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Nigerian Leaders: O Wrong Nau!

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Na only God fit save us from this kontry.  Which kain wahala be this? cried Ejiro, a forty-year-old commercial road transport worker. To unsuspecting individuals, his outcry could have passed for the cries of a lazy person—one who perhaps works little and cries more. But to the majority around the park, Ejiro is a definition of hard work and tolerance. Within five years, he had managed to expand his business and now owned three commercial buses despite all odds. Then, what seems to be the problem? Just like Ejiro, a larger percentage of Nigerians continually lament over the state of the nation, particularly as it seems to affect them the most. Nigerians across various professions have sung the same song for long. The collar of one’s job seems not to matter now. The white-collar people are shouting, and blue-collar guys are in despair. Na everyone dey collect.

Nigerian Leaders, O wrong nau!

Nigeria has enjoyed independence from British colonialists for over sixty years, with successive governments taking charge of its affairs. The country has seen its share of military intervention in government before the final transition into a democratic state in 1999. As the most populous country in Africa, the country is a formidable force in continental and grassroots politics. Despite this, the country maintains an almost consistent ranking on global poverty, corruption, and unemployment rankings. Surprisingly, this is a country endowed with over 44 mineral resources and a landmass that encourages agriculture. All these, coupled with the large human power available, are enough to earn the country a seat amongst World Superpowers. However, the reverse is the case. The failing state of Nigeria’s economy and the state of the nation is largely attributed to many factors, of which the cost of governance carries the bulk of it all. Since the 1914 amalgamation, the country has run a very robust system of government through supposed representative democracy. Due to its large nature, the exorbitant expenses incurred in the smooth running of the state over the past years have contributed to the detrimental effects experienced today. These disturbing figures have created concerns long enough for the helpless masses. While Nigeria still underperforms compared to other countries, one might ask what government officials have put in place to justify the running cost for their various offices. 

Nigerian politicians, o wrong nau!

At the Federal level, Nigeria expends a major part of its budget on running the Presidency and the National Assembly. This is made possible by the armies of retinues, special advisers, senior special assistants, appointments, and other positions tied to these arms of government. As a practice, the president reserves the right to appoint persons for positions, and he has exploited this in placing people in positions that are of limited benefit to the country. The proliferation of government agencies and departments increases administrative costs and creates redundant positions. Another avenue apart from this is the amount spent on luxuries and conveniences. The Presidential fleets and convoy, without doubt, are  some major avenues by which Nigerian leaders flex their muscles. The show of power and might that comes with unlimited cars in a long convoy at the expense of the masses are of no use to the public. This ostentatious way of servitude for the good of Nigeria bothers the citizens greatly. At its inception, the new administration promised a more strategic approach to revenue generation. Calculating the sum of each car in the convoy of the president, ministers and other federal appointees, one will begin to reason how many projects they can finance.

Jagaban, O wrong nau!

The 2023 budget, as seen, expended the sum of N2.29bn to the State House for the purchase of vehicles, overhead maintenance of vehicles and transport equipment, and fuel. This allocation is better utilized in other sectors for the masses. The previous government proposed to spend N12.5 billion (12,550,018,897) on the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF). This comprised N3.9 billion (3,934,390,091) for overhead and N8 billion (8,175,622,044) capital allocation. It covered the total maintenance, security, fuelling, and payment of salaries for crew, internet, food, and catering aboard the fleets. Aside from these, there are other undocumented expenses by the executive arm of the government. The projects by Special Assistants, and other appointees, their running costs, and other money they are entitled to ask for are some of the expenses that can wreck the economy. What are over 50 people travelling abroad with the president for? Why should a minister travel with a train of almost a football team? Who pays for accommodation, feeding, and allowance? But o wrong na!

Nigeria has about 468 members and senators in the National Assembly, all with allowances, running costs, and money claimable for projects. Senator Shehu Sani had disclosed that they are entitled to N700,000 salary every month, a running cost of N13.5 million monthly, and a fund of up to N200 million, claimable for constituency projects. We all know where these constituency funds are going, or should I say we rather not know? Running cost and salary in a month would be N6, 645,600,000, more than N79.7 billion  annually for official costs. Imagine one calculates what 200 million per lawmaker would cost. Aside from the fact that one cannot say how this money is spent with finality, what about other cuts and percentages that go to the politicians off records? Or why do politicians mostly spend cash rather than transfers? This outrageous expense does not also capture the salaries of the 829 combined staff and aides of senators who are paid from the coffers of the National Assembly.

Nigerian Leaders, O wrong nau!

Every month, the federal government gets 56% of the funds, while 44% of the government is disbursed to the state governments. Local governments are entitled to 20% of the funds released to the states through the Joint Local Government Account. What this translates to is that we have 36 state governors and 36 deputies, 774 local government chairpersons, 1022 members of the State House of Assembly, numerous numbers of commissioners, councillors, aides, support staff, and retinues of assistants. All these are being catered for with government funds. One can imagine what percentage of the nation’s wealth is assigned to these persons. Yet, our large governments do not reflect the standard of living we know today. The numerous heads put to work, as claimed, have not done much for the suffering masses.

President Buhari made not less than 159 political appointees who would be entitled to offices, employees, running costs, and salaries. Governors also make about 100 appointees with the same privileges. The lawmakers have at least 2 to 3 people working at their offices with government-sponsored salaries. The drama is worse at the level of state Assemblies and Local Government Appointees. It is true that to run a democracy, the people must run the government, but this is not to the detriment of the resources that ought to be used in the development of society. If all the official cars of Special Assistants to the Governors and local government Chairmen are sold, it would certainly empower thousands of Nigerians.

Nigerian leaders, O Wrong Nau!

Imagine a country almost being the headquarters of poverty in the world, using not less than N30.2 billion to renovate the National Assembly in 2021. Remember that about N37 billion was approved in 2019 to renovate the same National Assembly. The 2020 budget, about N128 billion, was allocated to the National Assembly. What about the money allocated to each committee of the house or other boards of other government bodies? Hold on, what happens to the huge security votes of governments in the country? It is the national cake indeed. But Nigerian leaders, o wrong nah.

A more important aspect of the cost of governance is those lines of entitled politicians that sit in their offices to take some cuts on every government project. Hence, awarding contracts attracts different costs that leave the contractors with no choice but to hype the total project cost. In 2021, the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Road, a 375-kilometre road, was reported to have been built with N797 billion, averaging about N2.1 billion for every kilometre. The World Bank stated there is a need for about N238 million to build 1 kilometre road, which is about 10 times the cost in Nigeria. You may call it corruption, but the contractors must account for the egunje they have paid at every level.

Excellencies, O wrong nau!

Representative government is desirable, but we must cut our coats by size. There is a need for legal and political reformation of the country. The constitution must regulate the number of government appointees for every office and check their budget allocations. There is a need to start making politics less attractive, reduce the cost of governance, remove unnecessary portfolios and reduce the number of lawmakers. Many of these positions are repetitions and duplicates of the others. Nigeria should embrace part-time legislation for its lawmakers and reduce the necessary costs of the Executives and Judiciary. It is time for the country to start pitching into a developmental mindset and set aside personal and selfish gains. O wrong nah. 

 

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Opinion

Where Are Secular Lawyers?

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Witch Burning, Impunity And Abuses Linked to Witchcraft Beliefs In Benue State
Dr Leo Igwe

By Leo Igwe

This question has agitated me over the years, and it persists. At a recent event in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, a participant introduced herself as a member of the Christian Lawyers Association of Nigeria. Christian Lawyers Association? I wondered, Why Christian lawyers? Why should lawyers associate based on faith? Do we have a traditional religious lawyers association? Jehovah Witness Lawyers Association? Bahai Faith lawyers? Hindu Lawyers? I mean, why the religionization of everything in this country?

In northern Nigeria, the Muslim Lawyers Association exists. This organization is active. It features prominently in cases, especially those that concern religion, Sharia, or Islam. I guess there would be Sunni and Shiite Muslim lawyers associations. In 2022, over 30 Muslim lawyers came forward to defend those suspected of murdering Deborah Samuel in Sokoto. Meanwhile, no member helped prosecute the suspects. Muslim lawyers have strongly supported the execution and imprisonment of suspected blasphemers. They constitute the legal wing of Islamic separatism in Nigeria. This religious slant in practice, profession, and association of lawyers is disturbing and needs to be critically examined.

Look, a lawyer is a person trained to offer legal services. A lawyer is trained to represent an individual or organization in legal matters. S/he applies the law to specific cases, religious or nonreligious. The legal profession should be carried out without religious bias or favor. The law should be practiced to further justice, equity, and fairness, not in defense of a particular faith or belief. In practice, the law should be faith/belief blind. Unfortunately, this appears not to be the case in Nigeria. The tendency of lawyers to associate along religious lines is entrenched. As in other sectors of the society, religion has hijacked the legal profession and association. Lawyers practice and are pressured to practice law along religious lines. That is the raison d’etre of the religious (Christian/Muslim) lawyers association. And it is worrisome.

It has become pertinent to ask, where are secular lawyers? Put differently, where are lawyers beyond belief? By secular lawyers, I mean lawyers who are not religious, that is, lawyers who are atheists or agnostics; lawyers who do not take religion seriously. Secular lawyers include those who think that religious and spiritual matters are strictly private affairs and should not be the basis for legal practice, profession, and association.

Nigeria needs secular lawyers for the following reasons. First, based on section 10 of the constitution, Nigeria is a secular state, although not explicitly stated. Nigeria has no state religion. But theocrats often contest Nigeria’s secularity and openly propose that sharia and their religious books are superior to the constitution. The country needs lawyers to defend and uphold its secular character and help prevent the slow undoing of the secular gains and progress that Nigeria has made. Nigeria needs lawyers who can champion secularism. And secular lawyers can fulfill this need.

Second, Nigeria needs secular lawyers to professionally and constitutionally handle cases linked to faith or belief, such as witchcraft, blasphemy, and apostasy allegations. Lawyers who practice or associate on grounds of faith cannot be trusted to handle these cases because they are likely to compromise. They are likely to sacrifice their profession on the altar of their faith. For instance, it is a challenge to find lawyers to defend victims of witchcraft accusations because most lawyers, as people of faith, believe in the reality of witches and demons. Even though witchcraft accusations are against the law. Religious lawyers cannot be trusted to render professional services to victims of witchcraft branding. The same thing applies to cases of blasphemy and apostasy accusations. These accusations are linked to religious beliefs. Many lawyers do not want to profess law in ways that violate their faith. So, faith is a factor in hiring an attorney or getting a reliable solicitor.

In cases where Christians are accused of blaspheming Islam or insulting the prophet of Islam, Christian lawyers volunteer. They offer to help. Religious (Christian or Muslim) lawyers consider it a duty to defend their members. Christian lawyers defended Rhoda in Bauchi or the Christian barber, Elijah, in Kano. Muslim lawyers defended the suspected murderers of Deborah Samuel. But it is more challenging when the accused is a nonbeliever, an atheist, or a nonreligious person. Religious lawyers are reluctant to take up the cases. Religious lawyers cannot be trusted or entrusted with these cases because of concerns over religious bias.  Christian lawyers are guided by their christian faith and muslim lawyers are guided by their Islamic faith in their legal practice and representation.
So secular lawyers are needed. They can be trusted to represent in these cases because, in principle, they are free from the faith baggage that encumber legal representations by christian/muslim lawyers. Nigeria needs secular lawyers to keep church, mosque and state separate, and to ensure state neutrality on religious matters. It needs secular lawyers to tackle religious oppression, persecution and tyranny. Nigeria needs secular lawyers to uphold the rule of law and defend the freedom of religion or belief of all.
 Igwe, PhD,  is a board member of the Humanist Association of Nigeria.

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Minister Dangiwa Versus Cement Cabals

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Felix Oboagwina

By Felix Oboagwina

Wednesday, 31st October 2023, CEO of BUA Cement, Abdul Samad Rabiu, paid a visit to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in Aso Rock. As he walked out of the President’s office, journalists swarmed round Rabiu. To cut this narrative short, the billionaire businessman said he had come to assure the President that by March 2024, a bag of BUA Cement would start selling at N3,500 instead of N4,500 for which it then sold. The market leader, Dangote Cement, retailed for between N5,000 and N7,000 per bag. The hike not only alarmed but frustrated users because just two months earlier, Dangote Cement sold for a lower price of N3,500 max. The jump in price annoyed Nigerians. Thus, when the media went to town with Rabiu’s assurance of crashing the price, the news provoked much happiness nationwide.

Easier said than done, however, Rabiu’s optimism quickly evaporated into thin air. Mysteriously, thereafter, the price of cement went crazy and bizarre. The popular 50kg bag of cement flew to N10,000, then N12,000 and landed at N15,000. This year, Dangote Cement PLC reported a profit of N166 billion for first quarter of 2024.

In Nigeria, the dominant cement brands are Dangote, BUA, Lafarge and Elephant. For a country of 250 million, being serviced by four brands sounds like a monopoly or oligopoly, when a few companies exert significant control over a given market and together control prices by colluding with each other to promote uncompetitive prices. Today, manufacturers blame the skyrocketing rates on the falling value of the Naira. From the N700 per dollar pre-May 2023, the Naira had gone to exchange for N1,600 to the dollar, although it has now dropped to about N1,200. In addition to using the unhealthy Naira as scapegoat, cement makers blame the high cost on expensive gas and manufacturing equipment.

However, in the midst of the darkness, a silver lining appeared to appear from the midst of Tinubu’s cabinet ministers.

There are 46 ministers, although 13 of them wear the title of Junior Minister or Minister of State and 33 substantive ones. Suddenly, two substantive ministers called cement manufacturers to a meeting. The meeting by Dave Umahi, Works Minister, took place first on Monday, February 19, 2024. At that meeting, the minister and manufacturers fixed the price of cement at between N7,000 and N8,000 max.

The following day Tuesday in Abuja, Ahmed Dangiwa, Minister of Housing and Urban Development, also met representatives of the Cement Manufacturer Association of Nigeria (CEMAN). And there things exploded. Dangiwa displayed uncommon knowledge of all the tricks and shenanigans. He told the producers the implication of their pricing: “This is a crisis for housing delivery. An increase in essential building materials means an increase in the prices of houses.”

For Dangiwa, the reasons for the price hike were insufficient to justify such outrageous pricing. He confronted them with the bare facts, that the government stopped cement importation to enable local companies to increase output and lower prices.

Then he dropped the banger: “Government can open the borders for mass importation of cement, the price will crash, but you will have no business to do.”

When CEMAN said the association “does not interfere with the pricing of cement,” Dangiwa hit back with, “One person cannot be selling at N3,500 per bag and another selling at N7,000 per bag and you cannot call them to order. The association is expected to monitor price control; otherwise, the association has no need to exist.”

Where the President and the Works Minister pacified and appeared to have lost touch with reality, Dangiwa spoke to manufacturers in the language they understood. He threatened them. Government, Dangiwa said, could fling open the borders to tame prices.

He told them: “We know that some of the key components of producing building materials, especially cement, are locally sourced, so the recurring disproportionate increase in the price of cement is unacceptable and unreasonable. Key input materials such as limestone, clay, silica sand, and gypsum within our borders should not be dollar-rated.

“You cannot continue to give excuses and blame it on the dollar all the time. The worst part is that other building materials manufacturers take a cue from cement manufacturers, and once they see that you increase your price, they do the same. Recently, this is happening almost every week, and it has to stop.”

Fact is Nigeria has been hijacked by cartels. They have the country by the jugular mercilessly. Like cartels the world over, the Nigerian business profiteers nurse the motive of profiteering at all costs. Governments have been unwilling to confront them and break that hold today. Past pro-people regimes behaved otherwise.

General Murtala Mohammed imported Argentinean beef to force down the price of meat in the market.

General Gowon goes down in history for the Cement Armada. Ships upon ships upon ships of cement harboured at the Apapa Lagos port and crashed the price of the product.

In his own time, when the price of cement rose astronomically and the country complained, Goodluck Jonathan, in May 16, 2011, invited producers to Aso Rock and gave Dangote, BUA and others 30 days to crash cement price to N1,000. They succumbed.

While that drama played out, four cement manufacturers in February 2013 wrote to Jonathan to demand import licences, calling themselves “Cement New Entrants Stakeholders.” They each wanted to be granted papers by Jonathan to import 5 million metric tons of cement. According to them, granting import licences was a sure way of forcing down cement price to between N500 and N1,000 per bag and breaking the current monopoly of the “cartel” in the industry.

There is much to learn from this engagement. Monopolistic profiteering dictates cement pricing in Nigeria. The monopoly flaunts every excuse to justify the high price, which the proposed independent importers told Jonathan was “making Nigeria to be classified as the country with the highest price of cement in the world” with the ex-factory price then fixed between N1,400 and N1,800 per bag.

That is the way to go. Good history ought to repeat itself. Open the borders. Grant licences to import. Create competition. It will amount to a win-win for Nigerians because cement imports will create a new line of businesses as well as jobs through the value chain of importation, ports, clearing, re-bagging, warehousing, marketing, advertising, distribution and retailing. This the Housing Minister Dangiwa knows as a professional architect, a player in the building industry and a politician who wants to deliver pocket-friendly housing to the masses.

He had similarly maintained this humane stance when, as Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN, 2015–2022), he packed several human-faced, pro-people policies into his tenure. He processed N39.5 billion worth of refunds to 247,521 retired Federal housing contributors. Under him, FMBN made available NHF mortgage loans to 5,900 beneficiaries as well as home renovation loans to 77,500 people. He, also, led efforts to develop the Diaspora mortgage loan. This innovative scheme specifically aimed at assisting Nigerians living abroad to own homes without the weeping tales of getting duped by relatives or friends in Nigeria.

Minister Dangiwa knows that ONLY the cartels’ insatiable greed propels the price of cement sky-high. Exorcising this evil begins with taming the profiteers and making them sell cement to Nigerians at the N3,500 per bag that CEO of BUA Cement, Abdul Samad Rabiu, promised Tinubu at Aso Rock.

Oboagwina is an author, journalist and publisher, reachable via foboagwina@gmail.com

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Opinion

Money Without Family Relationship: A Time Bomb!

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The Futility Of A Marital Chase
Dr Hope Nwawolo

Money Without Family Relationship: A Time Bomb!

By Hope Nwawolo

Recently, l came across a trending post of a 72-year-old pensioner, who was said to have worked all his life to raise his kids. The writer of the post claimed the man was abandoned by his children whom he trained in expensive schools, at home and abroad.  It was further disclosed that his 65-year-old wife, had relocated to live with her children abroad, on the excuse of taking care of their grandchildren. The writer went on to paint the gloomy picture of the man as a bachelor once again and battling with high blood pressure and other old age ailments. He cautioned men that women love their children more than their husbands, so they should plan for their future. He erroneously put the number of such women at 97%.

This piece is in response to the above biased claim which is also capable of causing friction in homes striving for unity and togetherness. He may just succeed to plant a negative seed of distrust and discord in the minds of fickle-minded men, who before reading the article were enjoying a blissful relationship with their wives. It may also be possible that the writer is a disgruntled person who did not succeed in marriage or relationship and believes the same must be for all men.

When we see people like the writer portrayed, we should ask a pertinent question. What was the man’s relationship with his wife and children when he was ‘struggling’ to fend for them? Unfortunately, some men fail to realize that there is so much more in family life than money. In as much as money ‘answereth’ all things, it cannot be exchanged for lasting family relationship. 

Some men literally shove their wives aside while making the money without realizing the children see the treatment of their mothers. When some of these children become independent and financially stable, they feel obligated to compensate their mothers for the loveless treatment received from their fathers. In other cases, some men do not value family time, no matter how short, and would not understand the emotional craving of the wives and children when they really need it. Often, it is these women, that stay in the  gap in their absence, making the children bond more with  them. And instead of appreciating such women for filling in their physical vacuum, some men rather get jealous of the bond and further drift away from the children, while blaming the wife. 

Today, wise men make out time to pray, discuss, and have family outings with their families. This is called relationship building, which cannot be broken by distance in the future. The children from these homes grow up with memories of fun and family laughter. The women from such homes, have strong relationship with their husbands and will not stay more than one month when they go to visit their children. You will hear them say to the children, “Please, l want to go back to my husband.”  Why is nobody talking about them?

There are also couples who travel together to visit their children from time to time. So what stops a man from also going to visit his children whom he struggled to train? Is it that they did not invite him, and why? Perhaps they have no relationship! 

The claim of 97% women who abandon their husbands for their children is not empirical, cannot be scientifically proven, and is unfair to women. It also has the tendency to put fears into innocent men who are building strong relationships with their wives and children. I pray such men do not abandon their effort after reading such a biased write-up…for their own good! Every marriage and family is unique and should have values and principles that will bind its members together today, tomorrow, and in the future. This should override the quest for money if it cannot be combined with building lasting relationships with every member of the family.

Nowadays, while many men believe their provision of money for the home is the answer to family issues, the women sacrifice key factors that cannot be monetized, and build lasting relationships with the children. These vital factors are their tears and worries, emotional support, and constant prayers, among many others. Observably too,  some women are also contributing financially to feeding and sometimes, schools fees, as well as other necessities of the families. Despite these, they  find time to ensure that the family bond is maintained as best as possible. Unfortunately, the ego rather than complex of some men will not allow them acknowledge or appreciate the effort of these women and which the children obviously witness as they grow into independence and financial stability.

Therefore, instead of blaming women for the unpalatable fruit of old age loneliness as a result of early years of family emotional neglect, men should attempt to juggle their quest for money with building relationships that will see them through the evening of their lives, with members of the families. 

 Nwawolo, PhD, writes via 

hopenwawolo@yahoo.com

 

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