Thursday, May 28, 2009

Military expedition in the Niger Delta

WHATEVER might have triggered the on-going military expedition in the Niger Delta, the onslaught represents a dramatic phase in the government's containment policy towards the atrocities of the militants in the oil-rich region. For the past fortnight, the Joint Task Force has bombarded the militants' hideout, particularly the notorious camp 5 in the creeks of Delta State. The military have scorched villages and razed the fabulous home of Tompolo, a notorious militant kingpin, who has now been declared wanted - dead or alive. By last weekend, the operations extended to Rivers State, where militants also have their camps.

It is regrettable that while the militants are being smoked out, there have also been civilian collateral casualties. Women, children, the elderly, and members of the National Youth Service Corps have been displaced from Oporoza, Gbamaratu, Okerenkoko, and other riverine communities. A huge humanitarian crisis is, thus, unfolding. The response to the humanitarian emergency must not be that of the state and local governments alone. Even without being prompted, the Federal Government must pitch in with supplies and logistics to ameliorate the discomfort of the displaced persons. The Federal Government's involvement is all the more imperative, lest it be accused of waging a mindless war against the people.

Being the conundrum that it is, security operations in the Niger Delta present exceptional challenges. With criminality interlaced with genuine agitation for the redress of decades of neglect and underdevelopment, it is tricky to use a heavy hand against the militants without provoking an outcry that they are being persecuted because they want a better life for the region. But it is beyond dispute that the militants, whose ranks have long since been infiltrated by criminal elements, have overreached themselves. Oil facilities are sabotaged on a regular basis; oil workers are kidnapped routinely, and these days the victims include just about anybody.

Under the Constitution and the norms of international law, the State (i.e. country) has a right to defend its territorial integrity. In recent years, the militants have begun to stake out portions of the Niger Delta, where they are lords unto themselves. In such areas, they engage in illegal bunkering, engage in gun-running, and gravely undermine the government's capacity to earn appreciable revenue, which in turn affects the fortunes of all, including states in the Niger Delta region.

Last week, the cache of arms uncovered at the sacked residence of Tompolo was a shocking reminder of the militants' capacity to levy war against the state and to perpetrate their other criminal activities including kidnapping for ransom. Above all, the militants have on occasion attacked military personnel on patrol duties in the region. In fact, the current onslaught was precipitated in part by the killing of 12 officers and men of the JTF as well as the sinking of their two gunboats by the militants. The militants, thus, invited this wrath upon themselves, and sadly on the host communities.

However, lamentable the problems of the Niger Delta may be, the moves to address them must begin from somewhere. While the Federal Government can be accused of being sluggish in tackling the crisis of underdevelopment in the area, it would be unfair to accuse it of doing nothing. Only recently, in response to popular demand, the Federal Government created the Ministry of the Niger Delta, which cannot be expected to perform magic overnight, even though it is guided by the report of the Niger Delta Technical Committee, which was similarly set up by the incumbent government. The recent South-South Economic Summit is another pointer to the desire of other stakeholders to bring rapid development to the region, the past notwithstanding.

To create a peaceful environment for, among other things, the return of contractors who had hitherto been kidnapped or chased away from their sites in the Niger Delta, the Federal Government offered a blanket amnesty to the militants, a move that was widely applauded. But the militants rejected the amnesty. The current expedition is a necessary lesson that a government cannot allow the reign of lawlessness to persist in spite of its overtures for a new dawn.

Despite its rightful use of force to bring peace to the creeks, the Federal Government, through the JTF, must know when to apply the brakes. The government needs to remember that the problem of militancy is that its proponents did not know when and where to draw the line. There must therefore be a quick decision on the scope and extent of the on-going security operation.

The victims and the theatre of operation are in Nigeria, not some foreign territory. If collateral casualties escalate beyond tolerable limits, the military expedition will boomerang, leaving the government with a huge public relations disaster. This must be avoided. Let the forces mop up the last strongholds of the militants, and sweep the region clean of the menace. That, of course, is the stick. The carrot must follow immediately, by the government being as prompt and decisive in mobilising development to the area.

James Nwoye Adichie: Nigeria's first professor of statistics

THE most celebrated group of people in Nigeria are political office holders, business tycoons no matter their source of wealth and occasionally top executives and professionals. J.N.Adichie does not fall into any of the enumerated categories. He, like many other academic giants in Nigeria remain, by and large, unsung heroes. I believe that Nigerians should learn to celebrate people like him along with several other distinguished retired and active academic geniuses while they are still alive. Such celebrations will no doubt inspire our youths, who by and large, through the corrupting influence of our society do not seem to believe in academia. I am writing this piece to celebrate Adichie.

James Nwoye Adichie was born on March 1, 1932 in Abba, Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State. After passing the Advanced Level General Certificate of Education ('A' level GCE) examinations in Pure mathematics, Applied mathematics, English and Latin, he was admitted into the University College Ibadan (UCI) now the University of Ibadan (UI) in 1957 to read mathematics. In those days when the UCI was a college of the University of London and was the only university institution in Nigeria, it was a remarkable achievement for a student to be admitted into the College. He graduated B.A. Mathematics of the University of London in 1960 among the top three students in a class of 13. At that time a student was awarded the B.A. degree if his/her A-Level subject combination included arts subjects in addition to the mathematics subject; and the B.Sc degree if his/her subjects combination consisted of mathematics and science subjects.

Soon after graduating, he went on to lecture first at the Nigerian College of Science and Technology, Enugu, and later at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) until September 1963, when he proceeded to the prestigious University of California at Berkeley, USA. This is one of the greatest centres of statistical excellence in the USA if not in the world. In a record time of three years he earned a Ph.D. degree in statistics in 1966, the first Nigerian to do so. He promptly returned to the UNN and 10 years later, in October 1976, he was promoted a Professor of Statistics, the first of his kind in Nigeria.

Adichie's main area of research is Non-Parametric Methods of Statistical Analysis. These methods seek to develop new methods of analysis that are valid under realistic assumptions. He was such a renowned scholar in this field that he was invited by some leading British universities to deliver a series of lectures on his work. The universities are Cambridge, London (Imperial College), Aberystwyth, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Glasgow. At different points in his brilliant academic career, he was a visiting fellow at the University of Sheffield, England and a visiting professor at the San Diego State University, California, U.S.A.

Apart from delivering many brilliant academic papers at several workshops, conferences and seminars locally and abroad, Adichie has published numerous scholarly papers in reputable learned journals and has served as a reviewer for some of them including the Journal of the American Statistical Association, the Annals of Mathematical Statistics, the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, etc. He is a member of many learned societies including the International Statistical Institute (ISI) of which he was the first Nigerian to be elected a full ordinary member in 1978; the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the Mathematical Association of Nigeria of which he was once the general secretary, to mention a few. Incidentally, the ISI with headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, is the world apex statistical organization. He was the first editor of the Journal of the Statistical Association of Nigeria and at one time an associate editor of the ABACUS - Journal of the Mathematical Association of Nigeria.

At the UNN where he was a distinguished teacher of statistics for 33 years, he was the supervisor of the first post-graduate student to obtain a master's degree of the UNN in 1971 and in 1973; helped in the establishment of the department of statistics, one of the first two such departments in Nigeria, the other one being that of the UI. As the first head of that department, Adichie spent the next six years nurturing it to enviable heights. He was again made the head of the department from 1985-1988. He served as the Dean of the Faculty of Physical Sciences and as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Nsukka Campus of the university.

As an elected member of Council of the University, he made tremendous contributions to the progress of the university through his activities in the various committees of the Council and some other non-Council Committees. His activities are not limited to the UNN. He served as external examiner in mathematics and statistics at various Nigerian universities. Apart from his contribution to the development of statistics in the Nigerian university system, he played a key role in the development of the National Mathematics Centre (NMC). He, with three others, prepared for the Federal Government in 1987/88 a proposal for setting up the NMC. He later served as member of a Representative Group of Mathematical Scientists that met the Technical Expert Committee Visitation Panel for the upgrading of the NMC to the status of an International Centre for Excellence. He served the Centre in various capacities. He was a member of its academic board, a member of two of its strategic committees, and professor and coordinator of its statistics programme.. He organised the Centre's first Foundation Post-Graduate Course on mathematical statistics and the first Foundation Post-Graduate Course on Exact and Asymptotic Statistical Inference.

Adichie took to the international fora his passion for giving statistical education a pride of place in the curricula of Nigerian and indeed of African countries. On several occasions, he delivered papers relating to Statistical education and training not only in Nigeria but also in the whole of Africa. .In the administration of statistics in the Nigerian public service, Adichie's name will also feature prominently. He was a member of the National Advisory Council on Statistics and served as the Chairman of the Committee for the Reorganisation of the Federal Office of Statistics (FOS) which is now called the National Bureau of Statistics.

It is interesting to note that Adichie is not the only one in his family to have scored a first in his chosen career. Ifeoma, his wife of 46 years was the first female registrar of the UNN while his fifth child, Chimamanda, is the first young female Nigerian literary voice to be world-acclaimed. She has received many international awards and nominations for her literary works. Having demonstrated the main reason for writing about Adichie - that of giving honour to whom honour is due, I have two other reasons which, though, may appear personal, do speak volumes about the personality and integrity of the man. .As already mentioned, Adichie and I first met and became friends at the UCI. In fact, one of our lecturers, Chike Obi, who became famous for being the first Nigerian holder of a doctorate degree in mathematics, used to call us brothers because he thought that we looked so much alike..

Since graduation, we have crossed each other's path at the professional level on various occasions. I will mention only two of them. Adichie was one of the sponsors of my nomination in 1980 for election as a member of the ISI. With my election, I became the second Nigerian to be so honoured, he having been elected in 1978.

When I was the Chief Statistical Training Adviser at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa, he requested some information needed for the preparation of a paper to be presented at an international conference on the teaching of statistics. I gladly obliged. Lo and behold, he included my name as a co-author of the paper. What a mark of intellectual integrity? My last, but by no means the least important reason is that every now and then I get embarrassed when I am introduced in public as the first Nigerian Professor of Statistics. Let Nigerians now be informed - James Nwoye Adichie is the first Nigerian Professor of Statistics! He is now retired and lives in Nsukka.

Letter to President Yar'Adua (3)

MR. President, your action and inaction in the recent Ekiti electoral fiasco has swollen the ranks of those who doubt the sincerity of your much-touted electoral reforms, given the disquieting disconnect between the ideals you profess and the actions you take. Nothing demonstrates this more eloquently than your treatment of the Muhammed Uwais Report. In the opinion of many Nigerians, the most salient recommendation in that report is the one that transfers the appointment of the INEC Chairman from the President (as presently obtains) to the National Judicial Council. But you are seeking to retain that power of appointment based upon the shockingly questionable logic that 'Integrity is not who appoints the people. It is the integrity of the people who are appointed'. In other words, you do not need to be a person of integrity to appoint those who possess that virtue. So, a thoroughly reprobate boss can appoint a saint. Does this logic belie, then, the time-tested axiom that like attracts like? Talking seriously, Your Excellency, do you expect reasonable Nigerians to believe you when you say this - trust the appointee, not the appointer? And why do you consider integrity so easily discountable as a sine qua non for the person with the power to appoint? Is this a Freudian slip or an abiding plank of your moral and political philosophy?

No, Mr. President, whoever hires the boss is bound to influence his action. This is why the 'I'(standing for 'Independence') in the acronym INEC has been such a gratuitous and tragic lie. The major reason Nigeria has not been able to conduct a successful election since independence is the incestuous closeness between the State House and the Electoral Commission. And it is the kind of closeness which flies in the face of equity: when a President running for re-election is the same person that appoints the electoral boss, can he still pretend to be on equal footing with other contestants in the presidential race? Can the boss so appointed lay much claim to credible impartiality? The provenance and nature of their appointments have been largely responsible for the controversial tenures of past and present overseers of Nigeria's electoral process. This is why Ani, Ovie-Whiskey, and Nwosu, were such hamstrung and compromised umpires? It is why most Nigerians see Maurice Iwu as nothing more than a glorified errand boy of the President and his ruling party? Simple logic, Mr President: the very nature of the appointment of certain functionaries automatically nullifies the 'integrity' which you talk so confidently but so unconvincingly about.

President Yar'Adua, remove the executive stranglehold on Nigeria's electoral process. Let some other body see to the appointment of the INEC chair. It is politically risky and morally wrong for the President to appoint the umpire for a game in which he or his political party is a principal contestant. Letting go of this immoral responsibility will not in any way diminish the awesome powers you already have as President. Genuine democracy is not possible without a truly independent and impartial electoral system. And what's more, the country's destiny depends on the integrity of that system. As I said in my open letter to Chief Obasanjo, your predecessor and benefactor, after the fraudulent polls of 2007, 'apart from occasional religious riots and their ethnic fall-outs, no other issue has brought Nigeria closer to the brink of disintegration than rigged elections'. Your rejection of the salient recommendations of the Uwais Report can only lead this unhappy country further down the precipice of chaos and possible disintegration. Mr. President, it is a supremely serious crime to play foul with a people's commonweal expressed through their electoral choice. The present situation in which the people cast their vote and the rulers have their way is a recipe for avoidable civil strife and instability. It is abominable hypocrisy to chant the rule-of-law mantra in a country where the ballot box is in chains.

And heaping all the blame for Nigeria's political problems on some faceless, nameless monster called 'political class' is as disingenuous as it is untenable. Besides, it is a thoroughly unconvincing cop-out. What kind of 'political class' do you have in mind? Are all members of that class equally guilty, and equally able to hide their crimes? To take a specific example, in the Nigerian situation today, which party is home to a political class that swaggers across the country with such criminal impunity because their being both 'in government' and 'in power' ensures protection by and complicity with state security paraphernalia? Why do the police and security agents always look the other way when ballot boxes are being snatched in favour of the ruling party, your party? Which party's 'political class' have the money to bribe and bulldoze their way around as a result of their federal might and immoral access to the country's resources?

You have pretended long enough, Mr. President. Time to get down to the business of fulfilling the pledge you made at your inauguration some two years ago. The buck stops at your desk, and the world is watching. Nigerians are not fooled by the presidential distance you affect; they are justifiably impatient with the father-of-the-nation, rule-of-law posture which raises no eyebrow at electoral frauds. Having been ruled and misruled by all kinds of masquerades in the past 49 years, we have learnt to spot the face behind the mask. I implore you to ask yourself before you go to bed tonight: is your party, the PDP, helping or hurting Nigeria's fortune by so insidiously working towards turning the country into a one-party state? What would be democracy's fate in that kind of state? How much rule of law would it accommodate? Have you ever pondered the fatal contradictions between the agenda of the party you chair and the ideals and visions of the country you lead?

In the thinking and comments of many Nigerians, you are too slow, too tardy, too vacillatory for a backward country like ours that is in a dire hurry to join the rest of humanity in the 21st century. Though you look very much like a person of temperance and moderation, your political leanings and affiliations portray you as too cozy with corruption, too chummy with the corrupt, too lenient with the sleaze and graft which clutter the veins of Nigeria's body-politic. And oftentimes we ask: how can a decent man find such inexplicable comfort in the company of political skunks and moral cripples? What do they say to one another when they are together? How do they manage to reach their foul consensus? Under your watch in the past two years, Nigerians have become hungrier, sicker, more insecure, more unhinged than in any other period in our history. Their nights are dark (we are still waiting for the promised emergency declaration in the energy sector); their days are dreary. They cannot feel any positive impact of your government on their lives.

Time waits for no one, Mr. President; History is an unbribeable judge. You have already chalked up two years on Nigeria's presidential board. Let not future generations call your tenure 'Nigeria's wasted years'. From every indication, the Nigerian spirit is faster, more ambitious, more purposive, than you and the government you head. The outside world is tired of - and justifiably angry at - Nigeria's seemingly incurable delinquency. Nigeria has borne the burden of the 'big-for-nothing' country for so long now that our necks have shrunk in shame.

Which is why the G-12 does not want us at their summit, and foreign dignitaries shun our door. The world does not celebrate failure, Your Excellency. A thousand slogans cannot re-brand a rotting corpse. President Yar'Adua, time to shed the mask of the dissembling politician and assume the mantle of the statesman who inspires his country to greatness. Going by your behaviour and performance in the past two years, many observers have come to the conclusion that you are incapable of rising to that height. You owe this country and the world a duty to prove them wrong. With my best wishes. Your Compatriot.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reflections on Children’s Day

May 27 of every year is the official date chosen by Nigerian government to celebrate Children’s Day. This is in keeping with the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s resolution in 1954 that all countries institute a Universal Children’s Day to be observed as a day to dwell on issues and activities that promote the welfare of children globally.

It is also a day set aside to appraise the progress made in respect of the nation’s children with a view to addressing their problems. In 1989, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which covers in its 54 articles all the rights of children on healthcare, education, freedom from exploitation and the right to hold opinion, amongst others.

Though Nigeria is a signatory to all these conventions, most of these lofty goals are more often breached than observed.

Every year, Children’s Day is marked with great pomp and ceremony, often with less thought on those things that would enhance the promotion of children’s rights and well-being. At best, the event has been reduced to a mere ritual of ceremonies where government officials mouth slogans and intentions that are never fulfilled.

As Nigerian children mark this year’s event today, let us use the occasion to direct our attention to those practices– private and official– that militate against the realization of children’s rights in the country. Nigerian children are still subjected to physical and mental violence, sexual abuse, neglect and maltreatment while with parents or guardians.

Apart from child labour, many Nigerian children are victims of human trafficking. A recent study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) showed that Nigeria lost about 4,000 children to traffickers. Thousands of them were recently labelled as witches in Akwa Ibom State, and exposed to demeaning and inhuman acts, including premature death.

Educationally, Nigerian children have a bleak future. Recent statistics indicate that about 45 percent of school age children are out of school in the country. Those lucky to be in school are put in shanties and non-conducive environments that pass as classrooms. Some of them still go to school without food and in tattered clothing. In these schools, both the quantity and quality of instruction are far below expected standard.

Right now, all available indices point to the fact that there is indeed a bleak future for Nigerian children. At birth, not many of them are lucky enough to survive the first few months due to the parlous health care system that engenders high level of infant mortality. Unfortunately, 25 percent of them die before they can reach five years of age from avoidable causes. In spite of availability of preventive measures against child-killer diseases, Nigeria is still one of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa with the greatest figure of child deaths.

Even children that survive this level face the problem of malnutrition and stunted growth. They live in an unfriendly environment with little hope of attaining their aspirations in life. In most families, children’s opinions do not count, as they are not tolerated. The female child suffers most deprivations due to inherent discrimination in the family in favour of the male child.

One noticeable area the government has not been forthcoming is the implementation of the Child Rights Act. Though the National Assembly passed the Act in 2003, only about 18 states out of the 36 in the federation have passed the Act into law after domesticating it to suit their peculiar needs and circumstances. Passing the Act is one thing, implementing the provisions of the Act is another. Non-implementation of the Act would amount to mortgaging the future of Nigerian children.

Beyond passing the Act, all the tiers of government must take more than a passing interest in the welfare of our children. As the leaders of tomorrow, Nigerian children deserve to be offered the best in terms of education, health, environment and other indices that impinge on their overall well being. Nigerian children should be well catered for and their opinions heard and respected on issues that affect them. The present deplorable state is unacceptable.

It calls for a drastic and fundamental change for the better. That is the only way the celebration of Children’s Day can be meaningful in the country.

Letter to President Yar'Adua (2)

YOUR Excellency, while all this show of shame was unfolding, you feigned a kind of presidential distance, but that did not prevent you from holding two or three meetings with top-notchers of your party, the PDP, the INEC boss and state security - meetings to which the AC, the other major party in the Ekiti contest, was not invited. Many Nigerians wondered why you opted for such narrow partisanship at a time which called for national leadership; why, indeed, you showed no moral concern for the fire burning in one part of the country you rule. They began to speculate about the likely impact of your attitude on the boiling electoral stalemate in Ekitiland. They began to wonder if a true 'father of the nation' would behave the way you did.

Well, Nigerians didn't have to speculate for too long. Soon after, Mrs Ayoka Adebayo sprang out of hiding and headed for the INEC headquarters in Abuja. After what must have been a loaded and very confidential meeting with Maurice Iwu, the INEC boss, she emerged, astonishingly happy and confident, assuring the curious press and all the world that she was, indeed, still a member of 'the INEC family', and was now ready to return to her post as Ekiti REC to complete the task she left behind. What about her former letter of resignation? What about those fake figures she complained about being pressurised to declare? What about, what about. . . Ayoka Adebayo parried all questions, and with an ominous smile on her face, she zoomed out of the INEC premises.

A couple of days later, surrounded by soldiers, fierce-looking police, and all the paraphernalia of the federal might, Ayoka Adebayo, JP., declared those same 'fake figures' from Ido-Osi and returned the PDP, your party, to power in Ekiti. Since then, there has been palpable tension in Ekiti and an atmosphere of rage and bewilderment in the county.

Mr. President, all this dangerous and frightfully ominous electoral farce played out in one part of a country under your watch. The whole world (including, alas, your hosts at the Zuma inauguration in South Africa!) stood aghast as they watched Africa's delinquent 'giant', making another mockery of democracy and the sanctity of the ballot box.

Now, Mr. President, reasonable people in the world are asking: where were you as the political, constitutional, and - very important - moral leader of Nigeria when all this 'show of shame' was unfolding in Ekiti? Did you hear or read about how hoodlums, armed to the teeth by politicians, brutalized press men and women, harassed election monitors, and made polling impossible in certain areas considered the 'strongholds' your party, the PDP? Did you learn about a particular senator of the Federal Republic who harboured over 60 dangerously armed thugs in his house? Did you read newspaper reports about the arrest of these thugs and their expeditious release when the news reached the top brass of the police? Were you told about other senators of the Federal Republic who 'visited' the voting areas with dangerous weapons in their convoy? President Yar'Adua, as a scientist, teacher, and moral being, weren't you startled by those jumbo figures from Ido-Osi? Did you ask Maurice Iwu, your INEC boss, how they came about? Did you cross-check his response with the on-the-spot reports by electoral officers, security agents, accredited election observers, and the media? Tell me, Mr. President, how did you take the Ayoka Adebayo story? Do you think she acted according to the dictates of her conscience and her God as you urged in that grand and laborious press statement by your presidential spokesman on the eve of her return to her post? Don't you see her moral somersault as an indelible blight on whatever is left of the credibility of Nigeria's electoral system? Do you think that after all this electoral and moral abomination, it is business as usual in Ekiti and all is well in the country you rule?

Dear President Yar'Adua, the Ekiti re-run election fiasco has finally put an end to your honeymoon and shredded that mask of incorruptibility that seems to hang around your face. Not many Nigerians were pleased with the way you came into office some two years ago in a do-or-die election considered as the most corrupt and most shameful in Nigeria's history. But your humble admission, upon your assumption of office, of the imperfection of that election, and your pledge to be the rule-of-law President earned you a measure of patient toleration by a country severely violated by the imperial presidency of your predecessor. Not a few Nigerians were also pleased to hear your promise to reform the electoral system. Now, with your connivance at and tacit endorsement of the recent electoral and political fraud in Ekiti, we are beginning to wonder how to square up your rule of law posture with your silence on the murderous, man-pass-man impunity displayed by your party, the ruling party. Are senators caught with pump-action guns in polling areas adherents of the rule of law? Are heavily bribed electoral officials exponents of the rule of law? Where does Ayoka Adebayo's electoral perfidy fit into the scheme of rule of law? Are those phantom figures from Ido-Osi products of the rule of law? Can you deem a candidate returned to office through this foul and violent process a rule-of-law governor?

No, Mr. President, the panel of enquiry just set up by you to investigate the Ekiti re-run fiasco has been rightly described by thoughtful commentators as far 'too late and too little'. In like manner, your tardy expression of concern about the election is insincere and insultingly disingenuous. You look very much like that guard desperately shutting the gate after the horse has already escaped, or that dog struggling to hide the knife after its ear has been cut. Your action is salt in the injury of aggrieved Ekiti people and an insult to the intelligence of discerning Nigerians.

Truth be told, Your Excellency, you have displayed a gross failure of leadership in your handling of the recent electoral fraud in Ekiti State. By putting party loyalty above national consideration, by vanishing from our moral radar at the time your presence was most needed, by taking refuge in dubious silence at a time your authoritative voice was loudly imperative, by acting so reactively in a situation warranting an urgent proactive response, you created the kind of moral - and political - void capable of swallowing up a whole country. What manner of panel will heal the wounds already inflicted on our hapless country's psyche? What kind of probe will unearth what we already know? In an administration suffering from acute panelititis such as yours, hardly has anyone told you that there are certain moral responsibilities that just cannot be delegated; that there are decisions that must not be allowed to die in the red-taped files of humdrum, red-herring commissions of enquiry.

The real leader, Your Excellency, is one that is more pro-active than re-active, a medium of divination, not a grand master of post-mortems. He is one who is able to combine spontaneity with deliberativeness, balance the exigencies of the short term with the visionary pressures of the long term; one that is able to bump partisan loyalty for the national imperative. That is the kind of leader who is trusted by the people because he has made himself trustworthy; a leader who earns respect without demanding it. A Mandela who heals the wounds of a nation. A Gandhi who liberated his country from a rampaging Empire with unassailable political, moral and spiritual force.

You will agree with me that our country has not been blessed with this kind of leader at the national level in our nearly 50 years of flag independence. Basically, we have been saddled with two types of 'leaders': the pit-bull type and the head-in-the-sand dissembler. The first is the hectoring maximum dictator who rides rough-shod over our human rights while playing loose and free with the nation's treasury. In this category, generally, are the military adventurers in power who rule through the bullet rather than the ballot box.

The second category comprises the so-called civil 'leaders' with a pervasive pretence to democracy. They usually come to power through compromised elections, and make sure they do not leave office in less perverted circumstances. While the pit-bull thunders across the country with abrasive assertiveness, the head-in-the-sand type plays up a pious disinterestedness, his dagger held gingerly behind his cloak. He belongs to the breed of the so-called 'God-fearing' rulers whose wisdom is nothing but cunning, whose so-called distance is calculated aloofness. They affect some kind of national/global attitude while pursuing the narrowest of partisan/ethnic/ religious/ideological agenda. They are 'fathers' of a 'nation' of unequal children, and see nothing wrong in keeping it so. You will agree with me that a country wedged between these two monstrosities is unfortunate indeed. This has been Nigeria's plight; and this is why the country remains what Soyinka has rightly called the 'open sore of the continent'.

Children's Day

EVERY May 27 , Nigeria joins most other nations of the world to mark Children's Day instituted in line with a 1954 resolution of the United Nations as a day of worldwide fraternity and understanding among children and of activities to promote the welfare of children. Every year the celebration of Children's Day provides an opportunity for reflection on the conditions of Nigerian children. The usual story repeatedly has been one of lamentation. The plight of the Nigerian Child is regrettable.

Because few things have changed for the better in the lives of the average family in our country, the quality of life of our children - generally defined as persons below age 18 - has progressively deteriorated. Infant mortality, malnutrition, child trafficking, child abuse in the forms of child marriage and sexual exploitation and child labour are some of the indications of the difficult circumstances under which most Nigerian children live.

Arguably, the situation is worsening as more and more parents suffer unemployment, financial deprivation and lose the capacity to meet parental obligations, including of course asserting authority and control over their children. Because they are vulnerable, children are the direct and immediate victims of worsening economic conditions. The consequence of children suffering material deprivation, psychological traumatisation and educational retardation in their formative years is too frightening to contemplate. But this situation stares us in the face at this time, Nigeria is producing a generation of youths who are growing up in the midst of poverty and cynicism in a society where moral values are failing.

If as it is popularly held, children are the future of a nation, it is sad that the managers of the affairs of our country are yet to take this to heart and do the needful to invest in the country's future. It bears restating that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Nigeria, together with most other countries is a signatory commits us to take special care of and protect children because of their vulnerability.

What do children need to become, eventually, assets to themselves and to society? Not really much that this nation cannot afford : adequate meals, shelter, good primary healthcare, committed parental upbringing, good educational training, and a guaranteed future of opportunities.

It is not for want of money that our children suffer comprehensive deprivation, Nor is it for lack of local expertise and foreign assistance to lift our children out of a fate that, if care is not taken, could be worse than their parents' in their own childhood. Rather, it is for want of a broad vision of a greater tomorrow, concerned leadership, focused direction and honest, competent management of available resources. At least four of the eight Millennium Development Goals that Nigeria, like the rest of the world, must meet by 2015 focus one way or the other on the condition of children. Alas, the reports so far indicate that the country may not meet these goals.

The Child Rights Act has been in force since 2003, a few states have even domesticated it, while some states, citing religious and traditional reasons have refused to enact the law. But laws are not laws until and unless they are implemented and seen to be effective. We make bold to say that our children are yet to feel the effect of the Child Rights Law, or of a functional Child Rights Policy. And we blame government for failing in its duty. In April last year, Mrs. Turai Yar'Adua, wife of the president, launched the state chapters of the Nigerian Girls' Education Initiative (NGEI). This is a United Nations idea to enable the girl-child achieve her fullest creative and productive capacities. A worthy step but this must not go the typical Nigerian way and become an abandoned initiative. Its implementation must be sustained and carefully monitored.

Besides material deprivation, our children suffer moral dislocation and value-disorientation fostered, we regret to say, by the 'adult delinquency' that is widespread in the land. The hardest task our children face today is that they live in a society where there are few examples to look up to and this is so in spite of the long speeches and fanfare that mark the celebration of Children's Day every year. And yet this is a nation whose predominantly young population holds so much promise, in terms of energy and talent. No serious nation jokes with the future of its children.

If Nigeria of tomorrow is to be better than today's, we must prepare our children to become future leaders and worthy citizens in a nation that provides them the best opportunities to express their potential to the fullest. We wish all children a happy Children's Day.

Our children... and the road to Rome

THE excitement is in the air already - for children and adults alike. For once at least, we can temporarily put aside the excruciating pain of global (family) economic meltdown and other associated ills to celebrate with our children on their day, today, and later in the evening share in the joy the beautiful game has to offer in the European Champions League final in Rome. For us as a people, there are lessons we can learn from both events for our own good.

We congratulate our children on their day, so recognized globally by the United Nations. It could not have been for nothing that a significant proportion of the world's population should be celebrated with fanfare: they are the future. 'We are the world, we are the children...' they always remind us in a popular refrain. If indeed they are the world (future), do we always accord them the honour due to them except fleetingly on a day like this when they are only dressed up for parades in various states for the governors to show off again with the children at parade ground?

If they are the future, why do we easily forget in conflict situations -like in the Niger Delta - that this is a very vulnerable group and we still subject them to all forms of indignities? In some cases, many are even engaged as child soldiers during wars, as was witnessed in the Liberian conflagration a couple of years back. Why would any one in his or her right senses kidnap children for ransom or ritual purposes or even transport them across borders to be abused? Why, in spite of educational opportunities available to them would any parent, due to ignorance or sheer mentality of keeping people in perpetual servitude deny the young ones formal education - in this age of technological advancement? The why list is inexhaustible.

I am aware a child rights bill was being pushed around the National Assembly recently - as recent as the civilian dispensation that ended in 2007, but I am not aware of its passage. Should we then conclude that we only pay lip service to issues that concern the welfare of our own people? In other advanced cultures, children's matters are never treated with levity. That is why today, all you get to see is an army of children who hawk 'pure' water on the streets or run after motorists in the traffic with loaves of bread or any consumable whatever to earn some change to keep the family together or to facilitate the payment of school fees. These are the children who will grow up tomorrow, become somebody in life and start granting interviews on the pages of newspapers on how they hawked eko and akara for the parents and still managed to push through the school system, before launching into the millionaires club by dint of hard work. Must everybody be regaling his generation with this kind of rags-to-riches stuff?

The challenge is ours today as parents and leaders wherever to rise to the occasion and show the children that they deserve a better life like their counterparts in other parts of the world where the worth of a child is recognised. We are not saying all the children in this country face hardship, but majority do and this is not a good story to tell on our part. In spite of the economic hardship being forced on the family, a child is entitled to certain rights and basic protection.

The state has failed in certain respects to discharge its obligations for obvious reasons, mainly corruption for which the country is a front contender for a medal in the international community. For instance, leaders of government who fail to provide necessary educational opportunities for the children have shirked their responsibilities. Any talk of opportunities is not limited to the provision of classrooms or desks. A government that fails to pay teachers in its employ adequately or as and when due is a failure because, indirectly, the children suffer. In like manner, public officials who misappropriate votes for school or health infrastructure for the development of the child (it's a way of life here) have committed a crime against humanity.

No society is totally free of corruption, Or how do we place recent disclosure that some MPs in British parliament are helping themselves to taxpayers money amounting to £6.2 million by presenting questionable bills for payment, some for as little as £4000? But we are more concerned about our own inadequacies that have gone overboard, beyond permissible levels of human frailties. If a civil servant on Grade Level 8 or 9 is caught with properties worth millions of naira without any useful explanation of the source, we are bound to ask questions, or if an elected public official becomes a billionaire overnight. All we are saying is that children have a way of learning from the actions of parents or leaders. They should be spared the initiation into unholy alliances. They need direction but it should only be in the path of rectitude, for the sake of our nation. Congratulations again children on this occasion. The young shall grow.

The Champions League. We won't be far from the mark if tonight is tagged the night of stars - soccer stars who don't have any other job doing than entertain lovers of the beautiful game with their artistry. Tonight, billions of fans across the world will again be hooked to television screens to watch the best of football from Europe - of course from two of the best clubs around the world. Barcelona FC, champions from the Spanish League squaring up to Manchester United FC, champions from England. What can we expect from two great attacking sides than a pulsating, breathless 90 minutes (or 120 minutes) on the turf of the magnificent Stadio Olympico?

Consider for a brief moment an awesome three players in Christiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Teves/Dimitar Barbatov facing the other awesome three in Leo Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry. Happily, it's not a stage for men and the boys ala Patrice Evra of Man U(apology to the Gunners fans although I am proud to be one of them).

For the two sides, the road to Rome has been rough and tough. That is why they deserve the respect as finalists. Some actually see it as a dream pairing featuring two of the very best this generation has to offer: Ronaldo versus Messi. Ronaldo is the current World Footballer of the year (see what I mean) while Messi has been variously tagged as one crafty fellow who doesn't know himself what he intends to do with the ball until he lines up for a match. Wonderful! Dimunitive former soccer great Maradona says of him: 'The whole pitch belongs to him'. Tonight will prove him right or wrong.

I cannot wait for the 7.45p.m kick off. The match duration promises to be a value for time or money. Planet football is excitedly transfixed, a colleague summed up yesterday.

The lesson in this for Nigeria? Simple. The country needs organisers who are committed and meticulous in planning a faultless competition. We're not talking about the haphazard organisation our LOC men are noted for while preparing to host ordinary cadet (Under-17) world championship. Seriously, it's not the type FIFA would be so gracious to be extending deadlines interminably to accommodate our collective inefficiency as a nation. It's not one in which two sub-seat chairmen would be assuring the nation that the astro turf or the communication room will be in place, two weeks after expiration of the third ultimatum. Thank you Mr. Jack Warner for presenting us with the picture of the way we are. You captured the situation well, even as an outsider. "Nigeria is not ready," he said emphatically.

The UEFA preparations - venue, security, etc - for the finals? Oh, it was concluded last year. Two months ago when fears were expressed over the choice of Rome (Italy) for the finals, in terms of security, UEFA chief Michel Platini was apprehensive over any change in the water tight arrangements made for Rome. He was not sure whether the organisers would be able to meet up with arranging another venue! This is food for thought for our local officials.

Celebrating Children's Day

IT was in 1954 that the United Nations (UN) General Assembly recommended that all countries should institute a Universal Children's Day to be observed. This should be a day to celebrate children and draw attention to their problems. Surprisingly, 55 years after, the challenges facing children especially in African countries and other Third World countries are enormous and causing hardship to the children.

However, Nigeria adopted May 27 of every year as its Children's Day and has been steady in the observance of the day. Realising that all is not well with the World's children and recognising that children have rights that must be documented, the UN General Assembly, promoted, enforced and adopted in 1959, the Declaration of the Rights of the child which addresses the rights of children and youth under 18 years. Also in 1989, the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of the child, which covers in its 54 articles all the rights of the children. This has to do with health care, education and the right to hold opinion. Since children's day is to celebrate "Childhood", it is usually a day for tribute for all children of the world and usually marked with promises by different governments.

Obviously, the day is set aside as holiday for children and some children engage in funny activities that are characteristic of the day.

Children's day in Nigeria is traditionally celebrated with numerous activities across the country. Many go to the various stadia to participate in parades and marches and listen to speeches of various leaders. In some cases, there are variety of parties to choose from with lots of food, dancing as well as games.

Despite the addresses of government officials about the state of the Nigerian child and good promises to enhance their living standard, the condition of the children remains unchanged, unprotected and their rights violated. I think and believe that was why in a previous celebration, Dr. Robert Limlim, the Acting Representative of UNICEF in Nigeria said that the future of Nigeria depended on her children. He called for more investment in children, adding that funds from the country's oil windfall should be set aside for specific child focused interventions. Children from over 30 schools in and around Abuja, the country's Federal Capital Territory, gathered at the Eagle Square.

However, in a previous celebration, President Umaru Yar'Adua promised that his administration was doing everything possible to ensure children in Nigeria enjoy their rights. The President was represented by the then Federal Capital Territory Minister, Dr. Umaru Modibbo. As part of efforts to encourage the children, the president said "our children are our future, so we must take our commitment to children seriously". At the celebration, 18 states that have not passed the child rights bill were asked to do so for the sake of the children. Whatever the case may be, as we mark this year's Children's Day, we should not forget the physically challenged children as they can also contribute to the development of the nation. Happily, some of the physically challenged ones are now being offered political appointments and as a result serve in the state executive where they contribute meaningfully, a good example is Kano State, it is necessary for other state governors to borrow a leaf.

It is important to state that most-member states of the UN are signatories to the convention, however, the basic rights enunciated in this convention are still being violated with impunity in these countries that have adopted the convention. This is because children are still flagrantly being abused and neglected both at the family, community and governmental levels. Apart from being a signatory to the convention on the rights of the child, it is vividly clear that Nigeria has demonstrated the convention in the Child Rights Act under President Yar'Adua, which the National Assembly passed after much prevarication occasioned by opposition to its passage by some members based on perceived incompatibility of some provisions of the law with their religious and cultural beliefs. Despite the UN convention on the Rights of the child and the Child Rights Act, it is flabbergasting that the rights of the children of Nigeria, to a large extent are still being violated at the family, community, state and federal levels.

For example, such basic rights as the right to education, healthcare, protection from child labour, trafficking, sexual and other forms of exploitation and drug abuse, right to rest and leisure, play and recreation, right to decent standards of living, right to protection from abuse and neglect, protection from illicit transfer and illegal adoption, right to survival and development and the right to non-discrimination are scarcely respected or enforced. In diverse forms, children are being discriminated against. In some states of the country, discriminatory school fees are being charged. While in some other states, children from some parts of the country are not admitted, all based on ethnicity and or religion. In this connection, where is the one Nigeria?

For many Nigerian children, children's day is just a day like any other day this is because such children are living below poverty line while struggling to make enough money to feed themselves and often, other members of their families. Some children live on the streets doing menial jobs for survival, some face the risk of being sold and trafficked, some are being abused, maltreated and exploited, some are sick with no access to healthcare, some have no clean water or electricity. In other words, they suffer all days. It makes no difference to them because of hardship as well as abject poverty and the holiday is nothing to them because they don't even attend school.

As we mark this year's Children's day, let us make useful plans for Nigerian children. Such developmental plans should cut across the three tiers of government - local, state and federal. In addition, the lawmakers representing various senatorial zones and constituencies should contribute meaningfully towards the progress and development of Nigerian children who are our future leaders

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Case for Peace in N/Delta

The renewed flare-up in the volatile Niger- Delta region came to a head last week when the military admitted that 12 of its men had been killed or taken hostage by the militants. By Thursday May 21, the Joint Military Taskforce (JTF) charged with maintaining peace in the region, had declared a factional leader of one of the militant groups, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), Mr. Tompolo wanted. The tone of the statement showed that the Taskforce was determined to smoke out all the militants from their hide-outs. It said it would no longer tolerate the killing of military personnel by militants that have turned violence and hostage taking into an industry. All these forebode ill for the people of the area.
There were reports of massive military attacks on the suspected havens of the militants in which some innocent civilians were said to have been killed or displaced. While some have condemned the attack as high-handedness, the government and the military authorities have justified it as part of measures aimed at restoring order in the region. Last week, the House of Representatives even called for similar military action in Bayelsa and Rivers States. The JTF has denied any deliberate hostility against civilian populations. According to its spokes person, the military action by the taskforce is aimed at punishing killers and hostage-takers that have turned the Niger-Delta into a war zone.
Between those two claims may lie the truth—which is that the militants might have killed some military personnel and that in response the JTF might have hit back and some civilians may have been affected in the ensuing clashes. In that likely circumstance, it is necessary to caution both sides to refrain from actions that could further escalate the violence and fatalities in the troubled region.
Any meaningful solution to the Niger Delta crisis must shun both extremes. The militants must realise the harm they are causing the very same people they purport to be fighting for each time they take one innocent hostage. By killing soldiers on national assignment in the region, the militants are only endangering the lives of the people as has become obvious in the past few weeks. Unless they seek a peaceful means of expressing their grievance they risk losing public sympathy and escalating the violence in the area. This is not only detrimental to the economic well-being of the nation but more so to the survival of the Niger-Delta people.
The aphorism that violence begets violence is particularly true of the Niger-Delta. Each time the militants take a hostage, the JTF goes after them. In the process, some innocent civilians get caught up in the cross fire.
We believe that unless the Niger Delta crisis is handled with greater maturity the line between peace-keeping and genocide may be wiped off. This must be avoided. And to do this, both parties—the militants and the JTF — must refrain from undue resort to violence.
While we condemn the attitude of the militants who have turned hostage taking into a lucrative industry, we urge the JTF to apply targeted attacks on the criminals in order to minimize casualties among innocent citizens. We appeal to both parties not to block access to the wounded who need to be evacuated and rehabilitated. While the government must intensify efforts at alleviating the suffering of the people of the Niger-Delta, the militant elements need to understand that violence will not make that process faster. Instead it will only make things worse.
No government, worth its authority, will fold its arms while criminal elements hold innocent citizens to ransom and disrupt the economic jugular of a nation. The government certainly owes it a duty to defend law-abiding citizens from such criminals. In doing that, however, it must be careful to minimize collateral damage.

The Senate and the Oil Lobby

It is a story of allegations, denials and a promised investigation, but also one of questions and lessons. When the Punch Newspaper reported that “Oil companies operating in Nigeria might have compromised members of the National Assembly and the labour unions to shoot down the reforms planned for the oil and gas industry,” the story also contained denials by representatives of Labour and the National Assembly.
One would have thought that the story about the trip of 10 Senators to Ghana would end there, but it didn’t. On May 14, Dr. Emmanuel Egbogah claimed he was misrepresented and apologized to the National Assembly. He was at an investigative interaction with the House of Representatives’ Committees on Petroleum Upstream and Petroleum Downstream.
Last week, Egbogah followed this up with a newspaper advertorial to apologise to the National Assembly.
The sponsors of the trip, the Oil Producers Trade Section of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce, are silent over the issue, but the Punch Newspaper has also published the full interview with Egbogah.
Asked what he felt about “government’s reaction to criticism by the oil companies concerning the reforms”, Egbogah was quoted as saying “We know what they are doing and we cannot be intimidated. They are carrying campaigns, bringing the senators to Ghana and feed them, going to the labour people to bribe them and say that this reform will kill you and all that nonsense. We cannot allow them to continue like this. We will take our destiny into our hands and Nigerians will begin to see the benefits.”
For a lengthy interview as published in the Punch on May 17, the reporter must have recorded it. We believe that the recorded interview will go a long way in clearing the air.
But of greater importance to us is the confirmation that the 10 senators were indeed sponsored to Ghana for briefing. The Senate confirmed as much when after a show of anger over the allegations in its hallowed chambers, its spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze said they were unhappy about the trip.
He said, “I need to say clearly that we have found out unfortunately and regrettably that there was an attempt by some private sector organisations to lobby members of the National Assembly on the bill that is before the National Assembly and we found out today that some members of the National Assembly did go to Ghana.
“We are also not very happy with the development because section 21 of our standing rules specifies categorically that before you can travel abroad for whatever reason, you must write to the leadership of the Senate… The committee or the individuals that are involved never wrote to the leadership, never informed us, so we are completely in the dark about the people who made the trip”.
There is no evidence that the 10 Senators were bribed, but we are aware that sponsors of such trips are responsible for their tickets, choice accommodation and feeding and sundry expenses. Even if this is described as lobbying, and not bribery, we are concerned that it is a case of conflict of interest.
The briefing in Ghana may have made the 10 senators better informed about oil and gas operations in Nigeria, and obviously the oil companies’ position on the oil and gas sector reforms, which their chief executives have been speaking publicly about.
But assuming that it was proper; couldn’t it have held in Nigeria? As Senators, they should not only be proud of their country, but also show oil company executives, some of who are expatriates, that this is a great country. In some other oil –producing countries, they dare not engage legislators in this manner.
This issue has also brought to the fore the quality of legislative assistants some of our Senators have employed with the tax payer’s money. Elsewhere, legislative assistants are highly competent people, educated enough to conduct research into various subjects and prepare authoritative briefs for their bosses to use on the floors of the national assembly. With this quality of assistants, lawmakers do not need the kind of compromising briefing as the case in point.
The practice is also an opportunity to train future politicians, who learn how the legislature works on the job.
We commend the position of the Senate on the issue and wish to advise that they take the lessons therein seriously.

Fuel Scarcity

For the fourth week going, a biting fuel scarcity has plunged Nigerians into avoidable hardship. Government officials have tried to offer explanations, but for many Nigerians a satisfactory rationalisation can only mean the availability of the products.
In the main, government has insisted on removing the subsidy on petroleum products and embarking on complete deregulation of the downstream oil sector. The petroleum marketers, who had been the main importers of the product, have however argued that with the removal of the subsidy, the landing cost of the products cannot remain at N65 per litre, but government still seems to have a say in the pricing regime. And so there was a stalemate; the major reason for the prolonged scarcity of the product as only the NNPC has become the main importer of the products.
In the first place, if government was proactive enough, it should have known that the plan to completely deregulate the sector would cause disruptions in the supply chain. And so there should have made some contingency arrangements to contain the arising eventualities. It does seem that the decision to remove the subsidy was announced before plans were made to handle the effect.
Two, it is fairly ironic that Nigerians are now being asked to pay more for petroleum products at a time when the price of the products in the international market is at an all time low. The government and even the marketers once push the argument that low crude oil prices would lead to lower prices of the products. Many Nigerians believe that if all the leakages and sleaze that take place in the oil sector are effectively blocked, Nigerians would pay less for the products.
The other worrisome issue is why nothing has been done about the so-called cartel. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has said that government is aware of a cartel sabotaging the supply process. The natural expectation is for government to have brought them to book, and at least expose the racketeers among them. How can government know those sabotaging the economy and yet spare them the wrath of the law?
We believe fundamentally that the fuel scarcity is completely avoidable. For, if all the nation’s refineries are to function at installed capacity, our import needs will be far less than what it is today. Even then, the private refineries licenses issued by the previous government are aimed at making Nigeria not only to stop the importation of finished products, but also to export same. But about five years after those licenses were issued, the beneficiaries have not built even one.
Given the sensitivity of oil to the Nigerian economy, we expect sufficient sensitization on the developments in the sector. There should be faultless explanation to the people who continue to bear the brunt of the problems associated with the fuel crisis.
Although the government has reached some agreement with the marketers, we call on government to rise to the occasion by dealing with the menace of saboteurs in the sector, we believe the government must begin to take more holistic steps that will address the problem once and for all, and save the nation the frequent embarrassment of fuel scarcity. One way it can do this is to encourage the holders of the licenses to build their refineries and get Nigeria to even export finished products.
All said, Nigerians want an immediate end to fuel-induced suffering especially as it affects almost every facet of our social life including even having to generate our own electricity, which also depends on petroleum products. The government should thus devise quick measures of tackling the problem and save Nigerians the daily agony. After all, government is in place to solve the problems of the people

Unremitted tax funds

The revelation that some banks, ministries, agencies and departments of the Federal Government are neck-deep in collecting taxes on behalf of government without remitting them to the appropriate authorities is simply scandalous. It is a betrayal of trust. It is unethical, wrong and amounts to economic sabotage.

According to the Minister of State for Finance, Mr Remi Babalola, an astonishing N298 billion remains unpaid by these banks and ministries into government coffers. A breakdown of the withheld tax funds include N260 billion owed by government agencies and some private organizations, and another $260 million in Withholding Tax (WHT), Pay as You Earn (PAYE), and Value Added Tax (VAT).

Clearly, the amount involved is a dizzying sum that seems to have fallen into a black hole. Coming at a time when government sources of revenue are dwindling, especially from oil, the news of these withheld tax funds is alarming.

It also shows the kind of leakages that exist in our tax collection system. What these banks and government agencies have done calls for appropriate penalty and a genuine effort towards reforming our country’s tax system. The penalty should begin with the banks that may have helped themselves at the detriment of government which appointed them based on confidence, openness and transparency.

Now, they have eroded that trust which is essential in a bank/client relationship. Without doubt, the offence is a serious breach that has far-reaching implications. It must be visited with appropriate punitive sanctions. We recommend that the affected banks remit forthwith into government coffers the withheld sums with interest at prevailing market rate. Such underhand practice should be thoroughly investigated to avoid future occurrence.

For the banks involved in this revolving door of greed, government should cancel whatever contractual agreements it entered into with them. There is one telling lesson in all these: What the accused banks have done should be an eye-opener to government, and a clarion call on the need to enhance government revenue through broadening of its tax base.

But effective surveillance and monitoring is imperative to checkmate such black holes. This is the time to be more vigilant on revenue collection mechanism. Henceforth, government should stipulate adequate sanctions against offenders who fail to remit tax funds within a specified time.

In this direction, there is need to build realistic tax compliance measures and frameworks on how to improve revenue management. What the banks and ministries of government have done in withholding these tax funds is a pointer that old measures have failed and new, leak-proof ones have become inevitable.
We recommend that in addition to the above-mentioned measures, government should dispatch special tax examiners and auditors to the affected banks to ensure quick and accurate remittance of the tax funds.

But these agencies cannot be effective in the discharge of this enormous responsibility if they are not well monitored and insulated from red tapism. Therefore, we urge the supervising ministry, the Ministry of Finance, to clearly spell out their mandates and give them the needed support, through professional skills and ethics. If the current efforts to revamp the economy are to yield the desired results, all loose ends of revenue collection should be plugged.

Unremitted tax funds

The revelation that some banks, ministries, agencies and departments of the Federal Government are neck-deep in collecting taxes on behalf of government without remitting them to the appropriate authorities is simply scandalous. It is a betrayal of trust. It is unethical, wrong and amounts to economic sabotage.

According to the Minister of State for Finance, Mr Remi Babalola, an astonishing N298 billion remains unpaid by these banks and ministries into government coffers. A breakdown of the withheld tax funds include N260 billion owed by government agencies and some private organizations, and another $260 million in Withholding Tax (WHT), Pay as You Earn (PAYE), and Value Added Tax (VAT).

Clearly, the amount involved is a dizzying sum that seems to have fallen into a black hole. Coming at a time when government sources of revenue are dwindling, especially from oil, the news of these withheld tax funds is alarming.

It also shows the kind of leakages that exist in our tax collection system. What these banks and government agencies have done calls for appropriate penalty and a genuine effort towards reforming our country’s tax system. The penalty should begin with the banks that may have helped themselves at the detriment of government which appointed them based on confidence, openness and transparency.

Now, they have eroded that trust which is essential in a bank/client relationship. Without doubt, the offence is a serious breach that has far-reaching implications. It must be visited with appropriate punitive sanctions. We recommend that the affected banks remit forthwith into government coffers the withheld sums with interest at prevailing market rate. Such underhand practice should be thoroughly investigated to avoid future occurrence.

For the banks involved in this revolving door of greed, government should cancel whatever contractual agreements it entered into with them. There is one telling lesson in all these: What the accused banks have done should be an eye-opener to government, and a clarion call on the need to enhance government revenue through broadening of its tax base.

But effective surveillance and monitoring is imperative to checkmate such black holes. This is the time to be more vigilant on revenue collection mechanism. Henceforth, government should stipulate adequate sanctions against offenders who fail to remit tax funds within a specified time.

In this direction, there is need to build realistic tax compliance measures and frameworks on how to improve revenue management. What the banks and ministries of government have done in withholding these tax funds is a pointer that old measures have failed and new, leak-proof ones have become inevitable.
We recommend that in addition to the above-mentioned measures, government should dispatch special tax examiners and auditors to the affected banks to ensure quick and accurate remittance of the tax funds.

But these agencies cannot be effective in the discharge of this enormous responsibility if they are not well monitored and insulated from red tapism. Therefore, we urge the supervising ministry, the Ministry of Finance, to clearly spell out their mandates and give them the needed support, through professional skills and ethics. If the current efforts to revamp the economy are to yield the desired results, all loose ends of revenue collection should be plugged.

Letter to President Yar'Adua

DEAR President Yar'Adua, welcome back from South Africa. I am happy you were invited to President Jacob Zuma's inauguration, and doubly happy that you accepted the invitation and were, indeed, able to honour it. For you as President of Nigeria at this material time, it must have been a humbling situation and learning experience. In many ways, this looks very much like Nigeria's season of education from the South.

Yes, South Africa, until barely two decades ago, the site of one of the most cruel and barbaric racist regimes in the history of humankind, was, indeed, inaugurating its third president since the apartheid system came to a painful, inglorious end in 1990, and genuine democracy commenced in 1994. Not far from you, on the dais reserved for dignitaries, were the country's two former presidents - Mr. Zuma's predecessors: the inimitable Nelson Mandela, veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, and first democratically elected leader of South Africa; then Thabo Mbeki, his successor, the cerebral, patriotic, and honourable man who stepped down from office when asked to without bringing down the entire country with him.

Two enviable statesmen, no doubt, respectable and worthily respected, their places assured in history as memorable nurturers of democracy and the electoral process which serves as its engine of continuity. They are genuine heroes of democracy because they went into office in the democratic way and left office in the democratic way, thus laying the foundation for a tradition of smooth and civilised succession. They never used 'the power of incumbency', as is the practice in Nigeria, to imperil their country's political peace. I am sure you must have noticed the peaceful, celebratory atmosphere, the ebullient dignity and sense of purpose that characterised the entire occasion. You must have felt the pulse of a country poised for development and progress, history's shackles and contemporary challenges notwithstanding. You must have seen a truly 'nascent democracy' at work.

Were you surprised, Mr. President, that the grandeur and significance of the occasion was not marred by grim-faced, discontented opposition party members cheated out of victory through electoral fraud? Were you surprised the inauguration site was not besieged by placard-carrying demonstrators with banners loud with proclamations such as Down With The Electoral Commission; Vote-Robbers, Shame On You!; We Want Real Election, Not Fraudulent Selection; Mr President, How Much Did You Buy Your Victory? In your exploration of the mass media, did you find newspaper pages dripping with words and phrases such as 'rig', 'ballot box-snatching', 'thugs', 'collation errors', 'INECGATE', 'ballot papers with missing serial numbers'. Did you read about any ward where the number of votes supposedly cast was double the number of potential voters in the voter's register? Did you discover any cases of bribery and subornation of electoral officers? Did you find a South African Tatalo Alamu protesting the 'abolition' of the South African electorate? Did you observe citizens clamouring for the electoral petition tribunal as though it were a natural, inevitable, extension of the voting process? Did you see demonstrators in the streets carrying the coffin of democracy and performing mock burials of its murderers?

Mr. President, April was, indeed, the cruelest month for you. For while you were in South Africa toasting the healthy culmination of a working electoral (and political) process, the country over which you rule was unraveling from a shameful but customary electoral brigandage in one of its vital parts. The story of the famous 're-rerun election' in Ekiti is now so familiar that even the roadside grass knows its pith and plot. But to refresh your memory, and for History's sake, here it is in a nutshell. In February this year, an election tribunal presiding over the chaotic 2007 elections nullified the votes in 63 wards in 10 local governments in Ekiti, sacked the sitting governor who owed his electoral victory to those illegal votes, and ordered a fresh election in the affected areas. April 25 was fixed for this election. The campaigns leading up to the election were fierce and frightening. You should know because Your Excellency and the top guns of your party stormed Ekiti State with spectacular federal might to campaign for your candidate. Your party leaders vowed to recapture Ekiti 'by all means', including the use of the Mobile Police and soldiers. Many well-meaning Nigerians wondered why your party, the PDP, was so insistent on the deployment of armed personnel in a civil election, and not on a 'free and fair' election that the other party was demanding.

Well, April 25 arrived and polling commenced with all the dread and violence foretold. The situation in Oye was so tense that polling in its two wards had to be postponed. A federal senator from that town was reportedly arrested along with about 65 weapon-wielding thugs found in his house. In Oye, Ifaki, and some other places, accredited journalists and election observers were beaten up and/or detained, their professional equipment seized or damaged. But somehow, polling was relatively peaceful in other areas, and the returns started coming in, with the vote tally virtually even for the two candidates.

Then came the now famous Ido-Osi figures which allocated nearly 16,000 votes to the PDP and barely over 3,000 to the AC. These figures got red flags flashing everywhere in the way they violated every law of probability, and the amazing manner they ran against the voting trend in all other areas. And to make the curious curiouser still, on-the-spot reports later revealed that these Ido-Osi jumbo figures were collated at a police station, the designated collation centre having been burnt down. And these returns were reportedly not endorsed by the appropriate party agents as required by law.

The arrival of the Ido-Osi figures opened up another act in the re-run's macabre drama. Ekiti Resident Electoral Officer, 74 year-old Mrs Ayoka Adebayo, JP, discerned the fraud in the figures and refused to announce the results, disappearing instead into the dark anonymity of Ado Ekiti night, and shocking a bewildered nation hours later with a letter of resignation from her REC position. She had to abscond, the letter said, instead of succumbing to pressures from powerful quarters to announce what she described as 'fake results', an act grievously against her 'Christian conscience'. Significantly enough, this letter was addressed to you as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, although I am not sure if it ever got a reply. The nation's political heart stopped beating, for a while, as people pondered the uncommon, un-Nigerian, courage that produced Ayoka Adebayo's unprecedented action.

But the federal response to the REC's resignation was jittery, awkward, and unmistakably suspect. Mrs Ayoka Adebayo was treated like someone whose act was likely to bring about the collapse of the Republic. First, the nation's Inspector-General of Police declared her wanted; Maurice Iwu, INEC boss, lied to the nation that she was ill but wanted her in Abuja all the same. As for Professor Dora Akunyili, your Minister of Information and Matron of the Re-Brand-Nigeria campaign, what mattered most was not the electoral bringandage in Ekitiland, but the damage the Ekiti REC's resgnation would do to Nigeria's international image. The Ekiti REC remained underground, the nation held its breath, wondering what next.

Nigeria and Obama’s visit to Africa

In and out of government in Nigeria, there is considerable disquiet over the exclusion of Abuja from the itinerary of the visit of United States President, Mr. Barack Obama, to West Africa. A press release from the White House, stating that the American leader would be discussing “a range of bilateral and regional issues with Ghanaian President Mills,” conveys a sense of diminution of stature on a Nigerian community accustomed to viewing itself as undisputed powerhouse of the West African sub-region and the entire continent.

Nigerians, no doubt, know what it means to the countries of Europe, North and South America, as well as Asia, to be chosen as first for an official visit by the American leader. They, therefore, easily grasp what is implied in the expressed preference for the Republic of Ghana as first and only destination for President Obama when he comes to West Africa in July.

What has therefore elevated Ghana in global reckoning, well above Nigeria, as to command endorsement by the White House as “one of our most trusted partners in sub-Saharan Africa”? America reckons that the West African nation is worthy of its association because it has evolved orderly political succession, a vibrant democratic culture and appreciable economic performance for over a decade. The Obama government also believes that Ghana is the appropriate reference point for a discussion of “the critical role that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting development.”

The world’s leading democracy and sole military super power is pointing to Ghana as a more deserving partner in her policy of constructive engagement with Africa and the rest of the world.

It has to be emphasised, however, that what is at play is the dynamics of international relations which, as the nations of the world know, is constantly under evaluation and subject to change as circumstances might dictate. That should be comforting to the government and people of Nigeria, as it leaves room for a reassessment of the country’s credentials and warmer, mutually beneficial relations with the outside world.

Nigeria has done so much at enormous human and material cost to advance the cause of peace, racial harmony and integration, democracy and socio-economic development in Africa and elsewhere. In years past, the country had been widely applauded and respected by the international community for its sacrifices. That, however, has not blinded the outside world to the nation’s gross underperformance in economic management, democratic practice, human rights, and governance, generally.

The U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was unequivocal when, in clarifying matters relating to President Obama’s proposed visit to Africa, she spelt out the criteria for warm relations with countries – good governance and social inclusion; transparency in government; acceptance of a vibrant opposition and zero tolerance for corruption.

A critical self-assessment would show that Nigeria is crying for improvement in all those areas. A government machinery-executive and legislative- dominated by persons of questionable character, with manifest disinclination to constitutionalism and transparency in the management of national affairs, is likely to be ostracised by progressive countries. That is the clear message from Washington.

Social inclusion needs to be pursued as a cardinal policy in the country’s striving for national reinvention and acceptance in the comity of nations. For too long, from independence till date, the ruling elite have been preoccupied with political and economic schemes that create wide disparities in the distribution of wealth and in access to the means of social mobility.

The Yar’Adua administration should take Obama’s visit to Ghana as a wake-up call to revamp the weak democratic process and failing state institutions. There are acceptable international standards of good governance to which the nation must conform if it desires to be reckoned with in the comity of civilized nations.

Nigeria has a right to dismiss the views of other nations on matters of governance, but the many deficits in our national life – an unbroken history of electoral anarchy and imposition of political leaders; pervasive corruption in all tiers of government; collapse of basic infrastructure and social services; mass poverty; high crime rate; mass emigration of citizens, etc. – remain challenges that must be addressed if our country is to court the friendship of progressive nations.

We’re unserious

WE are not serious! How can a nation that prides itself as a sports giant, of any hue, be unable to maintain football pitches to useable standards? How do our leaders feel knowing that we excel in doing things poorly, much to the embarrassment of those who look up to us?
Tuesday’s announcement that only two of the six facilities that Nigeria is proposing for the FIFA U-17 Championships are ready was not unexpected. It is only FIFA’s magnanimity, informed mostly by the fact that there are no alternative hosts at such short notice that saved the day.

FIFA's inspections of Nigeria stadia is one of the most scandalous enterprises in the world. It started in 1986 and has become a recurring insult on our collective conscience, except that the beneficiaries of this disgrace have carved a niche for themselves as experts in the promotion of the most astounding low standards.

Only in Nigeria do stadia fall into disrepair, months after they were used for international competitions and after millions of Naira have been committed to seeing them squeeze through FIFA’s standards.

Nigeria has been vacation destination for FIFA officials in the past 23 years with our officials expecting that FIFA would lower the standards to our own set ways of doing things badly. Nowhere else does FIFA go through the number of inspections that it does in Nigeria. It took more than 14 inspections for Nigeria to host the 1999 World Youth Championships. A year after, the same stadia that were used had to be renovated for the 2000 Nations Cup.

In other places people aim for the higher standards, in Nigeria we prefer the minimal marks that would earn us the hosting rights. This preference ensures that the facilities are in bad shape as soon as the competitions are over.

The corruption that results in poorly built, ill-maintained sports facilities that are perpetually under re-construction should engage the attention of anyone who is interested in getting Nigeria out of this morass.

“It is shocking for us to learn that work started not early enough on the facilities, in some venues just days before our coming here for the final inspection. They gave us flimsy excuses on why they were not ready. This is an indictment of Nigeria’s ability,” said Jack Warner, FIFA’s Vice-President, who has been involved in inspections in Nigeria since 1993. He was visibly disappointed with Nigeria. In 1995 FIFA moved the World Youth Championship from Nigeria to Qatar, less than a month to the event.

Why does the country endure this sort of disgrace everytime it wants to host a competition?

FIFA’s decision to give the other venues a-30 day extension creates more avenues for opportunists to make more money and maintains our attitude of doing the simplest things in the most complicated and confounding ways.

Whether FIFA grants Nigeria the final nod or not, the country has added to its reputation for poor standards.

N8.7 Billion Insult

IN the heat of the colossal loss of lives in military operations against peoples of the Niger Delta, the Federal Executive Council only mourns loss of revenue estimated at N8.7 billion daily. Nigeria’s attitude to the Niger Delta is predicated on oil revenue. Each time revenue drops from disruption of oil and gas operations, the nation goes to war against its citizens – oil money must flow at all costs.

The cost this time is the lives of ordinary Nigerians, whose communities have been razed as the military continues its operations in the region, without a care about the agony it is inflicting on ordinary people, whose fault is that they live in places where oil exploration is deemed more important than their lives.

How more insulting can this government be? While lives are being lost, the future of thousands of people fractured, Nigerians displaced in their own country in military operations that are deficient in the level of intelligence that preceded it, the Federal Government talks about loss of oil revenue.

What is the worth of a Nigerian life? The military invaded hospitals in Warri, impeding medical assistance to the injured. Elsewhere, soldiers offer medical assistance to civilians during operations. What relief provisions has the Federal Government made for those it has rendered homeless in its reckless efforts to beef up its revenue from oil?

Government is not counting the human waste. There are no statistics on the dead. No word is uttered about the sheer intensity of the bombardment unleashed on the area. The lasting damage from this operation – like the devastation of oil production – is of no concern to the government.

Nobody would support criminals, whatever name they bear. However, the current operation in the Niger Delta is not about fishing out criminals. Is government ignorant of criminals who operate unfettered in other places? Of course, parts that bear no oil are of minimal importance to government.

An obsession with oil revenue overrides all considerations. The military does not have adequate information on its foes. It covers this up by demolishing entire communities on suspicions that they harbour criminals.

Military operations in the Niger Delta reflect government’s desperation over dwindling oil revenue. It is a fight to emphasise premium government places on oil revenue above everything. It does not matter how many lives it takes to secure one more barrel of oil, the resource on which our leaders hinge their thoughts.

The National Assembly joined the Executive in approving military bombardments of hapless Nigerians. Its shameful silence to the sufferings of Nigerians (pleading national security) is another confirmation of the importance of oil over people.

Success in the Niger Delta, by this approach, would be determined by how many barrels of oil the operations would restore to national output. It does not matter how many lives would perish to achieve it.

Yet after the bombardment, government must engage the same people whose rights it annihilated by avoidable military operations – what a waste!

Yar’Adua Vs Cartel

THERE is little relief in hearing President Umaru Yar’Adua stating his intention to fight the cartel in the oil sector. He has just discovered the cartel and its destructive tendencies. The nature of the fight is unknown and most Nigerians would be pleasantly surprised if it ever took off. Nigerians have gone through years of unfulfilled promises and this may be one of them. Who are members of this
cartel that the government intends to fight? Why did the President not name them?

We think the damage that the oil cartel has done over the years to Nigerians would have warranted a more serious
approach to the matter. It is widely agreed – the President’s is just the latest voice – that the conspiracy of the cartel is responsible for corruption euphemistically called leakages in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector.

Billions of Dollars have been lost to the leakages, through inflated contracts, over pricing of products or stealing
of resources that would have been invested in improving Nigeria.

The last that would be heard about the encounter with the oil cartel could be the President’s promise. It is sad.
The President does not need our permission to commence the fight. He has the public’s support, but serving notice grants the enemy advantage.

His public declaration of a war gives the cartel time to string strategies to frustrate it.

Nigerians cannot be fooled by the promise. We have seen this sort of thing times over. When government is unable or unwilling to tackle a situation, it states a long intent to fight it, as the President has. It is insulting to treat
Nigerians in this contemptuous manner in an issue that affects their lives.

The refineries do not work and the present argument supports them never to work. None of these is new. Corruption is central to non-execution of the contracts to fix the refineries. The short fall in supply of petroleum products is linked to higher prices that result from the fuzzy practices in the oil and gas sector.

Government has ignored these. It pushes its programme to de-regulate the sector. Government and the cartel are in the same boat when it comes to interpreting de-regulation. It means increased prices to curb the inefficiencies in the sector. These inefficiencies are corrupt practices that government officials encourage by making no effort to
punish illegalities.

The most recent round of fuel crisis is another opportunity for government to wave de-regulation as the panacea for scarcities. This lop-sided position fails to recognise that existing high prices would dictate the de-regulated
prices for these products that are too critical to be left to the whims of cut-throat business people, who have prospered for years conniving with governments to cheat Nigerians.

President Yar’Adua would have a challenge of convincing Nigerians that he can act. For a cartel that outrightly
sabotages the economy, the President’s utterances about it are at best timid and unconvincing.

Fractured Future

THE obsession dominating today is a distinguishing factor of Nigerian politics. The search for relevance today makes our elected officials to easily appropriate tomorrow now and forget the damaging implications.
Everything is about today’s leaders. If they happen on scanty thoughts on tomorrow that would make them appear relevant today, they latch to them with an uncommon zeal. Politics they understand is the only business in town. It pays hugely to hook to politics and maintain the grip in the do-or die prescription of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Calls for politicians to stop campaigns for 2011 and concentrate on the tenures have yielded no fruits. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who admonished his party last month to stop campaigns for 2011 must have been speaking to himself. He has no converts.

There are some politicians whose politics centre on new tenures for incumbents, whether they are in the executive or legislature. They are usually those left out of any meaningful positions in government. They use these campaigns to engage the attention of elected officials and feather their own nests claiming they are never short of customers in Nigeria’s electoral system, where we mobilise votes, voters and electoral officials. These days they have made their way into government in various capacities.

Senate President David Bonaventure Mark appears angry too about the campaigns that are consuming time that would have been used for urgent national issues. He expressed his anger to some leaders of the North Central section of his party. According to him, the best form of campaign is the execution of projects that would benefit the people.

It is doubtful if anyone would listen to him. He should know how interested politicians are in showing their faces at public functions to advertise projects that only they know and understand.

It is a circus that sits well with our politics. With all the noise about accountability, the people know nothing about what their governments do, though there are frequent claims that these things are done in the common interest.

As corrupt politicians (add the directionless) increase in their numbers, with dwindling resources from oil and gas, it is clear that Nigeria’s future is in fractures. All the talks about diversifying the economy are just words. Corruption sees to it that oil revenue is mostly stolen with the remainder applied to projects that facilitate more corruption.

Mark should understand the mentality of his fellow politicians. Most of them have an empty past, live only for today, but must postpone any responsibility for today by asking for more time for their dreams of exhausting the public till.

Pretences that the future is important reflect in minimal investments in education, health, food, security, protection of the environment and sustainable interest in the youth. In Nigeria, words speak more than actions - our leaders relish words.

A country that abbreviates investments in drivers of the future is guaranteed no future, or at best a fractured one.

CBN and the lending rate

THE Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently issued what may be termed a new regime of monetary policy anchored on the declaration of new monetary policy rates which the commercial banks are expected to observe with every sense of responsibility. From April 14, 2009, lending rate by commercial banks must not exceed 22 per cent while the deposit rate is capped at 15 per cent.

In order to ease the cost of sourcing funds by commercial banks from the CBN, the rate has been brought down from 9.75 per cent to 8.0 per cent. Besides, and to further ease the monetary policy environment and expand the scope of lending by the commercial banks, the CBN also overhauled its rules and regulations guiding the management of cash and liquidity by the commercial banks. For example, the liquidity ratio which each bank must observe must not fall below 25.0 per cent (formerly set at 30.0 per cent) while the cash reserve requirement has been reduced from 2.0 per cent to 1.0 per cent.

The situation now created will give the commercial banks more room to respond to their customers who need cash and at the same time more customers can be given loans. Banks can even increase their loans to deserving customers. Indeed, the CBN has responded to the need of the country for a lower cost of funds by stipulating a cap on lending rates (22.0 per cent).

The Central Bank of Nigeria must be commended for taking this decision long awaited even before the global financial meltdown. Easing the credit situation to enable production to improve across the country and across the spectrum of the economy removes Nigeria from the siege-economy framework foisted on the country by a myriad of conditions. Prominent among these were the corruption and spending-mania of the state and local governments coupled with the lack-lustre and slow-pace performance of the Federal Government in addressing critical bottlenecks in the economy.

The CBN faces a major challenge especially in a situation where global demand for Nigerian products has retreated. Demand for our products must be encouraged moreso as a vast amount of national resources has been either unemployed or under-employed. This much is evident in a growing capacity under-utilisation and possibly in the bourgeoning inventory in companies and all because credit has become rather expensive and hard to access. Rather than respond to the situation by developing new products to handle the situation given unreasonable prohibitive interest rates they charge, the penchant of the commercial banks is to open branches overseas in Africa, Europe and the United States. Indeed, the initial deposit for opening an account in some of our banks is hundreds of thousands of naira.

The new interest rate regime will stimulate the economy and possibly help to refocus the banks. Rather than opt for fiscal stimulus, the CBN has engineered a response from the other end of policy, which is more appropriate at this point given the weakness of fiscal policy.

However, the pressing question is whether the CBN should directly intervene in the determination of interest rates even at this point in our economic experience. Rail-roading the Bankers Committee into the framework as if they were part of the decision is not convincing and it looks like the old trick of the Obasanjo presidency. Bankers do not enjoy being hamstrung in matters of deciding how much they sell their products as this amounts to price control. It is worse when the regulator does not control the price at which they buy their inputs, ranging from labour and utilities to the taxes on infrastructure. The danger in what the CBN has done is that this may in the long run degenerate into a clamour for the control of input prices and who knows where all that will lead to if the financial meltdown does not abate in the short to medium-term range.

The sanctions the CBN promised defaulters and recalcitrant elements in the fold may be well-intentioned but may not be wise. There are some bank charges for services which the banks cannot be expected to provide free. This includes administrative charges and the smaller the loan the more burdensome. This is not to mention the problem of risk which the global Bassel Accord advises banks to handle with utmost seriousness, because poor risk management by banks is at the root of bank failures. How much freedom is allowed banks in the context of these global accords, which must be domesticated, remains to be seen.

Paying sanctions and fines has never been a problem or a deterrent for Nigerian banks as they turn in billions of profit, pre or post-tax annually. The threat of a sack for the Managing Director can also be ignored given the profit expected from a particular decision. What the CBN needs is what it has never been able to accomplish - efficient banking supervision. There is hardly any alternative to this if our banking system must improve. Banning interest-rate-violating banks from the Retail Dutch Auction System (RDAS) does not also show a correlation in terms of offence and punishment.

What all this amounts to is that there are dangers ahead in the implementation of this policy which the CBN must not ignore and should actively place under its watchful eyes. All said, the overriding question is what happens to inflation which underlying indicators show is on the rise. With the ease in credit we certainly cannot afford a return to a two-digit inflation rate as has become the order of the day. If the CBN policy is to work, then fiscal responsibility and discipline cannot be toyed with and the finger is pointing at corruption which this administration is doing too little to curb. Besides, the control foisted on interest rates must be short-term, to be brought to an end before it damages the economy beyond easy mending. Instructively, the market is yet to respond to the policy. Not much lending has been going on in the banking sector. What has been lacking is an efficient co-ordination of our monetary and fiscal policies and measures. The Nigerian economy must be free, guided but not controlled.