantee law and order and security of lives and property in many parts of the federation. But there is a government in place at the federal, state and local government levels. This discourse will focus on the law and order issues and the failure of the state to live up to its basic security obligation. I contend that while the constitution declares the security and welfare of the people as the primary purpose of government, it seems that security comes first because the pursuit of welfare can only be done within the confines of a secure environment.

The obligation to provide security and dominate the environment through the constitutional law and order mechanism is part of the attributes of statehood. A state is expected to have a government in firm control of its territory, with a monopoly of the instruments of the legitimate use of force and coercion. This is imperative for a guarantee of the territorial integrity of the state. The maintenance of law and order demands an outlay of proportionate resources for the task. In the last couple of years, security has taken the largest chunk of public expenditure. But instead of the killings abating, more Nigerian blood is spilled daily. Recall that in the earlier part of the year, the two chambers of the National Assembly unanimously called for the sacking of the service chiefs in charge of the counterinsurgency operations. In his usual tradition, the President did not honour the motion and left the service chiefs in their place. Essentially, he endorsed and reinforced failure.

The conflict situation especially in the North-East, to a large extent, reflects a breakdown of law and order and a situation where armed groups have denounced the authority of the Nigerian state and overtly and covertly through violence seek to establish a state to be governed under their religious preference. Yes, the government has responded with military force but at the same time, still offers an amnesty and reintegration into society programme for the so-called repentant insurgents. But this is not working as the insurgents are fighting an ideological war as against the experience in the Niger Delta, where the youths became violent for economic reasons and once they were given jobs and other economic opportunities, they dropped their agitation. Amnesty and jobs will not change the course of a group which insists that the entire nation must covert to their religion before they make peace. Economic empowerment will only embolden the group to make more war.

In the North-West, we have armed groups operating above the law and the security agencies seem helpless to curtail their activities.  In the last one week, over 150 Nigerians have been murdered in cold blood by these criminals between Borno and Katsina states and the major response from the state authority is to send condolence messages and the usual assurances which have not stopped the killings.

In the North-East, these groups have been properly designated for what they are- terrorists. But in the North-West, the language and description were twisted, and terrorists are simply referred to as bandits. The Nigerian law is clear on what constitutes acts of terrorism. The Terrorism Prevention Act of 2011 defines terrorism in Section 1 to include: an act which is deliberately done with malice, aforethought and which: (a) may seriously harm or damage a country or an international organisation; (b) is intended or can reasonably be regarded as having been intended to- (i) unduly compel a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act; (ii) seriously intimidate a population; (iii) seriously destabilise or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation; or (iv) otherwise influence such government or international organisation by intimidation or coercion. Furthermore, it includes actions which (c) involve or cause, as the case may be -(i) an attack upon a person’s life which may cause serious bodily harm or death; (ii) kidnapping of a person; (iii) destruction to a Government or public facility, a transport system, an infrastructure facility, including an information system, a fixed platform located on the continental shelf, a public place or private property, likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss; (iv) the seizure of an aircraft, ship or other means of public or goods transport and diversion or the use of such means of transport for any of illegal purposes.

In the North-West, the refusal to recognise and treat these criminals as terrorists and even negotiations and payments made to them have emboldened them. The pictures in the media over a year ago of state governors and senior police officers exchanging pleasantries and views with terrorists on a so-called amnesty programme were very disgusting and called to question the quality of our governance. Men who should have been prosecuted for the aggravated and multiple murders they committed were humoured by officials entrusted to bring them to justice. It was huge failure of governance and now that they have reinforced and escalated the killings, what is the way forward? It is also clear that many of these terrorists in the North-West may not be Nigerians. Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano State made that disclosure recently when he asked the Federal Government not to leave our borders with neighbouring countries open.

For the Federal Government, there is no more time left to continue the old track. So much is at stake in terms of human lives that have been wasted and that would continue to be wasted if we continue this track. Even the denial and scoring the administration high on security as happened in the presidential June 12 speech appear like a dance on the grave of the thousands of victims of these terrorists. We cannot continue to play politics when lives are at stake. Change is a constant part of human life and if we need to check the insurgency, we must change the extant strategy. It is obvious the extant system, strategy, personnel and everything about the counterinsurgency are not working. If they are not working, they should be changed. The United States of America is on fire for the loss of one life but we lost over a hundred in a week and continue to pretend that all is well. No, it is not well.

In the final analysis, there is a message for President Buhari; it is time to change strategy, hire new service chiefs, motivate the frontline troops and their commanders; bring in fresh ideas and unleash the energy of the Nigerian people to defend themselves against their adversaries. The terrorists in the North-West must be properly addressed as terrorists, not as bandits.

Oil Price And Getting The Economy Back To Work

Eze Onyekpere

Nigeria is at the crossroad once again. The price of crude oil which is the mainstay of our economy has plummeted. Oil provides over 60 per cent of our revenues as well as over 85 per cent of the foreign exchange receipts. While the 2020 federal budget was based on the benchmark price of $57 per barrel of crude oil, the commodity now sells for about $33. This scenario applies to state and local government budgets because the benchmark price was used in the preparation of the medium-term expenditure framework which defined the revenues accruable to the federation account to be shared by the three tiers of government. Many states and local governments depend on federation account allocations for their economic survival.

Reduced oil revenue will play a negative role in the realization of non-oil revenue to the extent that oil revenue is required for imports of raw materials to power firms in the non-oil sector. Again, low oil revenue is a very sad news for our ability to pay back our debts. Currently, Nigeria is servicing debts with over 53 per cent of her earned revenue. The collapse of oil price will increase the percentage to not less than 65 per cent of earned revenue. And this is coming at a time we have heavily borrowed in foreign currency and the Senate had just given the nod for extra $22.9bn in new foreign borrowing.

The low price of crude oil did not come to Nigeria as a surprise. We have been through several boom burst cycles where the price of crude oil skyrocketed and we went on a spending and mismanagement binge and thereafter, started crying like babies when the price collapsed. We were at this economic junction in the early eighties of austerity measures through the low oil price of the nineties. Again, the global economic crisis of 2008 brought us to this same point. The oil price slump was a war long declared and could not have met a crippled person suddenly. Evidently, the major feature of Nigeria’s economic governance is the failure to draw lessons and make previous unfortunate events, opportunities and springboards for progress and development. We have refused to learn and therefore stagnated from the seventies to the present day.

The Excess Crude Account was created under S.35 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act to draw lessons from the past and to break the boom burst cycle of spending crude oil money. This fact is contrary to uninformed opinion which simply states that the Excess Crude Account is not backed by law. The section specifically provides that when the reference commodity price rises above the predetermined level, the resulting excess proceeds shall be saved in the Central Bank of Nigeria. No government in the federation shall have access to the savings unless the predetermined commodity price falls below the predetermined level for a period of three consecutive months and the withdrawal from the account shall be limited to such sums that will bring the revenue of government to the level contained in its budget estimates. Again, these clauses have been reproduced in all federal Appropriation Acts since 2007 when the FRA became law. However, every succeeding administration pretends that the law never existed. It was only the Obasanjo administration that obeyed the law and saved the proceeds of crude oil sales above the reference commodity price. A couple of days before the current oil price collapse, officials of the federal government were busy trying to explain how they dissipated the little accruals in the ECA – an explanation which failed to comply with the letter and spirit of the FRA. Also, there is the Sovereign Wealth Fund established by an Act of the National Assembly which defines how Nigeria can sustainably manage her crude oil wealth. But this law is also obeyed in the breach.

Now, how do we get out of this quagmire, especially to fund the 2020 federal budget. This discourse seeks to point out opportunities of revenue which can be tapped immediately. The starting point is the report of the Federal Auditor General for the years 2016 and 2017. If all outstanding sums due to the federal consolidated revenue fund and the federation account are recovered and utilized, the federal government will be able to fund the 2020 budget without borrowing.

Two examples will suffice; the Department of Petroleum Resources has an outstanding amount of $3.214billion in respect of royalty and rent. This money if recovered is N.157trillion at N360=1USD. Also, the $679.4million outstanding with the Bureau of Public Enterprises from the concession of Nigeria Ports Authority if recovered amounts to N244.58billion. There are several other infractions of this magnitude awaiting recovery.

This is the time for Nigeria to stop the petroleum subsidy fraud. Refined oil can come into Nigeria at less than the government defined pump price. Nigerians will enjoy the reduced price and when the price increases, it will be clear that government has no hand in fixing the price anymore. Hundreds of billions will be saved and channeled to more productive investments. This is also the time for government to encourage that Dangote Group to speed up construction of the fabled petroleum refinery so that we can totally stop the waste in importing refined petroleum and become an exporter of refined products.  Further, it is widely reported by authoritative sources that Nigeria loses 400,000 barrels of crude oil every day. This needs to be stopped. At $30 per barrel, 400,000 barrels is $12million everyday and $4.38billion over 365 days. If the price of crude oil increases based on improved demand, the income would definitely be more than this sum.

Now is the time for high ranking executives and lawmakers to stop this madness of importing vehicles and other commodities that are produced or can be produced locally. To stave off another recession, local companies must be empowered through effective demand to increase production and thereby employ more Nigerians and have increased profits to pay corporate income tax to the treasury. The country needs to extend the incentives it is putting into agriculture into the automobile sector. But it must distinguish between actual production of vehicles and mere assembly of vehicles. The former needs more encouragement than the later. The border closure that has been on for several months needs to be carefully reconsidered and a permanent solution found to the smuggling challenge. Nigeria cannot afford to permanently close its borders as this is not beneficial to the nation’s economy over the medium to long term.

Finally, Nigeria as a nation must come to a decision to forget the crude oil resource and over the medium term, move on to production and value addition as the mainstay of its trading arrangements, especially to earn foreign currency. We must fix the glitches in the ECA and the Sovereign Wealth Fund going forward. Beyond the oil glut and the coronavirus challenge, virtually all developed countries have started implementing plans for a post fossil energy world. This may be a good opportunity to wake us up from our slumber.

Nigerian State’s Obligation On The Right To Life

Eze Onyekpere(censoj@gmail.com; 08127235995)

On a daily basis, the reports coming out of different parts of Nigeria present the reality of a county at war with itself, an ungoverned territory where life has become “brutish, nasty and short.” The Nigerian security story is not one of perception but the story of real flesh and blood, of people who are murdered and these victims have relatives who have the unfortunate task of burying and grieving over them. The body count has become embarrassing while all our claims to the ability to govern ourselves fall flat on the face of this failure of governance.

This discourse seeks to proffer a jurisprudential postulate of a few ideas which could possibly offer insights into this orgy of blood. The starting point is to confirm that the right to life is the most fundamental of the human and fundamental rights. Rights and duties are only for the living and as such, the right to life is the fulcrum upon which other rights revolve. Dead persons have no rights. Government primarily exists to protect life and property and to maintain law and order. It is the first duty and test of governance, development, civilisation and showcasing of our humanity. Any country, state or community where lives are lost as a matter of routine, that the living no longer gets shocked by the body count as happens in Nigeria, has lost it all. The leadership of the three arms of government in the executive, legislature and judiciary must come to a full understanding of the primacy of life. If they do, it will be the first step towards protecting the sanctity of life. All the political actors must come to a bi-partisan understanding of the challenge to the right to life so that decisions will not be subject to political manipulation.

In the three duties of the state in matters of human rights, including the right to life, the state must respect, protect and fulfil the right to life through ensuring that it takes no positive steps to deprive people of their right to life. The state should refrain from arbitrarily and unnecessarily interfering with the right to life. This is a negative obligation and may seem easy and straightforward. In this respect, using arbitrary gun licensing and ownership laws to deprive people of the means necessary for survival and self-protection from criminal elements may amount to an interference with this negative obligation. Also, attempts by the Federal Government to unduly challenge the mobilisation of human and material resources by states to support the local policing and security architecture may amount to the deprecation of this first obligation. Respect for life under this umbrella includes respect for the means of livelihood because no one can live without the means of living. Thus, any state action that unduly undermines the lawful and legitimate means of individuals and communities to survival may be tilting towards depriving the victims of their right to life. Even in war situations, contrary to the popular Nigerian belief arising from the civil war, starvation is not a legal or legitimate instrument of war. Officials behind such a campaign, if properly documented, may be liable to genocide and war crimes.

Also, all political actors who recruit and arm thugs and criminals during elections or use the official agencies such as the police and the army to perpetrate violence leading to death come up for strong condemnation. Overflowing evidence shows that light weapons are particularly very available during political campaigns for elective offices and the weapons have in fact been used for warlike political manouvres like the 2019 Rivers State elections. Who collects back the weapons bought for these criminally minded elements after the elections? When political leaders deliberately import non-Nigerians to swell up the numbers and vote for them, who ensures that those illegally allowed in leave and go back to their countries after the elections? Is it true that some of these criminals do not even speak English or any known indigenous Nigerian language as reported in the media coverage of some murders?

The second obligation, being the duty to protect, mandates the state to take steps to stop third parties from violating the right to life. These third parties could be natural or artificial persons. This appears to be the obligation that is most disrespected in Nigeria. It is the duty of the police and other security agencies to maintain law and order and protect the social dynamics and equilibrium of society. There is a state obligation to prevent the crime of murder through uniformed and undercover officers and agents. Where reports come from locals about impending attacks, there is also a state obligation, while verifying the information, to deploy more men and resources to protect the communities. In areas prone to attacks, there is the need for the combination of brain and brawn. Intelligence gathering, infiltrating the criminal gangs, especially now that they are known. In some parts of the country like the northwestern state of Katsina, the leaders of these criminal enterprises have also come out openly for negotiations and even signed a truce with the government – a truce they have gone back on while continuing their murderous pathways.

The third obligation is to fulfil which requires administrative, legislative and judicial interventions by the state through steps taken to the maximum of available resources for the realisation of freedom from murder. This obligation evokes a plethora of questions. How much have we voted for the protection of the right to life in our budgets? Assuming we have voted enough resources, how have they been utilised? Who monitors and reports on the use of security votes by governors in these states where bandits have virtually taken over? How is the procurement of arms and ammunition, security and defence equipment done? Is there value for money and transparency? Or is it an opportunity for the most senior cadre of the respective agencies to feed fat on the treasury? These questions if answered honestly will show that a good part of the resources dedicated to the protection of life have been frittered away by those entrusted to use them for the benefit of all. For procurement to be value for money, the acquired goods and services must serve the purpose for which they were acquired. Thus, if the budget vote is geared towards getting men and materials to stop or reduce murder to a minimum and after expending the vote, the challenge escalates, we cannot in all truth and honestly state that we derived value for money.

Policies and administrative actions that set free, for instance, Boko Haram murderers, in the name de-radicalisation and loosen them on society without sufficient evidence of their having repented and without any punishment for their sins and deprivations of the life of others, cannot in any way fulfil the right to life. It emboldens men and women who do not belong to this age and who are bereft of conscience to commit more murders.

If the Nigerian state meets its obligations under national and international human rights law, the right to life and other rights would be respected, protected and fulfilled.

The Budget, Policy And The Automobile Sector

Eze Onyekpere

The challenge of development and economic growth in Nigeria is one of ideas, policy prescriptions and implementation. It is not a challenge founded on lack of financial resources. Indeed, financial resources are products of the human imagination and intellect. Development is the ability of a society to harness its resources for its own purpose thereby adding or creating value, wealth, jobs as well as devising a concentric circle that ensures it contributes and retains a good part of the products of scientific progress in the community.

Development should be about harmony between fiscal, monetary, industrial, trade, labour etc. policies.  It abhors disarticulation of policies but produces low-hanging fruits which can be easily tapped.  When budgets are crafted by federal, state and local governments, they are titled with fancy names such as budgets of development, job creation, consolidation, etc. The framers and implementers of the budget hardly think through nor understand what a budget is or should be. It is the assertion of this discourse that budgets should be instruments for implementing plans and policies in the policy, plan budget continuum.

This brings us to the issue of local content, local capacity building and improvements in value addition. A good part of capital projects planned in budgets over the years are veritable activities for capital flight and official mocking of our few productive industries. The automobile sector will be used to demonstrate this. We still live in an age where virtually 80 per cent of vehicles bought with public funds are imported into the country despite the automobile policy launched with fanfare by a previous administration. Nigeria has vehicle assembly plants as well as a vehicle manufacturing plant. But government officials write the names of foreign brands directly into the budget and the budget therefore approves the specific name of the brand. The officials now feel themselves duty bound to now buy this brand. So, how can the Nigerian brands grow without government patronage considering that government is virtually the largest single buyer of goods and services in the Nigerian economy.

There is a plethora of reasons that informs the demand for government to lead the pack in the patronage of locally made products. The other day, the social media was rife with information that federal legislators turned down a request to purchase a Nigerian made SUV as their official vehicles. If this is true, then it is a very unfortunate development. And there is no reason why the convoy of the President and governors should not have locally made brands in their forefront. This would send a message greater than the speech made at the official launch of the “Buy made-in-Nigeria” campaign. Many Nigerians look up to the top echelons of politicians as the role models in terms of what to consume, buy or wear. The fact that the President, the Senate President, or the governor drives a car makes it politically correct for other Nigerians to aspire to drive the same vehicle.

When the vehicle manufacturer thrives, the company will employ Nigerians and thereby contribute to taking so many young men and women off the job que. The company will pay corporate income tax while the employees will pay personal income tax thereby creating more revenue for government to finance development. A thriving company will invest more in research and improvement of its brands and thereby become more competitive, develop new technologies and more attractive, fuel efficient and improved performing engines. Also, the demand for local production of projects in the entire value chain of rubber, leather, plastics and electrical and welded products will increase and create more jobs, more taxable natural and artificial persons, etc. The confidence of selling products in the large Nigerian domestic market will encourage manufacturers to begin to explore the markets in the African region. Thus, we are discussing a sector whose value chain has the capacity to create not less than two million jobs and contribute up to seven per cent of Gross Domestic product.

Beyond tariff measures to ensure that locally built vehicles are competitive, their patronage could be increased by an automobile credit intervention, the type that the Central Bank of Nigeria always roll out,  through a special fund that gives credit to buy the locally made products with loans that attract single digit interest rates. Also, the control of smuggling by the customs will play a pivotal role in building up this sector. This will ensure that the right duties are paid by importers of new and used vehicles so that government will not lose revenue. With our large population, we could be discussing the production of up to a million cars a year for the local market and for export within the African region. Whenever our government decides to play its Father Christmas role, it will do so in kind with locally made products rather than imported ones. Thus, government can come out with the “Drive Nigeria Policy” which will state that at any given time when public procurements are to be made, the public officers are under obligation to first buy Nigerian made products and can only resort to foreign made ones when there is no Nigerian product to effectively satisfy the demand.

The concentric nature of policy results will guarantee that public and private research institutes will be charged and dedicated to getting the prototypes of various improved parts and components of the automobile value chain. The relevant faculties and departments in universities and colleges of technology will be incentivised through grants and other incentives to convert their scientific teachings and knowledge to specific technical innovations that can drive the sector. Existing and new mechanic and car repair technicians will be trained in the repair and maintenance of the brands. Further, funding and revenue gains made in the sector will be partly channelled to a special project to meet new innovations and demands of global industrialisation which is leaving behind the fossil fuel engine and replacing same with electric vehicles.

Some years ago, Nigeria launched the National Automotive Industry Development Plan. And the previous administration made some soundbites out of the policy. Where is the policy today and the scorecard of its implementation? Policy discontinuity or tepid policy implementation cannot drive development in any sector. We all know what to do to develop the sector. But do we have the political will or the presence of mind to drive the developmental initiatives?

The template of the automobile initiative can be replicated in so many sectors of the economy if the right knowledge, attitude and drive are brought to bear on policy formulation and implementation. Knowledge and vision will continue to rule the world and drive development. Development, poverty and misery are conscious policy choices. It is up to Nigerians to decide on what exactly they want.

Insecurity: Buhari, it’s time to do the needful

Eze Onyekpere(censoj@gmail.com)

Nigeria is facing a torrent of bad news, unfortunate events and developments that only go to show that we are very poorly rated in the comity of nations. These developments are external validations of our internal dynamics and failures of economic, political and social governance. Most Nigerians already know and continually groan under these inhuman experiences but their cries are waved aside by our leaders who have turned to rulers. The first part was the country’s poor performance on the Corruption Perceptions Index, the second being the Global Terrorism Index and now the immigrant visa ban by the United States of America.

The Global Terrorism Index and the immigrant visa ban are all hinged on security. Security was one of the key issues the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), promised to tackle both in the 2015 and 2019 election campaigns. However, instead of the security situation improving, it has deteriorated under the watch of the President. Instead of the number of victims who have either died, wounded or rendered homeless decreasing, it has been on the increase. The number of terrorist groups increased from the Boko Haram we knew to mutations within the group. Also, the Fulani militia joined the fray under the cover of herdsmen-farmers’ crisis. According to the Global Terrorism Index: “The increase in deaths across the country in 2018 was a result of extremist Fulani groups who have become more active and were responsible for 1,158 deaths last year (compared to 589 for Boko Haram). Between them, Boko Haram and the various Fulani groups accounted for 78% of attacks and 86% of terrorist deaths last year”. We also have all sorts of sundry criminal groups operating mainly in the North-West of Nigeria who have sacked so many towns and villages and committed several murders. Criminal gangs have now taken over so many parts of the country and these parts, in all honesty, can be described as ungoverned spaces of Nigeria. Today, very few ply the Abuja-Kaduna expressway for fear of being kidnapped. Commuters on other highways have also come under severe attack by bandits. And it is common knowledge that those kidnapped either pay millions of naira in ransom to be set free or are killed while the criminals are hardly arrested and prosecuted.

In the last one week, the President publicly feigned ignorance of the level of insecurity in the land and stated that he was surprised at the increasing security challenge. Pray, the President no longer lives in Nigeria or does not get accurate security briefings from his service chiefs or he is shielded and has lost touch with the reality that Nigerians live through on a daily basis? When a President is not fully aware of the level of the rot in the security sector, how then can he as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces address the security challenge?

Within the outgone week, the National Assembly unanimously and on a bi-partisan basis voted for a resolution calling on the President to remove all the service chiefs. This resolution is not about the opposition Peoples Democratic Party or some activists who allegedly see nothing good in the actions of the President. And the President has somehow kept quiet and pretends that the resolution was not made by the legislature. Even though resolutions are not usually binding on the executive, this particular resolution resonates with the feelings of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians. As an aside, the legislature should in future constitution amendments consider making binding, resolutions supported by a super majority of the legislature.

Most of the service chiefs have been long due for retirement but simply told to continue their stay. But on what basis have they been asked to continue? Being asked to continue would have made eminent sense if they are performing their duties in an excellent manner which would mean enhanced security of lives and property and fighting insurgents and criminals to a standstill. But the situation is deteriorating under their watch. So, the President is rewarding failure and very poor performance at the expense of the lives and property of Nigerians. The President’s oath of office binds him to place the security and interest of Nigerians above every other personal or primordial consideration. Thus, trying new hands where the old have failed is a task that must be accomplished if Nigeria hopes to rise from the current ashes of insecurity.

Some days ago, the United States placed a ban on immigrant visa for Nigerians and nationals from six other countries for failing to comply with identity management and information sharing criteria. But the news had been out for so many months that the US was planning this ban. What did the Nigerian authorities do to prevent this ban? Nothing! We waited until the hammer fell. And now a committee has been set up to do what should have been done so many years and months ago.

Security of lives and property is fundamental to economic growth, development and good governance. No nation progresses in an environment where killers, kidnappers, armed robbers, ritualists and all sorts hold sway. Such a country can never be respected in the comity of nations. Local and foreign investors will be afraid to commit their resources leading to unemployment. Agricultural produce is threatened by the herdsmen- farmers’ crisis, the insurgency in the North-East and the banditry in the North-West. The common people are unable to feed themselves. And society is worse off due to these developments

Therefore, in the final analysis, this is beyond politics and the National Assembly’s resolution underscores this. Buhari should do the needful by securing the people and if he finds himself unable or incapacitated, either by infirmity of mind or body or by any circumstances beyond his control, throwing in the towel should be the most honourable option left for him. The lives of millions of Nigerians cannot be sacrificed on the altar of your failure, neglect or refusal to perform the most basic duties of your office. Sack the service chiefs, ensure the rule of law and pander only to the interests of the majority of Nigerians.

Issues In The 2020 Federal Budget Estimates

Eze Onyekpere

Nigerians welcomed the early presentation of the 2020 federal budget estimates by President Muhammadu Buhari on October 8, 2019 to the National Assembly in accordance with Section 81 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended. The budget, aptly titled, Budget of Sustaining growth and job creation, projects expenditure in the sum of N10.330tn. The 2020 proposals represent an 11% increase when compared to the 2019 appropriation of N9.12tn. The proposed retained revenue is N8.155tn and a deficit of N2.18tn which is 1.52% of the GDP. The key assumptions are the benchmark price of $57 per barrel of crude oil; daily oil production of 2.18 million barrels per day (mbpd) and an exchange rate of N305 to 1USD. The real GDP is expected to grow at 2.93% while inflation rate is projected at 10.81%. In this discourse, I seek to review a few key issues arising from the budget as presented by the President.

The first issue is that the deficit is in the sum of N2.18tn and it is to be financed mainly by new foreign and domestic borrowing, privatisation proceeds, signature bonuses and draw-downs on loans secured for specific purposes. This will further add to our already high debt profile of $81.274bn. The deficit is 21.10% of the overall expenditure of N10.33 tn. Also, the deficit is 26.7% of the projected revenue of N8.155tn. When it is considered that by the end of June 2019, a deficit of N1.35tn had been recorded in the implementation of the 2019 budget, representing 70% of the budgeted deficit for the full year, and the deficit was recorded at a time not a single kobo has been spent of capital expenditure for the year, then the extent of the proposed deficit financing for 2020 raises very critical challenges. It is like sinking further into a slippery hole.

The Senate in the approval of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework proposes to limit new borrowing to N1.5tn. But we need to take cognisance of the fact that in 2018, the ratio of debt repayment to retained revenue was 54.3%. This is not sustainable either in the short, medium or long term as the capacity to repay is diminishing.

The second issue is that in the 2018 and 2019 federal budgets, Nigeria proposed to earn revenue from the proceeds of oil assets ownership restructuring. But in the two years, not a kobo was earned as no steps were taken to kick-start the process of restructuring. Surprisingly, in the MTEF 2020-2022 which backgrounds the 2020 budget, this revenue head was omitted. Has the Federal Government abandoned the idea? There should be clarity and consistency in policy implementation considering that Nigeria’s extant Petroleum Policy canvasses this divestment. Again, is it reasonable to expect the divestment process to be concluded before the end of 2019 when it has yet to start by October 2019; considering that the process of restructuring and divestment will take a fairly long period of time.

The third issue is a challenge of the revenue framework. It is on the expected revenue from oil. The $57 benchmark seems overtly optimistic considering the projected dynamics of the international oil market. The draft MTEF 2020-2022 had stated that: “A lower benchmark oil price of $55/b (against $60/b for 2019) is assumed considering the expected oil glut in 2020, as well as the need to cushion against unexpected price shock. There are strong indications of an oversupplied market in 2020. All three of the major forecasters -Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, International Energy Association and the U.S Energy Information Administration  generally see non-OPEC production growing by around 2mbpd this year, and by even more next year. The US shale oil accounts for most of the total supply increase, but new projects in Norway, Brazil and Australia will also contribute to the increase in non-OPEC supply. Also, market sentiments do not support an expansion in demand. In fact, the growth in demand for OPEC oil specifically is projected to slow down next year”.

Thus, the oil price projection was not guided by the cautionary approach to plan on the conservative side and if the price is exceeded, to save the same in the Excess Crude Account and later budget for it. The fact that the ECA has little or no funds left in it shows that the country has no buffer to fall back on.  The revenue framework projects that Nigeria will produce 2.18mbpd. This is less than projections in previous years of 2.3mbpd. However, in 2018, the actual was 1.86mbpd while data from the first half of 2019 indicate actual production as of June 2019 of the same 1.86mbpd.  Furthermore, Nigeria’s quota from OPEC is currently 1.774mbpd. This projection of 2.18mbpd also seems overtly optimistic and may not materialise. There has been no change in circumstance to warrant the new production volume. Oil revenue was below target by 41% as of June 2019 and in 2017, it had a negative variance of 47% and in 2018, it fell short by 23%. Thus, the expectation from oil revenue seems not to be founded on empirical evidence and may need to be downwardly reviewed.

The fourth issue is that generally, our revenue projections have on several times missed the mark over the years. In 2016, revenue projections fell short by 23%; in 2017, it fell short by 47.73% and in 2018 by 45%. This indicates that overall, a good part of our revenue projections has not been based on empirical evidence.  Furthermore, if projected revenue in 2018 was N7.1tn and we missed the mark by 45% and have also missed the mark by 30% in the half year of 2019, the further increase in projected revenue to N8.155tn in 2020 seems to be hanging in the air. The revenue projections for 2020 should have been greatly influenced by the trend and actuals of 2018 and 2019 except there has been a dramatic change in economic circumstances warranting the new projection.

The fifth issue is the President’s acknowledgement that the poor performance of oil revenue reflects inter alia, deductions for cost under-recovery in the supply of Premium Motor Spirit. Allowing the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to deduct money due for the Federation Account under the guise of under recovery is an affront to Section 80 of the 1999 Constitution because expenditure without appropriation is beyond the contemplation of the constitution. It is illegal as well as unconstitutional. The National Assembly should take steps to stop this illegality by directing the President to bring estimates for fuel subsidy for approval.  Also, during the years preceding 2015 and at a time of about six per cent economic growth, the NNPC reported that Nigeria was consuming about 35 litres of PMS every day. During the recession and after the recession when many companies had closed down, jobs lost and the economy greatly slowed down, the NNPC claims that Nigeria is now consuming between 55 and 65 million litres per day. Such a wild claim cannot be supported by empirical evidence. It is most likely to be false. The state oil company should come forward with the evidence in support of such a claim beyond its mere declaration.

Clearly, fuel subsidy under whatever guise is anachronistic and has no place in modern economic thought process. Nigeria can save a minimum of N1.5tn every year if the subsidy/under recovery is stopped. And this will be channelled to infrastructure and social spending.

Improving Governmental Revenue Sources

By Eze Onyekpere

 

Nigeria is undergoing a fiscal crisis epitomised by our inability to raise the revenue to substantially fund our budgets at the federal and state levels. We have become excessively reliant on unsustainable borrowing from domestic and international sources to finance our budgets. The country, in 2018, projected a retained revenue in the sum of N7,165.87bn but only realised N3,963.67bn, a shortfall of N3,202.20bn, being -45% variance from projections. In the same year, the Federal Government incurred debt and non-debt recurrent expenditures of N5,256.25; this shows that our actual recurrent expenditure was N1,2929.58bn more than our retained revenue. The trajectory for the 2019 budget implementation is not showing any better results. We already have a 30% negative variance on the realisation of budgeted revenue for the first half of 2019.

This discourse reviews what can be done to improve available revenue so that our federal budgets become realistic to fund infrastructure and the recurrent budget. A few of the neglected sources of increasing revenue will be highlighted and analysed. The fiscal terms of production sharing contracts entered into by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and some international oil companies have been due for review for so many years but the authorities have pretended that they are unaware of the legal and policy provisions mandating the review. Under the Deep Offshore and Inland Basins Production Sharing Contracts Act (No. 9) of 1999, Section 16 (1) and (2)  provides as follows: (1) The provisions of this Act shall be subject to review to ensure that if the price of crude oil at any time exceeds $20 per barrel, real terms, the share of the Government of the Federation in the additional revenue shall be adjusted under the Production Sharing Contracts to such extent that the Production Sharing Contracts shall be economically beneficial to the Government of the Federation. (2)  Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (1) of this section, the provisions of this Act shall be liable to review after a period of 15 years from the date of commencement and every five years thereafter.

This Act expressly underscores that the extant fiscal terms are not economically beneficial to Nigeria.  According to reports of the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, Nigeria loses the sum of $1.6bn per year due to the failure to upwardly review the fiscal terms in favour of the country. When this is exchanged into naira at the rate N360 to 1USD, it amounts to N576bn. The PSCs were entered at a time of very low oil prices when oil was selling at less than $20 per barrel. In Suit No. 964/2016, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Rivers states, through their Attorneys-General, had sued the Attorney-General of the Federation; the Supreme Court in October 2018 ordered the Federal Government to revisit the fiscal terms of the existing PSCs with International Oil Companies and embark on an upward adjustment of the share of revenues accruing to the FGN now that the price of crude oil has exceeded $20 per barrel. But nothing has come out of this judgement. This failure to review is extremely costly at a time the country finds it extremely difficult to fund the budget. Pray, is there any information available to the Federal Government which is not available to the public informing its refusal to upwardly review the fiscals due to it despite the huge revenue challenge?

Restructuring of the joint venture equity financing has been on the drawing board as one of the funding sources of the 2018 and 2019 federal budgets. However, this was not realised. Again, it is proposed in the MTEF 2020-2022. Whatever challenges delaying the implementation of this proposal which could fetch up to N1tn in new revenue should be removed. This is also related to the continuation of Joint Venture Cash Calls which in official government policies should have ended between 2016 and 2017. According to the fourth quarter and consolidated budget implementation reports for 2017 and 2018, Nigeria spent N1,236.98bn for Joint Venture Cash Calls in 2017 and N539bn in 2018. This is not sustainable as we need to exit from this cash calls and re-channel the resources to other pressing needs. The projected revenue realisable from the restructuring of the joint venture equity financing was N710bn each for the years 2018 and 2019. This is a revenue of about N1.420tn.

For over five years running, Nigerians have been paying stamp duties on all their banking transactions. Incidentally, the Federal Government has failed, refused and neglected to account for the accrued revenues. Attempts by so many patriotic Nigerians and civil society organisations in enquiring about the proceeds of this tax met stone cold silence and all manner of fables. However, the Federal Government in the MTEF 2020-2022 is proposing that N200bn, N350bn and N450bn will accrue from this source in the years 2020,2021 and 2022 respectively. And Nigerians are expected to start clapping. The Minister of Finance or any other responsible authority must explain to Nigerians what happened to the proceeds of this tax in the previous years. Nigerians are not foolish and the leadership owes us a duty to explain what happened to the proceeds. Further, just providing a paltry sum of N200bn for 2020 is not backed by empirical evidence. From the deductions most Nigerians suffer on a daily basis for their banking transactions, no fewer than N1tn should accrue to federal coffers every year from this tax. The challenge here is lack of accountability and outright mismanagement of the proceeds of the sweat of Nigerians.

Using N305 to 1USD as the benchmark for our budget is deliberately undercutting and mismanagement of available revenues. Everyone knows that maintaining this dual rate of N305 for a selected few while the bulk of Nigerians access foreign exchange at N360 is not a fit and proper practice in monetary policy. If the right thing is done by using N360 as the benchmark, the Federal Government stands the chance of raising not less than N500bn in new revenue which will be used to further reduce the deficit. Maintaining this dual exchange rate has been criticised by experts including international financial institutions. And the big and contentious one; government’s continued funding of oil subsidies makes no sense beyond sentiments and the emotionalism of thinking that it will hep the poor when in actual fact, it bleeds the entire country and worsens the plight of the poor – assuming the savings, if the subsidy is removed were to be well-managed. The savings will be in the region of not less than N1tn.

From this discourse, it is clear that we can raise N576bn from reviewing production sharing contract’s fiscals; N1.42tn from the restructuring of the joint venture equity financing; not less than N1tn annually from stamp duties and a proper account of the proceeds of previous years can yield not less than an additional N3tn; merging the dual exchange rates will yield not less than N500bn annually while removing fuel subsidy will fetch another N1tn annually.

The foregoing is based on existing laws and policies while new laws and policies when enacted can provide further sources of revenue. It is doable with the right political will.

Nigeria @ 59: Rebuilding The Nation

By Eze Onyekpere

Tomorrow, October 1, 2019, will mark Nigeria’s 59th year of independent nationhood. A human being at 59 is already an adult. Although a nation may not stricto sensu be comparable to a human being, because nations may survive for so many years, all successful nations at 59 had started showing and manifesting great signs of success or how they intend to be successful. What is the Nigerian experience? How can we turn the narrative of Nigeria into the story of how we succeeded, instead of the perennial lamentations of why we failed?

The Nigerian story is one that if we had the opportunity to start afresh, we would likely choose a different trajectory which would have led us to be more successful. There are basic indicators of a successful nationhood. Some like national unity are very basic and others build on the basic indicators, especially those that touch on economic prosperity. The major set of issues is about the groups and entities which make up Nigeria; are we united? Do they believe in Nigeria? Do they see Nigeria as one? How have they managed their cleavages and fault lines? How successful is our leadership recruitment process? Do we recruit our best into positions of leadership or do we throw up the dregs of our society and enthrone them as leaders? So many questions to answer as the nation hits 59.

However, despite pretences to the contrary, there are very few Nigerians who believe in Nigeria. The bulk of the population including the leadership and crème de la crème of society do not believe in the Nigerian project. On the general level, many see the country as a sinking ship, from which they are bound to rescue as much as possible and jump overboard before the ship finally sinks.This is responsible for the gross corruption and abuse of office where public office holders grab as much as they can for the rainy day. Public office becomes an opportunity to steal and express inordinate greed. This also explains why public office holders charged with running the education sector have their children in schools outside our shores; those in charge of health travel abroad to treat common colds. The average rich Nigerian must not only have houses in different Nigerian cities, they must acquire houses in major world capitals, especially in Europe and America.

In argumentative discourse, the sum of the parts can never be equal to the whole. But we have more of the Hausa, the Fulani, the Yoruba, the Igbo, Itsekiri, etc. than Nigerians. The building blocks that should emphasise our unity and de-emphasise our divisions have not been erected while attempts at erecting the pillars have been still born. Rather, there is a leadership attempt to emphasise our differences. Thus, instead of our diversity being a positive gift, it is used for the purpose of division which leads to retrogression. No nation makes progress on the basis of this trajectory. That idea of Nigeria as a mere geographic expression, an expression on paper, without a heart and soul and pondering from one misadventure to another still dominates our national outlook.

Leadership at all levels has been an adventure in criminality and only those not suitable for the task are best fitted for the enterprise of stealing, looting the common wealth, outright impunity, disobedience to court orders, carrying cash in bullion vans to bribe the electorate, turning logic on its head and the shamelessness that has become the hallmark of Nigeria’s leadership. Enter a political caucus meeting and attempt to talk reasonably at a time they are discussing how to get votes and you will be reminded that “this is not a society for pious men and women.” It is the world of real politics where you plan on how to bribe the police and law enforcement agents, electoral officials, recruit thugs and even plan how to murder your opponents, if need be, and get away with it. And this is our politics! No man or woman can give what they do not have. Expecting development from politics, turned criminal enterprise, is an impossible expectation.

Where do we go from here? We need to draw lessons from our failure as a country to build a nation. The most enduring lesson is that a country cannot grow bigger than its leadership. With the exception of the leaders of the First Republic, we have allowed through the barrel of the gun and electoral fraud or used our votes to hire intellectual Lilliputians who neither have the right vision or mission of development. When you ask a presidential candidate about his vision for the country and he finds it difficult to express himself and such a character yet finds himself in power, what do you expect? When a man occupies a public position because of the quantum of money he spent in the elections, what do you expect? When persons get into the legislature because of their subservient loyalty to a man suffering from enhanced moral depravity and acute integrity deficit; what do you expect? The answer to the foregoing is that we must start electing men and women who have vision as well as imbibed the cardinal virtues of honesty, patience and hard work. Essentially, persons who combine a strong intellect, learning, education and character need to ascend to leadership.

The second lesson is that our failure to hold leadership to account emboldens impunity, stealing of public resources and mismanagement of the commonwealth. The idea of subservient Nigerians literally feeling that the president, governors and other elected or appointed officials cannot be wrong even when they are manifestly wrong cannot lead to development. Defending poor economic and social performance is not only morally reprehensible but an outrageous conduct.

The third is that for Nigeria to develop, there must be conscious efforts at nation building. Regional, religious and ethnic champions who do not believe in the Nigeria project have no business becoming leaders at the federal level. They should stay put in their zones and states and allow cosmopolitan characters to lead the nation. Also, we must build a society based on merit. A situation where some dumb odd fellows who have never excelled in the private sector, civil society or in their assigned public roles become the persons elevated to national leadership and as such, call the bluff of their mental superiors is a case of blind men insisting on leading those who have their vision intact. It has never produced any good result and neither will it produce one in the future. It can only lead to stagnation and retrogression.

Consultation and the MTEF 2020-2022

The draft 2020-2022 Medium Term Expenditure Framework was presented last week by the Ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning to a cross-section of stakeholders.

This is a continuation of the tradition established in the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 for the Minister of Finance to lead the process of the preparation of the pre-budget statement which consists of the macroeconomic framework, the fiscal strategy paper and the revenue and expenditure framework. It should also contain the consolidated debt statement setting out and describing the fiscal significance of the debt liability of the Federal Government and measures to reduce any such liability as well as a statement describing the nature and fiscal significance of contingent liabilities and quasi fiscal activities and measures to offset the crystallisation of such liabilities.

The FRA stipulates that the Minister of Finance, in the process of preparing the MTEF should hold public consultations. The idea of a public consultation is to garner inputs to enrich the draft MTEF before it is endorsed by the Executive Council of the Federation and approved by the National Assembly. There was a short notice to all stakeholders asking them to turn up for a consultation on Tuesday, September 9, 2019 and the supposed consultation held on that day at the main auditorium of the Ministry of Finance. The notice was terse and did not contain the draft MTEF or any document given the details of what the consultation would dwell on.  The draft MTEF was also dated Tuesday, September 9, 2019.

At the consultation, the minister presented slide shows of the key components of the MTEF and thereafter asked for questions, comments and clarifications. There were a total of 15 such interventions after which the minister responded and also called on some other government officials present, such as the chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service to provide clarifications. The National Anthem was sung and pronto, the purported consultation ended and everyone went home.

However, on Thursday September 11, the media reported that the Executive Council of the Federation had on Wednesday, September 10, 2019,  approved a proposed expenditure of N10.07tn for 2020 and this was supposed to have been drawn from the MTEF in accordance with Section 18 of the FRA, to the effect that the MTEF shall be the basis for the preparation of the estimates of revenue and expenditure required to be prepared and laid  before the National Assembly under Section 81 (1) of the Constitution.

From this sequence of events, of a consultation held on Tuesday and stakeholders were being informed of the contents of the MTEF and its endorsement by EXCON on Wednesday, it is clear that there was no consultation. What happened was the most perfunctory attempt to fulfil all righteousness in the name of consultation. Where and when was the opportunity for people to make inputs and at what time were the inputs considered before endorsement.

Essentially, the FRA was breached. The need for consultation and harnessing of popular inputs is grounded in the constitutional sovereignty of the people and this is accentuated by the fact that we are in a fiscal crisis that has defied the available strategies and knowledge of the key actors running the ministries of finance, budget and planning. Therefore, there is no special or high knowledge or information available to them to get Nigeria out of the crisis. The expectation is that the minister and her team would have reached out to Nigerians to clearly tell them the gravity of the fiscal challenge, seek their input, cooperation and collaboration and alternative ideas to run economic governance for the greater good of all Nigerians.

What is the nature of this economic and fiscal crisis? It is based on the fact that Nigeria is broke. The country in 2018 projected retained revenue in the sum of N7,165.87bn but only realised N3,963.67bn, a shortfall of N3,202.20bn, being -45% variance from projections. In the same 2018, the Federal Government incurred debt and non-debt recurrent expenditure of N5,256.25bn; this shows that our actual recurrent expenditure was N1,2929.58bn more than our retained revenue. This could have only been funded through the usual non-sustainable deficits of borrowing and Central Bank of Nigeria’s bailouts.

Again, in 2018, we repaid debt with 54% of our retained revenue. By the time, we add capital expenditure of N1,743bn for 2018 which brings the total expenditure to N7,455.76bn, it is clear that we are living and running our economy in the most reckless of manner. Further, the trajectory for the 2019 budget implementation is not showing any better results. We already have a 30% negative variance on the realisation of budgeted revenue for the first half of 2019. Available information in the last two weeks indicates that no kobo has been released for the implementation of the capital component of the 2019 federal budget.

Thus, there is nothing to be proud of in the management of the fiscal side of our economy. Nigeria needs all the available knowledge and competencies of her citizens to get out of this fiscal hole. Doing more of the same will only deepen the challenges and convert them into a tsunami situation that will totally cripple the country. Also, the fact that the Federal Government has now come out with a proposal to increase Value Added Tax, it would have been imperative for stakeholders to be consulted for their views, inputs and other policies that would have reduced the shocks that may arise from this increase. Again, there are other strategies to increase the revenue profile of the Federal Government, reduce leakages and ensure greater efficiency of governmental service delivery which has been missed through the denial of consultation.

State Obligations In South Africa And Nigeria

Eze Onyekpere

The senseless killing and looting of properties of foreigners in South Africa dominated the news for the greater part of last week. For the first time in so many years, with the exception of football events, Nigerians were united in their view that the treatment meted to Nigerians and other black foreigners in South Africa was wrong. What happened in South Africa were grievous violations of human rights and fundamental freedom.

This discourse draws the contours of state responsibility for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the basic obligation of governments to maintain law and order, prosecute crimes and ensure security of lives and property.It links the obligation of the South African State, which it is evidently failing to perform, to the Nigerian domestic front and how the Nigerian state responds to the plight of its citizens.

The South African State is under national, regional and international obligation to prevent, investigate and punish any human rights violation carried out in its territory, not only by the acts of public officers, but also directly resulting from acts not directly imputable to officers of the state. This has been aptly captured in the Velasques Rodrigues case of the Inter American Court of Human Rights of July 29 1988in the following words, “…to take reasonable steps to prevent human rights violations and to use the means at its disposal to carry out investigations of violations committed within its jurisdiction, to identify those responsible, to impose the appropriate punishment and to ensure the victims adequate compensation”.

The above obligations are captured within the concept and attributes of statehood, which is expected to have a government in firm control of its territory, with a monopoly of the instruments of the legitimate use of force and coercion. This is imperative for a guarantee of the territorial integrity of the state. It does not matter that the violations of the rights of Nigerians and other black Africans were perpetuated by non-state actors.

States are also deemed to be in a position to provide remedies for human rights violations and nip violations in the bud. There is evidence of capacity in the South African authorities to perform this duty, but what appears to be lacking is the political will to activate the machinery of state apparatus to protect the rights of black foreign nationals residing in the country.

There are three layers of obligations in matters of human rights: obligations to respect, protect and fulfill. Failure to perform any one of the three obligations constitutes a violation of human rights and engages the states’ responsibility.

The obligation to respect requires states to refrain from directly interfering with the enjoyment of human rights. Thus, the right of foreigners including Nigerians in South Africa is violated if the South African authorities engage in arbitrary detention, denial of personal liberty, killing or looting of property.

The obligation to protect requires states to prevent violations of such rights by third parties. Thus, the failure of the authorities to ensure that the police and other South African security agencies protect foreigners against attacks on their life and properties amounts to a violation of the rights of the victims.

The obligation to fulfill requires States to take appropriate legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial and other measures towards the full realization of the rights of all persons legitimately within their territory.

When a South African security chief clearly spoke in words that support attacks of foreigners, it was a direct indictment on the government of South Africa and stands condemned in law, morality and reason. The lame excuse that foreigners in South Africa are responsible for their spiraling crime wave cannot be the reason for such attacks.

The police and other security agencies across the world are paid to prevent, investigate and prosecute criminals. As such, is the South African government by its sheer supportive validation of xenophobia telling the world that its police authorities have been overwhelmed by crime?

When you listen to such allegations as to how foreigners have taken over their houses, jobs, etc. one begins to wonder whether foreigners came into South Africa and used violence to take over houses. The foreigners did not buy the land, houses or built the houses or they do not pay rent to landlords? Such postulations evidently sound pathetic.

How is this attack on Nigerians in South Africa related to the domestic situation in Nigeria? It is related. Every day, the Nigerian media is rife with true life stories of killing, rape, destruction of property, kidnap and all unimaginable forms of criminality by terrorists, bandits and criminals of every description in Nigeria. A good percentage of the crime goes either uninvestigated or not properly investigated. The criminals are hardly successfully prosecuted and made to pay for their crimes. Prosecutions, when they get started, take forever to conclude. Soldiers ambush and kill policemen on lawful duty and Nigerians have not been told of any ongoing prosecution when the facts are clear and the culprits are known.

Ethnic and community clashes have claimed thousands of lives while government commissions of inquiry and white papers making recommendations on how to punish offenders, stop future senseless killings and destruction of property gather dust on the shelves. Most attempts to call the government of the day to order end up being seen as political attacks instead of a wake-up call.

The general impression and image out there, regionally and internationally is that Nigeria has large swathes of ungoverned territory, almost akin to a jungle where everything goes and anyone can get away with murder if he knows how to press the right buttons.

Thus, the same state obligations applicable to South Africa in human rights and fundamental freedoms, protection of citizens, etc. apply with equal force to Nigeria’s treatment of Nigerians in Nigeria. It is even naturally expected that one will get better treatment from his home government than a foreign country.

The truth is that no country may go out of its way to treat a person better than the country of birth and origin. Nigerians are treated like third class citizens in their own country; they get killed and nothing happens. Thus, foreign governments simply follow suit and treat our rights with the greatest contempt and levity.

The beginning of Nigerians getting the respect they deserve in any part of the world, begins with the Nigerian government treating Nigerians in Nigeria with the greatest respect for their human dignity and personhood.

Nigeria, A Nation Living In Denial

When self-evident truths manifest and their manifestation leads to turmoil, upheavals and a lot of chain reactions, the expectation is that reasonable human beings would sit down and take rational decisions to stem the challenges arising from these truths. It is also an aphorism that the truth sets human beings free and anyone that lives in denial of the truth denies his own very existence. Questions, issues and challenges that are swept under the carpet, under the pretence that they either do not exist, or that they will go away on their own do not disappear. Instead, they will eventually resurface and become bigger in the future.

The foregoing scenario appears to be the situation of the struggle for Nigeria’s nationhood, the task of human, economic and social development and forging a nation out of the amalgam of various nationalities and groups. Nigeria is a country living in denial of many of its fundamental challenges and characteristics. It also appears to be one of the few countries where the leaders keep repeatedly providing the same false answers to questions and insisting that they are right, even after the examiners repeatedly mark them wrong. They do so in the vain hope that the answers to the questions will change, simply because they are Nigerians.

Let us examine a few issues to illustrate our point. At independence, the major nationalities comprising Nigeria were simply struggling to fashion out a system of government that would enable them to live together in unity and peace. They arrived at a federal structure, a unity in diversity that allowed everyone to proceed with the task of development at their own pace. Regional autonomy was the norm and the constitutional document was negotiated, being the product of several conferences. The National Anthem even recognises that “tribes and tongues may differ” but in brotherhood we stand. At that point, the leadership acknowledged the diversity but agreed to work together to forge a nation. No leader said at the conferences leading to our federal structure that the unity of the country was not negotiable. Every card was on the table for negotiation. The regions started a race to the top; there was no complacency and no perverse incentives for a race to the bottom. There was progressive competition which was needed for a fast-paced development.

Fast forward to the coups and countercoups, the civil war, the discovery and exploitation of oil in commercial quantity, the nation’s leadership simply started living in denial of this diversity and foisted on the country a virtual unitary constitutional structure which centralised most powers in the Federal Government. The regions were gone and the states became vassals of the Federal Government. The Federal Government controls the bulk of economic resources and simply gives handouts to the states. The principle of derivation which allowed the regions to keep a great part of the resources derived from their region was simply expunged from the law books until the grudging 13% derivation was granted by the almighty federal authorities. Various policies were introduced to retard appointments, promotion and recognition based on merit and it became, and has always been, a fierce competition for control of the powers at the centre. All attempts to forge negotiations and for the people and their leaders to draft a credible constitution were rebuffed by the powers at the centre and suddenly, the unity of Nigeria was repeatedly stated not to be negotiable at a time the leaders were busy tearing at the fabrics that held the nation together. Any claim to development in a diverse society, where the energies of the various groups are not harnessed or allowed to flourish, while the society moves at the speed of its slowest is a claim without foundations. It is bound to end in failure.

We live in denial when the bulk of our population, especially the youths are held down by poverty, without hope and sentenced to a life of penury and we complain about the crime rate. We live in delusion when our public educational and health systems are run down and our leaders and their children do not patronise these establishments and we expect the systems to work. We live in denial when the poorly funded federal police are expected to tackle crimes in every nook and cranny of the country. We live in denial when there are different standards for different persons suspected and accused of grand corruption. Some are prosecuted while others are awarded ministerial positions and others have the charges against them withdrawn by the state, and we claim to be fighting corruption. We live in denial when bandits and criminals in the North-West are given a state banquet and an opportunity to negotiate with the state governor, the commissioner of police, etc. while their counterparts in other parts are branded as terrorists.

Yes, we live in denial and claim we want development and progress when we reward anti- developmental forces. We leave our first eleven in the intellectual, moral, developmental and cognoscenti spheres out of governance and choose vicious treasury looters as governors, ministers, etc. and expect good governance. We want honest leadership but vote the moral dregs of our society into office because of our love for filthy lucre. We want national unity but insist on electing ethnic champions into the presidency. When men and women who are prepared to lead the country with vision come out to participate in elections, we call them non-starters and refuse to elect them. We also ridicule them.

The nation is laden with debts and borrowed funds which have been mismanaged. It is becoming evident that we lack the capacity to repay the debts and all the Federal Government officials tell us is that we do not have a debt problem, but a revenue challenge. Where will this denial and play on words lead the nation to?  For every N1 we earn at the federal level, we are using not less than 68 kobo to pay back debts and someone keeps insulting the intelligence of our people that we do not have a debt problem? The government lies to the people that Boko Haram has been defeated whilst the same group takes the battle to military formations and even captures villages and towns. Meanwhile, lives of soldiers and civilians are wasted while the denial goes on.

No country desirous of making progress continues living in denial of challenges and issues that it needs to tackle and resolve. Denying them even means that the issues have not been properly identified as challenges and as such, may not be candidates for discussions at the resolution table. To continue to live in denial means that we are not just ready as a people for the task of national unity, progress and development.

Lessons From The $9bn Award Against Nigeria

 

Eze Onyekpere

censoj@gmail.com; 08127235995

The governance of Nigeria is always in the news for the wrong reasons; incidentally, most of the challenges facing the nation are avoidable. With our economic indicators virtually facing south, while our debt to revenue profile has hit 70%, the news that a British commercial court has imposed $9bn damages or fine against the Federal Government of Nigeria for violation of contract obligations calls for extremely sober reflections. It is a strong threat to our national fiscal sustainability considering that $9bn is about the actual retained revenue that accrued to the federal treasury in the 2018 fiscal year.

In our usual lackadaisical manner, the country signed a gas harnessing agreement with a company called Process and Industrial Development. The company was to process the gas for local consumption and for export while Nigeria was bound to supply the gas feedstock through building a gas supply pipeline to terminate at the location of the gas processing plant. One hundred and fifty million standard cubit feet (mscf) of gas per day was to be supplied to P&ID plant and gradually increasing up to 400mscf per day in the later stages of the project. Eventually, Nigeria defaulted and did not build the gas pipeline while P&ID did not invest a kobo in the project. But the company later initiated proceedings for loss of potential income and revenue which after so many years of back and forth, culminated in the award.

It is on record that the company did not invest a kobo and had not even acquired land for the gas plant before the Federal Government’s default. Yet, $9bn was awarded against Nigeria.

So many issues are raised by this award, coming at a time we can hardly get enough retained revenue to fund recurrent expenditure. It is the position of this column that this kind of threat provides opportunities to be harnessed for the reform of our fiscal governance laws and policies. If we must suffer loss, it must be one from which we can draw lessons for progress and to block the pipes of mischief which enable us to say “never again”. In every thereat, there must be an opportunity to develop a strength and to learn the right lessons.

The first issue is that Nigerian governments must stop entering into contracts and obligations they are not ready to implement. Our lack of respect for the sanctity of contracts ends in our jurisdiction. Other countries and partners, whether public or private, take themselves very seriously and do not enter into frivolous contracts they are not ready to implement. Signing a contract and announcing it to Nigeria add no value to the local economy or the security and welfare of Nigerians without the requisite will to implement the same. It is also believed that the government officials packaging the business would not have any opportunity for private gain if the contract is not implemented. To stop this trend involves the design of processes that ensure the buy-in of every ministry, department or agency and stakeholder necessary to guarantee the implementation of the project. This will involve high levels of public-public consultation and engaging the private sector to ensure that the project is not swept under the carpet.

The second issue is that every new government in Nigeria sees itself as not bound by agreements and obligations entered into by the previous government even when the two governments come from the same political party and one handed over to the other. For instance, that a contract was signed by the Umaru Yar’Adua government, of which Goodluck Jonathan was the deputy, can be no excuse for the abandonment of the contract after the demise of President Yar’Adua by the Jonathan administration. Was the need for gas gathering and processing for local consumption and export overtaken by any supervening events during Jonathan’s presidency? Discerning Nigerians will recall that President Olusegun Obasanjo’s National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy led to the few achievements of his administration and before he left office, NEEDS 2 was at an advanced stage when virtually all stakeholders had been consulted and NEEDS 2 awaited a few inputs at the highest level to get it ready for implementation. But as soon as Yar’Adua took over power, he abandoned NEEDS 2 for his Seven-Point Agenda. This was done despite the fact Obasanjo virtually handpicked and installed him as President.

This attitude was also the same that led to the Muhammadu Buhari government to have a non-challant attitude towards payment and or engaging the less the $850m negotiated settlement done by the Jonathan administration, when it became clear that Nigeria had defaulted in this contract under consideration. The Buhari administration had two options, either to pay or further negotiate the award before it got out of hand. To stop this attitude, we need the Project Continuity and Implementation Act which will bind governments to continue and fully implement existing projects before staring new ones. To abandon an existing project or to stop the same, the government must show cause and reason(s) using empirical evidence, to justify that the project is no longer in the overall national interest and thereafter, the government would be duty bound to bring the process of the project to a closure either through negotiations or requisite settlements that will close the file of the project.

The third issue is that Nigeria has been signing agreements where all the penalty clauses are tilted against the country and we have little or no protection whilst all the benefits from the agreement accrue in favour of the other parties. This is not the first time we signed such agreements. How on earth did we end up signing an agreement that entitles a company to claim loss of earnings without having invested a kobo? Who was the lawyer that drafted the agreement and how much was he paid? Was it a private legal practitioner or a team of lawyers in the Ministry of Justice? Who reviewed the draft to make inputs? Did the company use its lawyers to produce the agreement and simply asked the representatives of the Nigerian government to sign? When the blind and or ignorant leads their colleagues or even persons who can see, they are bound to enter a ditch if they are under obligation to follow wherever they go. Nigeria has produced enough quality legal practitioners and scholars of national, regional and international repute, professional jurists of the highest learning, character and reputation; to fall for this kind of cheap blackmail is the worst thing to happen to this country.

To stop this madness, we need to have a system of using our best lawyers and jurists to draft and perfect agreements of this nature and to defend our legal disputes. Poor lawyering was responsible for our loss of Bakassi to Cameroon. Again, we did not use our first eleven for that case. And now, this one.

Nigeria now needs to move expeditiously, in a targeted manner and in the national interest to engage the company before our assets are seized. We could possibly ask the company to come back and we start constructing the requisite gas pipeline and fulfil our own part of the obligation. Alternatively, we can negotiate the award and see how we can reduce it to a minimum. It would not be an easy negotiation but we cannot afford to sleep over this.

Media Statement: THE PRESIDENT’S DIRECTIVE STOPPING THE ALLOCATION OF FOREIGN EXCHANGE FOR FOOD IMPORTS

August 14, 2019

Media Statement

THE PRESIDENT’S DIRECTIVE STOPPING THE ALLOCATION OF FOREIGN EXCHANGE FOR FOOD IMPORTS

Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a Nigerian Knowledge Institution notes with regret the recent directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the Central Bank of Nigeria to stop the allocation of foreign exchange for food imports. This directive was based on the specious reasons that this was necessary for Nigeria to attain food security and that the agricultural policies of government had succeeded to the extent that we do not need food imports.

This directive is fraught with danger and appears to be an illegal directive for a number of reasons. The first issue is on the legality of the directive. By S.1 (3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007, it is provided that:

(3) In order to facilitate the achievement of its mandate under this Act and the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, and in line with the objective of promoting stability and continuity in economic management, the Bank shall be an independent body in the discharge of its functions.

There are no provisions in the CBN Act or any other existing law empowering the President to run or give directives on foreign exchange management or any other component of monetary policy. This directive erodes the independence and autonomy of the CBN and presents Nigeria in the image of the Idi Amin fable, when he gave directives to the governor of the Ugandan Central Bank to print more currencies when told that the country was running out of money.  This directive is therefore an illegal directive which the Governor and Board of the CBN will obey at their own peril.

The second issue is that policies such as this, assuming it came from the CBN would have required a phased and gradualist approach in determining the point at which foreign exchange allocations for food imports will be reduced. This would have involved a multi sectoral engagement of farmers, food processors, the banking industry, transport and electricity sectors, etc., with clear demonstrable milestones of achievements to indicate the attainment of food security. This directive is rather a knee jerk reaction to the euphoria of sycophants who tell the President that his agricultural policies are working. And very unfortunately, there is no evidence to support this assertion in terms of more quantity, quality and cheaper foods available to Nigerians.

It is imperative to clarify that we support every effort at increasing local food production and reducing Nigeria’s dependence on imported food products. But in the drive to attain the required level of self-sufficiency, we must not expose Nigerians to undue hardship. This brings us to the third issue, which is that Nigeria is far from attaining food security and has not even started the race for food sovereignty. Stopping the allocation of foreign exchange for the importation of needed food items will only increase their price since there will still be demand for the goods. Unless there is a ban on the importation of these food items, importers will still be free to source for foreign exchange from alternative sources to import them. Increase in the price of food at a time of grave economic crisis, increasing poverty and misery can only deepen the already fragile and precarious living conditions of the average Nigerian. Even an outright ban will be a misnormer in the circumstances.

In accordance with Nigeria’s constitutional and treaty obligations, to take steps, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the right to adequate food, accessibility of food is imperative for the population. By General Comment No.12 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on the Right to Adequate Food, accessibility includes two dimensions, the economic and physical accessibility.

Economic accessibility implies that personal or household financial costs associated with the acquisition of food for an adequate diet should be at a level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not threatened or compromised. On the other hand, physical accessibility implies that adequate food must be accessible to everyone, including the physically vulnerable individuals such as infants and young children, elderly people, the physically disabled, the terminally ill and persons with persistent medical problems, including the mentally ill.

With the price of basic staples like rice and garri tripled since 2015 and Nigeria becoming the poverty capital of the world, it is clear that the majority of Nigerians neither enjoy economic or physical accessibility to adequate food. It appears Mr. President is cocooned in the lush gardens and mansions of Aso Rock and being surrounded by persons who are not minded to tell him the truth about the suffering in the land, he has lost touch with reality.

CSJ therefore calls on the President to rescind this illegal and unconscionable directive which has only one natural consequence – the increase in the suffering of the majority of Nigerians.

Eze Onyekpere, Esq.

Lead Director

Who Will Bring Down This Tension?

Eze Onyekpere

Is there anyone out there in a position of authority in Nigeria in the executive, legislature and judiciary thinking of Nigeria’s peace as a foundation for progress and development? Who shall we run to in this season where reason and common sense seems to have taken flight? Who is really in charge? Does the use of constitutional titles and appellations make anyone to be charge in a season of lawlessness? Can anyone be in charge without adherence to the rule of law? There are more questions than answers.  This discourse presents a central thesis that the country is drifting and the leaders are fiddling, neglecting their constitutional duties while the storm gathers speed. It is the position that leadership steps need to be taken urgently, before we fall over. This is necessary to pull Nigeria back from the edge of the cliff.  And the steps needed are steps for peace.

Where do we begin? Two recent issues demonstrate our race to anarchy and our refusal of peace. A notable activist and politician, Omoyele Sowore, in expression of the popular anger and helplessness with the state of our politics, economy and social relationships called for demonstrations, the expression of the right to associate, peaceful assembly and freedom of movement, while using a common word “revolution” and it earned him a court-approved detention for 45 days after he had been detained for a couple of days by the Department of State Services. Words are skeins of living thought and there is no static or fixed meaning of words beyond their context. The authorities likened the word ‘revolution’ to the overthrow of government and treason. At the level of an expressed intention, without any manifestation of actions, the executive detained, and later sought a detention order and the judiciary obliged. With the detention order, has the Nigerian problem been solved? Will all the issues raised by Sowore be swept under the carpet? No, they are still with us. But the detention adds another unnecessary challenge which we can ill-afford to add to already existing challenges. We should be seen to be solving existing problems rather than adding to existing ones.

The authorities by getting this detention order may think they will have peace. Their definition of peace is not one associated with justice. It is essentially one tied to the idea of might is right, the peace that comes after a stronger person overcomes their victim, crushes them and there is the silence of the graveyard. It is not a new fact to the authorities that the country is economically, socially and politically depressed. Citizens are suffering untold hardship while the suicide rate has dramatically increased. The unemployment rate is high while the standard of living has plummeted with so many more millions of Nigerians falling into acute poverty. Insecurity that was to a large extent, limited to the insurgency in the North-East before 2015, had spread to virtually every nook and cranny of Nigeria. No part of the country is safe from the menace of terrorists, bandits, killer herdsmen and other criminals. What should be the response of a reasonable and responsive government in the circumstances to the scenarios painted above?

Nigeria has been agog with demonstrations, deaths and injuries arising from the protests of members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria protesting the crude disobedience of court orders for the release of their leader, Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, by President Muhammadu Buhari and the immediate past Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami. How did the government respond? The executive went before the court and got their usual ex parte order to declare the movement a terrorist group and thereafter banned them from operating anywhere in Nigeria as they have become an illegal and unlawful organisation. An ex parte order is one given at the deposition and averment of one party. The adverse party, the Shiites group, was not heard nor given an opportunity to defend the allegations against it. And the court also asked the executive to gazette the order and that was all that was required to outlaw a group. What manner of jurisprudence is this that fails the basic tenets of hearing from both parties to a dispute before arriving at a decision? Elementary constitutional law teaches every intending lawyer that the right to fair hearing is not a right to be trifled with. It is so fundamental that even the person charged with murder, treason or any of the offences punishable with death must enjoy the right otherwise their trial will be declared a nullity. Is this the path of reason, the path of sustainable peace or the peace of the graveyard?

Still on the Shi’ites, a wonderful opportunity presented itself for the government to save face and release their leader whose unlawful detention has led to the crisis in the first place. The Kaduna State High Court granted him leave to travel out of the country for medical treatment under the supervision of the Kaduna State Government. Thereafter, all we are hearing is that the Kaduna State Government is setting impossible conditions for a man whom the court had determined is entitled to go abroad and treat himself before coming back to stand trial. How can the terms of the travel be one not determined by the court, but at the whims and caprices of the executive who in the first place verily believes he is guilty and as such should face the gallows? This cannot be the quest for peace and justice but a deliberate provocation for anarchy. No one should be allowed to be an accuser and a judge at the same time.

The IMN faithful have publicly stated they are not afraid of death. Shall we knowingly or unknowingly create a new set of men and women ready to die for a cause that will involve them take as many persons as possible with them to their graves? Boko Haram started with state mismanagement of a manageable crisis. Now, it has got out of hand and every reasonable Nigerian wished that government managed the initial challenges much better.  Why are we not learning from very recent history?

There can be no development without peace, without the rule of law. No investor will invest in a season of anomie and lawlessness. Development cannot proceed in an environment where the executive, legislative and judicial powers are virtually rolled into one. There is just one man who is in charge and who can either through directives or his body language bring down the tension in the land. He is Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari. The tension is reaching a crescendo. And no one is sure whether it will simply disappear or blow up in our face.

I hereby appeal to the President to diffuse the tension in the land; make overtures for peace, reduce the language of defiance to public opinion; take less militant and divisive actions; and be more tolerant and restore our democracy.

The Current Asset Declaration Form

A couple of days ago, Nigerians were treated to some incredible news, the type we used to hear from very distant jurisdictions some years ago. It was about the non conviction-based recovery of stolen assets and public property under the official fight against corruption. Nigerians were regaled with the recovery of jewelry including watches, bangles, chains, etc., worth the sum of $40m by the estimation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The jewelry was stated to have been recovered from the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke. This recovery raises a lot of issues that need to be addressed for the enhancement of the struggle for transparency and accountability in Nigeria.

By any mode or estimation, jewelry worth $40m is a lot of money. Although curiously, the EFCC did not translate the jewelry’s worth into naira, at N360 to 1USD, this is N14.4bn; an incredible amount of money to be invested in jewelry at a time most Nigerians are finding it difficult to have three square meals. One only hopes that this jewelry was valued by professionals and by the time we are done with the final forfeiture, at least, the treasury would have been richer by N14.4bn and this would be deployed for public purposes.

But the most interesting of the issues is the relationship of this forfeiture and the assets and liabilities regime established by the constitution under the Code of Conduct regime. In the Fifth Schedule, Part 1, S.11 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, it is stated: “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, every public officer shall within three months after the coming into force of this Code of Conduct or immediately after taking office and thereafter-(a) at the end of every four years; and (b) at the end of his term in office, submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets and liabilities, and those of his unmarried children under the age of eighteen years”.

In furtherance of the mandate conferred on it by the constitution to manage the assets and liabilities regime, the Code of Conduct Bureau designed the assets declaration form for public officers. It may interest Nigerians to know that there is nothing in the assets declaration form for public officers obliging them to declare their jewelry. The form was silent on this and many other forms of property. So, strictly speaking, in law, any public officer with jewelry of that magnitude is under no legal obligation to declare it to the authorities at the Code of Conduct Bureau. It is a well-known fact that jewelry, especially gold and other precious metals, are used as an improved store of value in Nigeria and they hardly depreciate as much as money in a bank which is subject to inflationary trends and currency devaluation. Thus, omitting them in asset declaration form is a huge omission that provides an opportunity for the system to be subverted. However, it may be ridiculous for every public officer, especially women, to be asked to declare every small ornament in her possession. The CCB may decide to set a financial worth threshold, over which public officers would be under obligation to declare such jewelry in their asset declaration forms.

Beyond the foregoing, the content of the extant declaration form is not comprehensive. It excludes some categories of assets and contains nothing on liabilities. It is silent on stores of value like art and antique. It is also silent on crypto currencies, though it is argued that the Central Bank of Nigeria does not recognise crypto currencies as a legal tender. Intellectual property rights are also missing in the form but they are sources of earning income. Again, the form makes no provision for declaration of assets held under a beneficial ownership arrangement, despite the constitutional provision that :“A public officer who does any act prohibited by this Code through a nominee, trustee, or other agent shall be deemed ipso facto to have committed a breach of this Code”. In beneficial ownership, the legal ownership and holding the title to an asset are irrelevant, but the defining factors are control and use. Also, insurance arrangements and other pension schemes are left out of the form.

The other side of the coin is liabilities. Declaring assets without liabilities leaves the declaration hanging. The real worth of a public officer is his assets placed side by side his liabilities.  Incidentally, debts, obligations, loans, mortgages, guarantees, etc. are missing from the form and ought to be provided. Debts owed by the declarant (debit) and debts due to the declarant (credit) are missing from the form. The fact that liabilities are not requested in the form needs to be remedied. The form should also be properly headed as assets and liabilities declaration form instead of the extant asses declaration title.

For buildings and vacant land which are provided in the form, there is the need for more details which relate to the registration particulars in a land registry (if applicable). This will facilitate verification down the line. For lands and buildings, it is not clear whether a declarant is required to declare properties he owns jointly with others. The form seems not to have a provision for that. Under “Farm/Orchard/Ranch”, it is not clear whether the value requested is of the plants and animals alone excluding the value of the land on which the farm is situated. For cash in the bank, the information required should include the Bank Verification Number. This is imperative for tracking cash in banks by declarants. Also, there should be provision for any other assets or liabilities not covered by or under the heads contained in the assets and liabilities declaration form.

Remarkably, the form is silent on conflict of interest situations despite the clear provisions of sections 1 and 2 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, Fifth Schedule, Part 11 of the Constitution. There should have been questions around public officers being involved in partnerships, shareholdings, board memberships including boards of non-profits, investments, government contracts and previous employment relationships. Issues around the revolving door concept should also be introduced into the declaration form.

In sum, the current asset declaration form should be reviewed to take cognisance of current realities and developments in property holding and means of storing value.

Action Points For The 9th National Assembly

It is almost two weeks since the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly, which consists of the Senate and the Federal House of Representatives. The impression among the newly inaugurated law makers is that they have time on their hands, enough time to do their work and play around.

But this assumption may not be true when the task before the NASS is compared to the time they have to attend to them, as well as the magnitude of the challenges facing the nation. Most of these challenges were due for solutions over 10 years ago and simply thinking that the NASS can “go slow” on them is the beginning of failure.

Let us remember that every July, the legislature will proceed on the annual legislative vacation and resume in the middle of September. Already, the legislators are complaining of not having been settled in their accommodation and other logistics that will enable them start work. Also, the legislative committees are yet to be constituted and this may take the next one month to sort out.

It should be recalled that legislators will vacate for a week or more during major Christian and Muslim holidays, as well as for the New Year and other public holidays. And if the executive fulfils its promises, the period of their resumption from the legislative vacation in September until December 2019 will be occupied by the consideration of the medium-term expenditure framework 2020-2022 and the 2020 federal budget. Thus, the year 2019 will be virtually gone without any major non-routine legislative work. Also, both chambers of the 9th NASS are yet to present their legislative agenda to Nigerians.

This discourse seeks to highlight some very key and important pieces of legislation and legislative work that should occupy the NASS as soon as it settles down to work. In devising a legislative agenda, the Senate and the House of Reps should have a harmonised agenda and not an agenda for the Senate and another for the House. They should also sequence, in terms of time, the major action points.

It may be imperative, for the avoidance of excuses, that the legislators get their respective parties to endorse and buy-into the legislative agenda. This buy-in is not for the purpose of allowing extraneous forces to take control of the legislative agenda, but to ensure that all relevant parties, who may oppose legislation, are all operating on the same page. The caveat is that the legislators owe the nation a sacred duty and they should proceed with their agenda when any one seeks to introduce unreasonable issues into the legislative agenda.

The legislature should also challenge the executive to come up with key executive bills, which conform to President Muhammadu Buhari’s “next level” and reform agenda. It is not enough to merely talk about “next level”, but there must be policies and laws that take Nigeria from its current position to the next level, just like former President Olusegun Obasanjo walked the talk by introducing the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission bill to NASS within six months of being sworn in.

Nigeria cannot afford another four years of President Buhari running a “say no campaign,” like what he did to many bills passed by the Eight NASS. He should be upfront on his reform ideas. Otherwise, he should not be drawing back the march of civilisation and the hands of Nigeria’s progress.

In the first six months, we expect NASS to champion bills on the foundation of our democracy and nationhood. The agreements arising from various national discussions in the last couple of years should be made into bills that will be passed and presented to the President for his assent. This is about constitution amendment bills. The issues involved should include revenue generation and sharing, state police, reducing the powers of the centre and empowering the constituent units. This has become imperative in view of the insecurity across board in Nigeria.

On the average, over seven lives and unquantifiable property are lost on a daily basis to reported organised criminality arising from the present structure of the federation. This is not only withholding local investments, foreign investors are voting with their feet, while farmers are finding it difficult to cultivate, nurture and harvest food and cash crops. The country bleeds on all frontiers and any further delay may actually take us to the physical actualisation of the saying that there was once a country called Nigeria.

The amendments to the Electoral Act come in as a priority. The idea of waiting until a few months to the election to amend the Electoral Act should be deprecated. In the run-up to the last election, Buhari deliberately delayed assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and used the lateness, thereafter, as an excuse for his refusal to grant assent. The recommendations on amendment needed to reposition our electoral system have been in the public domain for so many years. One had expected that after the Supreme Court decisions on the smart card reader on the 2015 elections, provisions would have been made in the Electoral Act to regularise its status. Mainstreaming technology, improving political finance provisions, plugging all the holes that facilitate manipulation of votes and clearly defining the command of the armed forces in elections are some of the issues to be addressed by the amendments.

Nigeria has been borrowing so much from foreign and domestic lenders and this is fast becoming unsustainable, when our debt repayment is compared to available revenue. Therefore, laws and policies that would facilitate the generation of more revenue should be prioritised.

The Petroleum Industry Bills come forth as sore thumbs. We have been negotiating and talking about these bills since the return to civil rule in 1999. These bills include issues around governance and administration, the fiscals, environmental and community issues. Specific bills that will address domestic resource mobilisation for infrastructure should be prioritised. These bills should include respective amendments and new ones on housing finance and mortgages, roads and bridges, electricity, water resources, etc.

These new bills will focus on harvesting available domestic resources through a pooling system. For instance, amendments to the National Housing Fund Act, which was done by the Eighth NASS and refused assent by the President should be revisited. This time the President should be specifically asked to propose new ways to raise more funding for the housing sector and energise and make actionable, already existing funds.

Also, regularising the Nigerian budget calendar and financial year also comes as a priority. The idea of approving a budget in the middle of the year, when it should have commenced in January, needs to be addressed. Other bills, such as those that touch on strengthening the campaign for transparency and anti-corruption struggle like the Proceeds of Crime Bill needs to be revisited.

This time around, Nigerians will not entertain any excuses bordering on why the legislature or executive failed to deliver on their mandate. We are rather waiting for the success stories, which will highlight the critical success factors that facilitated very great performance. Time runs and time lost cannot be regained.

Mr. President, it is time to get it right

It has been 12 days since Muhammadu Buhari took a new oath of office which would enable him govern Nigeria for the next four years as the President and Commander-in- Chief of the Armed Forces. Before the elections, one could hear Nigerians yearn for change, a new way of doing things, improvement in governance and service delivery, etc. However, if the results as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission reflect the popular votes, Nigerians voted for continuity in the expectation of change.

There was the popular expectation that the President would have learnt a few lessons from his first four years in the saddle and would never allow mistakes to be repeated. To the surprise of the overwhelming number of Nigerians, the President simply kept mum after his swearing in, not even a word of thank you to Nigerians and his supporters. He was expected to make an inaugural speech which would highlight the defining policy positions of the new government. But that was an opportunity lost. Considering that ministers had handed over to their permanent secretaries and the other presidential staff’s tenures had expired by the effluxion of time, the President has so far neglected to make a single appointment into his cabinet and backroom staff.

What is the message being sent by these developments? In respect of the refusal to address the nation after the inauguration, it appears that the President failed to understand and appreciate the critical role of communication in leadership. A leader’s ideas which remain in his head, not communicated to the populace and holders of levers of action is nothing but a wink in the dark. This leaves societal actors, from investors, government officials, and the citizens in a confusion as to the direction of the new government. A few supporters of the President have indicated that he would unfold his new governance agenda on June 12, being the day Nigeria will celebrate its democracy. But this defence misses the point, the inaugural message is a different message from the celebration of democracy message.  Reading the inaugural message on the inauguration day adds no extra cost to the inauguration and that day is the proper date for the speech considering that it is addressed and focuses on Nigerians. It is a policy speech that defines the fundamentals for the new administration.

On the issue of appointments, this is showing early signs of the delay occasioned in the appointment of the governance team after the swearing-in in 2015. It took almost six months to get the ministers and the team in place. The result was that a very poor economic and social situation was compounded and before we could understand what was happening, Nigeria regressed into an economic recession. The country has yet to fully recover from the effects of the recession as our economy is still growing at less than two per cent while population growth is in excess of 2.7%.

On the issue of appointments, it may make sense to send the names of minister designates to the Senate with their proposed portfolios. This would enable the Senate and indeed Nigerians, to make inputs into the approval process. The President may object that the constitution does not require him to do this. But a note of caution is needed here. The constitution does not also debar the President from doing this. The benefits of this procedure are legion. In the last four years, we had square pegs in round holes and pegs of no description, being fitted into certain holes. The result was not pleasant to the generality of Nigerians.

Another issue that hallmarked President Buhari’s first four years is the divisiveness it  introduced into Nigeria’s polity. A divisiveness never seen since the Nigerian Civil War. The 97% and 5% gaffe has been re-enacted when the leaders of the Federal Capital Territory visited the President during the recent Muslim Eid holidays. The President’s complaint that Abuja residents did not vote for him or more properly put, give him the majority vote, is unpresidential and not fatherly as he, after the election, is expected to protect and be a father to all Nigerians, irrespective of the voting pattern.  The President’s statement misreads the tenets of democracy and competitive electoral politics. If every Nigerian were to vote for a single candidate, then the competitiveness is gone, it is now an endorsement, more or less a right of a candidate to be elected. One would have thought that with the uproar caused by the statement in 2015, that the President would have learnt some lessons and never repeated such statements.

Again, we are back to the legislative starting point, the inauguration of the National Assembly and the election of its principal officers. The ruling party has made known its preferences for the Senate Presidency and Speakership including their deputies. But this has not gone down well with some of its members who have declared interest to contest. In trying to resolve this challenge, Senator Danjuma Goje, who had earlier indicated interest in the Senate Presidency, went with the party’s anointed choice, Senator Ahmed Lawan, to see President Muhammadu Buhari. After Goje agreed to drop his interest in the Senate Presidency over the weekend, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission washed its hands off his nine-year old prosecution and handed over the files to the Attorney-General of the Federation. This sends very strong and disturbing signals that anti-corruption charges are now being traded with political considerations. Yes, the Attorney-General’s office may continue prosecution, but the timing of the handover of the case sends very wrong signals. The irony of the foregoing is not lost on Nigerians. During the Eighth National Assembly, Senator Bukola Saraki’s refusal to drop his ambition led to his prosecution up to the Supreme Court before he was set free. Now, another one is dropping his ambition and the corruption case is partially being dropped.

The presidential tenure is just starting and there is the need to learn from either mistakes or deliberate actions in the first tenure which boomeranged. Nigerians like the biblical people of Israel, after the death of King Solomon, are simply asking the President to lighten their yoke.  In this case, let insecurity be contained, let economic activities pick up to lessen the hardship in the land, improve education and healthcare, etc. The President has two options. The first is to hearken to the voice of the average Nigerian who is in the majority, calling for a change of governance attitudes, actions and deliverables. The second option is to hearken to the voice of the hawks, who may be telling him to drill further and continue in his old ways and let Nigerians continue to suffer. Unfortunately, the President’s actions and conduct since May 29 seem to suggest that he is listening to the hawks.

The opportunity to change the governance style is here and that change must begin from the President. Nigerians are waiting and history beckons.

Searching For Ministers And Presidential Advisers

Nigeria has witnessed the inauguration of a new tenure for President Muhammadu Buhari which will run for four years in the event the challenge to his election at the presidential election petitions tribunal fails. The country is facing challenges in every aspect of our national life, from security, national unity, education, agriculture, power supply, health, etc. It will be no exaggeration to state that the unity of the country is threatened and the economic and social life is in a state of decay. Thus, Nigerians are yearning for a change of leadership style.

President Muhammadu Buhari is the head of the executive arm of government and is portrayed as a superman. With the exception of the Vice President, who is elected on the same ticket with him, every other key member of the executive is an appointee of the President. However, a President is as good as the men and women that make us his cabinet as ministers, special advisers, assistants and key public servants. We can say with some level of certainty that Nigerians now understand the capabilities, competences and limitations of our President. This informs the need to be extremely careful and objective in the selection of his ministers, advisers and aides. But what are the qualities that should recommend a person to be appointed to hold a ministerial, adviser or assistant’s position at the federal level? This discourse seeks to analyse a few of the qualities in recognition of the dire challenges facing the nation.

The first quality is competence which is further defined in the dictionaries to mean and include the ability to do something successfully or efficiently; capability, ability, competency, capacity, proficiency, accomplishment, adeptness, adroitness, knowledge, expertise, expertness, skill, skillfulness, prowess, mastery, resources, faculties, facilities, talent, bent, aptitude, artistry, virtuosity. The first term of President Buhari has shown the fallacy in thinking that appointees can give what they do not have; that learning on the job is the way to go and that no special competence or capacity is needed for assuming the role of a minister or presidential adviser. Nigeria is blessed with abundant human resources in virtually all fields and some of these men and women can be described as experts, technocrats, etc. in the respective fields. They have mastered the field and can proffer solutions to the myriads of challenges facing the specific sector. They could have become generals in the sector either through education, training or practice and are accomplished and recognisable names in the sector. Thus, the idea of bringing a journalist to head the ministry of education; bringing a lawyer who had never shown any interest in the power sector to run that overtly important sector is fundamentally flawed.

The second quality is creativity. We need ministers and advisers who do not just think out of the box but on assumption of duty, refuse to stay inside the box and come out of the box, so that their antennas for problem solving can be free enough to pick all the relevant and necessary signals needed for sectoral development. We need inventiveness, imagination, originality and men who are not afraid to dare. We need leaders who can adapt international best practices to good and fit practices in consideration of our special circumstances and challenges. A part of this creativity is a “can do” spirit and individuals who never believe in failure and will keep trying until solutions are found for daunting challenges. This will also involve being able to recognise available resources and how to use them to fix challenges. Such appointee with this quality is not just one laidback fellow who only understands what he was taught in school so many years ago but should be someone, ready to blend yesterday’s and today’s knowledge for the task at hand.

We also need communicators and persons with the charm and charisma to lead others. The dictionaries have defined this quality as the ability to attract, charm and influence others, inspire devotion and following. It is not about the cult of personality but about brand new and inspiring ideas which build hope, trust and following. We are recommending ministers and advisers who will lead the President to make bold declarations, which will challenge and bring out the best in our men and women of creativity, science and technology to meet national targets in food production and processing, build and mass-produce Nigerian vehicle brands, mass produce renewable and fossil energy machines and parts for the target of giving every Nigerian access to electricity, etc.

Allied to the last quality is for the President to look out for men and women who are ready to lead by example and this is the best way to attract following. Ministers and advisers must let their action speak more than their words. They would not be ministers and advisers whose children will not patronise Nigerian schools and hospitals whilst they are in charge of the ministries of education and health. Rather than launch a Made-in-Nigeria policy, their dresses, vehicles and other consumables will be distinctively Nigerian, not for official functions, but in their public and private life. Thus, when they eventually come out to launch the patronise Made-in-Nigeria products campaign, everyone will see the sincerity of their actions and words. Leadership is not about “change beginning with the electorate”. It is about “change beginning with the leader”, the change master and protagonist.

The next quality is that of the patriots and nationalists who are not local or ethnic champions, who have not come to occupy a position on behalf of an imagined sub group of Nigerians, which now turns them blind to the national question and interest of all other Nigerians. We need ministers who will see the entire Nigeria as their constituency and who will see something good in every part of Nigeria. This will lead to treating all like cases alike, inspire patriotism and loyalty to the nation among the generality of citizens.

We need men and women of integrity which is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, uprightness, probity, rectitude, honour, good character, principle(s), ethics, morals, righteousness, morality, nobility, high-mindedness, right-mindedness, noble-mindedness, virtue, decency, fairness, sincerity, trustworthiness, etc. This should not be mistaken for fake integrity credentials of men and women who practise double standards. They have one standard (which is the standard of the scoundrel) for members of their party and political family and another standard (the demand for the highest ethics) for political opponents. A man of integrity treats everyone that comes across their way with the same standards of justice and gives everyone their due. They are not the author or implementer of 97%/5% dichotomy.

These are few qualities that readily come to mind as there is a surfeit of leadership qualities needed to take Nigeria to the next level. But President Buhari may do Nigerians some good by starting with these basics while we aspire and work for the others.

A Word For The Governors-elect

Across the states of the federation, new governors have been elected to take over from the old ones while some serving governors have been given a fresh mandate. In about a month’s time, the governors-elect will all take a new oath of office to start a fresh mandate. At the federal level, Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential mandate has been renewed for another four years. Barring the decisions of the election tribunals, these fresh mandates will run until early 2023. This discourse seeks to set the tone for governance under the extant reality of economic, moral, political and social crisis bedevilling the nation.

The first point is to sound a caveat that unlike previous years when the resources were relatively more abundant, these are lean times and every governor will have to put on his thinking cap to raise the resources to fulfil his campaign promises. It may even be difficult to source for funds to do the basics like paying the new minimum, the backlog of salaries, pensions and gratuities. Most states of the federation are already under the burden of excruciating debts which are secured by Irrevocable Standing Payment Orders mandating the Accountant-General of the Federation and the Central Bank of Nigeria to deduct a good percentage of their statutory allocations at source. The internally generated revenues of most states are very low and cannot pay for their recurrent expenditures. Again, most states have large loads of contractor arrears for ongoing and completed projects. So, the fiscal situation is very grim in most states.

It is against this background that governors are starting their new terms. For those coming in newly, this is not the time to play to the gallery or to make a lot of unguarded promises. First things first. It is imperative to confirm the financial state of states in terms of debts and all payment arrears and commitments. This will give the new helmsmen a good understanding of what is doable, areas to place emphasis in terms of priorities and raising new revenue. Let the determination of the fiscal state of health be guided by empirical evidence, not politics and attempts to paint the outgone office holders in a bad light. After this determination which in most states will likely show that the states are in the red, and going through a fiscal crisis, the governors should approach the people with the findings through expanded stakeholder forums and the publication of the details in multi-media platforms. This approach should be about the building blocks of popular participation and the foundation for transparency and accountability.

Yes, the governors may have made plans on how to run the states, raise fresh funds and probably told the electorate about these during the campaigns. But the foregoing will provide the opportunity to get an actual buy-in from the people who may even suggest fresh ideas on how to manage the states’ fiscal situations.  Even if the forums end up endorsing the governors’ ideas, there is a window for larger buy-in from the citizens thereby increasing the chances of success.

The foregoing makes a case for increased transparency and accountability in governance going forward. The people are beset with a lot of burdens and challenges and will not tolerate the kind of excesses that was the norm in previous years. The average Nigerian is already at a breaking point and may not be best suited to be called upon to make further sacrifices for the benefit of the political class. Therefore, the elbow room, margin of error and mistakes are highly limited. it is advisable for the governors to cut their perks of office and those of the legislative arm as well. They should be seen to have a heart for the sufferings of the people by leading by example. Very simple things like cutting down the number of cars in their convoys, reducing security votes to the barest, trimming the size of advisers and appointees, etc. will go a long way to sending a message that a new dawn has started.

Legal provisions on fiscal responsibility and public procurement need to be implemented to the letter to open up the governance of states. Citizens should get the opportunity to contribute to budgets, monitor and report on them while the budget documents and the process leading to their finalization should be open. For contracts leading to procurement, the processes should be very transparent and open. Contracts are not to be awarded for the fun of it as it is advisable to complete existing projects before starting new ones. The emphasis on transparency and accountability is because many Nigerians will resist impositions or calls to make sacrifices if they do not see any change in the leadership. There will be temptations on the part of governors to recover campaign finance expenses through all manner of dubious contracts. However, it is in the best interest of all that these temptations are resisted.

It should be clear by now that the depth of fiscal crisis in most states requires that the governors appoint the best eleven as their commissioners and key advisers. The days of appointing mere political supporters into positions that they know little or nothing about can only worsen the already bad situation. The best may not necessarily have to come from the ruling party. The governors need to reach out to the wide variety of competencies available in their states.

On a parting note, governors need to be more creative on how to increase their IGR, not by further increasing the tax of those already paying but by ensuring that those who are not already paying are brought into the net. For no one who earns an income has a right to live off the sweat of others. The payment of tax is a serious citizen’s obligation.

Open All Statutory Transfers

Transparency and accountability are key issues in the reform of any governance system. This is more so in systems that relate to revenues, expenditures and how public resources are managed. Again, there cannot be a successful campaign against corruption and abuse of public trust if the systems remain opaque and have no clear processes of accountability. The discourse is about a revenue and expenditure system where the processes of accruing public revenue can be understood and are clear enough for majority of citizens to follow while expenditure streams are not shrouded in secrecy. Also, the leadership makes a habit of reporting to the people and legally designated checks and balances institutions perform their duties.

For inexplicable reasons, which are not backed by any law, the National Assembly upon designating their budget funds as statutory transfers started the bulk sum approach to budgeting without providing the disaggregation and details. Civil society organisations, the media and majority of Nigerians have been on the “Open National Assembly” campaign since then. Suits have been filed and won in court and various letters, freedom of information requests, print and social media work have been done on the subject. However, NASS still treats the subject of making the details of their expenditure known as a priviledge and as a bargaining chip for which its leadership will claim some achievements. In the process, they have simply opened up their budget a few times since the constitutional amendment.

But there is a big picture and background to NASS keeping its votes as a bulk sum. It is the illegal practice of putting all statutory transfer as bulk sums in the budget. This relates to the budgets of agencies such as the National Judicial Council, Niger Delta Development Commission, National Human Rights Commission, Public Complaints Commission, Independent National Electoral Commission and the Universal Basic Education Commission. And this practice has also started for federal government interventions in the North East. There are also very huge bulk un-disaggregated sums under service wide votes. The votes of these statutory transfer agencies constitute a sizable chunk of the budget, most at times being about N500billion and when service wide votes are added, they are usually more than a trillion Naira.

Nigerians need to look deeper and understand where the rot actually stems from. It is the duty of the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Budget and National Planning and Budget Office of the Federation to publish budget proposals and approvals. This has been done consistently for non-statutory transfer votes over the years. However, the basis of the refusal of the Budget Office of the Federation to publish the details of the votes of these agencies on statutory transfers after publishing the details of others needs to be interrogated. What informs the decision of the Budget Office of the Federation? Did they receive any order from agencies on statutory transfersnot to publish the details of their votes? The Budget Office is best positioned to explain the reasons for their action.  Having searched through the Laws of the Federation, case law, etc., the author of this discourse has found no legal justification for this practice. Rather, there is a provision in section 48 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act which states in clear terms that: “The Federal Government shall ensure that its fiscal and financial affairs are conducted in a transparent manner and accordingly ensure full and timely disclosure and wide publication of all transactions and decisions involving public revenues and expenditures and their implications for its finances”.

This is a clear and unequivocal obligation, which the executive should implement to the letter. Now that the leadership of NASS has agreed to make their expenditure open, there is the need to institutionalise same and move beyond the campaign to Open NASS. The way forward is for the NASS to start the publication of the budgets of all agencies that come before it for approval. All it takes is for NASS to upload the detailed proposals as well as the approved/assented budget votes of these agencies on its website. Alternatively, NASS can write it in as clause in the Appropriation Act that the details of the budget votes of all agencies must be publicized by the Budget Office of the Federation. This recommendation is anchored on the fact that all budgetary provisions should have their details available in one place and no one needs to start going from agency to agency to look for the details of the votes of the agencies enjoying statutory transfers.

The reason(s) for the publication of the budgets of these agencies is not far-fetched. Many of these agencies from time to time complain of under-funding and there is no evidence upon which any reasonable person would come to a conclusion of their under-funding unless the details of what has been provided is made available to the public. At least, Nigerians need to know what they spend the available resources on before joining the chorus for increase of their votes. In the case of the votes for the Niger Delta and the North East region, they need the widest publication considering that the resources are budgeted for the benefit of vulnerable groups. The elites have always found a way to steal resources that should have been used to alleviate the plight of the vulnerable. If the situation were otherwise, there can be no explanation for the continued misery in the Niger Delta so many years after the establishment of the NDDC.

Structured reforms of this nature are vital for the institutionalization of the anti-corruption campaign because what is hidden and not known to the public cannot attract public intervention. And the anti-corruption campaign cannot succeed without public and citizens participation. Publishing these budget votes can be a fit parting gift by the leadership of the National Assembly to guarantee enforcement of laws since the executive agency charged with making budgets public has failed to perform its statutory duty. It is not just about publishing their votes alone; their quarterly expenditure reports should also be distinctly published so that Nigerians are kept abreast of how public resources are spent.

The Oil Sector And Its Incredible Mismanagement

These are not the best of times for the Nigerian economy, the average Nigerian citizen and members of the business class in Nigeria. The Nigeria economy bleeds and it is virtually on the brinks of collapse. Available resources are not put to optimal use and the debt burden is becoming excruciating, compared to our available revenue, while the nation is diverting resources to fund the greed of a few people.

Corruption walks on four legs, especially in the petroleum sector, in an administration that has vowed to fight corruption. And this is a sector under the immediate control of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces.

Let us start with the bleeding coming straight from the nation’s treasure fixation, which is petroleum and its management. The World Bank reports that Nigeria spent N731billion in subsiding petroleum products in 2018. This is coming at a time the releases for the 2018 capital budget implementation fell way below the subsidy figure. The implication of this is clearly a case of misplacement of priorities and governmental inability to think, plan and spend available resources in a sustainable manner. It is also a clear example of politics trumping governance and simple sense economics and spending without an evidence-based scale of preference.

Before the current administration came on stream, Nigerians were told that there was, indeed, no need for subsidy on petroleum products and the claim of subsidy by the previous administration was all about corruption. Fast forward to the present time when subsidy was renamed under recovery, but it still claims billions of naira running into trillions from the national treasury.

The saddening aspect of this state of affairs is that before 2015 when the economy was in full swing, growing and creating a larger number of jobs, Nigerians were informed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation that we were using not more than 35 million litres of fuel a day. But that figure was disputed by many Nigerians who believed that the NNPC and marketers may have inflated the quantity of fuel so as to claim more money from subsidy.

Nigerians will recall that so many oil marketers were indicted and they are facing prosecution for monumental fraud, which revolved around over-invoicing of subsidy claims or claiming subsidy for importing virtually nothing.

After the economy entered recession, many jobs were affected, many companies closed shop and subsequently, the recovery in economic growth terms has not matched population growth, the NNPC comes out with figures, saying that we are now using an average of 55 million litres of fuel a day, which is an addition of 20 million litres to the figures it declared when the economy was growing at 6 to 7 per cent.

Before the present regime, there were private sector oil importers and marketers who were involved in the business of importing refined crude oil. Now, the NNPC is the only player in town, considering the claim that the landing cost of a litre of crude oil is above the approved retail price of N145. Thus, only the Federal Government is in a position to take up the excess on top of the retail price, which is the subsidy. By adding extra 20 million litres a day, the government and the treasury is simply being unduly bled from two points. The first point is the subsidy, which should not have been in place. The second bleeding point is the imaginary, fictitious and excess millions of litres of fuel and the claim, which goes into private pockets. The fact that the claims by NNPC are highly inflated and fraudulent is not just made by Nigerians alone, but also by highly respected institutions like the World Bank. The latter, in its Nigerian Biannual Economic Update for Fall 2018, stated that these petroleum import figures were highly inflated.

Regarding the inflated NNPC claim, two scenarios are possible. The first scenario is that they do not import this quantum of refined products, but simply make up the papers to claim public funds for their private use. The second is that this quantity is actually imported and smuggled across our borders to the neighbouring republics where the price of refined petroleum is more than double our pump price. Whichever scenario that applies, none of them is favourable to the NNPC and sister agencies like the Customs.

The most troubling aspect of this N731 billion expenditure is that it was money spent without appropriation and in contravention of the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution, which states that no monies can be spent without the legislative imprimatur of the National Assembly. There was neither an executive request for the expenditure of this sum of money nor an enabling legal framework authorising the NNPC to spend without approval. This is fiscal dictatorship. It can also be seen as a basis for impeachment proceedings in any civilised environment because this has been the practice since the current administration increased the pump price of petroleum products.

When it is recalled that the governance aspect of petroleum reforms in the Petroleum Industry Bill was passed last year and the Presidency refused to sign it into law, it shows that the executive is happy and satisfied with the current opaque and sub-optimal management of our oil resources. Our leaders are living in denial and they have failed to disclose the true state of the economy to the common people. A very huge disconnect exists between available resources and the expectation of the average citizen. While resources are very scarce, many Nigerians have been made to believe that we are not just rich, but also very rich. In this scenario, subsidy is presented to the public, as being retained for the benefit of the common people, while, in actual fact, it is retained for the benefit of the fat cats who simply make a kill out of an otherwise very bad situation.

Also, for inexplicable reasons, we are perpetually under collecting oil and gas revenues and within the past four years, we have failed to meet the required targets. It has been one excuse after the other. But successful nations do not thrive on reasons why they failed, rather they write literature on their critical success factors.

Nigerians need to be told the truth about the critical bleeding of our economy; that we can no longer continue this waste under the guise of fuel subsidy. The Petroleum Industry Bill, in all its ramifications – administration and governance, environmental and host community issues, as well as a new fiscal framework, is long overdue for passage and presidential assent. The time to act is now.

The 2019 Budget: Opacity As The Norm

The Nigerian budget has over the years been a budget of mystery. It has been a ritual where public funds denominated in millions, billions and lately trillions, are reeled out to a bewildered citizenry, who with mouth agape wonder what these figures represent because at the end of every year, the expenditure of public resources makes little or no impact in their lives. How did this become our practice? This discourse seeks to present the link between the lack of transparency, especially at the budget preparation and approval stages and the perennial underdevelopment of the country.

The first consideration is the law as it is and which guides budgeting and public finance management. Section 48 (1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act states that “The Federal Government shall ensure that its fiscal and financial affairs are conducted in a transparent manner and accordingly ensure full and timely disclosure and wide publication of all transactions and decisions involving public revenues and expenditures and their implications for its finances”. The key words in this beautiful provision are “transparent”, “full and timely disclosure”, “wide publication of all transactions involving public revenues and expenditure”.

Also, in the un-appealed decision of the Federal High Court in the Centre for Social Justice v Honourable Minister of Finance (Suit No.FHC/ABJ/CS/301/2013), the court granted the Freedom of Information request of the applicant for the disclosure of statutory transfers and made it clear that no agency of government had the right to spend public resources in a way and manner unknown to the citizens. This is the state of the Nigerian law on transparency of public finance management.

Like in previous budget proposals, the 2019 proposal currently before the National Assembly dedicates bulk sums totalling N492.36bn to statutory transfers. The National Assembly (N125bn), National Judicial Council (N110bn), National Human Rights Commission (N1.5bn), Universal Basic Education Commission (N110.97bn), Public Complaints Commission (N4.2bn), Independent National Electoral Commission (N45.5bn), Niger Delta Development Commission (N95.188bn). Statutory transfers constitute 5.5% of the aggregate expenditure. These allocations are made against the spirit of transparency and accountability and in disobedience of subsisting court judgements. But the impunity continues because these statutory transfer recipients and those who prepare the budget consider themselves above the laws of the land that guide other mere mortals.

Fast forward to the Service Wide Votes, a good number of its provisions have no details and some of these votes should directly impact on citizens’ lives if well-invested and spent. The Sustainable Development Goals in the SWV comes up to a total figure of N45.5bn and it has no details. The Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has an un-disaggregated N2bn for the SDGs. The foregoing has been the practice since the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. If indeed this quantum of resources had been invested in the MDGs/SDGs consistently on a yearly basis, for 20 years now, why have we not seen improvements in livelihoods and standards of living instead of the current retrogression that we witness?

Getting to the Niger Delta, the NDDC has a vote of N95.188bn; the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs gets N41.60bn while the Amnesty Programme has a vote of N65bn. The total of these figures for the Niger Delta comes up to N201.789bn in the 2019 budget proposal. Of all these allocations, it is only the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs that the components of its spending are known. Others are not disaggregated. Available evidence indicates that these unknown budgets provide a fertile ground for project duplication between agencies which leads to poor value for money. Consistently, for close to 20 years, we have been intervening in the Niger Delta with this opaque and closed model. Do we honestly expect progress and development in the region?

The insecurity challenge in the North-East has also created a fertile ground for the continuation and expansion of opaque budgeting practices. In the vote of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, a bulk sum of N10bn is proposed for the North-East Development Commission while another sum of N45bn is in the Service Wide Votes. These votes have no details. Again, across the ministries, lump sums are provided for generic interventions in the North-East.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development continues its notoriety for bulk sum budgeting. In the days of the former minister, now at the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, it was a play on words- seed, seeds, seedlings, etc. Now, the ministry dedicates huge sums of money running in-between millions and billions for maize, rice, cassava, corn, groundnut, oil palm, cocoa, yam, etc. value chains. What exactly is this proposal for? There are no project locations, no specific activities, no deliverables but just the deployment of a generic word with no fixed meaning. The ministry needs to first articulate the full value chain of a particular crop and tell Nigerians at what stage it is intervening. At the planting, harvesting, processing into different industrial products, preparing for export, etc? What exactly is the value chain paying for? For instance, in the cassava crop, can the ministry step up to tell Nigerians what it has done to improve the local utilisation and value addition to produce starch, floor, pellets for animal food, ethanol, etc.? Has the ministry been able to extend the shelf life of fresh cassava roots for increased incomes and postharvest losses reduction? Where is the cassava bread initiative? Since the beginning of the value chains, the ministry should be in a position to give specifics of progress made and this should be backed by empirical evidence, not propaganda.

The challenges posed by these un-disaggregated budgets are so many. First, how do citizens monitor a budget they do not have the details? If there are no project locations, where do you begin from in capital budget monitoring? How do we measure impact and evaluate if goals and deliverables have been met? The biblical injunction that you do not light a lamp and hide it under a bushel is apposite here. It must be on a lampstand to give light to the whole house. If these agencies have nothing to hide, they must come clean and give Nigerians the details of their budgets.

In accordance with the budgeting tradition, no fewer than 20% of the budget will be approved and spent in this opaque manner. It appears that public attention has been focused on the vote of the National Assembly and these other agencies do not feature in the demand for transparent budgeting. Sufficient attention should be focused on the overall opaque budgeting culture to improve transparency and guarantee greater value for money. If the previous votes had been effectively utilised, Nigeria would have made much more progress, surpassing our current situation. The demand is clear; the executive and legislature should obey the law. The details of these votes should be provided to Nigerians.

Now That We Have Voted

Nigerians went to the polls on Saturday, February 23, 2014 to elect a new President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives respectively. In essence, the elections were to constitute the executive and legislative arms of government at the federal level. The elections, however, were held after an earlier postponement, by one week, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, mainly because of logistic challenges.

The expectation after the one-week postponement was elections that would be better than the 2015 experience, where all the anticipated loopholes would have been plugged. INEC had assured Nigerians that the sensitive and non-sensitive materials had been fully distributed and both INEC staff and ad hoc staff were ready to conduct the elections timeously and in observance of best practices. The Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, had reassured Nigerians that all plans and contingencies had been put in place and all Nigerians were to go about the exercise of their civic duties without fear of molestation. And those who travelled the week earlier but came back disappointed were prevailed upon to go back and vote.

The key feature emanating from the polls was that the turnout was massive as Nigerians trooped in their numbers, determined to exercise their franchise. In many instances, Nigerians waited patiently in the sun to cast their votes and many further waited to hear the announcement of the results at their polling units. There were still reports of late arrival of materials and electoral officials to conduct the elections, insufficient quantity of election materials and card readers that malfunctioned. Further reports were of waves of violence including ballot box snatching and burning, intimidation of voters by thugs and armed men and other voter suppression tactics. Vote-buying and the manifest influence of money were also noticeable at the polls.

Before the elections, President Muhammadu Buhari, in an apparent moment of rage, asked the security agencies to “deal ruthlessly” with anyone snatching ballot boxes. This directive was condemned by all well-meaning Nigerians who insisted that the electoral law simply demands arresting a suspected felon and bringing them to trial. The surprising thing was that in some parts of Lagos State, on Election Day, the police watched as ballot boxes were snatched, with no attempts made to stop the felons or to arrest them. It was not until after the videos had gone viral that the police authorities decided to take action to redeem their image. In Rivers State, some Nigerians lost their lives in circumstances that are not totally clear. And a minister was reported with the aid of military personnel to have held an INEC official hostage until she wrote a fabricated presidential result for him.

In many instances, the late arrival of materials could not be justified and it seemed a pattern that needs further probe emerged. Did polling start later in some geopolitical zones than others? What could have been the reason for this lateness not just in some isolated polling units but across states and zones? Did anyone abdicate their duty? If the answer is in the affirmative, is there a penalty for such misconduct?

Nigeria must position herself to learn from mistakes and misdeeds. Otherwise, documentation and history would be of no use and need not be studied. Since 1999, this is Nigeria’s 20 years of elections, over six election cycles and we cannot keep pretending that our democracy is nascent as an excuse for our shortcomings. A child born 20 years ago is already a voter and biologically, will be able to reproduce, either as a man or a woman. We are either ready for democracy or stop the pretence that we run a democracy. Those who violate the law must be brought to justice, otherwise, impunity will continue to reign writ large.

We advocate an empirical approach that requires a post-mortem and an audit after the polling exercise and this should be done weeks after the polls have ended. The exercise would raise a plethora of questions. This will include; what went well and in which areas or departments did the elections go as scheduled or the results even surpassed expectations? What were the critical factors and resources that led to the success?  Alternatively, where failure or retrogression was recorded, we may still ask: what actually went wrong? Any dereliction of duty? Or, did planning and execution not anticipate the challenges? Did INEC and other stakeholders do enough scenario planning and simulation? Are there laws and policies that stultified progress and therefore need to be amended?  We are bound to raise a number of questions that would need to be answered if we are to make progress. The audit must be an honest one and involve all stakeholders from INEC the regulator, the legislature, key officials in the executive, political parties, civil society organisations, security agencies, etc.

More questions will be raised and answered in the process of the audit. Must we continue to gather at a place and close down the country’s bureaucracy, economy and social activities for one day in the guise of elections? Must we spend billions of naira printing permanent voter cards every four years and spend a fortune in the continuous voter registration? Can we disrupt the economy of elections and the valueless food chain it has created? Would the heavens fall if we ask all Nigerians to get a national identity card and use the same for voting and other national needs where identification is needed? Why should we deprive other Nigerians in the Diaspora of their voting rights? Should participation in election debates not become compulsory for anyone seeking to occupy a position of public trust to be validated by election? Can we not take benefit of technological advances in our elections and stop the primitive approach to elections?

The exercise will lead to a change of laws, policies, regulations and practices. It must be done early enough, within the first six months of concluding the 2019 elections. The bills and draft policies will be generated and sent to the National Assembly and executive on time so that the reforms will be done within one year of the conclusion of the 2019 elections. The idea is to strike when the iron is hot and ensure that debates about electoral law amendment do not stretch until the elections are by the corner.

In the final analysis, electoral reforms that reduce the premium on power for the sake of power should guide our future electioneering. We need reforms to get the best to govern us. The current approach can only throw up our fourth and fifth eleven. And we cannot grow the economy and develop with our fourth eleven when other nations are competing with their first 11.

2019 Budget: Matters arising (3)

 The expenditure framework of the 2019 budget proposal continues the tradition of getting the priorities wrong. Of the overall expenditure projection of N8.83tn, recurrent non-debt takes N4.04tn, which is 45.75%; capital expenditure is N2.031tn, which is 23%; statutory transfers are to be funded by N492.36bn, which is 5.58%; debt service gulps N2.14tn, which is 24.24% while sinking funds to retire maturing bonds (which is still a part of debt service) receives N120bn, being 1.35% of the votes.

The first challenge arising from this expenditure framework is that capital expenditure is to take 23% of the budget. This is not good enough for an economy experiencing massive infrastructure deficit. Previous experience indicates that the capital vote is very poorly implemented. For instance, out of the 2018 capital vote of about N2.87tn, only N820.57bn had been released as of December 14, 2018. President Muhammadu Buhari was however silent on how much was cash-backed and utilised as of that date. It is the norm in Nigeria’s public finance management that not all sums released get cash-backed and not all cash-backed sums get utilised. It is therefore not sufficient to make proposals which may not be followed through at the end of the day. It is also imperative for the administration to ensure that the bulk of the capital expenditure is developmental rather than administrative. This is the only way it can have a direct impact on the majority of citizens.

The second challenge is that the rising debt service appears to be crowding out expenditure in critical infrastructure and human development. At the end of the day, if there is a shortfall in revenue, salaries and overheads will be drawn down, debts will be serviced whilst capital projects suffer. At 24.24% of overall expenditure, the debt service is higher than the capital expenditure. When the sinking fund of N120bn is added to debt service, it comes up to N2.264tn, which is 25.70% of the overall budget. When the 2018 experience is used, it shows that Nigeria has already spent over a trillion naira in debt service at a time no kobo had been released for capital expenditure in the second quarter of 2018. And the releases for capital expenditure only came up to the aggregate sum of N820.57bn in December 2018.

Continued massive domestic and foreign borrowing will grind the economy to a standstill very soon because of the high debt to revenue ratio. With a debt to revenue actual in 2017 of using 68 kobo in every naira of our total revenue to pay back debts, we may soon have to abandon capital expenditure and even personnel to be able to pay back debts. Still on debts, domestic borrowing has been stated to crowd out private sector borrowing and leaves little or nothing for the private sector to create jobs and wealth and increase productive capacity. It makes banks lazy as they are sure of getting fat returns for taking no risks. As such, their appetite for intermediation and risk-taking becomes low. Massive foreign borrowing at a time of economic instability leading to massive depreciation of the naira increases the demand for financial resources to repay the debt. From a value of under N200 in early 2015 to a value of N360 to $1, the pressure is building up. With the fall in oil prices and lack of diversification in our economy, debt repayment will continue to gulp a huge part of our revenue.

The third challenge is to resolve the contradiction between the Federal Government’s mantra of cutting down waste, improving efficiencies and removing “ghost workers” from the payroll and its relationship with the rising recurrent non-debt expenditure. Recurrent non-debt expenditure got N4.04tn as against N3.51tn in 2018. This is 15% increase between 2018 and 2019. In 2017, the approved recurrent non-debt expenditure was N2.99tn. This increment cannot be the sign of a system that is taking steps to remove waste and inefficiencies. If it is also understood that the new minimum wage demand of workers has not been factored into the expenditure proposal, then, it would be clear that personnel expenditure, a component of recurrent non-debt expenditure, will increase by no less than 60% in the short to medium term. This will definitely happen before the end of the 2019 fiscal year.

The GDP is expected to grow at 3.01% in 2019. However, the growth recorded in the last four quarters is as follows: Q4 2017- 2.11%; Q1 2018 – 1.95%; Q2 2018 -1.50% and Q3 2018 – 1.81%. Evidently, if there are no special fiscal, monetary, trade or other economic interventions, the GDP projection may not be realised.

When the rhetoric from the ruling All Progressives Congress and the response of the main opposition challenger, the Peoples Democratic Party, is paired with the revenue and expenditure analysis, it is clear that the Nigerian economy is in a mortal danger and trouble lies ahead especially for the poorest of the poor. There are no new ideas, innovations and ideals on how to expand the economy, especially through the raising of additional revenues and resources to fund development. Yes, the little available resources have been mismanaged by successive governments including the current government. Even if we have faithfully utlilised previously available resources, we would have still needed massive infusion of other resources to fulfil our developmental dreams. The oil economy revenue is too low for our developmental needs.

Thus, our politicians need to come down from their high horse and get a dose of reality and intellectual capital to be able to drive this ship in the next four years. We need across the board cutting down on wasteful expenditure and frivolities. From the legislature, executive to the judiciary, we need a new thought process. The leadership needs to come clean to open up the system by ensuring that their income is in accordance with the constitution as stipulated by the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission. Contracts should no longer be inflated.

It is clear that increased domestic revenue generation has become imperative for development. The Federal Government needs to account for stamp duties which it has been collecting and which have yielded trillions in revenue. It may also consider removal of fuel subsidy to redirect over a trillion naira in expenditure and increase VAT to 10%. But this must be preceded by enhanced transparency and accountability across all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government. The budget should contain clear provisions on how to deal with the minimum wage demand of labour while responding to the demands of higher education as enunciated demands of the university and polytechnic lecturers.

Also, the National Assembly should approve the MTEF before commencing work on the budget. It is expected to do a thorough vetting of the proposals before their approval and forwarding for presidential assent. Besides, it should also ensure that revenue projections are based on empirical evidence and trim budget expenditure to be in harmony with realistic and realisable revenue projections.  The budget should be realistic, implementable and in harmony with available resources. Finally, reforms must precede increased domestic resource mobilisation. The President should make up his mind on what he wants out of reform bills such as the Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill. He should liaise with the National Assembly to get the bill signed into law.

2019 Budget: Matters Arising (2)

The expenditure framework of the 2019 budget proposal continues the tradition of getting the priorities wrong. Of the overall expenditure projection of N8.83tn, recurrent non-debt takes N4.04tn, which is 45.75%; capital expenditure is N2.031tn, which is 23%; statutory transfers are to be funded by N492.36bn, which is 5.58%; debt service gulps N2.14tn, which is 24.24% while sinking funds to retire maturing bonds (which is still a part of debt service) receives N120bn, being 1.35% of the votes.

The first challenge arising from this expenditure framework is that capital expenditure is to take 23% of the budget. This is not good enough for an economy experiencing massive infrastructure deficit. Previous experience indicates that the capital vote is very poorly implemented. For instance, out of the 2018 capital vote of about N2.87tn, only N820.57bn had been released as of December 14, 2018. President Muhammadu Buhari was however silent on how much was cash-backed and utilised as of that date. It is the norm in Nigeria’s public finance management that not all sums released get cash-backed and not all cash-backed sums get utilised. It is therefore not sufficient to make proposals which may not be followed through at the end of the day. It is also imperative for the administration to ensure that the bulk of the capital expenditure is developmental rather than administrative. This is the only way it can have a direct impact on the majority of citizens.

The second challenge is that the rising debt service appears to be crowding out expenditure in critical infrastructure and human development. At the end of the day, if there is a shortfall in revenue, salaries and overheads will be drawn down, debts will be serviced whilst capital projects suffer. At 24.24% of overall expenditure, the debt service is higher than the capital expenditure. When the sinking fund of N120bn is added to debt service, it comes up to N2.264tn, which is 25.70% of the overall budget. When the 2018 experience is used, it shows that Nigeria has already spent over a trillion naira in debt service at a time no kobo had been released for capital expenditure in the second quarter of 2018. And the releases for capital expenditure only came up to the aggregate sum of N820.57bn in December 2018.

Continued massive domestic and foreign borrowing will grind the economy to a standstill very soon because of the high debt to revenue ratio. With a debt to revenue actual in 2017 of using 68 kobo in every naira of our total revenue to pay back debts, we may soon have to abandon capital expenditure and even personnel to be able to pay back debts. Still on debts, domestic borrowing has been stated to crowd out private sector borrowing and leaves little or nothing for the private sector to create jobs and wealth and increase productive capacity. It makes banks lazy as they are sure of getting fat returns for taking no risks. As such, their appetite for intermediation and risk-taking becomes low. Massive foreign borrowing at a time of economic instability leading to massive depreciation of the naira increases the demand for financial resources to repay the debt. From a value of under N200 in early 2015 to a value of N360 to $1, the pressure is building up. With the fall in oil prices and lack of diversification in our economy, debt repayment will continue to gulp a huge part of our revenue.

The third challenge is to resolve the contradiction between the Federal Government’s mantra of cutting down waste, improving efficiencies and removing “ghost workers” from the payroll and its relationship with the rising recurrent non-debt expenditure. Recurrent non-debt expenditure got N4.04tn as against N3.51tn in 2018. This is 15% increase between 2018 and 2019. In 2017, the approved recurrent non-debt expenditure was N2.99tn. This increment cannot be the sign of a system that is taking steps to remove waste and inefficiencies. If it is also understood that the new minimum wage demand of workers has not been factored into the expenditure proposal, then, it would be clear that personnel expenditure, a component of recurrent non-debt expenditure, will increase by no less than 60% in the short to medium term. This will definitely happen before the end of the 2019 fiscal year.

The GDP is expected to grow at 3.01% in 2019. However, the growth recorded in the last four quarters is as follows: Q4 2017- 2.11%; Q1 2018 – 1.95%; Q2 2018 -1.50% and Q3 2018 – 1.81%. Evidently, if there are no special fiscal, monetary, trade or other economic interventions, the GDP projection may not be realised.

When the rhetoric from the ruling All Progressives Congress and the response of the main opposition challenger, the Peoples Democratic Party, is paired with the revenue and expenditure analysis, it is clear that the Nigerian economy is in a mortal danger and trouble lies ahead especially for the poorest of the poor. There are no new ideas, innovations and ideals on how to expand the economy, especially through the raising of additional revenues and resources to fund development. Yes, the little available resources have been mismanaged by successive governments including the current government. Even if we have faithfully utlilised previously available resources, we would have still needed massive infusion of other resources to fulfil our developmental dreams. The oil economy revenue is too low for our developmental needs.

Thus, our politicians need to come down from their high horse and get a dose of reality and intellectual capital to be able to drive this ship in the next four years. We need across the board cutting down on wasteful expenditure and frivolities. From the legislature, executive to the judiciary, we need a new thought process. The leadership needs to come clean to open up the system by ensuring that their income is in accordance with the constitution as stipulated by the Revenue Allocation Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission. Contracts should no longer be inflated.

It is clear that increased domestic revenue generation has become imperative for development. The Federal Government needs to account for stamp duties which it has been collecting and which have yielded trillions in revenue. It may also consider removal of fuel subsidy to redirect over a trillion naira in expenditure and increase VAT to 10%. But this must be preceded by enhanced transparency and accountability across all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government. The budget should contain clear provisions on how to deal with the minimum wage demand of labour while responding to the demands of higher education as enunciated demands of the university and polytechnic lecturers.

Also, the National Assembly should approve the MTEF before commencing work on the budget. It is expected to do a thorough vetting of the proposals before their approval and forwarding for presidential assent. Besides, it should also ensure that revenue projections are based on empirical evidence and trim budget expenditure to be in harmony with realistic and realisable revenue projections.  The budget should be realistic, implementable and in harmony with available resources. Finally, reforms must precede increased domestic resource mobilisation. The President should make up his mind on what he wants out of reform bills such as the Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill. He should liaise with the National Assembly to get the bill signed into law.

2019 Budget Proposals: Matters Arising

The first issue is that the deficit is in the sum of N1.895tn and it is to be financed mainly by borrowing the sum of N1.649tn – N824.82bn from domestic sources and N824.82bn from external sources. This will further add to our already high debt profile. The deficit is 21.05% of the overall expenditure of N8.83tn. Also, the deficit is 26.68% of the projected revenue of N6.97tn.

The second issue is a challenge of the revenue framework. It is on the expected revenue from oil. The $60 benchmark seems unrealistic considering the actual price of crude oil in the last couple of months. The postulation that “the considered view of most reputable analysts is that the downward trend of oil prices in recent months is not necessarily reflective of the outlook for 2019” is overly optimistic and fails to be guided by the cautionary approach to plan on the conservative side and if the price is exceeded, to fall back on withdrawals from the Excess Crude Account. The fact that the ECA has been drawn down by $1.6bn in three weeks and the balance is now $631m shows that the country has no buffer to fall back upon.

The third issue is that it is surprising that non-oil revenue (CIT, VAT, C&E and Federation Account levies) is expected to be much lower than oil revenue at a period the Federal Government is keen and states that it has taken steps to diversify the economy. At 53.36% of projected revenue, oil revenue is dominant. The percentage may increase as most of the non-oil components, going by previous experience, may likely underperform. For instance, in 2017, independent revenue was projected at N807.57bn but only the sum of N295.29bn came in at the end of the year. As of half year of 2018, independent revenue had underperformed by 48.2%. Although the economy has recorded six straight quarters of growth, the fiscal boosts and so many quasi-fiscal measures undertaken by the fiscal and monetary authorities are expected to have started yielding dividends to increase non-oil revenue.

The fourth issue is that it is not clear whether the N203.38bn recovered loot is already in the bag or being expected. This should be clarified by the fiscal authorities. If it is an expected sum, then it should not be made a revenue source as there is no certainty that it will be realised. It should only be appropriated when it has already been realised through a supplementary appropriation.

The fifth issue is that from the actual revenue inflow of 2018, the President indicated that as of September 2018, the overall revenue performance was only 53% of the target in the 2018 budget. Although he attributed this to the poor performance of one-off items, the revenue projections of 2019 should have been greatly influenced by the actuals of 2018 and previous years, except there has been a dramatic change in economic circumstances warranting the new projection.

The sixth issue is that the Federal Government has been silent on the trillions of naira accruing to it as stamp duties over the years. Nigerians suffer deductions from their bank accounts and the money seems to have been lost in a black hole as no one accounts for it. At a time of poor revenues, the country can ill-afford this humungous waste.

The seventh issue is the silence of the proposals on the higher education sector – the refusal to take fiscal steps to revitalise the higher education sector which has been crippled by strikes from university and polytechnic teachers. If fiscal policy and its associated frameworks and projections are silent about a major national issue bordering on our present and future development, it means that the executive has failed to read the handwriting on the wall.

The exchange rate of N305 to 1USD seems contentious due to the fact that there are other rates that economic agents use in exchanging the dollar. It would have made eminent sense for the Central Bank of Nigeria to work for a harmonised rate that merges both the official and parallel rates. Hardly and stricto sensu, very few economic agents get the dollar at the proposed rate. Changing the rate to the realistic market rate of between N360 and N365 to 1USD would have released more naira for the three tiers of government who share in the Federation Account. As such, it would reduce the deficit.

The budget proposes the sum of N305bn for under-recovery by the NNPC on PMS in 2019. The first issue is that the deliberate obfuscation of subsidy by renaming it “under-recovery” is unacceptable. It is a subsidy and no attempt should be made to further cause confusion. The second is that subsidising PMS at a time the consensus seems to favour its removal is abnormal. The third is that if publicly available figure of over N2bn subsidy every day is true, then the proposal of $1bn will not cover the subsidy to be paid in 2019. The fourth issue is the statement that falsification of claims is no longer possible is not in tandem with facts available to all Nigerians. During the years preceding 2015 and at a time of about six per cent economic growth, the NNPC reported that Nigeria was consuming about 30 million litres of PMS every day. During the recession and post the recession when many companies had closed down, jobs lost and the economy greatly slowed down, the NNPC claims that Nigeria is now consuming between 60 million and 65 million litres per day. Such a wild claim cannot be supported by empirical evidence. It is most likely to be false. The NNPC should come forward with the evidence in support of such a claim beyond its mere declaration.

Merry Christmas to my readers.

To be continued

Electoral Act Amendment Bill: Towards Free, Fair And Credible Elections

Nigerians were recently greeted with the news that President Muhammadu Buhari had declined assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018. This is the fourth time the President has declined to give assent to the bill. The President’s decision will have far-reaching consequences for the credibility of the 2019 polls and whether the polls will in all sincerity, be declared to be free, fair and credible. Free, fair and credible polls are premised on the understanding that the announced results reflect the will of the electorate; elections are transparent when each step is open to scrutiny, and stakeholders can independently verify whether the process is conducted honestly and accurately.

One of the key reforms found in the bill is its insistence on the use and mainstreaming of the Smart Card Reader in the electoral process. The bill provides that the Presiding Officer shall use a SCR or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the Independent National Electoral Commission for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the particulars of the voter in a manner prescribed by the commission. Where a SCR deployed for accreditation of voters fails in any polling unit and a fresh SCR is not deployed, the election in the unit shall be cancelled and another election shall be scheduled within 24 hours. The bill also states that where during the collation of results, there is a dispute regarding a collated result or the result of an election from any polling unit, the Collation Officer or Returning Officer shall use inter alia, the SCR or any other technological device used for accreditation of voters in each polling unit where the election is disputed for the purpose of obtaining accreditation data direct form the SCR or technology device.

The foregoing provisions seek to respond to the mischief in the existing law, which crystallised in election petition decisions arising from the 2015 general elections. In 2015, the use of the SCR was provided in INEC’s Directives, Guidelines and Manuals and there was nothing in the Electoral Act on the SCR. Many petitioners had alleged substantial non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act because the SCR was not used in the accreditation process. The petitioners averred that election results should be set aside on the basis of the failure to use the SCR. This was the case in Edward Nkwegu Okereke v Nweze David Umahi (SC. 1004/2015); Udom Gabriel Emmanuel v Umana Okon Umana (SC.1/2016); Okezie Victor Ikpeazu v Alex Otti & 3 Ors (2016, 8 NWLR, Part 1513) and Wike Ezenwo Nyesom v Dakuku Adol Peterside & Ors, etc.

The Supreme Court reasoned as follows in Wike Ezenwo Nyesom v Dakuku Adol Peterside & Others.: “The introduction of the card reader is certainly a welcome development in the electoral process. Although it is meant to improve on the credibility of those accredited to vote so as to check the incidence of rigging, it is yet to be made part of the Electoral Act. Section 138 (2) of the Electoral Act envisages a situation where the Electoral Commission issues instructions or guidelines which are not carried out. The failure of the card reader machine or failure to use it for the accreditation of voters cannot invalidate the election. The section stipulates as follows- An act or omission which may be contrary to the instruction or directive of the Commission or an officer appointed for the purpose of an election but which is not contrary to the provisions of this Act shall not of itself be a ground for questioning the election”.Thus, the Supreme Court held that INEC’s directives on the use of the SCR has not invalidated the use of the manual accreditation process which is fraught with fraud.

Following these decisions, some learned commentators criticised the Supreme Court as aiding and abetting rigging through its interpretation of the status of the SCR. Professor Itse Sagay in, “Farewell to Election Petitions”, stated that the thrust of the decisions constitutes a devastating blow on democracy. The National Assembly in its wisdom now seeks to correct this mischief so that elections will truly reflect the will of the electorate. Starting from the first quarter in the year, when the bill was submitted to President, he found a number of excuses including the issue of the sequence of the elections, especially as to whether the legislature had the power to determine the sequence of elections. He refused assent and returned the bill to the legislature, who in good faith amended the sections that the President complained about. When it was submitted a second time, the President also found a battery of excuses to decline assent. Again, the National Assembly in good faith, believing they were dealing with genuine reasons advanced by the President went back to work to reflect his position. The National Assembly submitted the bill a third time and the President found another set of excuses. The lawmakers obliged him with another round of amendment and tinkering and finally returned the bill to him last month. For the fourth and final time, the President found yet another set of excuses to decline assent.

From a dispassionate analysis, what has come out of these four submissions by the National Assembly and the four times’ refusal to grant assent is that the President does not intend to see the Electoral Act 2010 further amended. He was simply looking for excuses to further that agenda. While the National Assembly was operating in good faith in furtherance of its power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the country, there was a debilitating fixation by the President to stand on the old ground. In retrospect, none of the grounds that the President had relied on to refuse assent had anything to do with democratic consolidation but the furtherance of a personal agenda to win the 2019 presidential election at all cost.

According to data released by an online newspaper and verified from the report available on INEC’s website titled, “Smart Card Reader Accreditation: Backend Transmission System – 2015 Presidential & National Assembly Elections”, at page 16: “Of the 31,746,490 accredited voters in the election, 13,536,311, representing 42.6 per cent of voters, voted without biometric accreditation.Out of this number, 10,184,720 votes are from states won by Buhari and 3,351,591 votes came from states won by Jonathan, the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, representing 75 per cent and 25 per cent of accredited voters respectively”. This revelation raises the fear in many Nigerians about the intention of the President and the ruling party against the background of the fact that the APC now supports the President’s refusal to give assent to the bill. Is there an intention to repeat the 2015 experience so that the courts will not rely on the SCR since the authority for its use will still be founded on INEC’s directives and manuals and not the Electoral Act?

In conclusion, Nigeria must make progress, whatever disagreements between the executive and the legislature and the political parties should not lead Nigeria to stagnation or retrogression in our democracy. Even if the President disagrees with every other thing, he should liaise with the legislature to enthrone free, fair and credible elections through the smart card reader. We have no option than to make progress.

Towards Effective Resource Mobilisation, Management And Leadership

A proper understanding of the context of resources within a nation space, its mobilisation and use for the common good is imperative. This is so, especially at this time when political parties and candidates are moving around pleading to be given the opportunity to govern at the federal and state levels. Understanding optimum resource use and mobilisation will play a central role in our pursuit of good governance, economic growth and development. Thus, it is expected that every presidential candidate should, beyond borrowing and the dwindling oil money, address how they will mobilise Nigerians to fund their economic growth and development.

Our governments have always stated that we lack resources to undertake public projects. Budgets are very poorly funded across the tiers of government and the usual excuse is the paucity of resources. Our infrastructure deficit is premised on the absence of resources. Pray, what is the definition of national, state or local government level resources within the context of a country like Nigeria? Do we take national resources to be the same as resources belonging to governments and the public space or an inventory of our natural resources like minerals?

It is the position of this discourse that we may not be poor in terms of resource generation and endowment, as our governments consistently state and many Nigerians have been convinced to believe. It is the duty of government to mobilise both public and private resources for the purpose of development. Suffice to say that, development is a people’s work in action as no nation or people can develop another. It is Nigerians who have to use their resources to develop Nigeria under the guidance of intelligent leadership. And the consistent failure to lead or provide leadership is responsible for our resource complaints. Therefore, the central resource challenge appears to be one of harnessing, mobilisation, management and ensuring value for money from available resources. The management challenge crystallises in the examples given in these real life pictures detailed hereunder.

The authorities of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja allocated undeveloped land to purported developers, virtually free of charge but with very little processing fees that may not be more than N20m. The purpose of the allocation is for the developer to develop estates to be made available to Nigerians at affordable rates using mortgage. This land in the first place was acquired from the natives under the Land Use Act, virtually without paying any tangible compensation, compared to the value of the land due to the idea that government is simply paying for unexhausted improvement.

The developer adds little or no value beyond clearing the bush, and turns around to divide the large portions of land into plots that can accommodate 100 four-bedroom duplexes. The developer fixes the price of each plot at between N10m and N15m per plot. All they end up investing, may be not more that N50m and they thereafter make a kill and get between N1bn and N1.5bn as unearned profits. The original owners of the land get nothing out of this money and government that compulsorily acquired it in the first place gets nothing and a millionaire is created.

Within the estates, since the developer developed nothing and no one is holding them to account, the buyers of the plots build and each will sink a borehole and within the estate, you could possibly get 70 to 80 boreholes sunk at the cost of about N500,000 each. When the seismic challenges related to reckless perforation of the earth’s bowels begin to unravel, more resources will be needed to cover the first wrong investments. But this is an estate that could have been served by one industrial borehole and back-up in the event the first one fails. Just like the average Nigerian, every owner invests in noisy polluting electricity generator that gulps thousands of litres of petrol and diesel every day.

Again, this is an estate that could get electricity from a central clean source that will cost less than 50% of the price of the generators and the fuel. In some parts of Abuja, residents not only construct estate roads, they also mobilise and contribute money to build public access roads. They do this when they compare the costs of perpetual bad roads and the investment they would make in the roads. After the foregoing, the persons who went through all this torture are expected to pay tax to government. Pray, for what purpose?

In the above instance, if government had kept its part of the social contract by providing potable public water, even if at a fee or ensured that developers kept their part of the bargain by providing water, the economy as whole will have saved the difference between 80 different boreholes and one or two functional boreholes serving the community. The financial resource, even if privately-owned would have been available for investment in other very important spheres of private but national life.

Instead of building local schools and maintaining standards through equipping the schools, employing quality teaching personnel who are well paid, our elite proceed to pay children’s school fees in institutions outside Nigeria. First, these institutions cost much more than if the education had been acquired in Nigeria. The flight tickets and challenge of getting foreign currency to pay these fees and the cost of a child living in a foreign land are all outrageous.

Again, we refuse to build good hospitals and or equip the available ones; we pay our doctors and other medical personnel peanuts, treat them with disdain and contempt to the extent that they vote to leave our shores. Our elite proceed at the slightest headache to visit hospitals abroad at a greater expense (sometimes, double the local cost) than if the facilities are available locally.

In the health and education scenario, we are not only mismanaging our financial resources, because it costs Nigerians (who can afford it) more; it deprives the majority of the population of the accruable benefits. Again, beyond financial resources, we train doctors and drive them away to other countries thereby frittering away our human resources. We oil the economy of the host countries and put perpetual pressure on the value of the Naira, our local currency. And politicians walk around bemoaning job losses and poor economic growth. How do you expect to create jobs when the existing jobs are shipped abroad? How do you grow your economy when every value added has to be done aboard?

It is the duty of government to strategise on how to use public resources in a way and manner that benefits the public instead of privatising public resources for the benefit of a few. Also, taxing Nigerians and spending the tax proceeds judiciously, in value for money approach, for projects and programmes that have been popularly selected, will make more sense for the development of infrastructure instead of letting every person to do it for themselves. Of course, everyone knows that there are limits to this self-help approach. Self-help may not pay for super highways and speed trains that cut across so many local governments and states. Also, perpetual borrowing is not the answer.

Let those who want to lead show that they understand the ideas around mobilisation and use of public and private resources for development.

Boko Haram: Issues For Engagement

Recent successful attacks by Boko Haram terrorists on military formations and civilian communities bring to the fore the need to re-evaluate and re-examine the strategies for the engagement of the terrorists. The latest attack on the 157 Task Force Battalion at Melete, Borno State where the casualty figures have not been officially confirmed but different media organisations are quoting different figures throws up so many posers. But let us start by acknowledging the supreme sacrifice of our gallant soldiers who have given their all. They died in defence of our lives. May God grant them eternal rest and their families, the fortitude to continue life without their loved ones.

This discourse intends to raise so many posers and issues which the military and intelligence high commands need to answer or seek answers to, in a bid to rejig their operations and adequately protect Nigerians, as well as save the lives of men and officers on the frontlines. This is not about blaming anyone but points in the direction of the need for persons in authority to put on their thinking caps.

The first issue that comes up for analysis is the state of equipment and hardware available to our soldiers. At least, since the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the defence sector has been well-funded through appropriation and at least, we are made to believe that there is no one diversion of and disbursement of defence money for other purposes. We are also made to believe that soldiers are paid on time and their motivation is very high. Again, the administration states that Boko Haram has been technically defeated and what they attack now are soft targets, which is evidence of a “dying insurgency”, in its last days and without the ability to take on hard core fights. But of late, the insurgents have been taking on and routing military formations which contradicts the postulation of a technical defeat. How is it possible that the insurgents who are not in a position to buy arms and ammunition legally, but only procure them through the black and illegal market can get equipment to match and outgun Nigerian troops whose source of procurement is official and the Nigerian state has more resources available to it? Who is supplying them the equipment and hardware to take on the Nigerian defence forces?

The second issue is this; is it possible that a large contingent of insurgents will move over so many kilometres without anyone sighting them or the intelligence activated to warn soldiers to lay ambush for them? Does it mean we do not have military equipment that can sight humans and objects from afar and warn about irregular movements? If we do not have such equipment, how much will it cost to acquire them? What about the communities and civilians? Would it be too much for the civil communities to give information of irregular movement of persons to military authorities? And this can be done through the telephone. What exactly is happening?

The third issue is that in these attacks, especially on military formations which last for a fairly long time, is it possible that no one used the military signals or even mobile telecommunications to contact the defence headquarters or the nearest level of command for reinforcement? If the infantry is facing challenges and the air force is available with fighters and other aircraft, it is expected that they would come to the rescue of the infantry and overwhelm the insurgents. But the news coming out of the attacks suggests that a command under attack is left to shoulder the entire burden. They will overcome or go down on the basis of their own strength and ability. Flights between Lagos and Abuja or Port Harcourt or Abuja to major destinations are usually of 45 minutes duration. It is safely assumed that fight jets and military aircraft should be faster than civilian transport aircraft and from any point in Nigeria, should reach the desired destination under 30 minutes. Even if the combat is such that aircraft cannot use bombs, the aircraft could still track the insurgents to their base and pound them with the relevant mortars and bombs.

The foregoing is appealing to common sense, reasoning, tactical command and coordination. In the earlier attack on a civilian community, the insurgents were reported to have set houses on fire, used guns and knives to kill people and then loaded about 200 cattle and sheep into trucks and carted them away. The picture of the foregoing is that they took their time attacking the community and stealing their properties and this could have gone on for hours. Moving 200 cattle and sheep will not be possible with sleek salon cars. Rather, they would be done with trucks which hardly speed up to 100 kilometres per hour. And they would therefore be moved slowly and off-loading at the point of destination will also be another time-consuming effort. So, no one could mobilise and follow up on these bandits at a time they were bound by circumstances to move rather slowly?

The fourth issue is that every time a military or civilian target is successfully attacked by insurgents, they thereafter literally vanish into thin air, with no trace. They simply disappear only to reappear at their due time for the next attack? How is this possible? We are dealing with large areas of land with little or no vegetation and forest cover; barely shrub covers. It would be easy, whether in follow-up infantry and or air force engagement to track and target the terrorists and take them out. Considering that the military engagement includes a multi-national task force, even if the insurgents cross national boundaries, proper coordination means that there would still be defence forces waiting to engage them across the border.

The fifth is that while international organisations including the United Nations organs and agencies have stated that Nigeria has been paying ransom to secure the release of persons held by insurgents, the government has been living in denial. The more resources available to the insurgents, the more vicious they will be and it appears that the Nigerian state is somehow funding and supporting them when they receive this back-door money. A re-examination of the need to pay ransom has to evolve.

Finally, the military high command should be forthcoming in providing information when incidents such as the Melete attack occur. It is not enough to condemn social and print media reports and tag them as fake news, disinformation and even threaten to prosecute persons who spread them. The press release from the military authorities on the Melete event merely warned about contravening the extant law without providing the official account of what happened. Nature abhors a vacuum. To the extent that official information is not forthcoming on a timely basis, something else will take its place because Nigerians are hungry for news about the performance of our beloved armed forces. Again, if official information deviates from what eyewitnesses told journalists, different accounts of such an incident will continue to be in the media.

A new strategy is needed. The ball is in the court of Mr. President and the Commander-in-Chief.