Re: Press Release by Minister of Agriculture

More than often we are left at the mercy of someone who knows somebody that in turn knows somebody, to find out what our government agencies are up to. The Minister of Agriculture- Mr. Akinwumi Adesina has recently reacted to the public outcry on the issue of mobile phones and the 10 million farmers via an online link, confirming my fears that a ministry spearheading this e-revolution for farmers does not have its own website or public domain with contact details.  I hope the ministry will soon deem it fit to pinch out N100, 000 from its proposed N48billion capital expenditure in its 2013 budget.

Once the press release was out, a lot of people assumed the government was no longer buying mobile phones for the farmers; they probably read only the first paragraph and nodded along.

This should have been a private email to the Minister of Agriculture but one can’t afford courier serves in the absence of an email and direct online access to the ‘transformation’ ministry. I would also advice that next time; the ministry should ensure that the SA to the Presidency desist from representing its interests on social media specifically Twitter, as this will only yield catastrophic results.

This is a paragraph-by-paragraph reaction to the press statement which will possibly spurn an increased interest in what the Ministry is really up to.

 

 

Minister of Agriculture

My attention has been drawn to the issue of 60 Billion Naira to be spent on phones for farmers, reported in some media sites and papers. The information is absolutely incorrect. My Permanent Secretary was totally misquoted out of context. There is no 60 Billion Naira for phones anywhere. As a responsible Minister, who takes public accountabilty and probity very seriously, there is absolutely no way in the world that I will even contemplate or approve such expenditure. All our focus as Government is on creating jobs in Nigeria, not exporting jobs elsewhere.

The opening paragraph is very emphatic: N60billion Naira will not be spent on phones for farmers. Such expenditure can’t be approved by the minister because he finds it unrealistic in this world and because he is responsible and accountable. He states that the transformation agenda is to create jobs in Nigeria yet my understanding of this opening statement however contradicts the body of the press release.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Reaching farmers through phones:

The policy the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is promoting is to get mobile phones to farmers, as part of its agricultural transformation agenda, to connect farmers to information, expand their access to markets, improve their access to savings and loans, and help them adapt to climate change dynamics that affect them and their livelihoods. We are also rapidly modernizing agriculture, and have moved away from agriculture as a development program to agriculture as a business, so we must modernize and use new tools to reach our farmers

In the second paragraph the ministry explains what reaching farmers through mobile phones is all about and the advantages are clearly spelt out. Who would not want our farmers to join the 21st century agricultural best practices? The agricultural transformation agenda seeks to change the direction of farming in Nigeria. And the minister confirms that the ministry is promoting a policy to get mobile phones to farmers. Can there really be smoke without a fire in all this? The Permanent Secretary definitely did not just cook up a statement on 10 million phones for 10 million farmers and this paragraph confirms that the ministry has at least a proposal on its table as regards this. What needs to be clarified is the funding and direction.

 

Minister of Agriculture

The Power of information:

Agriculture today is more knowledge-intensive and we will modernize the sector, and get younger (graduate) entrepreneurs into the sector, and we will arm them with modern information systems. Whether small, medium or large farmers they all need information and communication systems. Connecting to supermarkets and international markets require that farmers know and meet stringent consumer-driven grades and standards. In today’s supply chains, the flow of information from buyers to farmers must be instant, to meet rapidly changing demands. Unless farmers have information at their fingertips, they will lose out on market opportunities.

Our goal is to empower every farmer. No farmer will be left behind. We will reach them in their local languages and use mobile phones to trigger an information revolution which will drive an agricultural revolution.

The ministry is bent on getting information across to farmers and younger graduates who are tech savvy by arming them with modern information systems. It is very clear that the ministry believes mobile phones will bring about significant change and that to empower every farmer; they need access to   information at their fingertips. Mobile phones are hoped to therefore replace agricultural extension services and trigger an information revolution.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Why cell phones?

Nigeria has 110 million cellphones, the largest in Africa. But there is a huge divide: the bulk of the phones are in urban areas. The rural areas are heavily excluded. For agriculture, which employs 70% of the population,  that means the farmers are excluded and marginalized. In today’s world, the most powerful tool is a mobile phone. As Minister of Agriculture, I want the entire rural space of Nigeria, and farmers, to be included, not excluded, from advantages of mobile phone revolution.

 

In order to drive home the agenda, the minister employs figures to back up his statements. He states that Nigeria has 110 million cellphones. According to the NCC, there are approximately 110 active mobile lines in Nigeria, what is the difference between 110 million cellphones, 110 million active lines and 110 million subscribers? Is it possible that half of the Nigerian population uses mobile phones? If the population of Nigeria is put moderately at 150million (which is debatable; I doubt our census statistics are without a high margin error) and 85 million Nigerians have active mobile lines, it is possible to have 110 million cellphones. Due to erratic power supply and poor service from service providers, Nigerians are known to have multiple phones and SIM cards. This ensures that they can switch between networks when services are down. The minister alludes that the bulk of these phones are in urban areas and the rural areas are heavily excluded. Take note that the bulk of 85 million subscribers would be about 50 million subscribers. His statement implies that about 50 million subscribers reside in urban areas. The minister goes on to state that agriculture employs 70% of the population i.e. about 105 million Nigerians. I wonder where these 105 million Nigerians employed by the agricultural sector reside: urban or rural areas. What percentage of those employed via agriculture are actually farmers? Of the 70% employed by agriculture, how many of them use mobile phones? If those excluded are farmers and Nigerians residing in rural areas, where does 70% of Nigeria’s population actually reside? The whole idea of what a rural area is may be subject to clarification, the minister’s statistics will never add up. A farm owner cannot be classified along with labourers who work on farms. If this high numbers of Nigerians are engaged in direct farming, what is the clamour on having more young people go into farming? The Ministry should be more concerned about the productivity of the existing farms; the US with 2.2million farms employed approximately 1.2 million workers in 2010. Improved and mechanized farming will not bring about more jobs if we get it right, only subsistence farming can employ millions with lesser productivity.

I spent a few days with a friend who resides in the United Kingdom last summer; he has farms in the Oke Ogun region of Oyo State with local staff strength of 30. He visits Nigerian once a year due to the hectic nature of his schedule in the UK but the few days I spent with him, revealed his management style. He makes an average of 3 calls per day to his farm manager and head of labourers. If individuals who run farms from the diaspora have access to their farms via mobile phones, one should wonder about which farmers the ministry must buy mobile phones for.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Access to input:

First, the mobile phones will be used to scale up the access of farmers to improved seeds and fertilizers to millions of farmers, directly. The federal government succeeded in 2012 in getting seeds and fertilizers to farmers, via the Growth Enhancement Support (GES), which used mobile phones to reach farmers with subsidized inputs. The system ended 40 years of corruption on fertilizers and cut off rent seekers and middlemen who – for decades – have entrenched massive corruption of the fertilizer sector. Government succeeded. The GES system reached over 1.2 million farmers in 120 days in 2012.
We succeeded because we used mobile phones to reach farmers directly and cut off the middle men and those who have cheated farmers for decades. We empowered the poor farmers, with many getting subsidized seeds and fertilizers from government for the first time ever. We brought transparency into what was perhaps the most corrupt system in Nigeria. We ended fertilizer corruption of four decades, in 90 days, because of mobile phone tools we deployed.

 

The minster moves on to outline his achievements noting that in 2012, the government through its GES programme ended 40 years of corruption on fertilizers. Kudos to the minister and his team, such a feat is very rare under the transformation agenda of President Jonathan and I hope other sitting duck ministers take a cue from him. In 120 days, the programme reached out to 1.2 million farmers- these figures would need to be further verified.  Did the Ministry promote or by any means facilitate the provision of free mobile phones to any of these 1.2 million farmers? If yes, where were the funds sourced from. If No, does that imply that the 1.2 million farmers could afford their own mobile phones? These questions are every germane as to understanding a scheme that put an end to 40years of fertilizer corruption. It is a transformation agenda that must be properly documented. Who is a farmer? Are we talking about subsistence farmers or has production capacity been used for categorization?

 

Minister of Agriculture

Revolutionary tool:

This is a revolution. Nigeria is the first country in Africa to develop such a system. The system has garnered international acclaim. Other African countries now want to learn from Nigeria. Major donors, including Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, DFID of the UK Government, USAID, World Bank, IFAD and the Africa Development Bank, want to scale up the GES system to other countries.

When the ministry says Nigeria is the first in Africa to develop such a system, what is the minister trying to say? Are we really the first to use mobile technology to connect farmers? Is the ministry familiar with the Grameen Foundation Village Phone project in conjunction with Google and MTN Uganda or similar projects in Kenya and Ethiopia? Of course these other programs come with modifications but the primary objective was to use mobile phones to connect with farmers. With the Google search page and information database being so easily accessible, the ministry should be careful with such misleading statements. It would be interesting to look at these case studies which extend even to India where we have to ask if their government gave out free phones.

 

Minister of Agriculture

How we will operate:

From 2013, government intends to distribute 10 million phones, so we can reach more millions of farmers with the GES scheme for subsidized inputs. We expect to reach at least 5 million farmers in 2013 with GES for access to subsidized inputs. So, farmers who get mobile phones will be registered and we will use their biometric information to reach them with electronic vouchers for seeds and fertilizers.

Alas the minister confirms that the government intends to distribute free phones, the only missing piece in this complex puzzle is the cost of acquiring the phones which he denounced in the first paragraph. There will be a distribution of phones and in 2013 alone, 5 million phones will be up for grabs by farmers and we can now confirm that they will surely get mobile phones.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Second, mobile phones will allow farmers to have financial inclusion, as financial institutions such as commercial banks and microfinance banks will be able to reach them with affordable savings and loans products. The phones will make the financial inclusion of the CBN in rural areas possible.

The mobile phones will allow financial inclusion, quite interesting. Are mobile phones the reason why less than 50% of Nigerians don’t have a bank account?

 

Minister of Agriculture

Third, the phones will make market price information available to farmers nationwide. Farmers lose a lot in marketing their produce. Middle men make all the profits. Farmers end up selling their products at very poor prices. This is because farmers do not have access to market price information. There is asymmetry of market price information. For many farmers their only sources of market price information are the middlemen. Mobile phones will allow us to get market price information to farmers, improve market access and empower farmers. This will allow farmers to have countervailing power in the market place.

Access to market price is very helpful to farmers but the cost of farming differs from region to region. Will farmers in the North increase the cost of Tomatoes just because they have an idea of how much   a basket of tomatoes goes for at Ketu market in Lagos? What is the cost of storage and haulage as regards price input? I am all in for farmers being empowered to make the best out of their sweat but I do not see how middle men will go away when it comes to sales of market produce. What about access to the farms as well as cost of production? The road networks amongst other things which do not fall under the control of the ministry of Agriculture are as important as these mobile phones, that is if they are not even the priority.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Fourth, we will use mobile phones to provide extension information to farmers, as part of our total overhaul of the extension system in the country. With a “Farmer Help Line” it will be possible to connect extension workers, colleges of agriculture, faculties of agriculture, and other experts to provide free extension services to farmers by interactive voice mail. This will include when to plant, what to plant, agronomic practices etc. At the dial of a number, the wealth of knowlege of experts will be connected to the farmers, anywhere they are in Nigeria – free of charge. Such a “Farmer Help Line” system is already in use in Kenya by poor farmers, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Fifth, the phones will allow the dissemination of real time weather information to farmers. It will be possible to alert farmers on drought or floods and reduce vulnerabilities to shocks. In case of the floods we witnessed last year, simple alerts over mobile phones would have saved many lives and helped farmers to know what to do

Great

 

Minister of Agriculture

Finally, the expanded number of phones in rural areas will support the expansion of rural telephony. Presently, the rural areas are not being served well by mobile operators, and are marginalized. With the expansion of mobile phones to millions of farmers, mobile phone operators will expand the number of base stations they have in rural areas. This will reduce the digital and communications exclusion of rural areas, where agriculture is the main source of income and jobs. The cost of calls in rural areas will also decline.

Will the Ministry also build a base station in the rural areas? What will attract what? Will farmers purchasing mobile phones make a telecommunication company build a base station, powered by generators and personal security or will this work the other way round? We must not forget that these 10 million farmers are not even in a specific cluster or zone so, what is the attraction to build base stations in the rural areas? Surely, not simply free phones being used by a number of farmers.  I recall the arrival of GSM service to Nigeria- customers procured mobile phones and SIM cards once the telcos announced they were connecting their cities or towns. In line with the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) approved strategic management plan (2013 – 2017), the agency intends to accelerate mobile phone expansion by subsidizing the costs of deploying base transceiver stations in underserved and unserved communities in Nigeria which the market will not ordinarily reach. It is suffice to say the USPF understands that the expansion of mobile coverage will naturally result in residents of these areas acquiring mobile phones for connectivity.

 

Minister of Agriculture

How will this be financed?

The distribution of the phones will be supported through an MoU signed between the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Communications Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, with the Ministry of Women Affairs. Out of the 10 million phones, 5 million will go to women. The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), which supports expansion of mobile operators into rural areas, through a tax, will support this initiative, in partnership with Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. We intend to work with existing mobile operators in Nigeria through a public-private partnership.

So we finally arrive at the crux of the whole debate- the source of funding for the mobile phones. With the words used so far, I know that when the Nigerian government uses the words promote and distribute they really mean freebies. There is no doubt that the Ministry is actively involved in a policy which seeks to give free phones to farmers though it is not a 2013 budget item for the ministry. Since we have not seen the final 2013 budget hurriedly passed by the National Assembly which I suspect is in agreement between the legislative and the executive, as long as the Senators and Honourables continue to enjoy the secrecy of how much they actually earn in allowances.  The ministry of agricultures’ total allocation in the proposed 2013 budget was N 81,683,474,280, recurrent expenditure stood at N 32,953,474,280 and total capital allocation was N 48,730,000,000. There is no way the ministry would be able to afford 5million phones in 2013.

The partners in this project are listed as the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Communications Technology, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Women Affairs.  Who exactly is funding the 5 million phones to be distributed in 2013? The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) does not have a provision for buying mobile phones in its listed projects from 2013 to 2017; it will be focused instead on investing in base stations. Should the USPF be coerced into funding these mobile phones? It must be noted that it is a government agency under the NCC and this in turn means the government is actually funding the free phones. If these funds are being made available under the guise of donor funds, aid money or concessional financing/assistance, Nigerians must know that it is another form of debt. “The Ministry intends to work with existing mobile operators” but intent is no confirmation that there is an agreement in this direction to fund the provision of these mobile phones in 2013.

 

Conclusion

  • The Minister denies the cost of the phones to the tune of N60b
  • The Ministry of Agriculture will distribute 5 million phones in 2013 and another 5 million phones subsequently
  • The source of funding for these phones and the actual reasons for it are not clear
  • The Minister and the Ministry are being economical with the truth as regards the funding of these free mobile phones.
  • The total cost of 10 million phones at the end of these project may be more than N60b

 

 

 

Links

Minister’s Press Release

https://www.dropbox.com/s/vosm4tz2lstximm/PRESS%20STATEMENT%20-%20Phones%20For%20Farmers.docx

Nigerian Communication Commission

http://ncc.gov.ng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=125:art-statistics-subscriber-data&catid=65:cat-web-statistics&Itemid=73

Universal Service Provision Funds

http://uspf.gov.ng/index.htm

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Nigeria: The 10 Million Farmers Mobile Phones Fiesta

Another debate has been kicked off with the government announcing a “step in one of its policy”. Because the people feel it is absurd, this development has caused an entire catalogue of arguments to be thrown back and forth. Nigerians see the government as being on another fantasy highway which speaks of everything real but in the long run leads to nothing real or sustainable. It is only expected this grand idea from a government that is corrupt and not in touch with reality, rings resounding bells in the head of the citizenry and no one seems satisfied with whatever the government will ever do. Irrespective of interests and divides, something must prevail which will define how the political office holders justify its intentions of managing the treasury in the best interests of both the state and her citizens. Every good policy and idea must be subjected to stringent scrutiny such that Nigerians can decide if politicians are working in the better interest of the country they have sworn to serve, or for their personal pockets.

A number of vocal and well-known voices have chosen to join the fray in putting the blame on the citizens especially the youths, backed by the theory that whatever is wrong with the government is a reflection of the society. The youths are labelled as being too angry and ignorant of how government works; hence they will attack the government rather than engage it.  Do the citizens need to have solutions to corruption before they voice their opposition to unbridled impunity? What happened to freedom of expression especially on matters concerning the state? The idea of berating the young populace as being ignorant, misinformed and too lazy to acquire information is not a sound argument, for even if it be true that they are guilty as accused, this will not be a crime exclusive to Nigerian youths. I wonder how many young Americans understood in detail what the fiscal cliff hullabaloo was all about save the literal inference that it would result in  people paying either more or less tax.

Within the European Union, agriculture is heavily subsidized yet it is vaguely known how many young Europeans understand the nitty-gritty of how this works. Another reference can be made on election matters; every country plays along its political divide the electorate can be manipulated on the basis of how information is made available to them. The essence here is not to advocate for a dumb young population but those who think young Nigerians should carry the blame for a failed country based on their ignorance on government policy should be more pro-active in salvaging the nation if they know better. In a country where the Senate and the House of Representatives have refused to make their allowances public despite the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, we have no choice but to question where the interest of the state lies.

This morning social media platforms went agog with news of the government’s intent to spend N60 billion ($380 million) on acquiring mobile phones for farmers. This isn’t a fresh idea as the Federal Ministry of Agriculture had announced this initiative sometime in 2012 during the commencement of its new fertilizer scheme.  The details however remained sketchy- it was not understood how the government planned to provide free phones for farmers and implement it in this scheme. For a government that loans billions of Dollars from the Chinese government and the World Bank to implement projects, preaching about prudent spending would only fall on deaf ears. Corruption is rife in our economic and political system and total debt is on the rise again. We need not debate the advantage of farmers having mobile phones as this has been   established via the positive outcomes of several pilot schemes i.e. Lifelines Soochna Se Samadhan in India – a joint venture between One World, British Telcom (BT) and Cisco. In Uganda the Grameen Foundation in partnership with MTN Uganda and Google developed mobile applications to deliver market information to farmers. http://www.ckw.applab.org/section/about-ckw. No one will win the debate on why and what Nigerian farmers need mobile phones for. What is however debatable is the implementation method our government plans to work with.

The Nigerian government with or without its thinking cap, led by the Minister of Agriculture has decided to adopt best practices from other countries – a laudable idea with a clause; the government plans to spend N60 billion ($380 million) i.e. an average of N6000 ($38) per phone, buying mobile phones for 10 million farmers., But we have to ask- what other things do we not know?  Has the government explored other alternatives of acquiring these gadgets without incurring such an exorbitant bill?  I believe the government is only planning to purchase and distribute these phones without providing free monthly airtime for these farmers.  How then do they expect to keep these lines active to send out information through relevant agencies, monitor the distribution of fertilizer and receive feedback from the farmers? There is virtually no information on partners who have signed up to develop and deploy the apps to be used on these phones. Any right thinking person will know there has to be a plan, but of course our government is not used to carrying its citizens along. I invite you to peruse the website of the ministry of agriculture which intends to run 21st century best practices with farmers and if you happen to find it, do let me know.

The failure of the government to embrace an open access approach to its plans and data will always result in the sort of backlash seen on social media platforms today. Anyone with access to a smartphone would have been relieved to be granted the opportunity to access a brief outlining the plans of the government in this scheme.  When the government talks about farmers, I struggle with the definition for the purpose of clarity- what characteristics and conditions make one a farmer for the purpose of this scheme? Farmers should be defined based on their production capacity. A number of people question if Nigeria truly has 10 million farmers. Are we to believe that the millions of subsistence farmers across the country are the target of this free mobile phone scheme? Is this the group the government is relying on to boost agricultural export and the much touted food sufficiency (I am even yet to come across any country with food sufficiency- did our minister mean food security)? No one is to blame for asking questions and doubting the sincerity of the government as nothing seems clear in this so-called transformation agenda.

Let us for the sake of argument assume that there are 10 million farmers in the database who have been earmarked to get mobile phones. Why did the government not try to facilitate a medium through which   these farmers could acquire mobile phones via the telecom companies we have in the country; an open bid process would have resulted in a fair and mutually beneficial deal.   Are there no such private telecom companies in Nigeria willing to take on 10 million new customers? A simple calculation where 10 million farmers spend N10 a day means that in ten days, they would have spent N1 billion and in one year N365 billion. This should be enough maths to entice a company to provide them free phones on a 3 year contract for starters. A review of the countries where this scheme has been implemented shows that the role of the government is limited to policy and the facilitation of a viable environment for the growth and sustainability of the program. Using Uganda as an example, we see that private investors and foundations were involved. Buying mobile phones for the farmers with the prospect of awarding contracts by the Federal Executive Council via their Wednesday rituals has surely robbed the Minister of Agriculture and his aides of thinking outside the box. I find this idea unsustainable in the long run; will the government keep buying mobile phones and airtime for farmers? Can these farmers even charge the phones to keep them working from their remote locations? Where do the app developers come in?  Has there been any input from the much celebrated tech hubs like Co-Creation Nigeria which is in partnership with budgiT? http://yourbudgit.com/

As our government sets to acquire 30 aircrafts in the days to come, I am quite worried knowing that these policies do not represent a consistent economy policy, be it elements of capitalism or socialism ultimately the government will be unable to account for its investments.

Once again we welcome another transformation agenda that is set to transform pockets and nothing else.

Nigeria: The Confinement of the State

The recent news regarding the expulsion of 200 students from Covenant University- a Christian run institution owned by the founder of Winners Chapel Worldwide Bishop Oyedepo has drawn a lot of debate. The basis for their expulsion was described by the University as a disregard of paramount core values including not attending a departure service marking the end of the semester, smoking and violating other rules bordering on the University’s core values. As expected, the heated arguments summarily take sides with either the expelled students or the University. There are several perspectives on this matter depending on individual convictions or beliefs in a country where the interpretation of the law is not sacrosanct unless there is a public outcry and sometimes, not even then.

Underlying all the debates however is the issue of the influence of the church in the affairs of the state; the separation of these institutions and limits to the power they wield. The state does not appoint the head of the church nor participate in her intra-organisational activities and in turn, the church does not appoint presidents or governors, provided the rule of law exists. There are overbearing influences and lapses as a result of the multiple identities of citizens who are Christians and work in government. However, the state remains a neutral party in activities involving religious organisations and the rights of citizens to practice their faith or live as atheists. The right of one person or a group of people to practise Christianity does not justify any claim on Nigeria as   a “Christian Nation” neither is it grounds for promoting a “Christian” political agenda bearing in mind that we have a good percentage of non-Christians in the country.

More than often, the popular Christian interpretation of Psalm 105:15 “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm” (Holy Bible, NIV), has shaped the thinking of many citizens when it comes to issues relating to the church and its leadership. How do we present this religion and its activities as deserving of more protection without subduing the other interests and rights that are equally important before the law? Does the society portray these religious rights and its activities as outweighing all other rights? How do we set out to protect religious rights as a fundamental right, yet avoid its misguided and unintended manifestations and interpretations?

The society is built on fundamental laws which relate to justice, rights, crime etc. in order to guide the state.  When these religious beliefs and practices are in conflict with the fundamental laws on which a society is built, which one trumps? To what extent must a religious act be reprehensible before the state applies the rule of law? Ultimately these questions border on defining what is a private or public case and the interface between civil and religious rights. To a large extent, religious conviction is a subjective conviction based on human preference/choice; one could have a change of mind as to which faith to subscribe to without consequences. Ethics and morals guided by religious beliefs will always be contentious in a secular state. The rule of law in a multi religious state should not derive authority from religious books, institutions or authority. The ambiguity remains in a society which cannot clearly define the function of the state and subject everyone to the rule of law.

Martin Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms implies that GOD rules the world in two ways;  the earth through the government which a lot of churches misunderstand as not  being the state, which exists   by the law and the heavenly – the spiritual kingdom ruled through the gospel of grace. The Roman Catholic Church shares this same opinion with its doctrine of two swords. The function of the state must be exercised to the letter in ensuring law and order and protecting the rights of every citizen. While on earth the activities of all religious beliefs and rights must conform to the laws of the state, the duty of the state in overseeing conformity cannot be given up lest there be chaos.

To a larger extent, the activities of Covenant University is guided and defended by the rights to freedom of association and religion and by extension, the church and its leadership. Bishop Oyedepo acknowledges such authority by applying to the state for the license to operate a private university. The state has however failed in its primary duty to oversee that the university does not abuse its right via incidences such as the recent expulsion of students. Neither the Minister of Education nor the Nigerian University Commission has reacted to the news possibly because in carrying out their statutory functions, the state is simply overwhelmed by the religious sentiments of its individual actors.

Quoting from the excerpts of Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people, which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

The Nigerian state must rise to the occasion to resolve the impending crisis arising from the expulsion of these 200 students from Covenant University; the state must not set precedence for wrong religious manifestations over the rights of her citizens.  In speaking of religious manifestations, the state must not set precedence for wrong religious manifestations (referring to Islam, Christianity and all other faiths) over the rights of her citizens.  Tomorrow like yesterday will throw up very contentious issues related to religious freedom and rights, as this debate has been on for far too long.

Fashola and ‘okadas’ – Lagos can’t become New York overnight

The merit of banning okadas* from the streets of Lagos is an easy one; this particular means of transport is prone to accidents, the okada riders are unruly, they flout every single traffic law and they may be worse or better off, above all safety concerns for the lives of passengers is a priority.   It is understandable that there is a desire to transform Lagos into a mega city at all cost but definitely not government’s failure into hardship for the residents of Lagos.  Are there alternatives to cushion the effects of Okada restriction on certain roads of Lagos? Couldn’t Fashola have embarked on a structured phase out plan which will ban Okadas on certain streets with the provision of alternative means of transportation and why the sudden rush to implement it?

A lot of state capitals across the country have banned Okadas. As the commercial hub of the country; Lagos is different in terms of her demography and population, making transportation means and road networks important factors especially for business. Productivity in Lagos is highly dependent on efficiency; whether for the transport of goods, labor, or services between point A and B. Creativity and thinking out of the box is required in a mega city such as Lagos where the challenges range from traffic congestion, parking difficulties, the inadequacies of public transport, difficult access to pedestrians and availability of land/space for expansion and development.

Governments are large institutions which make informed/uniformed choices that affect everyone.  The premise upon which political legitimacy and authority to govern is crested is based on the idea of a binding social contract, in which we agreed to surrender our freedom in exchange for the protection of our rights.  According to Thomas Hobbes, in the state of nature, human beings would be selfish, nasty and unimaginable, without law and order the chaos that will be visited upon one another would be a bellum omnium contra omnes.

We can take this argument further by examining the type of government we have to contend with, a hybrid democratic regime such as the one we have in Nigeria cannot be void of institutional failures. When the Lagos state government embarked on making new traffic laws, it was very clear that the state wanted a departure from the past; from the sensible provisions banning pregnant women and kids from riding on okadas to the unreasonable provisions criminalising traffic offences.  A state governed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria should know better than to criminalise traffic offences. Hopefully one of his learned colleagues will challenge this in court; one won’t be surprised to find the next candidate of the opposition party arrested for a silly offence such as eating while stuck in the world renowned Lagos traffic and hence be convicted and barred from contesting.

Note that this traffic law was passed into law by the Lagos State House of Assembly, a clear case of elite wannabe politicians making laws that affect citizens without consideration of the potential and actual effects of such stiff laws. Afterall, not a single political office holder in Alausa needs to make use of public transport; their salaries and allowance has washed them clean of the hardship they once endured in the past, okada is no longer for their class.

The Lagos traffic law, which can be downloaded from here, contains on page 2 the provisions for Okadas with schedule II listing the roads they cannot ply.  Curiosity may further drive you down the list from page 29 to 42 where one may expect a full ban of okadas on all highways. The list includes not only less highways but also unpaved and unmotorable pedestrian roads and then you wonder- of what benefit is the ban. Alimosho LGA which is the most densely populated area of the state boasts of bad road networks, congestions, no new access roads in the last decades. It is also a mess to ply some areas during the rainy season and yet okadas have been banned in such areas. Ikeja area alone has 42 roads listed, how many link roads are in Ikeja?  Surprised, Shylon Street, Palmgrove also makes the list.  You have to be a hustler on the streets of Lagos to understand the connectivity challenges; banning Okadas from Bourdillion and environs is no problem; one needs more than okada to visit the fortress of Ikoyi.

Is Lagos state confirming its inept ability to regulate Okada via restriction/ban?  There is no doubt, majority of the roads where this ban has been enforced are not highways but cash cows for the government, is the same government providing a safety net for the loss incurred by Okada riders? If Okadas are not good enough for the “elites” who live on the Island, (of which the streets of Victoria Island is not an highway) it should not be good enough for the non-elites who leave in Ayobo, perhaps a total ban should suffice. The translation of this traffic law will surely not be in tandem with implementation, already an okada man was reported dead in a scuffle somewhere around Agege Pen Cinema, trust the flock of Lagos state officials with the police implementing this law to be over excited at the opportunity of harassing every okada rider.

What sort of government wakes up one morning to put thousands out of jobs? Surely nothing short of an elitist government, in which political power is held by a small wealthy group of individuals with privileged access to the state treasury.  There are Okada men who have to feed families and send their kids to the poor schools around the corner, what will be the resulting factor if their income is cut off by such a policy. What happens to an average private owner of an okada, he can no longer ride his okada from Maryland to Allen Avenue after complying with the law of crash helmets.

This is not about commercial okada riders only, what about the supply chain associated with the efficiency of okadas, the okada mechanic, the okada spare part dealer, the crash helmet dealer. The resulting effect of shifting the demand for okada onto Lagos taxis in a city where meters don’t exist is a hike in cost of taxi, small businesses will have no choice but to transfer the increase in cost of transaction onto customers. Governor Fashola seems to be in a hurry to forget that his party bought crash helmets for okada riders during the last general elections. Is this not still Nigeria where government gave out okadas as part of poverty alleviation programmes. It is a different Lagos state for okadas when votes are needed, Lagos for the rich when there are no elections.

There is a general assumption that people will always survive and adjust but this is an error of logic and excuse to treat residents unfairly and unjustly. The statistics available on income is always misleading when not properly analysed or understood, anyone can tweak data to different outcomes. Assuming the average per capita income of Lagos state residents is N200, 000 this does not directly mean the average resident earns about that amount. It would be a case of 2 types of income earners – one who earns N350, 000 and the other who earns N50, 000. The average will still be N200, 000 without those who’s income does not match up.

Change is good, however it is a desired process in time, the banning of Okadas on 475 roads of Lagos state will not make the lives of the average residents easier or more comfortable both in short and long term unless provisions are made to cushion the effects.  It is not surprising that the World Bank ranks Nigeria as a lower middle income country, this is rightly where the few privileged fall. We must be very careful in supporting elitist policies that cut off the daily income of people who are no where near lower middle income class or put people out of jobs without an alternative or safety, it will hurt everyone.

The Lagos State government must have a rethink on how this matter has been approached, okadas may become extinct in Lagos one day but Lagos can’t become New York overnight.

 

This article was originally posted on YNAIJA http://www.ynaija.com/opinion-fashola-and-okadas-lagos-cant-become-new-york-overnight/

* okada is the colloquial name for 2 wheeled motorcycles usually with mopeds below 49 cc

Nigeria: Our Ethnic Identity

Ethnic and national identity in Nigeria have attracted wide-ranging debates and driven in several contexts to suit either individual or collective interest; it is a bond that is stronger than religion and the basis for affirmative actions in the country. Nigeria is a country with an estimated population of 170 million, and it is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups. The most populous and influential ethnic groups are the Hausa and Fulani 29%, Yoruba 21%, Igbo 18%, Ijaw 10%, Kanuri 4%, Ibibio 3.5%, Tiv 2.5%. English is the official language as there are over 500 indigenous languages.

Following the 1970’s civil war, there have been several policies and actions at integrating the several ethnic groups with a one Nigerian state identity. In pre-modern Nigeria, the ethnic groups believed they existed as nations and after the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914; they exist as nations within a nation. Ethnicity is generally regarded as the most basic and politically salient identity in Nigeria; this claim is supported by the fact that both in competitive and non-competitive settings, Nigerians are more likely to define themselves in terms of their ethnic affinities than any other identity ( Eghosa E.Osaghae and Rotimi T. Suberu 2005).

Ethnicity and Identity

According to Ross Poole (1999), the concept of a nation is a hermeneutic: a nation only exists in and through the consciousness of its members. The identity of a nation is shaped by these members who are bonded by a common historical story, culture, traditions and ethnic heritage which create a social construct. It is also the basis on which resources and territories are claimed as well as engaging the future challenges. The identity of an individual or a collective people is a power construct that cannot be overlooked, it does not only guide and influence but also describes the behavioural attitude of a people in several contexts. The identity of an individual is largely a description of who he is and most importantly who he thinks he is in a first instance. It is therefore possible to have multiple and disorderly identity as a result of diverse but related contents and process. To distinguish further, possession of an American passport as a form of identity does not give anyone an American identity, though in other scenarios citing countries like Nigeria, the chances of a constructed narrow identity is very possible. What national identity does not do, is give the individual an ethnic identity which he may readily identify. There are existing approaches to identify typical focus on one or of three different “levels” at which identity may be defined: individual, relational and collective (Sedikides & Brewer, 2001).

The unification of several ethnic groups to be given one national identity with or without economic growth does not override the individual attachment and sentiment to their ethnic group or origin. According to Anthony D Smith, there is a more fundamental divide over those who regard ethnic community as primordial and those who regard it as a malleable instrument. The sequence of  ethnic groups cannot be overlooked in any context, either as a nation existing before a nation or a nation making up a larger nation, it is imperative to ascertain what a nation means to individuals, the concept of  pre-modern ethnicity and nationality may not fit into what the perspective is today. The sociological human approach to diversity requires an understanding of the affinity that exists between individuals and groups not only on biological attributes but the shared cultural norms and values of a common descent. A sense of identity enables individuals to maintain a sense of coherent self – unity over time and space despite the physical, social and psychological changes they experience (Erikson, 1964).

The Nigerian multi-ethnic characteristics cannot be separated from its economic development as well as political and social stability. The characteristics influence the discussion of identity for Nigerians and are constantly linked to several conflicts. . Evolving trends in which national and ethnic identities are shaped by ongoing political engagements and debates subject all to change. Acquiring a national identity could be seen as depriving one of its ethnic identities where there is an absolute rational to subject the latter to the background; to distinguish between both is shaped by politics and precepts.

Sociological Approach

Assimilation: focuses on social processes and outcomes that tend to dissolve ethnic distinctions, leading to the assimilation of one ethnic group by another or by the larger society.  The Nigerian state is consistently portrayed to consist of three major tribes only, as well as the national identity of being a Nigerian on the ethnic groups. The advent of federal character and state of origin were conceived to break down the strong ethnic identity for a Nigerian identity.  Yet the general misconception could be confirmed by a Yoruba woman referring to anyone beyond Benin as Igbo or everyone living in the northern geographical area of Nigeria as Hausas and by extension Muslims. Structural assimilation, which is the entry of an ethnic group into a primary relationship with the members of the dominant ethnic group which could occur through inter marriage,  good ethnic relationship could be fostered through full participation of all members in community engagements.

Stratification: focuses on addressing the origin and consequences of inequalities of various kinds among ethnic groups.  Beyond recognising the dominant ethnic groups in a country, which may be numerically minority of the population, minority ethnic groups are recognised and they may be numerically majorities. It is assumed the ethnic groups are in conflict over state resources which cannot be divorced from power, educational opportunity and nepotism. The stratification approach focuses on the inequality and institutionalised discrimination which does not grant equal access to all. Observation of why an ethnic group creates a hyper segregation when overwhelming majority resides only in a consolidated neighbourhood or area. The use of state of origin is an institutionalised policy which by and large creates inequality between Nigerians; it is quite interesting to note that the state of origin is largely connected with the ethnic identity and class. The Nigerian state may never explore this because of the desire of the three dominant ethnic groups to control the state resources and political structure.

Ethnic group resources: focuses and encompasses the process, such as mobilization and solidarity, by which members of ethnic groups attempt to use their ethnicity to compete successfully with others.  This is applicable from the economical perspective, ethnic groups dominate a particular trade and they create entry barriers for any one from another ethnic group.  More than often, members of an ethnic group build an ethnic solidarity on the basis on which members are mobilized to advance a course which they may not all believe in but seen as collective ethnic action. The economic development of ethnic groups transforming into interest groups is a contributing factor in this approach. The relative success of ethnic groups in tandem with the cultural traits influence what their interests are.  In recent years, the economic resources, advantages and opportunities groups attain are aligned to ethnicity for their members.

Social Constructionist: focuses on the recognition that ethnic boundaries are malleable and is concerned with the ways by which such boundaries are created, maintained and transformed.  Ethnic boundaries can be shifted for a purpose or defining act especially where similar interests are shared. The voting pattern for the incumbent president along the south geographical area of Nigeria in the 2011 elections is an example of a voting alliance on the presidential election by different ethnic groups but the different voting patterns for state elections. Therefore the distinguished ethnic traits must be sort not only in historical patterns but contemporary patterns; ethnic fluidity in Nigeria is based on a variety of criteria.

The debate…….

The focus in Nigeria should not be on ethnic groups but ethnic group relations, very few countries around the world are ethnically homogenous, even when they claim to be, Nigeria is not an exception.  To have a rooted identity based on ethnicity cannot be taken away from any individual, it is a fundamental right that should not be trampled upon and rather the forced national identity should be revisited. The fear of any ethnic group wanting to secede should not be an obstacle to discussing our future and identity. The Biafra war did not change the ethnic identity of the Igbos, neither has it addressed the concerns of the ethnic group as a whole. Ethnic identity in itself is not a curse, we have not managed our ethnic relations for our collective good.

Cancelling the state of origin would not stop groups from identifying themselves by their ethnic identity within a state, should the state of origin have to go then the federal character must go. As much as we crave for the state of origin to abolished, there must be no rush to act based on emotions.  Would a state of residennce suggested, address the institutionalised policies which already discriminate based on ethnic identity? If we all become residents of various states of the country, payment of tax would surely be up for debate. Would it not be in our best interest to practise true federalism or confederate?

My desire for a better Nigeria is not up for debate, however my identity by my ethnic group is one that cannot be taken away from me. Within the Nigerian state, I am seen firstly as a Yoruba, addressed as one, taken into consideration if I decide to marry from another ethnic group and identified by my name without a physical appearance.

The future of Nigeria lies in our true identity.

The contents of the article are excerpts from my PhD research on Ethnic Identity with focus on Nigeria except the debate paragraph

NIGERIA: FAROUK LAWAN, IS IT BUSINESS AS USUAL?

By Akeremale Temitope and Rosanwo Babatunde

The last has not been heard of the aftermath of the #occupyNigeria protests which created a paradigm shift in the Nigerian polity. It is no longer news that Nigerians hit the street January 2012 to demand from the government, accountability and transparency in the way the finances of the nation was being handled. Little did the government know that Nigerians would fight back after it announced the pump price increase on January 1, even when Nigerians hit the streets; it was expected to last for 2 days but went  well beyond 2 days and for the first time in recent years; Nigerians were united again, asking for good governance and dividends of democracy.

The lower chamber of the national assembly set up an ad hoc committee headed by Hon. Farouk Lawan, for weeks we were treated to live mini-series of how every tom, dick and harry become an oil importer in the last 3 years. The revelations were mind bugging thus our anticipation had no limits, the final reports of the ad hoc committee was laid before the House of Representatives and several recommendations were passed. The 205-page report uncovered a long list of alleged wrongdoings involving oil marketers, DPR and NNPC. A total of 15 fuel marketers/importers collected more than $300m over two years ago without importing any fuel, while more than 100 others could not account for their allocations. While the report was made public, it was expected that the EFCC supported by the Presidency would swing into action, review the report and commence prosecution of individuals and companies while doing their best to recover the looted common wealth of the Nigerian people; but this was not the case.

Weeks after, several advocacy groups and Nigerians have called for further actions on the report of the ad hoc committee which was already adopted by the House of Representatives. Over the weekend the news filtered in from the social media and notable pro-government sources, claiming that Farouk Lawan the chairman of the ad hoc committee on fuel subsidy was compromised. The allegations centred on him receiving the sum of $500,000 cash from Femi Otedola who had recorded the transaction with his pen camera, a further $100,000 was also reported to have been given to one Boniface Emnalor. The duo of Hon Farouk Lawan and Boniface then handed the said sums to Hon Jagban Adams Jagban who is the House committee chairman overseeing the activities of the nation’s anti-graft police. This links have the details:

http://ireports-ng.com/2012/06/09/fuel-subsidy-probe-femi-otedola-farouk-lawan-adams-jagaban-enmeshed-in-3million-bribery-scandal/

http://www.naijapundit.com/news/subsidy-probe-farouk-lawan-caught-on-camera-receiving-600k-bribe-vanguard-newspaper

Thisday Newspaper claims Femi Otedola had confirmed the bribe to the lawmakers http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/fuel-subsidy-probe-otedola-confirms-bribe-to-lawmakers/117757/#.T9WdFEldTB0.facebook

Let’s play out the scenarios

Assuming Farouk Lawan did collect the said amount of money from Femi Otedola, one wonders why the 3 honourables in the reports have kept quiet over such? What did they think they were doing? Did they receive any legal counsel?  Continuing with our assumption we may also want to ask, what was their motive? To use the alleged amount received as evidence against Femi Otedola or keep the money after the whole subsidy report was over, after all Femi Otedola’s Zenon were indicted in the final report of the probe so the bribe did not influence the work of the committee? Why would Femi Otedola offer the committee chair $500,000 cash, what was he seeking to protect?  Spinning the story around would be that Femi Otedola was working with the authorities to set the chairman up?  Were this to be the case, why did the authorities wait for more than a month after the alleged incident to bring this to the public domain and are we getting such information from the appropriate channels? Why was Farouk Lawan not arrested if this was part of a police operation, instead of this Mafia Mob type leak? Could Femi Otedola have taken time to perfect this out with the authorities in order to make it seem like a special operation? Is this a typical sting operation like we see in the Hollywood movies? Who goes around with $500,000 cash?

If indeed Femi Otedola has a video recording of this transaction as claimed by the various unconfirmed sources in circulation, where does his action place him in the eyes of the law?  Would Femi Otedola be considered a whistle-blower here or one with the intention of blackmailing the same men he offered bribes to doctor the report of the committee in case they refused to perform as agreed or anticipated? These amongst many others are a series of questions to be answered and until the alleged or fictional video of this transaction arrives in the public domain, it is believed such a transaction never took place and should the said “video evidence” be produced, Femi Otedola has a lot of questions to answer.

Since the allegations levelled against honourable Farouk touch upon corruption, the most logical places in which we should seek answers which will apply to the facts as they come to light are the various statutes that deal with corruption in Nigeria. Chief among these will be the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000. 2000 Act No 5 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria known to many by the mane of the accompanying Agency created by the same statute as the ICPC Act.

Provisions of the ICPC Act make it expressly clear that any person who offers to any public official or a public official who solicits counsels or accepts any gratification as an inducement or reward for:

Performing or abstaining from performing or aiding in procuring, expediting, delaying, hindering or preventing the performance of any official act;

Showing or forbearing to show any favour or disfavour in his capacity as such officer shall notwithstanding that the officer did not have the power, right or opportunity so to do, or that the inducement or reward was not in relation to the affairs of the public body, be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for (5) years without the option of fine

The act goes further to impose a duty upon any individual (be it a public officer or a private individual) to report incidents where bribes have been offered to the ICPC and or the police. Failure on the part of anyone to report any such incident bearing any reasonable excuse is stipulated to be punishable by imprisonment and or a fine.

It is clear from the above highlighted and paraphrased sections of the ICPC Act that the Act intends to punish the givers and takers of bribe irrespective of their ability or unwillingness to carry out or sail through with the objective of the inducement. Here lies where honourable Farouk might find a huge hurdle before him should it emerge that there is indeed evidence that he received the sum of $600,000 from Femi Otedola, the Chairman of Zenon Oil, to get favourable treatment or hide facts from the House Committee on Fuel Subsidy.

May we ask why? The answer lies in the fact that provisions of the ICPC Act are so broad that the ability or inability of a public official to achieve the objective of the giver of the bribe will turn out to be irrelevant for the purposes of finding participants culpable according to the provisions stated above. This will in essence shoot down any argument on the part of the Farouk Camp that Zenon Oil was after all indicted by the report of the Committee on fuel Subsidy probe.

The argument may also be made that Either of the Parties Acted as Agent Provocateur ( now not the lingerie line) that is, a person being either a member of the police or other law enforcement  officers or their Agents who acts for the purpose of entrapping or getting evidence against offenders. The preceding definition however throws in another snag in that all parties in the drama will have to prove that they put themselves in such a compromising position in other to help the Police or other law enforcement authorities in other words they acted as agents for the law enforcement authority which will lead any right thinking observer or commentator to ask for evidence showing that the said sting was authorised by the law enforcement agencies.

Where the above is not the case, there seems to remain a window of escape for the Honourable Farouk and co. This can be found in Section 26 of the ICPC Act which clearly imposes a duty upon any individual (be it a public officer or a private individual) to report incidents where bribes have been offered to him or her to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission and or the police. Failure on the part of anyone to report any such incident bearing any reasonable excuse is stipulated to be punishable by imprisonment and or a fine or both. Should it be revealed that Femi Otedola reported the soliciting of a bribe to the appropriate authorities or vice versa then anyone of the parties who has been found in to have complied with the provisions of the law will definitely be arriving home and dry and will be vindicated not only in the Law Courts but in the Court of public opinion.

Ribadu and Farouk

We may be able to better appreciate the type of caution and extra care required of anyone who seeks to hold his or herself out as fighting the endemic corruption that has plagued our dear nation by examining the widely circulated and well-known incident of attempted bribery from which Mallam Nuhu Ribadu came out unscathed and without the ever so magnetic faeces of “you are also one of us” clinging to him.

We may want to spot the difference between the previous incident involving Nuhu and the current allegations staring Farouk in the face.

By Nuhu Ribadus account

James Ononefe Ibori the now convicted Ex-Governor of delta state handed him the sum of Fifteen million dollars in cash to stop the heap of investigations and pending charges against him by the EFCC.

We need not repeat every detail of what transpired between Nuhu and James Ibori, neither should we bore you with the colour of the car he drove in, the food on the menu etc. In case you have never read or watched Ribadus account of what transpired you may wish to view http://www.nigeriavillagesquare.com/forum/main-square/36712-how-ibori-tried-bribe-me-ribadu.html  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8322992.stm  to familiarise yourself with Ribadu’s account of events . However for the fact that the rumours in circulation appear to be similar to Ibori’s attempt at bribing a public official and influencing the outcome of an investigation we will examine the crucial and most important similarities and why the participants in this case may not be able to take advantage of Ribadus Anti Corrupt Nigerian Allegation defence system case. We will point out the various steps taken by Ribadu which Farouk may have not taken and may dent our dear friend’s credibility.

The cost of admitting to attempted bribery and thus blackmailing the Chairman of the House Committee of the fuel subsidy probe seems negligible and more manageable for a cabal that has the government in its pockets hence the adoption of the provisions of the Anti-graft Law as a tool to drag Farouk into the same boat as parties that have been found to be deeply involved in the commission of Financial Crimes against the Nigerian public.

This is because knowing full well that the giver of a bribe under the ICPC act is as guilty as he who solicits for same; the cabal has shown that they prefer to run afoul of the system which they control while in the process discrediting independent forces hell-bent on exposing the rot in The Nigerian Petroleum Industry. Their reason is not farfetched as the only reason why the fuel subsidy scam remains in the public domain has been the outrage of the ordinary members of the Nigerian Public and discrediting the Chairman of the Panel report is the only rout to taking the wind out of the sail of the advocates for transparency and accountability.

The circulation of rumours and attempts at blackmailing the members of the subsidy panel report can either galvanise civil society and every other interested party in the progress of our dear Nation to push for a total and complete implementation of the Panel report or achieve the objectives of the indicted parties who shamelessly bear their fangs at the moment.

We can either allow them drag the Panel of the report into the rotten system and spit them out as James Ibori succeeded in spitting out Ribadu and everything went on as business as usual or on the other we stand our ground telling the not so smart cabal that we have seen this script/movie before and will not be fooled again

Update

Farouk Lawan has denied the allegations; he claims the stories making rounds about such a transaction never took place. http://omojuwa.com/2012/fuelsubsidyprobe-hon-faroul-lawan-responds-to-bribery-allegations/

In Nigeria when you fight corruption, it fights back; not in 100 folds but 1 million folds. The fuel subsidy probe has generated a lot of debate over how state funds were looted in the last 3 years. The onus is on Nigerians to see this to a logical conclusion; it is very obvious that the interested parties and looters indicted in this probe will stop at nothing to distract the nation. If Farouk Lawan has a case to answer, the appropriate legal instruments must be employed to prosecute him as no man is above the law. The report of the committee has been passed by the house with very clear recommendations, it is expected that the EFCC must have commenced investigations with a view of bringing all culpable actors to book.

 

N:B On April 24 during the debate of the House of Representatives on the fuel subsidy report, Farouk Lawan requested the House to approve the acquittal of two oil marketers listed alongside 13 others, Synopsis Enterprises Ltd and Zenon Petroleum & Gas limited were cleared by the house. Could that be the pointer to the Farouk Lawan complicity?

 

Nigeria: Organized Crime

“Organized crime threatens peace and human security, violates human rights and undermines economic, social, cultural, political and civil development of societies around the world.” ~ UNODC

In the last century, organised crime has drawn a lot of attention globally, with its transnational dimension as the main focus. According to Howard Abadinsky, an American professor of criminal justice and legal studies, organized crime is a non-ideological enterprise involving a number of persons in close social interaction, organized on a hierarchical basis, with at least three levels/ranks, for the purpose of securing profit and power by engaging in illegal and legal activities. There is a blurry line in identifying the perimeters of organised crime; members of such networks may be involved in legal activities that serve as potential covers for their activities.  The Interpol defines an organised crime group as any group having a corporate structure, whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities, often surviving on fear and corruption. Several academics, countries and global institutions have gone on to define organised crime in several contexts.

Organized crime is usually associated with drug trafficking, human trafficking and murder. Several global indices have been applied to discuss and understand the context in which these activities thrive. There is a much broader concern today in tackling these activities, with focus moving away from the traditional mafia thinking to a global trend across several countries. It is not surprising to find internet scams classified as organised crime – commonly known in Nigeria as yahoo-yahoo. The FBI states that the face of organized crime has changed, and the threat is broader and more complex than ever with an estimated $1 trillion illegal profit per year. New trends include:

  • Russian mobsters who fled to the U.S. in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse;
  • Groups, from African countries like Nigeria, that engage in drug trafficking and financial scams;
  • Chinese thugs, Japanese Boryokudan, and other Asian crime rings;
  • Enterprises based in Eastern European nations like Hungary and Romania.

No surprise, Nigeria is listed by the FBI as one of the countries evolving the new trend of organized crime across the world. The notorious scam emails have definitely not helped this perception. Nigerian organized crime is known for forged documents, human trafficking (with Italy as a major destination) as well as arms trafficking. The trends of extortion, kidnapping and other criminal activities with similar patterns cannot be attributed to individuals or one-off activities. My concern borders on the murder index used in organised crime analysis, very much an activity within the borders of a country. The correlation between large scale violence, unresolved murders and police response brings up an interesting angle to recent murders in the Nigerian state. In the last 12 years, the attorney general of the federation and the personal secretary of a state governor were murdered. The list of unresolved murders is countless. In countries where the numbers of unresolved murders are on the increase, it has been discovered that the community and/or citizenry have lost faith in the police force; hence information flow to the police is limited.

No accurate data is available for the number of murders in Nigeria; however citizens and journalists have taken it upon themselves to relay such information via social media and related platforms. Screening through daily blackberry broadcasts from serial broadcasters in Nigeria to twitter feeds and my information network, there is hardly a day without a suspicious death report. Countries like Mexico and Honduras have openly berated their security agencies for corruption and colluding with organized crime groups over criminal activities in their countries. This may or may not be the case in Nigeria but the Nigeria Police does not have adequate resources to investigate murders nor keep data of prevalent murder cases across the country. There are several efforts by the police to report murder as armed robbery, in order to present themselves as an effective force by covering up their lapses.

Killings are not only politically motivated. There are revenge killings, violent disputes over controlled territories and properties, repression of political opponents and street gangs. I don’t have statistics to back the extent to which organized crime may be operating in Nigeria, especially with regards to murder. Murder by organized crime is however prevalent in societies where corruption thrives, where checkmating the interests of corrupt individuals and groups is met by stiff opposition which results in calculated assassinations of incorruptible officials. It would be in the interest of the state to connect the dots.

Another dimension to the activities of organized crime groups is that they act as beneficiaries of cash rewards for executing hits – implying that there is an individual or group paying for their services. Detailed and accurate information on these activities in Nigeria is an essential prerequisite for designing appropriate responses especially involving collaboration between security agencies. A state rife with social inequality, social injustice and economic impoverishment, coupled with the absence of the rule of law, is a fertile ground for organised crime.

While advocating a better police force (though not the primary focus here), the availability of identity data also plays a pivotal role in addressing organized crime activities. In several countries official identification is no longer through a physical representation but a series of numbers and other information stored as a unique data set. In the wrong hands this information can be criminally employed but in the right hands it is useful for tracking criminal activities. Basic data starts from having a credible birth and death registry

Nigeria is a signatory to relevant international treaties on combating organised crime and human trafficking however much is left to implementation and domesticating such. There are no straight forward solutions to the challenges of organized crime and murders yet it poses a serious threat to our existence as one nation, cardinal reforms must be carried out in our judiciary while the rule of law becomes the order of the day.  The Nigerian Police must be equipped and trained to pierce the perimeter of secrecy surrounding organized crime by recruiting the best hands to join the force. Other social factors i.e. family pressure, marginalisation/alienation, national identity crisis, conflict, ethnicity and weak state which largely influence the birth of organised crime will be examined in subsequent articles.

This article was originally posted on Nigerians Talk http://nigerianstalk.org/2012/05/15/nigeria-organized-crime-rosanwo-babatunde/

Nigeria: Driving Our Education

No country can ever attain the status of being developed without its citizens being literate.  Using Nigeria as a case in point, our economic growth and improved living standards depend on several factors i.e. economic and social inequality, government’s spending priority and education. Several problems which can be associated with over population, unemployment, health, productivity, HIV/AIDS, high infant mortality rate and poor agricultural production,  can be addressed if and only if we can get a high percentage of our citizens to read and write.

Adult literacy rate is the percentages of people aged 15 and above who can, with understanding, read and write a short simple statement on their everyday life.  Based on UNICEF statistics between 2005 – 2010, Nigeria had a 61% adult literacy rate compared to South Africa’s 89% which is ranked second behind Zimbabwe’s 91.86%- the highest on the continent of Africa.  I doubt the accuracy of the adult literacy level in Nigeria to be 61%; if the above definition is applied, I believe it should be between 40% – 50%.
In a firm I work with, we requested that clients who wanted to pursue a master’s degree abroad provide their CVs. A few responded negatively by questioning the rationale behind the request,  they claimed not to be  seeking employment but education, and those who did submit were a poor majority.  A good study would be a comparison of the interlinks between literacy levels in China and India against their economic growth.

Universal Basic Education (UBE), was launched on the 29th of September 1999 by former President Obasanjo in Sokoto, Sokoto State.  The programme was later signed into law in 2004 with the aim of providing 9 years of free, compulsory and continuous education in two levels: 6 years of primary and 3 years of junior secondary education for all school aged programmes.  The fanfare attached to the launch however did not match the outcome in the long run; one does not need a scientist from Pluto to decipher the failure of the UBE. Why did the UBE fail or perhaps why is UBE failing? What have we learnt from that failure? How much revenue was wasted on that white elephant project?.
Fast forward to April 10th 2012, President Jonathan launched a school for Almanjiris* in Sokoto, Sokoto State? The President, accompanied by his aides, ministers and governors claimed to have launched an ultra-modern school facility. A closer look at pictures from the launch reveals nothing of that nature. The President reminds me of my childhood days back in Ibadan, where one Baba Sogo erected a 3 storey building comprising lock-up shops without any adequate provision for parking or toilet facilities, and named it Temidire* Ultra-Modern Shopping complex. My father would cringe in distaste at the wrong choice of words; he was deeply worried about kids growing up with the impression of it being an epitome of the word ultra-modern.

I wonder who sold the idea of an all-white school uniform for Almanjiri school kids in the North- shouldn’t the nature of the environment have had a bearing on such a decision? I recall how we struggled with maintaining our white school shirts in my first 2 years at Federal Government College, Odogbolu. How would this primary school Almanjaris kids cope?  Coupling this with a white pair of socks and open sandals is the joke of the century, at least if one did not grow up with shoes, acquiring a Phd should more than make up for that.  By the way, does the President need so large an entourage of ministers and aides to travel with him for a school launch? Save for the Minister of Education, I wonder what the whole entourage was in Sokoto for.

What purpose is this Almanjiri School supposed to serve beyond getting destitute kids off the street? What is the correlation between these schools and the mainstream schools in other parts of Nigeria? Will they teach the kids how to speak English so they can engage their peers from other parts of the country?  I have gone through the website of the Federal Ministry of Education and Information and there is yet no policy/white paper available on these schools. Until then, I will continue to see this as one of our governments’ misplaced priorities [the present challenges in the North is not purely that of education but economic inequality as well]. Primary and secondary education should be the primary responsibility of Local and State governments not the Federal government. What capacity does the FG have to cover all 36 states and over 700 LGAs? The inconsistency of the 6-3-3-4 or 9-3-4 system as implied by government within a 5 year period, does not indicate what the government’s priority is.

The 6-3-3-4 system should stay: what we should develop is the curriculum, the quality of teachers as well as the facilities required to deliver qualitative and quantitative education.  At this rate I don’t think every child would be able to get basic primary education in the next 10 years unless we step up our efforts. Likewise university education, we must bring non formal education into this space.
Sometimes I ponder over why most government initiatives and poverty alleviation or empowerment programmes focus on the provision of okadas, wheelbarrows etc. Perhaps the government does understand that it’s burdened with a large population of unemployable youths who have acquired no skills over the years, and hence this approach. However, I don’t see how this fits into plans of achieving significant economic growth.

All levels of government claim to be investing billions of Naira into the education sector without giving an analysis of what we get in return for this investment. The recent NECO, WAEC and UTME results are nothing to write home about, yet no government agency including the President and the Minister of Education have reacted nor shown their displeasure at these results. How come the State governments who offer free secondary education and write off examination fees, are not matching the output (NECO/WAEC result) with the investment (cost of paying teacher’s salaries, furniture, buildings, books, etc.). This is nothing short of having bad managers in charge of State funds.  I could cite Oyo State teachers who were on strike recently to ask for more pay: has the Governor confronted them with the last NECO/WAEC results from the state? What would change if the government gives them a pay increase with more investment on education? The same disturbing results? Yes, the teacher deserves a pay increase, but is the increase worth the quality they deliver? This situation is also very applicable to other states across the country.

What is the role of various stakeholders in the education sector of Nigeria? Nigeria is aiming to become a developed state with one of the top economies in the world. How feasible is that if there is no correlation between the demands of the private sector and the products of the education sector?  Education, skill formation and funding continue to be part of the integral policy mechanism for most economies. With the role of the Federal Government in the present Nigerian system, we should be having a coordinated market economy conceptualizing the inputs of the private sector in the education sector with state support and cooperation. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark have been successful with this approach till date.

Though the demographics (especially population) are not similar, we could learn a lot from their approach. We share common challenges they had in the past such as academic drift, labour market stratification and gender inequalities, still the development of our political economy is yet to yield any fruits. Probably at the risk of having to outsource skilled labour if eventually we have significant economic growth, the reality may dawn on us that we are experimenting with a large population of unskilled youth.

As our social capital seems to diminish before our very eyes, I begin to look inwardly at the role education played in the development of the generation before us.  With relative success, the vision for the country was driven by leaders who had both qualitative and quantitative education and were eager to build on this.  We no longer have a middle class and our downward relative social mobility reflects in several development indicators such as health, poverty level etc.

Till date, I don’t understand what the plan for education is and how it meets our urgent demands. In order for us to own and steer the trajectory of our economic and social development, our education sector must evolve along with time. I don’t expect this present government to fix the problems as it were in one night, but the policy direction must be precise and concise with input from all stake holders. We may just start to drive our education as a priority again.

*Almanjiris- a term used to describe young children who roam Nigeria’s streets begging- a prevalent syndrome in Northern Nigeria.

Nigeria: Any Alternative?

Somewhere on planet earth…………

Pelumi:  All these youths clamouring for change will not be different from the present crop of looters; they will loot the treasury a million times over

Babatunde: Why don’t you speak for yourself?  Why this blanket stereotype?

Akeem: Egbon, even you would have to steal from the treasury when you become a senator, wont you?

Babatunde: Come on guys, if I find myself in office and you are found wanting for corrupt practices, be rest assured you will pay for it.

Pelumi  & Akeem: We might as well not support you then, as for us we will chop while in public office.

*The phone rings*

Babatunde:  Hello, Miss P, missed you so much, I am hanging out with some dudes and as usual, its Nigeria on the table.

Miss P:  With all this passion for Nigeria, I wonder where you will end. All your friends in government especially those ones on twitter must be looting the treasury by now. Well I won’t hesitate to take my share of the national cake when I get in there.

*phone cuts*

I stare at me phone, not in utter dismay but conscious of fact that these young Nigerians in a large percentage regardless of their background will maintain the status quo of chop the national cake.

The debate seems to surface everywhere and every time we have young Nigerians at any gathering especially when it’s a lounge where our audible and loud voices can be tolerated.  Why does this debate tow the same line of argument over the years yet we put up a face of optimism when clearly we seem to have lost hope.  Why don’t we express our inner most fears as opposed to nodding at will in large gatherings so we don’t seem like the anti-Christ.  We do hold this belief that the system is corrupt and nothing can be salvaged therefore we turn against anyone and everyone in our generation who decides to work for the government or join the government.  I am of the opinion that any young Nigerian in government should be open to criticism just like the president but can’t come to terms with labelling them as corrupt in a system where they do not hold the mandate. The US vs Them line becomes blurring as we realize the need for active civic engagement of all stakeholders in the polity.

Change is what a lot of people seek in Nigeria, it is very attractive to call and demand for change but difficult to explain how the dynamics and mechanism of change will be pursued in the present Nigerian system.  A foundation of institutions built on trust and legitimacy would produce the change phenomena with no concrete  change in the short-term but measurable  in the long-term, the state of the nation over the decades coupled with institutionalised corruption can’t be washed away overnight.  Public opinion claims we are under some sort of democratic governance, which is the collective will of the people to subject themselves to the requirements of various institutions because of their normative beliefs that it is morally justified. I disagree with this; we are simply in an adjustment process coupled with conditional tolerance.

The lack of real alternative is the reason why we have had one political party in the majority after 4 general elections and now there is still no alternative as such. This was easily misconceived as stability in the system until we were exposed to the trend of home-grown militancy and arms struggle against the state.  We are undergoing an adjustment system which connotes negative legitimacy as a result of mistrust in most social and government institutions, the individual trust can no longer be associated with governance and the legitimacy deficit is overwhelming.  What we have had since 1999 can be termed as conditional tolerance of the system coupled with partial legitimacy driven by forces of coercion. The multiplicity of conflicts clearly points in one direction, a deep divide between the citizens and the government, we run a danger of running a system with no connection to the reality of the people. The recent #OccupyNigeria protests and subsequent actions by the government clearly show lack of understanding of what the people want.

While a lot of states are moving towards pluralism in democracy, a notion or intent to promote peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions and lifestyles, Nigeria is clearly not headed in that direction.  The acceptance of democratic norms is higher among political elites and rulers (though we differ on what a democratic norm is because this group place their self-interest above all) than the general public, political disputes are settled at this level with recourse to their interests. The significant intent is to keep Nigerians at bay which in turn ensures the system’s safety and stability, for how long Nigerians will remain at bay and this quasi stability breached is what we are undergoing today.

The absence of a real alternative should not be defined as stability; rather the government should focus on real stability and continuity within the polity. The core focus should be on economic success, social peace and social pacifity.  The growing voices of dissent are not only from the ones who have taken up arms against the state but also the citizens who have become victims of the quasi stability.

Nigeria’s World Bank President

“Don’t ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”

J.F Kennedy

This is one of the frequently used quotes in the Nigerian advocacy for paradigm shift, it questions our desire to put our country first as patriots. As we all know, Nigeria has not been too efficient at providing basic welfare for its citizens, yet we live with the idea of giving back to a state that continues to rape its citizens. No thanks, to the ruling elites supported by a few political bourgeois, who work hand in hand with born again pro-democracy ex-military officers.

Shortly after President Jonathan was sworn in May 29, 2011, the buzz about how he was ever going to deliver his transformation agenda became the order of the day. For a president with low self-esteem, no exposure to leadership but became the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the virtue of controlling the state resources and security apparatus before the elections, it was a herculean task. He had a choice, to swim with the political sharks and make it business as usual or seek for some sort of legitimacy for his presidency by reaching out for a technocrat who could drive the macroeconomic policies without looting the treasury.

The President sought after Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Minister of Finance under former President Obasanjo, he was convinced that her credentials which included the World Bank Managing Director, would lend the much-needed credence to his government and derive the trust he needed badly from Nigerians. If the elections were won by luck and some elements of ethnic and religious sentiments, the economy would not be run on that. Some quarters within the ruling party were quick to remind the president of the perceived domineering attitude of this former Minister of Finance, that the presidency may be subdued by her personality and ego. They tried to convince the president not to bring Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala back, the Nigerians newspapers went to town with different versions of what was going on within the presidency. I suppose some quarters felt her presence meant a stop to their feeding off the system and acquiring humongous wealth.

I was not sure of what to make of the return of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. I have never recovered from her October 2005 advertised success of leading the Nigerian team that struck a deal with the Paris Club and a group of bilateral creditors to pay off Nigeria’s external debt of US $ 12 billion in return for a US $ 18 billion debt write off. Her excuse? Nigeria was servicing external debt with US $ 1 billion a year, it was not making sense and she wanted to redeem that. I still question her judgment for repaying a debt of US $12 Billion in 2005, which developing country on planet earth does that? Assuming we built a power station with that US $12 billion, we would turn our economy around and probably run a surplus budget in 10 years to repay those debts. Her first stint as a Minister of Finance was also not without some controversy, she and Olu Adeniji were being paid US $ 240, 000 as salary from a donor supported Diaspora Fund negotiated by the government. In 2007, the Court of Appeal rule that the payment was not in tandem with our laws, and ruled that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Olu Adeniji pay back the excess to the account of the state. The Federal Government of Nigeria, Olu Adeniji and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala have appealed to the Supreme Court and judgment is pending, that is if we ever get a judgement. After paying off the debt, as the head of Nigeria’s Economic Team, she boasted about the number of jobs and growth to derive from paying the debts with a fortune spent promoting the NEEDS agenda. We never had assessment of the outcomes but surely if it worked, we would be better off today.

I believe President Jonathan swallowed his pride, which is if he had one apart from being the president and a member of the ruling party. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was ushered back as Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, more or less the de facto Prime Minister. My friends ask if she’s being paid in US Dollars this time around or the equivalent in Naira, I don’t know how much she’s paid. The country’s finance and economic direction was in a dire strait and she was portrayed as the messiah to put things in order. She comes across as a capitalist economist with the drive to stop the economy from bleeding by promising to reduce the high recurrent expenditure of the budget and the double-digit unemployment rate. What she did not tell us was that the country was back to the same situation she met it shortly before she paid off the Paris Debt, the country’s debt was on the rise, corruption was at unprecedented level with uncompleted projects. What she did not tell us was that, Nigeria could not continue in this same projection over the next 10years without hitting the bottom.

The Federal Government led by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance set out to remove the fuel subsidy, yet she could not cut down on the crazy cost of running the government instead she came up with SURE and then SURE – P which was dead on arrival. I recall one of her interviews where she said, it would take about  5 years to carry out her economic policies. What she did not tell us was the intent of this government to go a lending from the likes of China and co to fund the 2012 budget. What she did not tell us was how much this government was committed to her economic policies. What she did not tell us was the writing on the wall as a result of the #OccupyNigeria protests.

Overnight we heard rumours of her intent to vie for the post of the President of the World Bank, subsequently she confirmed our fears to jump the ship less than a year after her arrival as the economic messiah. All of a sudden, she’s returning the President’s favour by absconding to the safety of the World Bank where the likes of #occupyNigeria protest will never get to her. I wonder what she told President Jonathan, that her role as World Bank President will be beneficial to the transformation agenda of Nigeria. What she has not told us is how the World Bank Policy has not enhanced our development policies, after all she has been in the World Bank for years, how has this benefitted our macroeconomics. Or has the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance seen the hand writing on the wall and she’s looking for the nearest possible exit?

Without going into the history of how the World Bank alliance is built on the US/Europe relationship and why I think the US will get away with the nomination of the health policy expert Jim Yong Kim, I am surprised that Ngozi Okonjo Iweala will jump ship when the heat is turned on. What happened to her dreams of transforming Nigeria? Does she not know that if she eventually turns around the Nigerian economy, Nigerians would agitate for her to become the Nigerian President in the future which is more prestigious than her present pursuit? Deep down the President’s mind, he must be unhappy with the Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination for World Bank but can’t come out to express this. He must have been caught unaware with the support the minister got within a short time (which cannot be divorced from her career network), that he decided to play along so he’s not seen as the anti-Christ. A serious-minded President would fire Ngozi Okonjo Iweala if she does not make it to become the World Bank President, she’s proven that the job Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance is not her priority especially when the whole economic plan is built around her. But what do I know? The presidency thrives and survives on distractions such as this, if Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala leaves, there would be every reason for a delayed or failed economic policy. The government may even list the Nigeria World Bank President as one of their achievements. Apart from history in the making, a female Word Bank President from a developing country, Nigeria has nothing to gain. The hype will not reduce our debt or the double-digit unemployment rate, it will only distract us as it is doing now. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala can never be indispensable in a nation of 150 million plus but Nigeria especially President Jonathan needs her putting into consideration the circumstance under which she was appointed, the whom too much is given, too much is expected.

“Don’t ask what Ngozi Okonjo Iweala can do for Nigeria but what Nigeria can do to boost her nomination for the World Bank President”

Ngozi Okonjo Iweala’s credentials are not subject to any debate, I believe she’s qualified for the World Bank President as well as helping to build our economy in her present capacity. Her nomination for the World Bank president can never be complete without the mention of her time as the Finance Minister with her career at the World Bank in the background. Yet she comes on air to say this is a personal ambition and not that of the government, sure it cannot be, and poor President Jonathan has been left dry and hung out to his transformation agenda which he has no clue about.