Nigeria - Buhari, redeem six years of failed power privatisation
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by FricNews
Nov 18, 2019 - 10:11
Opinions
By Editorial

CONTRARY to all expectations, the power sector privatisation has turned out to be an unreserved fiasco. The optimism of economic and social revolution touted as an inevitable accompaniment of a steady and uninterrupted electricity supply has come to naught. Six years after the privatisation was pulled off by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Nigerians are now yearning for an urgent intervention to save the sector from an utter collapse, which could be only a matter of time.

Encumbered by a public power sector that reeked of corruption, ineptitude and facility decay, Nigeria had readily embraced an option of reform, which could only be effectively implemented through privatisation. “To the Nigerian people, who have demonstrated such great patience and confidence, putting up often with darkness…I say better days are coming,” Jonathan had boisterously promised. But rather than carry out a transparent bidding process that would have attracted not just the much-needed investible funds but also the technical know-how, the exercise was mired in opacity.

In place of the experts and foreign investors that privatisation set out to attract, a motley group of Nigerians with practically no antecedent in power sector business and lacking the financial muscle was thrown up as the new investors. The result is now obvious; instead of an effective and efficient power sector that would guarantee constant electricity supply to light up homes and fire the industries, boosting the economy, Nigerians are now saddled with an albatross.

As currently structured, the power sector stands on a wobbly tripod, made up of the Generation Companies, the Transmission Company of Nigeria and the Distribution Companies. While it is the duty of the GenCos to generate electricity, the TCN, which is still wholly owned by the government, takes the responsibility for the transmission to the grid, from where the DisCos can then sell to the consumers. But none of them has been able to inspire confidence.

When the power assets were handed over to private investors on November 1, 2013, the electricity generated in Nigeria that day was 3,712.4 megawatts, from an installed generation capacity of 12, 910.40 MW and available capacity of 7,652.60 MW, according to data attributed to the Nigerian Electricity System Operator. For a population of 171.8 million then, this was ridiculous. But despite the generation capacity of 12,910.40 MW, the transmission could only boast a wheeling capacity of 8, 100 MW, while 5,375 MW remained the peak that had ever been generated.

Six years down the line, with a population of about 200 million, very little has changed. The distribution capacity is still estimated at around 4,000 MW, barely over the 3.712.4 MW of November 1, 2013. The Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, was quoted in a report two months ago as saying that installed power generation had improved to 13, 427MW (as against 12,910.40 MW in 2013), while the TCN Managing Director, Usman Mohammed, said the national grid had the capacity to transmit 7,000 MW.

These figures remain mere academic, as long as they do not translate into improved electricity supply to consumers. What is however undeniable is the fact that the DisCos, which directly interface with the consumers, have emerged as the weakest link in the electricity supply value chain. They keep complaining about cost-reflective tariff, even though they have been found wanting through and through.

They whine over the reluctance of consumers to pay when more than 55 per cent of those consumers are not metered, and access to electricity remains a mirage. For sure, the GenCos are not generating enough and the TCN is not transmitting adequately, yet, even the little that is available is rejected by the DisCos. For example, 9,310.64 MW of electricity was reportedly rejected between August 13 and August 20.

Rejecting loads when there is not enough to go round may sound outrageous but there are other weighty issues that pointedly betray the investors as utterly out of their depth. Particularly, funding has remained a knotty issue. Having raided the local banks for money to buy the firms, the local investors have not been able to fund the needed facility upgrade that should have brought about improvement in electricity supply.

Although a REUTERS report put the cost of the purchase of the power assets in 2013 at $2.5 billion, the TCN MD said the DisCos alone would require a whopping $4.3bn investment to make the desired impact. Shorn of credit options, following challenges in servicing their loans, the investors are now at their wits’ end – uncertain of what step to take next, except perhaps to let go of their majority shares and pave the way for a takeover by capable foreign investors.

As the designated revenue collectors on behalf of other operators in the industry, the DisCos are heavily in debt and have failed to remit money collected to the others. As of July, the TCN said it was being owed N270 billion by the DisCos. The former Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had also said last year that the Discos’ indebtedness to the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Company stood at N500 billion. “NBET also owes GenCos N325.784 billion, which can be settled if NBET collects what the DisCos are owing,” he said.

This debt burden has completely thrown the power sector off balance. Admitting that it would be difficult to pay, the Executive Director, Research and Advocacy, Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors, Sunday Oduntan, said only a monthly revenue of N725 million by each of the DisCos could guarantee them meeting the 35 per cent threshold remittance requirement. Yet, the regulatory authority, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Authority, appears helpless.

As Osinbajo has contended, only a recapitalisation can solve the problem. The government has already made some strides in this direction by bringing in Siemens, whose three-phased road map is expected to ultimately deliver 25,000 MW. The deal involves the German government and Siemens collaborating to increase electricity transmission and distribution capacities in Nigeria.

Although the government, which owns 40 per cent equity in the DisCos, has been castigated for not discharging its responsibilities satisfactorily, it has still taken some notable steps to pull the power sector out of its current mess. Apart from a loan intervention of N213 billion in 2014, another sum of N701 billion was announced two years ago to guarantee the NBET to be able to pay GenCos for two years. In August, President Muhammadu Buhari announced another intervention of N600 billion.

It is time for President Buhari to intervene decisively in the power sector logjam. The government cannot just continue to shell out public funds in this manner for a sector that has been privatised. Nobody needs to be told now that the privatisation was shoddily done but something drastic has to be done to salvage the situation in the national interest. The government has to take advantage of the performance review due in December to see whether to continue with the status quo or not.

Power remains a big incentive for economic and social development. When the government manages to get rid of the current investors, efforts should be geared towards targeted foreign investors, as is currently the case with Siemens, to get replacements. In Singapore, the system of Open Electricity Market is adopted. It allows consumers to migrate to other companies if they are not satisfied with the services they are getting. Nigeria will benefit immensely from such a system. What obtains now is still a monopoly that was in place before privatisation.
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Nigeria - Yoruba nation, Fulani invasion and the task ahead
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by FricNews
Nov 18, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By Emeritus Professor (Senator) Banji AkintoyeWe Yoruba Nation are confronted by countless daunting challenges today. In all directions, our nation is suffering decline and retrogression. Our educational system, once the flagship of our development achievements, is fearfully sick. Our nation’s whole future is imperilled because the masses of our educated youths roam the streets without any hope of jobs, most of them unable to marry and start raising their own children, some falling into crimes, and countless hundreds of thousands seeking ways to flee abroad. Among the most desperate, many are falling for the temptation of trying to reach Europe through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, and very many of these are dying daily in the desert and the sea. Of the hundreds of thousands who manage to succeed in reaching other countries, hardly any ever think of returning home these days, and our Yoruba nation is becoming dispersed across the world. Back home in Nigeria, various Nigerian policies and realities discourage the spirit of enterprise among our people. Businesses are failing, others are relocating to other countries, and the prospects of employment continue to plummet. Most of the industries established by our leaders in the 1950s have closed shop, and most of other assets created then have been allowed to perish. Infrastructures are declining abysmally in all directions and, in particular, federal infrastructures are strangulating our Yoruba homeland. Our agriculture has suffered neglect for decades, until we now must depend on food importations to feed our growing population. Federal take-over, and incompetent or even hostile federal handling of some of our leading achievements, such as our great university in Ife and our produce exports, have engendered a spirit of frustration and lack of confidence among our people. On the whole, we Yoruba people of today are suffering a depth of poverty that no known generation of Yoruba people have ever suffered.

Altogether, we are a nation under very devastating stress in the context of Nigeria. But none of these reverses ranks as high now as the invasion which our Yoruba homeland has been experiencing since 2014. Since 2014, gangs of Fulani herdsmen and militias, coming from the Nigerian Northwest and other parts of the Nigerian far North, have been destroying farms in our homeland, killing large numbers of farmers and farmers’ wives and children, raping and killing women, destroying villages, kidnapping people, and generally engaging in uttermost rampage in various parts of Yorubaland. It has been the same in the homelands of the many peoples of the Nigerian Middle Belt, in the Igbo homeland in the Southeast, and in the homelands of many of the peoples of the South-south.In short, the whole of the Nigerian Middle Belt and South have been experiencing unimaginable disruption since 2014 as a result of persistent rampages by Fulani herdsmen and militias. And it is my belief and recommendation that we must get rid of this invasion without any delay. It is only after we have done so that we can meaningfully tackle any of our other challenges.

To be able to get rid of the Fulani invasion of our land, we need to understand it. For a start, it was very difficult for the people of Nigeria, and for informed observers abroad, to understand it. Most people everywhere thought it was merely an escalation in the traditional conflicts between farmers and cattle herdsmen. Most intellectuals who studied the situation thought it was caused simply by the fact that the serious droughts and consequent loss of grasslands in the Nigerian far North in recent years were compelling herdsmen to veer generally southward in search of grasslands for their cattle. International television organizations like CNN and Aljazeera described it to the world as merely a worsening of traditional conflicts between farming folks and cattle-herding folks in Nigeria.

However, as the years have rolled on and the mass killings and devastations have continued, people have come to understand the situation much better. It is now known conclusively that there is a serious agenda in progress – an agenda of the Fulani people for the forcible remaking of Nigeria. No sincere Nigerian or informed foreign observer now doubts that an uncommon programme is being pursued in Nigeria – a programme without any other programme like it in any other country of the world. Nigeria’s most influential statesman, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has called it an agenda of “Fulanisation” of Nigeria.

It is now known conclusively that there is a serious agenda in progress – an agenda of the Fulani people for the forcible remaking of Nigeria. No sincere Nigerian or informed foreign observer now doubts that an uncommon programme is being pursued in Nigeria – a programme without any other programme like it in any other country of the world. Nigeria’s most influential statesman, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has called it an agenda of “Fulanisation” of Nigeria.

Briefly stated, the agenda has the objective of inculcating Fulani settlements into all parts of Nigeria and creating a situation in which Fulani emirates shall command the lives of people in all parts of Nigeria. Nigeria will therefore become a country in which all parts will be forcibly dominated by the Fulani. Since the Fulani of Nigeria, who are only about six million in population, are too few for such a massive enterprise, as many as possible of the Fulani who belong to most countries of West Africa (altogether numbering up to 23 million) will be encouraged to move into Nigeria.

It is very obvious that much indoctrinating of Fulani people all over West Africa has been engaged in for this agenda. From close observations, the content of the doctrine seems to be the spreading of a belief that Nigeria is the country that Allah has destined to be the home of the Fulani nation. While the Fulani have lacked acceptable levels of political influence in other countries of West Africa (including even Guinea where the Fulani, with about 42% of the population, are the largest single ethnic nation), the Fulani have almost consistently had great influence in Nigeria even since before the coming of British rule. In the early 19th century, a small number of Fulani, led by a Reformer, subdued the large and rich Hausa nation and established Fulani rule over the Hausa people. Under British rule, the British chose the Fulani as a “friendly people”, generally helped to build up Fulani influence and, at independence, left Nigeria under the dominant control of the Fulani. Since the 1950s, Fulani men and Fulani proteges have almost consistently held dominant positions in Nigerian affairs – from Ahmadu Bello, to Tafawa Balewa, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and now Buhari again. All these historical facts are being explained as God’s hand at work in Nigeria for the Fulani nation. The large numbers of Fulani herdsmen are also seen as a God-provided tool for the Fulani agenda, because the herdsmen have traditionally had easy access to virtually all corners of Nigeria.

Since the 1950s, Fulani men and Fulani proteges have almost consistently held dominant positions in Nigerian affairs – from Ahmadu Bello, to Tafawa Balewa, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and now Buhari again. All these historical facts are being explained as God’s hand at work in Nigeria for the Fulani nation. The large numbers of Fulani herdsmen are also seen as a God-provided tool for the Fulani agenda, because the herdsmen have traditionally had easy access to virtually all corners of Nigeria.

Much of the information about the intentions of the Fulani agenda is from statements made by the Fulani themselves – either by prominent Fulani individuals, or by spokesmen for notable Fulani organizations such as Miyetti Allah, Gan Allah Fulani Association, and the most influential Fulani organization, Fulani Nationality Movement. Such statements are very many, but we cannot do more than pinpoint a few in this speech. In 2014, a tirade against all non-Fulani peoples of Nigeria was published in the worldwide social media. It was credited to one Aliyu Gwarzo, and it promised that if any people of Nigeria resisted Fulani control, “we Fulani” “will kill, maim, destroy, and turn Nigeria into Africa’s most bloody war zone”. He concluded with the warning: “The Mujaheedin are more than ready, and by Allah, we shall win”.

It is important to point out that in January of that year 2014, the popular first governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, had raised the alarm that an “insurgency” was about to break out in Nigeria, an insurgency that would be better armed, more murderous and more widespread than Boko Haram, an insurgency that was being organized by some notable Nigerians for the purpose of achieving a political objective.

In my experience, the historically most important one among the Fulani statements to date is the letter of threat which a Fulani organization wrote to the Governor of Benue State, Governor Sam Ortom, in early January 2018. In late 2017, the Benue State government had enacted a law to regulate nomadic cattle herding in Benue State, in order to reduce Fulani violence against Benue State citizens. In response, a Fulani organization wrote to threaten that Fulani people would attack the people of Benue State. On January 01, 2018, the threatened attack came massively, destroying many villages and taking the lives of about 78 people, all in one night. As Benue State carried out mass burials and a state mourning, a delegation of citizens sent by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum arrived on January 05 in Makurdi to sympathize with the people of Benue State. The governor then shocked the assembled delegates and leaders of Benue State by announcing that he had received yet another letter of threat from the same Fulani organization that had written the letter of late 2017, and he read out the new letter. The new letter threatened that greater attacks would soon come on the people of Benue State;that the source of the problem was that the nationalities of Benue State believed that the land of their homelands belonged to them; that the land did not belong to these peoples but to the Fulani; that the Fulani were now on the warpath to seize their land; that the same thing applied to the land of all the peoples of Nigeria; that the Fulani had accumulated enormous funds and weapons for this war, and had invited all Fulani from all over West Africa to come and help take the land of all of Nigeria; and that the Nigerian Federal government could not stop the Fulani.

Some of the visible evidence and success of the Fulani agenda are already significantly visible in most parts of the Nigerian Middle Belt and South. The Fulani herdsmen who are part of the agenda usually come rearing a considerable number of cows, accompanied, or followed at a short distance, by some militiamen armed with sophisticated assault weapons, mostly AK47 rifles. While traditional cattle herders had commonly come, and still do come, peacefully rearing their cows, respecting farms along their way, and doing nothing to hurt anybody or any property, the agenda-driven herdsmen since 2014 have come intent on provoking conflict. Such a herdsman would let his cow ravage a farm – or, according to many farmers, would guide his cows into a farm. When conflict with the farmer ensues, the cow herder scurries away from the scene, and the militiamen then move in to kill the farmer and other persons, and to destroy villages and other assets.

Under cover of the widespread violence, large numbers of non-Nigerian Fulani are arriving and spreading out and taking hold of territory in the Middle Belt and the South, including Yorubaland and including the Yoruba parts of Kwara and Kogi States. The Fulani settlements or hide-outs exist today in scattered locations in Yorubaland. In some parts of the Yoruba homeland, their populations are considerable – especially in areas such as Oke Ogun in Oyo State and the Yewa area of Ogun State. Some of these Fulani settlements or hide-outs may have some cow herders tending their cows, but most are occupied by people who have no visible jobs or means of livelihood. Every settlement or hide-out has some armed militiamen.

While traditional cattle herders had commonly come, and still do come, peacefully rearing their cows, respecting farms along their way, and doing nothing to hurt anybody or any property, the agenda-driven herdsmen since 2014 have come intent on provoking conflict. Such a herdsman would let his cow ravage a farm – or, according to many farmers, would guide his cows into a farm. When conflict with the farmer ensues, the cow herder scurries away from the scene, and the militiamen then move in to kill the farmer and other persons, and to destroy villages and other assets.

From time to time, from these hide-outs, small gangs of armed men go out to attack nearby villages, to kidnap people, or even to hold up highways, rob motorists and passengers, kidnap or kill passengers, rape and kill women, and kill children, on farms or isolated paths to farms. When they kidnap people, they usually take the kidnapped into the forest where they brutalize them while demanding ransom from their families by telephone. In this way, they have extorted unknown millions of Naira from Yoruba families.

These Fulani rampages reached a peak in the Yoruba homeland in Southwest Nigeria in 2015 when they kidnapped on his farm one of the most eminent Yoruba citizens of our time – Chief Olu Falae, a former Secretary of the Nigerian Federal Government, former Nigerian Finance Minister, and former Nigerian presidential candidate. They came to his large modern farm in broad daylight, kidnapped him and killed some of his farm workers. They then took him captive into the forest, and held him there in drenching rain for three days while some of their people called his family by telephone from some unknown place to demand ransom. The public has never learned how the ransom was delivered; obviously, it is unsafe for Chief Falae’s family to disclose this.

The Fulani rampages have not been limited to farms of arable crops. They have also been extended to farms of tree crops. After releasing Chief Falae, they came again and again for months in the night to burn palm trees in his palm-tree plantation. On some of such nights, they made sure to damage or destroy farm structures and equipment. In various other parts of the Yoruba homeland, including parts of Kogi and Kwara States, owners of tree crop plantations – palm trees, fruit trees, rubber trees, wood trees – have experienced similar devastation of their tree-crop plantations.

In more recent months, kidnapping on highways has escalated most noticeably. One attack on the highways resulted, in August 2019, in the killing of Mrs Olufunke Arakunrin, the daughter of the leader of Afenifere, Chief Rueben Fasoranti.

Under these kidnappings, which are really a feature of the Fulani invasion of Yorubaland, local crimes have escalated troublingly, with some local criminals kidnapping people for ransom, in order to take some share in the Fulani ransom bonanza.


NEW CLIMAX

In early November 2019, the government of Oyo State enacted a law to curtail nomadic cattle rearing in Oyo State. While we Yoruba people are rejoicing at the law and congratulating and thanking our Oyo State Government, some Fulani organization has issued threats against all Yoruba people of Nigeria. They are saying that they see the Oyo State law as an attack by all Yoruba on the Fulani, and that they will mobilize all the power of the Fulani from all over West Africa and the world for an attack on all of Yorubaland in Nigeria.

WHAT WE YORUBA SHOULD DO

We Yoruba must embark immediately, seriously and universally on generating awareness and vigilance among our people, and on getting ready to defend our families, our communities, our farmlands, our villages, and our churches, mosques and shrines. When a country is not aware of a coming invasion and not ready to defend itself, it is easy for the invaders to succeed. But when the people of a country are widely aware and are ready to defend their land, it is difficult for an invasion to succeed.

We have two examples to look at and learn from. First, the peoples of Benue State in December 2017 to January 2018 were not much aware of the looming danger, and were not seriously ready to defend their homelands; they apparently were hoping for federal help; and the result is that the Fulani attack on January 01, 2018 succeeded in wreaking enormous devastation. In contrast, after the Ekiti State Government enacted a law in 2016 to curtail nomadic cow rearing and the Fulani began to threaten reprisals, Ekiti State immediately mobilized the traditional hunters. And the result has been that the Fulani were not able to carry out the kind of mass attacks in Ekiti that they were threatening to do. From January 2018, the people of Benue State at last took steps to mobilize themselves, and the Fulani invaders have been experiencing serious resistance there since then.

The lesson is clear for us Yoruba. We must respectfully, and in the true spirit of family, urge our governments that, as they make laws in this situation, they should take steps to rev up awareness and vigilance among the generality of our people. They should also wake up and energize existing vigilante and citizen defence forces that we have at our disposal. We Yoruba are blessed with many of such forces. Pre-eminently, we have Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC). We also have very capable branches of Agbe Koya under the leadership of such brave and seasoned warriors as Olamilekan Ayikaaka, Dr. Kunle Oshodi and Olalere Ayalu. We have a plethora of smaller similar organizations such as Yoruba Koya Movement, Soludero, etc with each of these doing what they can do; we shall quickly show the Fulani marauders that Yorubaland is not the kind of land they can invade.

But we must also mobilize our traditional hunters, in all our cities and towns. And our State Governments might consider reviving the colonial Forest Guard institution, for special deployment in our rural areas.

But nothing can match the mobilization of all our people to be ready and vigilant. As a means to getting this done, we must call upon all our self determination organizations – from the prestigious OPC, Agbekoya, Soludero, Yoruba Koya; to the humblest of our civic organizations – to take the message to all of their members. The number of organizations today in our Yoruba World Congress, YWC, the umbrella of all Yoruba Socio-cultural and self determination groups, stands at 85, representing millions of our people. We must activate each of these our organizations to mobilize their members to be vigilant and ready to defend their families, homes, villages, farmsteads, farmlands, towns and cities.

And we must mobilize our millions of people in the Diaspora. The Fulani organizations threaten that they will bring Fulani people from everywhere in the world to attack Yorubaland. We Yoruba must show them that we have overwhelming millions that we can summon from the Diaspora, and that those millions are educated and very capable people, and that some of them are among the most educated, most skilled, and most resourceful people in the world.

I have heard some of our wisest people say that the war which the Fulani people may soon bring upon us is the prophesied war in which we Yoruba people will definitively retrieve the dignity and liberation of our nation. I am not sure what to say about that. I am a historian, and historians are not trained to speculate or prophesy. But I say proudly to my people, get ready and let us win this war decisively and absolutely. And get ready to rise to the highest peaks of human courage and statesmanship in the handling of the outcome of the war.

However, we Yoruba, because we are a nation given to positive and constructive approaches in all things, will like to propose a possible alternative to war.

The alternative consists of two steps;

STEP 1: We demand that the Fulani should immediately remove, repudiate and cancel their agenda of conquest and subjugation of other peoples of Nigeria. This would give the peoples of Nigeria the opportunity to find peaceful and harmonious coexistence in Nigeria.

STEP 2: After this has been done, all the people of Nigeria should join hands together to restructure Nigeria in ways that countless Patriots have been proposing for years, in ways that would make Nigeria a workable country. We hope and expect that all other peoples of Nigeria will support this demand of our Yoruba nation.

I thank you all.

*This piece was excerpted from a speech delivered by Yoruba Leader, Emeritus Professor (Senator) Adebanji Stephen Akintoye at a roundtable organized by a Self Determination Group, Yoruba Oodua Union; held at Ile-Ife, Osun State on 16th November, 2019.
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Professor Banji Akintoye
South Africa - Study exchange programme a unique opportunity to learn about Chinese culture
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by FricNews
Nov 15, 2019 - 10:11
Opinions
By Wesley Seale

Autumn is rather chilly in Beijing and one has to dress warmly especially if the invitation is to have dinner with a friend.Shaolong, a classmate and friend, has invited me to meet at a local mall. Shaolong has an English name as well.

It is not only in Africa that people have an English name in addition to their own name and, as with many languages, Shaolong has a special meaning.

The Chinese just think it more practical to have English names, as China grows faster and faster into becoming a leading country in the world.

We must meet at a mall. Invitations to people’s homes are rare, if not non-existent. Maybe because space is so limited in a city that plays home to 25million people.

Most social gatherings therefore entail a meal at a restaurant or karaoke spot. As a result, eating out is relatively cheap. Of course, the more fancier the place, the more delicious the cuisine, the more you pay.

Again, as in most cultures, Chinese people have a deep appreciation for sharing a meal.

When invited out for a meal it is because they value the friendship and the company.

Traffic in Beijing is a nightmare compared with South African cities. You have to plan an hour for travelling and punctuality is a must.

Do not arrive too early, lest you be thought of as starving. Never arrive late, it is an insult to the host. Bus works better these days.

In my first semester, I used the underground metro to go anywhere. Yet by metro one does not get to see the city and it is a bit more expensive, with a bigger crowd.

A bus ride generally costs about R2, with a normal journey entailing no more than two bus rides. The transport system is integrated, which means you can use the same card on the metro and the bus.

We thought of having this idea back home. Sadly, as with so many great ideas, it became stuck in the political will phase.

As one who has lived in Europe as well, China is much more like Africa. We do not mind bumping into each other, nor do we hesitate asking people for help.

Chinese people are friendlier than Europeans and always willing to help. The older ones will help you improve your Chinese while the younger ones will want to practise their English.

By the way, Chinese people do not speak Mandarin; they speak Chinese or Cantonese.

Often people would ask me how good my Mandarin was and I had to explain that Mandarin was rare and more complicated.

We will speak the language of the people, declared Chairman Mao.

Mandarin characters are much more intricate and it was used by the ruling elite, the Mandarins, in the old China.

One only has to see the difference when using the translate app on a cellphone, an app that often comes in handy.

In the bus or metro, adults give up their seats for children and older folk. There is a deep respect for children and older persons.

Back home one can understand why this is done for older folk, but generally children must stand up so that adults can sit.

It was one of the beautiful things that this culture shock experience taught me.

During occupation by the Japanese, the colonisers treated Chinese women and children terribly. As a result, there is a deep respect for women and children in China.

There exists what I like to call a Chinese feminism. A Chinese woman would think nothing of becoming hysterical or wailing loudy in public if her partner upset her.

The philosophy is: do not think that you can treat me any way you like. The poor guy is just sitting there feeling embarrassed because in Asia shame is a cardinal sin.

The other side to this Chinese feminism is that it is generally expected for the woman to make the first move. Unwarranted attention by men is therefore rare because men know that it is the woman that must initiate, and if she doesn’t, then oh well, we have to just move on swiftly.

Shaolong is at the restaurant already and checks with me whether what he has ordered is fine.

The food served here is authentic Chinese food, not like the commercialised Chinese food they serve back home.

South Africans generally only know châomià* spelt chow mein, fried noodles, or fried rice, châofà* .

Yet Chinese cuisine is much richer and, of course, depends on what region one comes from in China.

We agree that we need more of these kinds of interactions between Chinese and South Africans at this local level.

Friendship and learning to know each other will teach us how diverse we all are, but more importantly also just how much more we have in common.

The coldness of autumn therefore evaporates as the warmth of friendship and laughter, with help from the food and báijiu of cos, strengthens these two brothers once separated not by a bus ride, but by thousands of miles.

* Wesley Seale is currently pursuing his PhD in Sino-SA relations in Beijing.
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Nigeria - The curse of paradox
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by FricNews
Nov 15, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By Dan Agbese

We are an independent nation with 59 years of post-colonial experience of minding our own business under our belt. But truth be told, we are a dependent nation. If you find that strange, remember that Nigeria is swaddled in fine, if painful, paradoxes. Paradoxes contradict what we hold to be true.I have chosen a few of these paradoxes to show that our inability to pull our country out of the paradox rut hobbles our development; it is deleterious to our economic health and our sense of national pride. Despite our fabled great petro-dollar wealth from crude oil, our country continues to be numbered among the poorest nations of the world. To rub salt into our gaping injury, Nigeria is officially classified as the poverty capital of the world. We displaced India from the honoured perch. It should grate on our sense of pride that we continue to live the paradox of a rich but poor nation. A country is either rich or poor; not rich but poor. Nigeria has thus achieved the impossible.

We depend on other nations for our food. Almost every cooking pot in the country is home to American long grain rice or the Thai or Indian variety. Meanwhile, we ignore the short grain rice from Kebbi, Bauchi and Ebonyi states. Not good enough for our cultivated taste, apparently.

Some time ago, the then minister of agriculture and rural development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said the country was spending $22 billion on food importation annually. Last year, CBN governor Emefiele said we imported food at a much lower cost, as in $1.9 billion; down from $7.9 billion in 2015. And what food are importing? Rice, wheat, sugar and fish. Rice alone from India and Thailand took the chunk of $1.65 billion. That is not a nice way for an independent nation to fully assert its independence. A nation that cannot feed itself, it goes without saying, submits its independence to nations that could feed it.

The experts say that 80 percent of our land is arable; meaning that every inch of that could support food and cash crops. They also say that about 75 percent of the population lives on the land mostly as peasant farmers. If you work out the maths, we should be able to produce enough food to feed ourselves, protect our independence and export our short grain rice to the US, Thailand and other countries and force them to eat Ofada rice. Nigeria is a hungry nation but not an angry nation. Our country comes in at the 40th position out of 79 nations on the Global Hunger Index.

We have been battling corruption since 1966 because the young majors who introduced the gun as an instrument of political power told us that the “ten per centers” were the enemies because they made our dear country look big for nothing. That was a bad image for our country less than six years after the British granted us the instrument of independence and returned home. The majors came, they said, to put the ten per centers out of business and make the rest of the world respect us as honest people for whom cleans hands and a non-throbbing conscience trump the lure of lucre.

We have fought the blight long enough, using the instrumentality of decrees during the military regime and acts of parliament in a democracy, to rid our country of the ten per centers and clean up our country’s image.

If you work out the maths, you should expect incontrovertible evidence of the absence of the ten per centers in our dear, dear country by now. Facts is, there are no ten per centers any more because ten percent is anachronistic in the digital age of digitised corrupt practices. Even as the guns of the anti-corruption war are booming, the brave and the determined still help themselves to our common wealth.

A country that battles corruption and yet embraces corruption, is clearly paradoxical. The war against corruption is the longest war in our country. It is anybody’s guess when it would end and how it would end, given the paradox of the more we fight it, the wider corruption spreads and the deeper it digs into and soils everything we hold dear.

We are a big crude oil producing nation. We are number one in Africa and number five in the world. We have four oil refineries. If you work out the maths, these should be great sources of our national pride. Sadly, they are sources of our national shame. The refineries are mothballed. We are driven to depend on other nations for our petroleum needs. We sell the crude to them; they refine it and ship it back to us through our smart businessmen and women. We are the only oil producing nation in the world that makes a virtue of this obvious vice and is shamelessly proud of it.

Well, if you choose to look on the bright side, many fellow Nigerians have been made billionaires from fuel importation. Successive Nigerian governments were and are sold on the idea that people in an oil producing nation are entitled to some crumbs, as in pay less than the cost of fuel in the Benin Republic. So, they worked out the maths of empathy and arrived at something called subsidy by which the fuel importers receive government funding to persuade them not to charge full commercial prices for their imported petroleum products. This year alone, the federal government would pay them N400 billion to make life a little more bearable for the people. The people, always the people.

In the seventies, the Russians came here and took on the important task of turning our impressive iron ore deposits into various grades of iron rods and flat sheets to move our industrialisation dreams forward. They settled on Ajaokuta, the area of the greatest iron ore deposit in the country in what is now Kogi State and built a huge factory there. Even before the company’s products rolled out of the factory, the federal government set up rolling mills in Jos, Katsina, Oshogbo and Onitsha as part of the necessary down stream investment to add value chain to the products of Ajaokuta. Add to that, the Aladja Steel Mills in what is now Delta State and the maths would show we took our industrialisation seriously. Except that we didn’t.

What became of them? Actually nothing. The Russians left and after some years, the Indians came and took over. In the end, they left an impressive stamp of cheating and thievery on the company. They asset-stripped the company and returned home. Now, the Russians have been persuaded to return to the carcass of the factory they built and equipped so long ago. Where I wonder, do they start from? We are happy they are returning. In all these years, we never challenged our engineers to hunker down and make the factory hum again. Again, we chose to depend on the miracle working foreign engineers.

I understand the Saudis have also promised to help us revive the oil refineries. I would not know when they became experts in this but since Nigeria is prepared to always put its destiny in the hands of foreigners, their coming would be celebrated as part of our national progress. They are not likely to work any greater magic than our indigenous petroleum engineers, some of whom have had extensive experience working with the foreign oil companies. These men have never been challenged to put their expertise to test. Dependence is an easy option but it does not advance the course of our national development. Foreign experts will always come and go at some point as has happened repeatedly over the years; and when they do, things just fall apart and a factory becomes an empty shed. The systematic marginalisation of our indigenous manpower is the curse of our dependence.

No one knows for sure how much successive federal administrations have spent over the years on power generation and distribution. What is known and undeniable is that we generate 4,000 megawatts day for a country of 200 million people. Being a dependent nation, we choose to depend on imported generators. We sit on wealth – arable land, liquid and solid mineral resources, agricultural produce – but we take other people’s money to survive. We have so much, yet we get so little. It is the curse of dependence.
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President Muhammadu Buhari. Photo: TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV
Nigeria - Deep Offshore (Amendment) Act and Tinubu’s Politics
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by FricNews
Nov 14, 2019 - 10:11
Opinions
By Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour

Since President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law on November 4, 2019 the amendment to the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act, Cap D3, Laws of the Federation (LFN) 2004, it has become the swan song for Mr. Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the APC at large.

Specifically, he has found in it an attack point to assail the leadership of the Eight National Assembly.

He had written an article in a national newspaper and even in a speech presented on his behalf yesterday at a book launch in Abuja during which he used the new Deep Offshore law as a double instrument to curry favour from the Muhammadu Buhari Government as well as to attack his perceived enemies in the previous National Assembly.

However, one is at a loss as to what Tinubu is celebrating in this “new” law. As somebody with a background in the Petroleum Industry, it must be apparent to him that the government did not need the amendment of the old law to derive the benefit that it is now expecting from the new law.

The old law had clear provision which allowed government to review the Production Sharing Contract (PSC) once oil price is above $20 per barrel or after every five years. In fact, the first review of the PSC ought to have taken place in 2004 but it was not done.

Though the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) gave a notice for the review in 2007, nothing happened. Also, the expected review in 2013 and 2018 was not done,and these are executive actions.

The Buhari administration came into office in 2015 and did nothing on the PSC till late 2019 when it rushed a bill to the National Assembly that was equally passed in a hurry.

What then is the fault of the leadership of the last National Assembly? Why does the Lion of Bourdillon think he can draw political advantage from the signing of the law and viciously attacking the leadership of the 8th assembly based on the amendment of a law that conferred no new advantage on the nation?

In his speech at the Abuja book launch on Tuesday, he described the leadership of the Eighth National Assembly as “reactionary elements that fought for business as usual and against reform” and added that the “ new National Assembly (is) committed to progressive reform”.

This statement should make any serious minded Nigerian to laugh heartily. Tinubu who claimed to be a “progressive” with an experience in the Senate, though for only 18 months under a military arrangement, should know what a genuine legislature is. Is the present National Assembly what a genuine democrat should be proud of?

A National Assembly which is processing a law to establish a commission on hate speech and criminalizing freedom of speech is Tinubu’s ideal of a “progressive National Assembly”? A legislature that is working on a bill to suppress the operation of the social media is Tinubu’s model of a “progressive” law making body.

A law making body that is debating a bill on astronomical increase on the Value Added Tax even when members have not seen a copy of the bill is a “progressive” one because Tinubu wants to be in the good books of President Buhari.

A National Assembly that prides itself as a lackey of the executive and ready to pitch tent with the Presidency against the people is “committed to progressive reform”, according to Tinubu.

If Tinubu is a progressive, he will speak out on some of the retrogressive, reactionary and anti-democratic bills and actions coming out of the current National Assembly. Where is a true progressive when a country desperately needs one?

Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour is a public policy expert, an architect and was the PDP Lagos West Senatorial candidate in the 2019 National Assembly elections.
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Namibia - Root Out Systemic Corruption
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by FricNews
Nov 14, 2019 - 10:11
Opinions
By  Editorial Team

NO AMOUNT of firing of ministers and convicting top officials will fix the looting of state resources, unless loopholes in the system are closed.

We cannot agree more with president Hage Geingob when he often points to the importance of “systems, structures and institutions” as key to good governance. And we are not referring only to the need for transparency and genuine access to information by any resident or interested party. We are talking about “systems, structures and institutions” that work effectively in the public interest.

Sadly, Geingob seldom does what he says when it really matters. Instead, his mantra about “systems, structures and institutions” is often used to defend inaction, while passing the buck.

For years, Geingob was aware of the fishing scheme that was exposed this week by The Namibian in partnership with WikiLeaks and Icelandic media. He kept defending himself that he could not act against ministers Bernhard Esau and Sacky Shanghala because he had referred the allegations to institutions that were set up to deal with such matters.

With all the resources and state machinery at his disposal, it is odd that he now acts on media reports, some of which he had dismissed out of hand before.

Geingob has effectively fired the two ministers, albeit stating he accepted their resignations after asking them to explain. The only obvious difference this time is that Namibians are going to vote in presidential and National Assembly elections.

In essence, the president had to sacrifice someone to soothe voter anger in a time of elections.

We urge Namibians not to lose sight of the deeper issues in the country, and to pile more pressure on Swapo and the government to root out corruption.

Firing Esau and Shanghala without plugging the loopholes that allow webs of corruption to flourish will only mean replacing the mask while business continues as usual.

Several years ago, Esau was found by the courts to have acted unlawfully in the allocation of fishing quotas to the parastatal Fishcor, which was headed by one of his scheme masterminds, James Hatuikulipi.

Then, Esau changed the law to give himself more powers. The changes were supported by his comrades, and enacted by Geingob, despite pleas from private actors in the industry about the destruction it would cause.

This newspaper has been calling for an end to the legalised scam that the ministry calls Namibianisation of the fishing industry.

Through this process, a few individuals are hand-picked and given fishing licences. They, in turn, sell off the licences to companies which do the actual work of catching the marine resources.

Similar policies and laws are in mining and other economic sectors, including public works projects such as construction, where middlemen (it's almost exclusively men) who add no value, are given “tenders”, like a parent dispensing sweets to fob children with.

That approach is nothing short of legalised looting. The name of the game is self-enrichment by a few ruling elites and their cronies, including many whites who were sad to see apartheid go when independence was ushering in benefits for the common people.

Getting rid of Esau and Shanghala is, therefore, small comfort to Namibians, who should have benefited from the loss of tax revenue.

What's needed is the will to act. President Geingob should stop claiming that corruption is not systemic.

In this former South West Africa, corruption is firmly entrenched through several laws and policies. It is systemic, and the looters are getting more and more sophisticated to enrich themselves at the expense of many ordinary Namibians.
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Root Out Systemic Corruption
Nigeria - Entrepreneurship in today’s business environment
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by FricNews
Nov 14, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By Marcel Okeke

Entrepreneurship is one of the factors of production; and the others are: land, labour, capital and technology. But the place of the entrepreneur is so critical that without him, the rest could practically lie fallow or may not even exist. His role is akin to that of a “net external force” in Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion (in Physics), which says that “a body at rest tends to stay at rest…unless acted upon by a net external force.” This is to say that it is the ingenuity, vision, creativity and drive of the entrepreneur that puts the other factors of production to use, and through transformative processes, lead to industrialization. This has to happen in an enabling business environment anchored on a deliberate policy of the Government within the jurisdiction.

The industrial policy of government per time therefore provides the substratum or “pull factor”, among others, that moves the entrepreneur to bring his vision to reality, taking along all the risks. Let’s consider a bit of the Nigerian situation. In his Goodwill Message in a document titled “Industrial Policy of Nigeria” issued in 1988, the then President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Dr. Ismail Babatunde Jose had this to say: “For so long, industrial investors have been groping in the dark with no beacon to guide them. Most often, beautiful and viable investment projects embarked upon by investors have turned into failure because of frequent and unanticipated changes in government policies. Even where attempts have been made to chart a path and provide incentives, expectations have been frustrated by poor implementation.” Dr. Jose said further “…the procedures for setting up industries in the country have proved agonizingly tedious, involving as it were, a maze of regulations and permits that are administered by an array of slow and, often, indifferent bureaucratic machinery.” He however hoped that the document (Industrial Policy of Nigeria) would close a major void which had hampered industrial investment in the country, adding that private entrepreneurs would no doubt be forthcoming, if the climate was conducive.

In 2004, the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) document observed that “overdependence on oil and traditional sectors, such as agriculture and services, is partly due to the hostile business environment,” stressing that “businesses wishing to operate in Nigeria face many constraints, including poor infrastructure, particularly road networks and electricity supply; inadequate physical security; corruption; weak enforcement of contracts, and the high cost of finance”. The document summed up that these factors have deterred foreign entrepreneurs from investing in Nigeria and induced many Nigerians to take their money and skills abroad. Unfortunately, fifteen years after these worrisome observations were made in the NEEDS document, the conditions have hardly improved.

However, government policies that are pivotal to entrepreneurship and industrialization are not all stories of woes. The communication policy that unleashed the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) in Nigeria in 2001, in all considerations, transformed not only the business landscape, but lives of the citizenry generally. From less than half a million connected telephone lines in 2001 in Nigeria, the number of active telephone lines in the country stands at over 175 million today; just as the number of Internet users has hit about 123 million (Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, data). The revolutionary effect of all these on entrepreneurship and industrialization in Nigeria is really enormous. In Nigeria today, from the comfort of your bedroom, you can call and discuss with anybody in any part of the globe. So, you can run your “business at the speed of thought” as envisaged by Bill Gates.

The obverse side of this phenomenal development is that some businesses were put out of business; for example, most post offices and postal agencies across Nigeria are practically lying fallow today, with the buildings decrepit and overgrown by weeds. Many that went into ‘business-centre business,’ using fixed or landlines in the early days of the ‘telecom revolution’, soon went out of business, as virtually everyone got a mobile phone/line. Similarly, manufacturers and dealers in desktop computers have almost been driven out of business by those who produce more compact laptops, tablets and smart phones with wide-ranging functionalities.

Also, in the banking sector, the July 6, 2004 consolidation policy ended up making a revolutionary impact on the industry. In the policy, the minimum paid-up capital for banks was raised from Two Billion Naira to Twenty-five Billion Naira, with a deadline of 18 months (ending December 31, 2005) for each bank to meet the needed capital. By the close of the exercise, the number of banks had dropped to only 25, as against the 89 at the commencement of the consolidation.

The upside of the ‘revolution’ was that the 25 banks that emerged became ‘Mega Banks’, big enough to, either singly or in syndication, finance big ticket transactions in the country. Each of them commenced rapid branch network expansion, including setting up branches and wholly-owned subsidiaries offshore. In no time, most of them got listed among the “Top 1000 Banks” in the world by Financial Times of London. Also, many huge projects that hitherto depended on foreign/external funding got wholly financed by ‘local’ Nigerian banks. Thus, entrepreneurship and industrialization got some boost, as many local businesspeople and foreign investors took advantage of the new financial muscles of the banks.

However, on the downside, the consolidation saw the ‘death’ of some ‘financial empires’. Many entrepreneurial investors and shareholders literally lost their fortunes, as the number of banks shrank to only 25 within18 months. The multiplier effect of this reality also manifested in the bankruptcy of not a few businesses which had depended on the many ‘extinct banks.’ And for the next one decade or so (2005—2015), no new banks (especially Deposit Money Banks) were set up, either privately- or government-owned, because there was no more room for ‘starting small and growing big.’

However, it must be acknowledged that critical as the role of entrepreneurship is among the factors of production, technology remains a key driver of continuous change in every business environment. Again, the situation in the banking industry comes handy, where the use of financial technology (Fintech) has since put an end to ‘brick and mortar’ banking. Just as offices are going ‘paperless’, the entire Nigerian economy is going ‘cashless’.

Nobody carries bundles of bank notes any more, all the way from Onitsha (Anambra state) or Warri (Delta State) to Idumota (in Lagos) to buy some goods. Payment for such goods can now be made through Internet bankingand other e-channels, without the buyer travelling. Retail consumers of an assortment of goods nowadays procure them online, thereby boosting electronic commerce (e-commerce) within Nigeria and globally.

On the other hand, another victim of a changing business environment is the print media in Nigeria and elsewhere, where the ‘hard copy’ newspapers that we all know are badly hit, no thanks to the impact of information technology and/or social media. Almost everyone now reads the daily news online; more so, with what is now called “citizens journalism”. Virtually everyone today is a ‘journalist’ and a ‘photographer’ and in case of any incident, ‘live pictures’ are taken and in a matter of seconds, such pictures are made to go viral, with captions. And, although ICT makes newspaper production easier, but their ‘news’ are delayed. This is part of our changing business environment, where you read what is happening in every part of the world, almost ‘live’—minute-by-minute!

Without any doubt, ICT application in any business not only enhances efficiency of all processes, but also entrenches cost-effectiveness and good ‘bottom-line.’ Digital, as opposed to analogue has become the name of ‘the game’ in business. Every barrier is ‘pulled down’; and neither geography nor language poses limit or limitation to entrepreneurship anymore.

This is why the 21st century entrepreneur must, with all other attributes, possess above-average ICT-skills. Notwithstanding the traditional local constraints, such as poor infrastructure (as in Nigeria), leapfrogging digital opportunities and advantages remains a sure highway for an entrepreneur operating from wherever. The world is indeed, a ‘global village’, with barriers of distance and language already broken completely.

This is why whatever challenge is posed today by ‘Brexit’ in the UK, or President Donald Trump’s protectionist policies in the US, is impacting the entire world. For over three years (since June, 2016), the United Kingdom, following the outcome of a referendum, has been struggling to exit the European Union—where they have been a member for close to fifty years. Things have indeed gone awry in the UK, with two Prime Ministers (PMs) exiting in quick succession, and the incumbent facing very ‘cloudy days’ ahead. And for Trump of the US, his trade wars with China and others as well as anti-globalization stance, are fast defining a ‘New World Order’ that leaves the entire humanity in constant quandary.

And down here in Africa, the unfolding omen of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) on the entire continent is worrisome. In my article on this subject published in The Guardian(of Nigeria) on April 30, 2019, I said: “Already, the rising wave of nationalism and separatism across the African continent is manifesting in widespread xenophobic attacks, killings and looting of properties belonging to fellow Africans. Black Africans no longer want blacks from African countries on their soil. In South Africa, blacks from other countries of the continent are being killed in large numbers or pursued out of the country by ‘indigenous blacks’. In Ghana, on several occasions, Nigerians are being chased out of the country, and having their businesses destroyed by indigenous Ghanaians. In other countries such as Libya, Morocco, Sudan, etc., nationals of other African countries are being ‘bought and sold’ as slaves. Hardly is there a week that hordes of these Nigerian ‘slaves’ will not be repatriated and dumped at our major airports.” That my article is titled: ‘African Common Market, nationalism and xenophobia.’ The recent closure of Nigeria’s land borders has the capacity to worsen this already tension-soaked regional investment climate.

Globally, these uncertain business environments are further being complicated by the import of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ as adumbrated by Professor Schwab of the World Economic Forum. We already have with us some disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI). With all these, and in all these, however, the entrepreneur, the ‘risk taker’, the inventor or innovator remains the pivot around which the industrialization process revolves. After all, technology, no matter the sophistication or complexity, is a creation of man.

Okeke, an economic analyst, lives in Lagos.
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Nigeria - Buhari, drop the condensate refinery idea
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by FricNews
Nov 13, 2019 - 10:11
Opinions
By Editorial

CONFRONTED with a long-running crisis in the petroleum downstream sector, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s latest response with plan to build two new refineries is befuddling. Unable to run its existing four profitably despite having an absolute monopoly and with the Dangote Group’s 650,000 barrels per day capacity refinery expected to come on stream soon, the NNPC’s proposal is another red herring, the latest in the determination of successive Nigerian governments to dominate the oil industry. President Muhammadu Buhari should stop this painful trend and cede control of the wholesale and retail sector to the private sector.

The announcement by the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mele Kyari, though eerily familiar, was still a letdown to the business community and other Nigerians who had hoped desperately for an end to their three-decade-old nightmare. The corporation, he said, would establish two new refineries, each to refine 200,000 barrels of condensate per day into petrol. Condensate is a mixture of light liquid hydrocarbons separated out of natural gas. For a company with a global notoriety as, probably, the worst performer in running refineries, this would have been laughable and quickly dismissed. But the NNPC is not an ordinary company; it is a 100 per cent state-owned enterprise, managing the country’s interest in the oil and gas industry. As revenue from oil and gas accounts for over 80 per cent of export and 65 per cent of all government revenues, the importance of the firm is stark. Except it is acting only as facilitator, not operator, this refinery idea should be dropped. Every naira the NNPC wastes deprives Nigerians of valuable resources. 

Like his predecessors, Kyari is eloquent in promoting this venture. The motive, he said, is to transform Nigeria into a net exporter of refined petroleum products, complement the Dangote refinery being built in Lekki, Lagos State, and boost local production of petrol. These are laudable objectives and desirable for a country with current maximum production capacity of 2.5 million barrels of crude per day, and this of high value low sulphur content. But it is misplaced because of the NNPC’s incompetence and corruption. It is incapable of running refineries profitably.

Any practical measure to achieve refining self-sufficiency and export is welcome. Currently, however, Nigeria is the world’s laughing stock: it imports almost all its needs for refined products and this, according to the NNPC’s website, is costing between $12 billion and $15 billion annually. Some N2.95 trillion was spent on petrol imports in 2018, the National Bureau of Statistics said, while a corruption-fuelled subsidy scheme pays billions more to marketers to defray landing costs and more still for transportation to ensure price parity across the country. In 2018, the 36 state governors protested the N800 billion that NNPC claimed as subsidy annually.

This mess is created solely by the failure of the NNPC to run its four refineries profitably and the crowding out of the private sector in domestic refining. There can be no solution to the problem outside of the NNPC exiting the downstream and the government working strongly to encourage other investors to compete with Dangote, whose facility, when completed, will be the world’s fifth biggest, according to Hydrocarbons Technology, a consultancy.

The NNPC’s record is so terrible that it has no business spending taxpayers’ funds on acquiring new refineries. It should rather sell its downstream assets. By its own admission, the four refineries suffered combined operating losses of N77.15 billion in the first six months of this year, up from N68.10 billion lost in the corresponding period of 2018: their outing in June is typical; from N6.34 billion worth of crude collected, they spent N13.1 billion on freight and operational expenses, but had an output of only N2.01 billion. This is ridiculous, no private concern would sustain this and the NNPC should no longer be allowed to bleed public funds via unprofitable ventures. And this is a monopoly; the only other domestic refinery is the 1,000 barrels per day modular facility in Ogbele, Rivers State. 

The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Gas Workers recalls how past GMDs had similarly proffered fruitless solutions to the supply mess and wasted billions of naira with no improvement. NEITI reported that capacity utilisation averaged 8.55 per cent in 2015-18, while the NNPC put combined nameplate utilisation at 5.5 per cent in June 2019. From a hollow resolve to achieve 90 per cent utilisation by 2021 to using “third party financing”,  to “co-location”, inviting the original builders and a stillborn Greenfield refineries project to be sited in Bayelsa, Kogi and Rivers states, Kyari is joining his predecessors to raise false hopes.

Buhari, who retains the petroleum resources ministry portfolio, should do the inevitable and save the country further agony by immediately privatising the refineries, depots, pipelines and retail outlets. Honour demands that he fulfil his 2015 campaign promise to break up the NNPC conglomerate into only two; a holding company and an investment firm.

From conception to fruition, the Dangote project is on track to take just a few years; the NNPC has hardly moved forward in 30 years, whether in capacity utilisation, new plants or domestic self-sufficiency.

Meanwhile, McKinsey, a global consultancy, estimates a drop in global demand for petrol from 1.2 per cent to 0.5 per cent between 2018 and 2035 as the West reduces dependence on road transport and gasoline-powered vehicles. To match our competitors’ investments and the contest for markets, the private sector should be unleashed; others are not wasting time. GlobalData projects that, between 2019 and 2023, Asian countries will lead in global refining capacity and capital spending on refineries; 45 new refineries are scheduled to start operations in the region involving $267 billion investments, said McKinsey.

 The rest of the world is moving, while the government toys with unrealisable plans that allow monumental waste and corruption to thrive in NNPC and impoverish Nigerians. The NNPC should leave the field for reputable global players, pursue its offers to partner with Chevron and other oil majors to promote rapid refining infrastructure. It should restrict itself to very small minority stakes in the downstream and transparently sell off the four refineries through targeted sale aimed at bringing in the most capable recognised global operators to attract foreign investment, create jobs, meet domestic demand and help the country become an international refining hub.

Buhari and Kyari need to drop all notions of the NNPC ever again running a refinery.
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Africa - Africans must solve the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis
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by FricNews
Nov 13, 2019 - 10:11
Opinions
By David Monyae

When Gamal Abdel Nassir of Egypt faced opposition mainly from Western countries in the construction of the Aswan High Dam in 1960, he said: “We will build and complete the dam at any cost.”Like Nassir, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia has stood firmly resolute in favour of the completion of Meles Zenawi’s dream to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd), known in Ethiopia as Hedassie, along the Blue Nile river. One of the thorniest issues President Cyril Ramaphosa will face as the chair of the AU in 2020 is the prospect of conflict between Ethiopia and Egypt over the Gerd.

In a shocking move, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Ethiopia and Sudan have abandoned fellow Africans in favour of President Donald Trump as the mediator for the Gerd matter. Ironically, the US and the World Bank were not in favour of the dam from its inception. One wonders why Ethiopia would accept the involvement of the US.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the president of the World Bank Group, David Malpass, facilitating negotiation on a matter appear to have a conflict of interest.

Ahmed has stood firm in fulfilling the ancient dream of the emperors of Ethiopia to build four dams on the Nile, including the hydroelectric plant.

It all began in 2011 when Zenawi embarked upon a plan to boost the Ethiopian energy sector in line with a fast-growing economy.

Shunned by the World Bank and major Western countries, Ethiopia raised the much-needed $5billion domestically.

First, Ethiopia was criticised that its dam would flood 1 680km² of forest in northern Ethiopia and Sudan. Second, 20000 people were resettled for the dam project to take place. Third, the budget earmarked for Gerd was equal to Ethiopia’s annual budget, hence this was perceived as a waste of resources better suited for more burning social needs.

The question of the Nile River has a rich historical background. There are numerous countries other than Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan with an interest in the Blue Nile River. The other interested parties are Uganda, Tanzania, the DRC, Eritrea and Rwanda.

In 1959, Egypt and Sudan signed the Nile Treaty excluding all other countries along the river. Due to this, Egypt claims majority rights for the usage of the Nile River water seen as constituting national interest despite the fact that 85% of the river’s water source is in Ethiopia. Although Ethiopia and Egypt have held numerous negotiations over Gerd, “one sticking point remains the rate at which Ethiopia will draw water out of the Nile to fill the dam’s reservoir”, according to the Voice of America.

Russia, on the other hand, has shown keen interest to be a mediator on the matter of the Ethiopia-Egypt dispute.

It is within this context therefore that Pretoria, as it takes the AU chair in early 2020, ought to pay great attention to this matter. Given the significance of Gerd to both Ethiopia and Egypt and the multiplicity of role-players with competing interests, an African solution to the crisis should be urgently found.

Both Ethiopia and Egypt have legitimate rights to the Nile River. The Ethiopia-Egypt dispute has the potential to cause another African war with dire consequences for the African Agenda as encapsulated in Agenda 2063.

The African landscape is littered with cases of the destructive role played by external meddlers.

A classic example was the US and the then USSR involvement in the Ethiopia-Sudan Ogaden Desert War during the cold war.

* Monyae is the director for the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg. He is currently on a short-term Visiting Program for International Think Tank Experts hosted by the Communication University of China in Beijing.
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Nigeria - Arrest of prominent journalist shows Buhari is up to his old tricks
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by FricNews
Nov 13, 2019 - 10:11
Opinions
By Jason Rezaian

Political strongmen would have you believe they're tough as nails, but they always turn out to have very thin skin.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari likes to call himself a "converted democrat." At least that's what he said during his 2015 presidential run, when he was attempting to re-brand himself as a reformer after a long career built on repression.

Yet dictatorial habits have proved hard to give up. When Buhari ran for president in 2015, it was with the promise of a Nigeria free from the political repression and silencing of dissent that were hallmarks of his tenure as head of state from 1983 to 1985.

Since his reelection earlier this year, matters have only gotten worse for journalists in Nigeria. Perhaps the most outrageous case involves Omoyele Sowore, a prominent journalist and political activist who remains in prison in Abuja, the Nigerian capital - even after a judge last week ordered that he be released on bail. He is being cited, among other things, for "cyberstalking" the president - a bizarre accusation, unless you consider reporting and political commentary a form of predatory behavior. It would seem that Buhari does.
"Across the board, journalists were worried about an escalation of anti-press patterns in a possible second Buhari term," says Jonathan Rozen, senior Africa researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists. "Unfortunately, they've been proven right."

In a November 7 statement, Femi Felana, Sowore's lawyer, said that, although bail conditions were "stringent," his client had met them all. "But in utter contempt of the orders of Justice Ojukwu, the State Security Service has refused to release Sowore."

Sowore, the founder of the New York-based website Sahara Reporters, is being charged with seven felony counts, including treason and the "cyberstalking" of Buhari. Whatever that means. "In Nigeria, we see repeated attacks against journalists and the use of alleged cyber crimes to silence them," Rozen told me.
Sowore created Sahara Reporters - which is devoted to political coverage of Nigeria - in 2006. His aim was to bring greater transparency to Nigerian politics. The website is credited with breaking many stories of financial corruption by the state, which is what landed Sowore behind bars this time around. In a media landscape known for being vibrant if heavily influenced by political elites, Sahara Reporters has become one of the key sources for news that exposes official wrongdoing.

Sowore came to the United States in the late 1990s. Before leaving Nigeria, he'd been detained on eight separate occasions for his political activities. After arriving here, he completed a graduate program at Columbia University.

"It is not so much a problem of freedom of speech," Sowore told the New York Times in 2011, "but freedom after speech. You can say a lot of things in Nigeria, but the question is: Will you still be a free person? Will you still be alive after you freely express yourself?"

This year he returned to run against Buhari in the election. He did not win and instead ended up in prison for being a vocal critic of the state and its policies.
"My husband is not the only journalist in this situation. It's always the same thing. They've taken others for speaking out against corruption," Opeyemi Sowore, the jailed journalist's wife, told me. "It's a disturbing trend when journalists and others who are trying to make the country better are silenced through detention."

The judge in the case this month set bail at more than $550,000, with additional conditions, barring Omoyele Sowore from speaking to the press, participating in rallies at other political events and barring him from leaving the capital, Abuja.
Sowore was originally set to be released last Wednesday, but his website reported that agents of Nigeria's secret police blocked court bailiffs from following through on the judge's order.

His wife and their two children, a 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son, who live in the New York area and are all U.S.-born citizens, have not heard from the journalist since August when Opeyemi Sowore did a radio interview here in the United States.

All indications are that Sowore has been held in solitary confinement during the entire period of his detention, which has now passed the three-month mark.
"Since the State Security Service is not above the law of the land, we shall embark on appropriate legal measures to ensure compliance with the court orders," Falana said.

Nigerian authorities should immediately release Sowore.

The Washington Post
 
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Nigeria - Peril of high cost of governance
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by FricNews
Nov 13, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By Editorial Board

The high cost of governance in Nigeria which has become a very disturbing phenomenon, and has been widely acknowledged by many both within and outside the corridors of power is engaging our attention again for one inescapable reason: state actors at all levels in Nigeria do not seem to understand the importance of cutting cost of governance at this time.   The suffocating impact of the high cost of governance on our national life has made it to assume a national emergency dimension. With this high cost of maintaining the bureaucracy, the economic fortunes of the country have recently been pronounced as uncertain with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgrading the growth prospects of the economy for 2018 and 2019.

In addition, the minister of finance recently cried out that insufficient revenue has been the major problem in the effective implementations of the federal budgets. In spite of this hue and cry about revenue shortfall, not much has been seen to be done by the authorities to address this unsustainable level of the cost of governance, which invariably has not reduced despite these clearly identified revenue challenges. Thus something drastic needs to be done in this regard to arrest this undesirable trend.

President Muhammadu Buhari, on his own part, recently vowed as always, to reduce the cost of governance in the country. While receiving members of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC at the State House, Abuja the other day, the President promised to beam the searchlight on cost the of governance and weed out possible corruption that exists anywhere. While this may be considered commendable, as we noted a few weeks ago on this page, it clearly displays a lack of holistic strategy in assessing this cancer of high cost of governance in the country. There is this penchant by the same (Buhari) administration to view virtually everything from the prism of “fighting corruption,” which is only a part of the problem. It is largely structural as well as attitudinal, without downplaying the context of corruption in this regard.

The appropriate structure of government is one major issue that needs to be addressed in reducing the high cost of governance in Nigeria. Hence the bicameral nature of our legislature, for instance, needs to be critically examined. Given our current economic circumstances, can the country afford to continue with this arrangement when some developing countries have modified imported parliamentary structures to suit their peculiar circumstances? A country like Senegal is a case of reference in this regard. There appears to be the need for the country to consider reducing the number of members of the National Assembly by having only one House, to reduce membership and thus cut high costs of maintaining them as we noted the other day. The core principles of equality of states and population can be fittingly incorporated in a formula that would determine the composition of the emergent unicameral national legislature from the constituent parts.

By doing this, significant costs can be saved. This could also be accompanied by a reasonable reduction in the remuneration of the legislators at all levels. The reported recklessness in spending on unnecessary new vehicles at the National Assembly is a sore point in the aggravation of this cost issue.

In this regard, some members of the public have even called for an arrangement where the legislators will operate part-time – to enhance cost reduction. Except the country considers restructuring along these lines, reducing the cost of governance will remain a mirage. 

Let’s not be distracted: The executive arm of government is the main culprit in incurring excessive costs in governance. This applies to all the tiers of government. The State House, in the nation’s capital, Abuja, as well as those of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, are the first culprits. There’s a lot of wastage at these State Houses, ranging from the bogus and mysterious security votes to the unimaginable expenditures in maintaining the bureaucracy, utilities, and even victuals.

At the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government where the ministers, permanent secretaries, and director-generals hold sway, it is a routine merry-go-round with a preponderance of unnecessary foreign trips, poor public procurement practices and entrenched corruption that result in poor outcomes for the national economy. Many of these men and women at the helm of affairs in these arms of the government seemingly turn out to be the owners of choice estates in Abuja and many parts of the world, leaving office as multimillionaires or even billionaires while the national economy continues in a state of stupor.

Attitudinally, the government needs to convince the public that it is serious in reducing the cost of governance by changing its ways in the incurring of overheads. Though this applies to the three arms of government, it is particularly so for the executive branch, which controls about 90% of all public expenditures. In this time of economic emergency, why is the Buhari administration calling for a reduction in the cost of governance, yet it is creating new ministries and thus increasing the recurrent expenditure? Buhari just got himself a new luxury and expensive car when the old ones are still functioning well. This administration does not appear to be practising what it is preaching. The President has made such cost-reduction promises during and after campaigns, even before his first term in office but his actions, on health tourism, the size of the presidential fleet of jets among others, do not support such posture. The use of irritating convoys of vehicles by the President, governors and other officials and their wives has not stopped and yet the public is being told of a “vow” to reduce the cost of governance. Also, the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in its manifesto had promised, if elected to power, to have a leaner government bureaucracy, yet since 2015 what is being experienced is totally different. This smacks of a lack of integrity and people are no longer amused by these contradictions. 

Meanwhile, mere lamentation without action plans by the people must stop. There is a need for the development of a more politically sophisticated electorate. The public should make their voice to be heard in seeking redress on how they are governed. That is why this democracy should not be truncated and the mainstream and social media should not be censored. Doing any of these would be counterproductive and not augur well for the Nigerian society. The attitude to power by the political class needs to be interrogated. Power should be acquired to enhance the public good and the human condition. Hence, the people should hold the leaders accountable for how society is run.

How do we come out of this quagmire? Aside from the issues raised earlier, public recurrent expenditure should be drastically reduced. We will continue to say this: The verification of personnel in the public service should be undertaken to institutionalise an integrated, automated payroll system. Government should restructure its economic policies by resisting the temptation of unnecessarily taxing the already impoverished working class through taxes on telecommunication and others.

The speed of incurring public debts should be reduced and discipline should be introduced in government operations such that recurrent expenditures can be drastically reduced and capital expenditures increased – to develop the critical infrastructure needed for economic growth. The Buhari administration should look beyond corruption in addressing this issue of reducing the cost of governance. It should have a change of attitude, by leading by example, keeping to its promises as well as consider spearheading the movement to restructure government to enhance the well-being of the Nigerian people which it swore to serve well. 
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Kenya - Whose interests are the MPs fronting, citizens’ or parties’?
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by FricNews
Nov 11, 2019 - 10:11
Opinions
By Kaltum Guyo

In the week that Chief Justice David Maraga gave us the insight of the interference of independence of key institutions of government, Parliament voted to repeal the interest rate cap.

The cap had been set under Banking Act 2016 at not more than four per cent above the Central Bank’s lending rate in order to make it affordable for most Kenyans to borrow.

It is unclear what precipitated the amendments to the Banking Act, but the move has not failed to raise a few eyebrows.

One is the speed with which changes to the law were initiated. This came just three years after the interest cap was set by the same Parliament.

The other is the style in which the amendment to such a crucial law were made — amid reports that there was a quorum hitch in Parliament to veto the changes, if required.

AFFORDABLE LOANS

Lack of quorum has become synonymous with Parliament over the years.

And it only occurs either to stymie the rights of Kenyans — as was the case with the two-thirds gender rule or the recent case where the cap on interest charged by banks was removed with potential financial implications for ordinary Kenyans.

It now means banks will, once more, charge interest as they please on loans that they extend to their customers.

The rule comes at a time when the economy is on a nosedive.

Basic rules of economics would intimate that loans are made as affordable as possible to encourage more borrowing and spending in a bid to spur economic growth.

Affordable loans will encourage investment across the board. Higher interest rates are bound to favour the banks and oppress ‘Wanjiku’.

MANDATE

The MPs’ removal of the interest rate cap and their hesitation in enacting the constitutional two-thirds gender rule are just two examples that we need to use to gauge our democracy: the definition of democracy is, “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”.

Whether that is a presidential or parliamentary system is immaterial.

The Constitution defines it even better in Chapter 8 (94) (1) when it states: “The legislative authority of the Republic is derived from the people and, at the national level, is vested in and exercised by Parliament.”

One would, then, assume that MPs are, by obligation, in Parliament to represent the views and concerns of the people, who elected them.

Again, Chapter 8 (95) (2) on the role of Parliament encapsulates the key issue that takes MPs to Parliament in the first place: To “deliberate on and resolve issues of concern to the people”.

QUORUM HITCHES

Our democracy then falters when constituents fail to have their representatives air their grievances or represent them on matters that concern their welfare.

When quorum hitches occur in Parliament, and if it is due to an ‘act of God’, for instance, it is understandable.

But if it manifests through underhand deals — such as financial inducements, free beach holidays or using the voting time for luxurious activities — to frustrate the vote in favour of a third party (be it the Executive or lobbyists), then we have no democracy to speak of.

Parliament, just as ordinary citizens and other state organs, is meant to carry out their activities within the ambit of the law.

If an MP is legally meant to represent constituents but decides not to be in Parliament or sell his veto for selfish gain, it is time we, the people, started to ask the hard questions — such as where our MP was when we could not afford a mortgage, because they were not there to tell Parliament their constituents are too poor for prime mortgages and save them from loan sharks!

SEPARATION OF POWERS

MPs not being able to vote by following their conscience is anathema to a democracy.

It brings to question the whole notion of separation of powers, which has been discussed last week following claims of interference of the Judiciary by the Executive.

No one is saying a ruling party cannot mobilise its members to stand behind an issue of its interest in Parliament.

But if an MP feels the issue goes against the interest of his constituents or his conscience, then he should have the will to vote as he likes with no fear of reprisal.

Politics is, after all, about people and less about lobbyists hiding behind their cronies in government to influence Parliament.

The only way to lock out third parties with vested interests that are detrimental to the mwananchi is to drum into the arms of the government the true meaning of the separation of powers and the legal responsibilities our representatives have.

QUALITY WORK

Parliament is not the place to play politics with the lives and livelihoods of Kenyans.

It is where the welfare of the people needs to be discussed and improved upon.

It is time we said goodbye to quorum hitches and got Parliament working on its mandate.

Its success will be measured by the decent quality of life for the investment banker as well as the jua kali artisan.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. kdiguyo@gmail.com @kdiguyo
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Members of Parliament hold a session on November 21, 2018. Lack of quorum has become synonymous with Parliament over the years. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Nigeria - Works Minister Fashola: Roads not that bad?
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by FricNews
Nov 11, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By Hope Eghagha

It was with infinite sadness that I read a statement that was credited to respected Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, former governor of Lagos State, to the effect that Nigerian ‘roads were not as bad as we portray them’. For those who have travelled the roads in Nigeria in the last one year, the statement flies in the face of hard facts. For the avoidance of doubt, I would like to quote the Hon. Minister in full: “the roads are not as bad as they are often portrayed. I know that this is going to be your headline, but the roads are not that bad”. I refused to believe the statement credited to the poster boy for good governance in his Lagos days, some body I had had absolute faith in; that if there was going to be any change, it would come with the presence of such men of character like Raji Fashola. This statement therefor is out of character; it is a misjudgement of the situation and he owes his admirers an apology, I dare say.Mr. Fashola shot into national fame as Governor of Lagos because of his no-nonsense and strategic approach to governance. He walked the talk. He drove round Lagos without the typical fanfare of state governors to know the real problems of the state. The Badagry Marina rail track which he started was a strategic project which subsequent governments have abandoned.  Indeed, when it came to light that Fashola’s second term ambition as governor of Lagos was threatened, I was one of those who said that if Fashola was denied the opportunity, all hope was lost for Nigeria and migration should be an option. I was that steadfast. At a point Fashola was quoted as saying that we should pray that our loyalty is not tested. Very deep, very instructive in godfather politics. When he was appointed minister to head three super ministries during President Buhari’s first term, I was also one of those who felt that the powers-that-be were bent on demystifying the efficient and goal-getting Minister. I was not proved wrong. When the first tenure ended, Nigerians were not impressed. Fashola, who had once boasted that a government that could not solve the power problem had no business being in government, became an apology to the nation on power generation and distribution.

The truth is that roads, both state and federal across the country, are in a terrible shape. The craters which we run into when travelling Lagos-Benin on to Warri, the huge potholes if you travel by road to Abuja and even between Abuja and Minna show that we are in a state of emergency. In some cases, the roads have virtually disappeared. Travellers drive into the bush through old routes in a very hazardous manner. Heavy duty trucks break down in some cases because of the bad roads causing a build up of traffic. A journey of one hour could last three hours or more. Terrible accidents leading to loss of lives have also been on the increase. This is the reality which Nigerians travel every day. The statement by Fashola therefore is unfortunate. It is a desperate situation and it requires desperate measures. It has also happened that when state governments want to intervene, the federal authorities are reluctant to give approval. The purpose of this essay is to suggest positive steps to be taken in order to address this menace.

What can be done? What should be done? Short term measures include massive deployment of funds to road rehabilitation and reconstruction across the country. This would pump money into circulation and stimulate the economy thereby leading to job and wealth creation. Reputable contractors whose bills of quantity have been professionally verified should swing into action and make Nigeria a construction site. But beyond this, the road camp option which FERMA stands for should be vigorously pursued. Bad spots develop slowly. If we have a strong maintenance culture there should be immediate intervention before a mole hill becomes a mountain.

Road construction and maintenance require a change structurally. The roads which are under the control of the federal governments are too many. The federal government should consider the option of ceding some roads to the states and concentrate on issues that are more fundamental. In other words, road construction and maintenance in Nigeria cannot really improve as long as we maintain the present allocation of resources to the federal government and the states.

Mr. Fashola should remember that he made a name for himself as governor of Lagos State and ought to focus on retaining the positive image. I also know that the field of play at national level is somewhat different from the State’s. But whatever happens, the image of the name and the name itself must be kept. The ‘roads are not so bad’ statement is a serious gaffe. There are whispers across the country whether or not the government has an agenda that could make nonsense of those who takes exception to government’s moves. The name which one has made in years of service should not be muddied by a few reckless remarks because of the giddiness of power.It is not easy to earn a good name through governance in Nigeria. People enter with a good name and come out with a dented image. There must be something about political power in Nigeria that makes this a recurring nightmare. Too many lives have been lost through bad roads this year. Too many businesses have collapsed because a trailer-load of goods crashed while moving from one destination to another. I suggest that the Honourable Minister should do a road trip from Abuja to Lagos or from Lagos to Port Harcourt. I suggest also that all ministers and legislators should travel by road during these last months of the year led by Minister of Works. At the end of the trips, our dear minister would have a new story to tell.
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[FILE PHOTO] Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola
South Africa - Do sharing words of hope and unity create the reality of togetherness?
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by FricNews
Nov 08, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By Rudi Buys

Big for an underdog team in the world of rugby; big for togetherness in a troubled nation; even bigger than 1995 - these sentiments and headlines describe the Springboks winning the Rugby World Cup the past weekend.“In a country that struggles with real difficulties, that needs unity, this victory shows that together we can achieve anything,” said our enigmatic Springbok captain and coach, Siyamthanda Kolisi and Rassie Erasmus.

Francois Pienaar, our celebrated 1995 World Cup-winning captain, declared the victory more important than the one a year after our first democratic election in 1994.

“This is bigger because it is a transformed team, (with) 58 million people watching in South Africa, and all races would have woken up wearing green,” Pienaar said.

However, not everyone shares these sentiments. Several commentators critique the claims of a transformed team and a South Africa united in support of the national side.

Referring to continued racial dynamics in the sporting code, the claimed racist incidents involving Springbok players, and the increasing racial and social distances that plague South African society, critics question the validity and wisdom of public messages that declare the Springbok victory a symbol of South African unity and togetherness.

Even if the captain and coach make statements to show the team appreciate the reality of the struggles that everyday South Africans live with, their attempt at being a symbol of hope does not represent reality, critics claim. The relationship between “language and reality” is an important question that underlies the social dynamics of how people make sense of symbolic public events. In its most basic form this question asks if language “creates” reality, by changing our perspective on it, or “mirrors” reality, by describing and mapping what we perceive as the facts of the world around us.

So, for instance, one may ask: do a diversified team and the captain’s claim that the whole country backed the Springboks mirror or create a reality of togetherness? Language as a human activity is our primary medium of sense-making.

We use “basic” words to describe individual experiences in rich detail, such as Kolisi’s story of struggle to rise from boyhood to be the first black Springbok captain. We describe shared experiences in “broader” terms, such as the traumas shared and heard to heal a nation at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission following the birth of our democracy.

And, we use more “generic” terms to name categories of experiences we consider critical to make sense of together, such as national projects to achieve social cohesion. Different ways of making sense of symbolic public events often relate to these categories of language we use to read messages about the reality we perceive. However, core features of what we understand reconciliation to be run across the different ways of naming, relating and debating it - features that are “prototypes” of diverse experiences of a theme of our lives, such as for reconciliation.

Cross-racial togetherness, shared aspirations and hopefulness may represent prototype features of what we consider reconciliation in the South African context - features of reconciliation one may observe across individual and shared experiences, and in public discourses on symbolic events. Reading for prototype features of national unity and hope allows you to connect individual and community experiences of societal transformation, and symbolic instances wanting to serve that goal.

Recognising similarities in how we describe moments of togetherness enable public events to become “exemplars” of the reality we want to create and mirror.

* Buys is the executive dean and dean of humanities of the private and non-profit higher education institution, Cornerstone Institute.
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Nigeria - Looming youth unemployment crisis
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by FricNews
Nov 08, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By Punch Editorial Board

Concerns expressed recently by the African Development Bank about the desperate lack of decent job opportunities for Nigeria’s teeming youth population are legitimate and spot on. Beyond mirroring the present state of affairs, they also foreshadow the forlorn future being bequeathed to this class of unfortunate Nigerians, who are also the future of the country. Admittedly, such concerns are not new, but coming from a respected international organisation, there are hopes that the Nigerian authorities would be jolted out of their present inertia into urgent action to turn things around.

It was indeed a sobering moment for Nigerians when the Senior Director, Nigeria Country Department of the AfDB, Ebrima Faal, described the unemployment situation in the country as not only frightening, but also catastrophic. In 2013, a former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, had also raised serious concern about youth unemployment in Nigeria, which he likened to a time bomb. “We have almost 150 universities in this country, turning out these young Nigerians every year but without jobs for them,” he lamented. Again, in May, it was the turn of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, to make his own appraisal, describing the rate of unemployment as alarming.

Their opinions could not have been more apt, as the country’s youths are currently experiencing a most torrid time. More than 10 million of them are classified as out-of-school – the largest of such a group in the world – and are therefore left with little or no hope for the future. They constitute the pool from which groups like Boko Haram and bandits draw their membership. But those who have graduated from universities are, sadly, also roaming the streets, looking for what to do.

Unemployment rate has been put at 23.63 per cent and underemployment at 16.6, climbing up to 33.5 per cent in 2020. Youth unemployment and underemployment are 55.4 per cent, says the National Bureau of Statistics. Years of economic mismanagement and absence of policy direction by successive administrations have driven the economy to the precipice. Things are only expected to get worse unless there are concrete plans for job creation. Programmes such as N-Power and TraderMoni are merely tokenistic or cosmetic, which is why poverty has become so endemic in the country.

About 11 million Nigerians are actively looking for work, the NBS adds. The number is growing. For a country whose economy has been struggling in the past five years, caught in spells of recession and stunted growth, the future can only be ominous. Government programmes of job creation have been failing because it is not the job of the government to directly create jobs for every Nigerian. The government can only provide an enabling environment for the private sector to create jobs.

One very important factor militating against adequate job creation has been the absence of stable power supply for Nigerian manufacturers to compete with their counterparts the world over. It is shameful that Africa’s largest economy runs on over 3,000MW of electricity, while the second largest, South Africa, boasts over 52,000MW. A Reuters report of May 2018 put the amount of electricity usage in New York City, in the United States, at 33,956MW in 2013. “In 2017, demand peaked at 29,699MW, which was 7.4 per cent below 2016’s peak of 32,075MW,” said the report, quoting New York Independent System Operator.

Before the advent of democratic rule, Nigeria was running on a little over 2,000MW. Twenty years after, the situation has not changed drastically. In fact, with the expansion of the economy and growth in population, it can only be said that the situation has worsened. Experts have consistently averred that without electricity, there is no way adequate job creation can take place.

Interestingly, Faal was particularly worried about the impact of population growth on the fate of the Nigerian youth population, which he said would hit the 130 million mark by 2063. “As the most populous nation in Africa, the World Population Review estimates that the population of Nigeria is expected to double – from 200 million today to 413 million people by 2050,” he said. No country can allow its population to be growing uncontrollably, without matching infrastructure provision and job creation for the teeming youth.

This is the time for Nigeria to take a second look at her population that is growing faster than the rate of economic growth. When China, the most populous country in the world, was having problems dealing with a rapid and uncontrolled population growth, the country came up with the one-child policy – limiting each family to one child. To run concurrently with that policy was a comprehensive economic plan that has now propelled that country into the forefront of economic and technological advancement. Aside from successfully controlling her population, China is now threatening to overthrow the US as the largest economy in the world, having long overtaken Japan hitherto the second largest.

Here in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to take 100 million people out of poverty in the next 10 years, but this appears to be just a political statement. There is no concrete plan to see this through. After more than six decades of oil find in Nigeria, the country is still dependent on imports for her refined petroleum products, thus creating jobs abroad at the expense of Nigerians. Buhari may not have started it, but he is not lifting a finger to stop it.

To demonstrate his sincerity, he has to liberalise the railway and oil sectors to ensure solid private sector participation. He should also sell off the four moribund but money-guzzling refineries, which over 25 years of mismanagement has proved that the government cannot run effectively. Although some modest progress has been made in the ease of doing business, more needs to be done to encourage new businesses and a private-sector-led economy. Attracting foreign direct investment will also go a long way in creating jobs.
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Zimbabwe - It's time to engage Zimbabwe with a view to lifting sanctions
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by FricNews
Nov 06, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By David Monyae

Why is Zimbabwe’s economic crisis persisting and the economic sanctions applied by the western countries not lifted? After all, President Robert Mugabe has long ago left the political stage and subsequently passed on.Like South Africa, Zimbabwe had a significant number of white farmers, who not only dominated the political scene up to independence but continued to dominate the economy through ownership and profitable exploitation of that most important asset for which the struggle for economic independence was primarily waged: land.

Thus, when the Mugabe administration embarked on a haphazard land redistribution policy, white farmers were inescapably affected. This inevitably antagonised the British government, and relations between Zimbabwe and the UK became particularly fraught, especially during Tony Blair’s Premiership.

In 1999, civil society organisations and trade unions renounced their indirect opposition and formed a political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Because of the fractious nature of Zimbabwe’s political scene during the Mugabe years, cases of violence among political players were a common feature, more so during elections. The government was blamed and incurred sanctions from the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Sanctions remain firmly in place even after the advent of the Second Republic.

Zimbabwe pursued a ‘Look East’ “policy decidedly pivoted towards China” as the ambassador puts it. One of the most endearing aspects of China’s foreign policy towards African countries, especially those like Zimbabwe that endure Western sanctions and censure, is the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of partner-countries.

While China offers some respite, Zimbabwe still has to deal with the $5.6 billion (R82.38 billion) “owed to multilateral creditors such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank and bilateral creditors grouped under the rubric of the Paris Club and other non-Paris Club creditors, (which) disqualified Zimbabwe from accessing new financing for developmental programmes and productive sectors.”

Amid all the sullen realities, Zimbabwe has a lot of redeeming features; most importantly, it has “a literate, skilled, resilient and resourceful people within the country. Beyond its borders, it had a diaspora that, through remittances, helped to sustain families and communities and had the potential to contribute more to the development of the national economy.”

If Zimbabwe is to realise its ambition of being a middle income country by 2030, it will have to capitalise on the munificence and support of its partners, but also be seen to be determined to sanitise a highly volatile political landscape.

Vision 2030 is not merely tailored to improve the economy. It envisages for Zimbabwe “a path full of freedoms, democracy, transparency, love and harmony. A path of dialogue and debate. A path of unity, peace and development.”

The government has chosen a neo-liberal path to achieve Vision 2030. This path entails transparency and recourse for citizens that want to hold the government accountable.

Violently cracking down on opposition protesters bodes ill for Zimbabwe’s international reputation. The country cannot continue to isolate countries that have imposed sanctions on it.

The current government needs to create a conducive political climate and genuinely good international appeal.

It is, therefore, important for Britain to meaningfully re-engage Zimbabwe to find ways of normalising relations and lifting sanctions.

* Monyae is the director of Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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Kenya - Give women say in reproductive health rights, family planning
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by FricNews
Nov 06, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By Njeri Rugene

At a recent forum for journalists, we were told a sad story of a married mother of many children who has lost her bid to plan her now unmanageable family.

The youthful mother is in a polygamous marriage in a rural area. Here, among one of Kenya’s fiercely polygamous communities, the number of wives and children a man has is an indicator of his wealth.

She needed quality life, she figured, if only for the children. The man of the house could, clearly, no longer support them in these hard economic times. However, not to sire more children was not an option as far as he was concerned.

OVERBURDENED

And so the overburdened mother made a decision: She would be on contraceptives. She approached a younger co-wife and confided in her that she would seek family planning services. She made a deal with her co-wives that they continue “giving’’ their husband children as she focused on raising hers.

But somebody leaked the secret and the man gave the “rebel’’ two options: Adopt family planning and leave the marriage or continue giving birth and remain his wife. She chose to remain.

This woman’s is not an isolated case. There are many women, especially in rural areas, struggling to raise many children.

Despite the poverty, they continue giving birth. This is either due to ignorance, retrogressive cultural practices that shun family planning or, most unfortunately, lack of access to family planning.

CONTRACEPTIVES

There really should be no reason for anyone, woman or man, not to access contraceptives in this day and age. The government must ensure that the woman is empowered to plan her family, and life, through family planning if she wants it.

There’s no debate that the well-being of women and girls translates to that of families, communities and the entire nation.

There must be political will to not only empower women, girls and the youth to access their sexual and reproductive health rights but to also invest in family planning. This includes access to information, policies and services that prevent unplanned pregnancies and to have a say on the number of children to have, how to space them and when to have a child.

The national and county governments must take the lead in removing barriers to empowerment, education and progress of women and girls. All must know that family planning not only prevents unwanted pregnancies but also protects mothers’ and children’s lives.

FAMILY PLANNING

Population Reference Bureau (PRB) statistics show Kenya loses 5,500 mothers yearly to pregnancy- and birth-related complications. The data also shows that one in every 19 Kenyan children die before their fifth birthday.

Angeline Siparo, PRB’s Country Director, Kenya and Regional Technical Advisor, East and Southern Africa, contends that if counties prioritised family planning, we could avert the loss of an additional 2,138 lives by 2020.

Indeed, such grim figures can be avoided if women are free to decide on the number and spacing of their children. That is why propagandists, hypocrites, busybodies and self-seeking politicians who seek to dictate to women what to do with their bodies must be called out.

As we head into the electioneering season, the politicians are wont to ask women to give birth to countless children for their communities can have “the numbers” and, hence, votes. Never mind that those making the call have an average of four children whom they can comfortably raise!

PROPAGANDA

And, for the same reasons, let us shun those misrepresenting, through propaganda and misinformation, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25). The high-level three-day summit in Nairobi from November 12 is convened by the Kenyan and Danish governments in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Empowerment of women and girls, the power of gender equality, youth leadership and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and upholding the same, will be the key issues at ICPD25.

Ms Rugene is consulting editor. njeri.rugene@womansnewsroom.africa @nrugene
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Viola Eburo, 24, cuddles her two children at her home in Tiaty, Baringo County, on October 3, 2019. She has eight children and does not embrace family planning. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Kenya - Rapidly rising city population calls for leadership with ideas
Image Profile
by FricNews
Nov 06, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By Jaindi Kisero

What I find most striking in the census figures released by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics on Monday is the population growth rate in our capital city. The number of people living in Nairobi, now at 4.7 million, has been growing by almost a million yearly — a scale of rural-urban migration that is unprecedented in recent history. In the previous census, in 2009, the city’s population was 3.1 million.

The paradox is that the unprecedented influx of people into the city is happening in the context of biting urban unemployment, poor infrastructure, deteriorating quality of health and water services, chaotic commuter transport services and dilapidated housing.

TRADITIONAL SLUMS

Nairobi is buckling under the weight of just too many people. One sub-county alone — Embakasi, in the Eastlands — now has a population of 988,000.

This is part of the area that includes the sprawling concrete jungles in densely populated places like Dandora, Umoja, Kayole, Tassia, Obama all the way to Chokaa and Ruai.

It seems that complex urbanisation trends are unfolding right under our noses and the sprawling concrete jungles of poorly planned houses mushrooming faster than the traditional slums with mud and tin roofs and walls. It all points to the growing “informalisation” of the urban economy.

The informal economy is growing much faster than the formal one. Which is not a good trend, because the growing informalisation of the Nairobi economy is why we see a lot of chaos in the city: The way we drive unnecessarily aggressively and without regard to traffic regulations, our propensity to walk on the road rather than the pavement and the matatu playing loud music and making maximum noise with the horn in silence zones are all examples of lack of discipline in the contemporary Nairobi society.

RAPID GROWTH

The rapid population growth in the city and the rising number of people working in the informal sector therein has political implications.

Our national capital is becoming more vulnerable to protests and streets riots, especially during elections. The rapid informalisation of the economy of the city is a political time bomb waiting to explode into an Arab Spring.

Urbanising is nearly 10 per cent of the population of the country. Our people are moving into the city in droves and putting enormous pressure on services.

More than at any other time, Nairobi needs informed leadership. The pity is that the bureaucracy running the city right now — the county government under Governor Mike Sonko — has proved to be totally bereft of new ideas.

Instead of seeking to develop an organised commuter transport service system providing scheduled services in all parts of the city at competitive rates while ferrying large volumes every day, the leadership has allowed the matatu sector to entrench itself and dominate Nairobi’s commuter sector.

WORKING MODEL

Older residents of Nairobi will remember with nostalgia the days when you would wait at a bus stop knowing the exact time the bus would arrive — and leave.

That system worked because the city authority was a major investor in the public transport system and co- owned the defunct Kenya Bus Services with an international player.

Long before public-private partnerships became a fad in this country, Nairobi was successfully running a working model with the British firm Stage Coach.

The city authorities’ record on markets has been utterly dismal. It long gave up the idea of building markets, hence the rapid growth and expansion of hawking. Unplanned kiosks are mushrooming at very corner.

Chaos bedevils the business of oil marketing. Instead of branded petrol stations operating with strict standards, what you see are “independent” petrol stations. In Eastlands, non-branded stations are being built in the backyards of residential houses in heavily populated areas.

Nairobi needs leaders with new ideas, which will not come from the populists and demagogues running the county government today.

TECHNOLOGY

Which brings me back to the latest census. In the context of devolution, a national census is today a politically sensitive affair because it forms the basis of evidence-based sharing of revenues between counties.

But critics should not worry too much because today’s technology has made it possible to test the results of the census. In the technological age we live in, data from the census can be tested against more regularly and updated with databases such as electoral registers, Huduma Namba, birth registers and mobile phone companies and customer databases of utilities such as power and water companies.

Therefore, if you don’t like the numbers, approach the issue scientifically — not with political noises.

jaindikisero@gmail.com
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Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani (left) hands President Uhuru Kenyatta the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census results at State House, Nairobi, on November 4, 2019. The results have been con
Nigeria - Don’t import doctors, improve medical practice
Image Profile
by FricNews
Nov 06, 2019 - 8:11
Opinions
By Editorial Board

A disclosure the other day by the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire that the Federal Government would employ the services of foreign medical doctors has expectedly come under fire by concerned Nigerians. The plan, which is being pushed under the pretext of curbing medical tourism is misguided and should be terminated forthwith.The embarrassing proposal is not what the people expect the government to do at this stage given the poor and debilitating condition of healthcare in the country. Besides, no foreign doctors would accept to work in our ill-equipped hospitals that Nigerian doctors are running away from. From all indications, the government has not thought through this bizarre idea that should not have emanated from Africa’s richest and most populous country. 

The minister who made the disclosure during the 2020 budget defence session said the move would strengthen the nation’s health sector without saying how it would be feasible.

According to Ehanire, officials of the ministry were in touch with foreign embassies for specialists who would work in hospitals across the country for specified periods. 

At a time when Nigerian doctors are leaving in droves for foreign countries in search of better conditions,  it is unfortunate that government is mulling the importation of specialist doctors from Europe and United States as if there are no specialist doctors in Nigeria. 

It needs to be re-stated that the solution to the burgeoning medical tourism by Nigerians is not by importing doctors from abroad but by equipping our hospitals appropriately with the right medical personnel in place. The right atmosphere must be created as a step towards stemming the trend. Constant electricity, for instance, is a sine qua non. Foreign doctors will not work in darkness when they arrive. 

The need for an improved healthcare system in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised. A lot has been written on this important subject even by this newspaper. Specifically, all the issues involving healthcare provision in Nigeria stem from the insufferable poor health infrastructure and funding.

Otherwise, every other critical need for world-class medicare is available in the country. Nigeria is blessed with some of the best medical doctors in the world. And they are working in some of the best-equipped medical centres in the world. Their records of breakthroughs are available to the government. They always talk about them when it comes to the rhetoric on Nigeria’s endowments. In other words, most of our best medics are out there in foreign countries where the conditions are better. The poor healthcare infrastructure, in particular, coupled with poor remuneration of doctors is responsible for the mass migration of our medical experts. 

The other day, it was reported that a personal doctor to Mrs. Hilary Clinton, the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate in the 2016 race is a Nigerian doctor by name Oladotun Okunola. 

This newspaper has repeatedly noted that there are many other Okunolas out there in the diaspora, who could have been serving in the country if the conditions were suitable. Poor facilities in our healthcare facilities are a serious setback. Only a purpose-driven and robust funding can attract the best physicians home. It is therefore curious why that is not being pursued, especially now that our leaders are being criticised daily for trooping abroad for even minor ailments.  

Without being prodded, the government ought to recognise that the country is in trouble if there is no adequate healthcare for the teeming population too. There is a need for a re-calibration of the healthcare system for efficiency in serving the population.

This is to be seen as a matter of leadership. Who is at the helm of affairs in the health ministry is critical. But behind any successful health minister, there is a committed and visionary leader driven by a political party’s philosophy of service delivery. 

We recall that the former Minister of Health, Olikoye Ransome Kuti, raised the nation’s healthcare delivery to a historic world standard through his primary healthcare programme that attracted international attention. Many international agencies supported the programme. UNICEF vehicles and personnel were found everywhere in the country, especially, in the rural areas implementing different aspects of the programme. That lofty programme has been destroyed through underfunding and poor attention by our elected but irresponsible leaders at all levels. 

It is, therefore, a reproach that wealthy Nigerians and our public officers continue to flock to foreign countries to seek medical help while the poor are condemned to avoidable deaths. That is a sad commentary for a country that is supposed to be a model for Africa. 

The need to raise the benchmark for funding of the health sector is critical and that is the starting point. Certainly, the thought of importing foreign doctors at this juncture is a wild goose chase as a result of many constraints. A huge amount of money is involved. The poor budget of the health sector that is less than the one for water resources cannot withstand this pressure when it is juxtaposed with conditions of service for medics in Europe and North America government is targeting. 

Statistics from the British government shows that Nigerian medics constituted 3.9 per cent of the 202 nationalities working alongside British doctors and nurses. Reports further indicate that many more Nigerian doctors could join the migration because the UK is in need of medics from the Commonwealth countries, as doctors from the European Union (EU) were leaving following the Brexit challenge.

Also, figures from the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), show that about 45,000 doctors were practising in Nigeria at present with some 12 per cent of the 45,000 doctors or 5,405 practising in the UK. The implication of this revelation is that Nigeria is left with only 40,000 doctors, excluding those working in the U.S., South Africa, Saudi Arabia and others. This is grossly inadequate for a population of about 200 million people.

Lest we forget, Nigeria’s leader whose wife just returned from a medical vacation in the United Kingdom is at this moment in London for medical check-up, although they curiously told us it is a private visit. Specifically, President Muhammadu Buhari has spent 242 days in the United Kingdom alone since 2015 on health grounds that could have been handled at home if the facilities were available. That is why it will be some blight on his record, if the cock crows at the dawn of May 29, 2023 his exit date, without some well equipped national hospitals at home where our people and leaders can be examined and treated.  

So, Nigeria’s leader should return home from November 17 to set up the machinery to improve the general condition of medical practice in the country, instead of allowing recruitment of foreign doctors that we can’t afford. 
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Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire
Nigeria - Curbing the menace of cross-border banditry
Image Profile
by FricNews
Nov 04, 2019 - 9:11
Opinions
By Editorial

AS the battle to contain the unprecedented onslaught of bloodthirsty bandits rages in the North, questions still linger over the manner of Nigeria’s response to the insecurity crisis of the magnitude currently playing out in that part of the country, especially the threat posed by cross-border banditry. In particular, concerns have been raised about the porous nature of the borders that allows criminals to saunter in and out of the country, virtually unchallenged. Even in the few instances where they are arrested, people are still not sure what happens thereafter.

These posers become more compelling after some suspected criminals, many of them in military fatigues, were paraded in Abuja recently. Numbering 81 with alleged offences ranging from armed robbery to kidnapping and cattle rustling, they were mostly foreigners from Nigeria’s northern neighbours. They paraded an armoury that would be the envy of many military outfits – an admixture of AK-47 rifles, grenade launchers, even locally-manufactured guns and several rounds of ammunition. It is little wonder that the police are usually no match for them. Also on display was N10 million cash, part of the ransom they had been collecting from their abducted victims.

Hardly a day passes without news of bandits sacking villages and taking people into custody, until ransoms are paid for their release. The choice of victims ranges from village heads to ordinary farmers. In some cases, paying ransom may not guarantee the return of a victim alive. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker, produced by the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, 262 civilian deaths were recorded by April this year, compared to the 288 for the whole of last year and the 52 deaths recorded in 2017. This is a worrying trend attributable, in the main, to banditry.

Aside from sabotaging the Nigerian economy, unmanned borders allow criminals in from countries such as Chad, Niger and Cameroon, with a mission to pillage and kill before beating a quick retreat to their countries. In a confession that would tug at the heartstrings, one of the criminals narrated how they dragged a woman out of the car and took turns in raping her in the presence of her husband, children and mother-in-law. The same criminal explained that, although he was a farmer, he decided to combine farming with armed robbery, perhaps to maximise his profits.

Despite the danger posed by cross-border banditry, the country has failed to come to grips with the very important issue of border policing, especially in the northern parts where the foreigners are taken as their kith and kin. No serious country throws its borders open to all and sundry the way Nigeria does. How did the people paraded by the police come into the country without anybody stopping and deporting them? Reports have it that, sometimes, they launch an invasion in long and noisy motorcycle convoys, carrying two heavily armed bandits on each and firing their guns as they pass through villages.

That the country has very long borders stretching for thousands of kilometres should not be an excuse. After all, countries such as the United States, Russia and China also boast even longer borders that are well-policed. In fact, Donald Trump has been waging an unceasing battle with the US Congress and neighbouring Mexico over his determination to ensure that unwanted immigrants are kept away from the borders. He even toyed with the idea of adding alligator-infested moat to his pet project of building a wall to keep away immigrants whom he blames for every ill in his country. With the advancement in technology and aerial surveillance, unwanted immigrants can be kept away. It does not require the physical presence of security agents lining the entire length of the borders.

Not infrequently, stories and photographs are published of the arrest of bandits with their mass of sophisticated weapons. But, afterwards, nothing is heard about the weapons. In a country reputed to be home to more than 70 per cent of the illicit small arms and light weapons in West Africa, any arms seizure as is commonly done should be publicly destroyed. In 2016, the Kenyan authorities set fire on 5,250 firearms to discourage the circulation of illegal weapons in that country.

Besides, and very importantly, the Nigerian authorities have to invoke the laws to deal with criminality. In 2015, when Boko Haram first made incursions into Chad in twin attacks in the capital, N’Djamena, that claimed 38 lives, the country quickly put those arrested on trial. After finding them guilty, 10 terrorists faced the firing squad. The terrorists had targeted a school and a police building, leaving more than 100 wounded in addition to the dead. Nigeria could also achieve a lot by prompt prosecution and working in close collaboration with her neighbours.

If the police can take the pains to parade the criminals, then they should go a step further to diligently prosecute them under the Nigerian laws. Doing so will serve as a deterrent to many others. Although this is not to say that the criminals are not being prosecuted, the authorities owe it to Nigerians to make their prosecution public so as to banish the unfounded belief by some people that they are usually set free, asked to go and sin no more. Trying and sentencing bandits who commit atrocities will also free the country from the criticism of the human rights groups who are always finding faults with the way detainees are treated in the country.
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