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Democracy, Federalism and Leadership Debate

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Federalism

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

As argued by Hernando De Soto, author of the book, entitled The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, capitalism is in crisis outside the West not because international globalization is failing but because developing and former communist nations have been unable to ‘globalize’ capital within their own countries-as most people in those nations view capitalism as a private club, a discriminatory system that benefits only the West and the elites who live inside the bell jars of poor countries.

Similarly, in my views, Nigeria today experiences crisis of leadership not because the democratic government/ federal system we practice are on their own bad systems or cannot provide the needed solution to the nation’s array of political and economic needs, but because too many politicians and public officials have exercised power and responsibility not as a trust for the public good, but as an opportunity for private gain.

Making the problem worse is their endless quest to get hold of more at all cost without consideration to the general well-being of the entire Nigerians.

Admittedly, it is a very natural and common thing to acquire more and when men succeed in this, they are always praised rather than condemned.

But it becomes a challenge and a reality to worry about when public office holders, instead of taking steps that will better the life chances of the people, get preoccupied with personal aggrandizements in forms that diminishes the masses socially and economically while the privileged political class continues to flourish in obscene splendour as they pillage and ravage the resources of the nation.

Aside from being striking human tragedy deepened by the awareness that it was avoidable, this, of course, is a kind of leadership crisis that is bound to happen when ‘lust for power prevails over granting people the love and care they deserve, and when the interest and destiny of one individual becomes more important than those of the whole nation.

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This is also what happens when the interests of some groups and cliques are served instead of those of all the people.  In order words, this state of affairs happens when you put the people at the service of the government, in sharp contrast with the norm.

Without losing sight of the present myriads of sociopolitical contradictions that have conspired directly and indirectly to give Nigeria and Nigerians the unenviable tag of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, equity and equality, this malfeasance at all levels of governance has not only led to the destruction of social infrastructures relevant for a meaningful and acceptable level of social existence for our people.

Rather, it visits the nation with a broad range of socio-economic issues which covers -poverty, health, sanitation, education, climate change, water, energy, environment and other challenges. Life in Nigeria quoting Thomas Hobbs has become nasty, brutish and short as the country turns a hotbed for all manners of violence.

As to factors fuelling the development, various commentators have attributed the type of leaders we have to the people’s decision given the fact that democracy makes everyone equal on Election Day.

The significance of the election, they argued, is that it serves as a means of implementing the principle of popular sovereignty. And popular sovereignty means that the people have the final say. Definitely, an effective argument that makes political sense, but, cannot hold water as it faces some embarrassing facts.

Fundamentally, even if every vote carries exactly equal weight, considerable room for inequality remains in the electoral system.

To a large extent, political parties in Nigeria, for example, are being privately financed. And it may well be that those who contributed money to a party or candidate expect to get something in return. Thus, those who have the resources to help finance elections are likely to have more influence than those who merely vote.

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Beyond Election Day itself, tremendous inequalities, political influence begins to emerge, such as advocacy groups and lobby activities. Such disparities may lie outside the scope of political equalities as bare ingredients of the definition of democracy, but they should be of concern to observers.

The truth is that majorly, the root of our national malady goes beyond the incompetence of successive administrations to include rejection of notions/proven theories supplied by well-meaning Nigerians that can improve both the economy and society, as well as put the economy and unemployment in check.

Non-adherence to public opinion has no doubt thrown the economy into reserve and passed the burden on to the backs of Nigerians.

For example, the government’s shift of attention from job creation has undermined the feelings of Nigerians and shifted the distribution of income strongly in favour of those in government.

The average Nigerian is worse off now, economically and materially, than he/she was in 2015-or even 1999. We are presently living through the worst social and economic crisis since independence; poor leadership; poor strategy for development; lack of capable and effective state and bureaucracy; lack of focus on sectors that will improve the condition of living of citizens such as education, health, agriculture and the building of infrastructure; corruption; undeveloped, irresponsible and parasitic private sector; weak civil society; emasculated labour and student movement and poor execution of policies and programmes’.

Follow the logic.

In the past six years, the Nigerian workforce grew but the number of manufacturing jobs has actually declined as a result of the relocation of these industries to neighbouring African countries. A development occasioned by the inability of the FG to guarantee security and electricity. Jobs created by the federal government under the N-Power programme are part-time and not secured.

Two third of those doing part-time jobs want full-time jobs and cannot find them. Unemployment is far and away from the top concern of Nigerians, ranking ahead of insecurity, lack of electricity and national unity.

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While millions of workers have given up hope of finding employment, unemployment going by the National Bureau Statistics (NBS), 2019, was at 23.1 per cent, with an under-employment rate of 16.6 per cent; and currently at about an all-time high of 33.5 per cent.

The issue in my view is the refusal of political office holders to be fair and honest in their dealings with Nigerians.

To give one example, in 2005, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration and 2010, under Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the federal government made two feeble attempts, coming up with the electric power sector reform, EPSR, ACT 2005 and the roadmap for power sector reform of 2010, which was targeted at sanitizing the power sector, ensure efficient and adequate power supply to the country. The project ended in the frames – gulping reportedly $16 billion dollars for NIPP without contributing the targeted megawatt to the nations power needs.

The current administration is again in a similar partnership with the German government and Siemens. And in my observation, the only change that has taken place since this new development is but thoughtless increments of bills/tariffs paid by Nigerians. No nation can survive under this form of arrangement.

Correspondingly, security-wise, Nigeria is right now in its most fragile state since the end of the civil war. And by not taking steps to arrest the insecurity situation in the country, heeding the call to restructure the nation or implement the 2014 Confab report, the present government is doing this country more harm than good and quickening its disintegration. This should certainly raise a legitimate concern for all.

Let us pray for Nigeria!!!

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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Infrastructural Development and Rising Debt Profile

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Debts

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

It is not by any standard a palatable news report that the federal government made a total of N3.25 trillion in 2020 and out of which spent a total of N2.34 trillion on debt servicing within the year.

This means, the report underlined, that 72 per cent of the government’s revenue was spent on debt servicing. It also puts the government’s debt servicing to revenue ratio at 72 per cent.

According to the report, a review of the budget performance of the 2020 Appropriation Act in 2019 shows that the federal government made total revenue of N3.86 trillion.

Within the year, debt servicing gulped N2.11 trillion. This puts the federal government’s debt servicing to revenue ratio in 2019 at 54.66 per cent. This means that between 2019 and 2020, the federal government’s debt servicing to revenue ratio jumped from 54.66 per cent to 72 per cent. The report concluded.

Without fail, going by information coming from government quarters, this piece must as a background acknowledge that the chunk of debt currently serviced, was used to finance infrastructural development such as roads, rail and electricity.

It is also aware that infrastructure enables development and also provides the services that underpin the ability of people to be economically productive, for example via transport. “The transport sector has a huge role in connecting populations to where the work is,” says Ms Marchal.

Infrastructure investments help stem economic losses arising from problems such as power outages or traffic congestion. The World Bank estimates that in Sub-Saharan Africa closing the infrastructure quantity and quality gap relative to the world’s best performers could raise GDP growth per head by 2.6 per cent annually.

With the above highlighted the questions that are important as this piece itself is; must the nation borrow in ways that mortgage the future of our nation? Have we as a nation forgotten that development is said to be sustainable ‘when it is achieved without excess socioeconomic environment degradation, but in a way that both protects the rights and opportunities of coming generations and contributes to compatible approaches?

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Like Apostle Paul queried in the Christian Holy Book-the Bible; so, shall we then continue in sin that grace may abound? Paul replies with a resounding “God forbid” (Romans 6:2) Likewise, this piece is asking our nation handlers; must we continue to borrow recklessly all in the nation of infrastructural development? Must we sacrifice our nation’s liberty and our children’s future on the altar of infrastructural development?

As the nation goes on a borrowing spree and speeds on ‘borrowing lane’ in the name of infrastructural development, one may be tempted to ask; if we have forgotten that already, going by World Bank’s revelation that “almost half of the poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa live in just five countries: and they are in this order, namely; Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo Tanzania, Ethiopia and Madagascar?

Can’t President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government appreciate the time-honoured aphorism which says that; no nation becomes strong/great by living on borrowed funds?

At this point, let’s situate what qualifies the present concern as not just a challenge but a crisis that all must worry about.

Recently, it was in the news that PricewaterhouseCoopers, a multinational professional services network of firms, operating as partnerships under the PwC brand, in a report entitled Nigeria Economic Alert: Assessing the 2021 FGN Budget, warned that the increasing cost of servicing the debt will continue to weigh on the federal government’s revenue profile.

It said, “Actual debt servicing cost in 2020 stood at N3.27 trillion and represented about 10 per cent over the budgeted amount of N2.95tn. This puts the debt-to-revenue ratio at approximately 83 per cent, nearly double the 46 per cent that was budgeted.

“This implies that about N83 out of every N100 the federal government earned was used to settle interest payments for outstanding domestic and foreign debts within the reference period. In 2021, the FG plans to spend N3.32 trillion to service its outstanding debt. This is slightly higher than the N2.95tn budgeted in 2020.”

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That is not the only apprehension.

In 2020, one of the reputable national newspapers in Nigeria in its editorial comment among other observations noted that Nigeria would be facing another round of fiscal headwinds this year with the mix of $83 billion debt; rising recurrent expenditure; increased cost of debt servicing; sustained fall in revenue; and about $22 billion debt plan waiting for legislative approval.

It may be worse if the anticipated shocks from the global economy, like Brexit, the United States-China trade war and the interest rate policy of the Federal Reserve Bank go awry. The nation’s debt stock, currently at $83billion, comes with a huge debt service provision in excess of N2.1 trillion in 2019 but is set to rise in 2020.

This challenge stems from the country’s revenue crisis, which has remained unabating in the last five years, while the borrowings have persisted, an indication that the economy has been primed for recurring tough outcomes, the report concluded.

Today, such fears raised cannot be described as unfounded just as this author doesn’t need to be economists to know that as a nation, we have become a high-risk borrower.

Indeed, the question may be asked; why has the country’s revenue crisis remained unabated in the last six years?

Within the context, the answer lies in the fundamental recognition that there is a country reputed for crude oil dependence and laced with a management system devoid of accountability, transparency and accuracy. And before a real solution can be proffered, we need as a nation to find and understand the sources of the national problems without losing sight of the real and lasting meaning.

As an illustration, in 2020, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), going by report state that the nation loses about $4.1 or N123 billion annually due to poor crude oil production metering, stating that unless the government takes appropriate measures, limitations in the metering of crude oil production will continue to pose a serious threat to the nation’s revenue target.

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Regrettably, Nigeria is the only oil-producing country without adequate metering to ascertain the accurate quantity of crude oil produced at any given time, the report concluded.

What the above tells us as a country is that more work needs to be done, more reforms to be made; that as a nation, we are poor not because of our geographical location or due to the absence of mineral/natural resources but because of our leaders fail to take decisions that engineer prosperity. And we cannot solve our socio-economic challenges with the same thinking we used when we created it.’

Definitely, this piece may not unfold completely the answers to these challenges, but there are a few sectors that a nation desirous of development can start from.

The first that comes to mind is the urgent need for diversification of the nation’s revenue sources. Revenue diversification from what development experts are saying will provide options for the nation to reduce financial risks and increase national economic stability: As a decline in a particular revenue source might be offset by an increase in other revenue sources.

Finally, within this period of economic vulnerability, a new awareness that must not be allowed to go with political winds is the expert warns that, “Accumulated debt can hinder a country’s development, especially when most of the revenue generated is used to service debt.

“When money that should be used to pay salary or cover the cost of capital infrastructure is used to pay a debt, people are affected as they don’t have enough money to spend.

“So, when a huge amount is used to service debt, there is no way capital development can happen, and this affects the people and the country generally.”

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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The Vital Role of Managed Services to Deliver Secure Networks

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Mohamed Elsokkary Secure Networks

By Mohamed Elsokkary

The exciting evolution of connectivity will undoubtedly touch every aspect of society and change it for the better.

With the deployment of 5G and the demand for reliable, secure, and robust connectivity, mobile network operators need to address the intensifying complexity of their networks that is driven by the increasing volume of devices, multiple new technologies, and more diverse service requirements.

From the nuisance of a funny clip on social media applications annoyingly freezing to critical communications where a glitch could be serious, if it affects remote surgery or an automated factory, secure user experience is now the main end-user expectation as 5G use cases become more demanding, critical and sophisticated.

After 5G networks are planned, designed, built, optimized and then transferred to operations, the focus shifts to supporting the overall quality and security experience of end-users which necessitates a fundamental shift from the way deployed networks are managed and optimized today.

This shift from the traditional network resource management model – where technology-related capacity, performance and availability are key – to successfully operating high-performance service-driven networks in a secure manner means that the operations and optimization of 5G networks must transform from being technology to end-user service-centric.

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There are critical measures that are adopted by Managed Services Providers (MSPs) to protect data and ensure the ongoing confidentiality, integrity, and availability of Services. These ‘Technical and Organizational Measures for Security’ include, but are not limited to the following:

    Business Continuity Management: MSPs should design and implement the process and tools with the right expertise to ensure the continuity of information security management in adverse situations, such as during a crisis or disaster.

    Information Protection & Information Assets Handling: MSPs should ensure the protection of Communication Service Providers (CSPs) data against unauthorized access, and maintain the policies on the use of cryptographic controls, and the protection and lifetime of cryptographic keys in accordance with industry best practice. In addition, Regular performance of security assessments on Information systems is advised to detect any vulnerabilities.

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    Identity & Access Management: MSPs are tasked to maintain controlled processes and systems covering the formal registration of users with a unique identity as a prerequisite for granting any access to the user.

    Software Development: One of the important tasks of MSPs is to ensure that the development, testing, and operational environments are separated to reduce the risks of unauthorized access or changes to the operational environment.

    Network Security: Operating procedures for the management of network security should be maintained by MSPs, including intrusion detection and prevention, firewall protection, denial of service attack and prevention, and web filtering. In addition, the protection of secure areas with appropriate entry controls designed to ensure that only authorized personnel are allowed access and physical access to areas where any data is stored is restricted to Authorized Users.

The trustworthiness not only originates from a set of security features, but also from system design principles and implementation considerations that have all been applied with a holistic and risk-based mindset.

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As such, Ericsson Managed Services has addressed such challenges and strengthened its security agenda to meet the industry-standard requirements using AI and ML algorithms. Ericsson Operations Engine utilizes AI and data-driven solutions to power intelligent, predictive mobile networks. This allows for detection, monitoring and managing threats using real-time risk visibility and automated resolutions – delivering robust security from device to cloud.

With such enhanced data-driven operation capabilities and end-to-end improvements based upon predictive forecasting of network performance, MSPs can bring economies, and deliver better operations thus giving CSPs the opportunity to deliver enhanced services to their customers and increasing business opportunities.

Getting the right Managed Services partner will fulfil any CSP’s high mandates on security, ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of assets, protecting the brand image, and minimizing any business disruption.

Mohamed Elsokkary is the Head of Managed Services for Gulf Countries at Ericsson

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As ‘The Eagles’ Gather in Lagos to Celebrate GbaramatuVoice at 6

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GbaramatuVoice at 6

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Recently, I read with excitement a statement by the management of Gbaramatu Publishing Company Limited, owners of GbaramatuVoice Newspaper, announcing the planned programmes for its forthcoming 6th annual lectures/Niger Delta Awards event slated for Tuesday, August 10, 2021, by 10:00 am, at the Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos State.

The statement, which was personally signed by Jacob Abai, the GbaramatuVoice publisher, among other remarks, noted that the anniversary celebration/lecture will have a central theme Dwindling State of Crude Oil Demand in the Global Market: The Way Forward, and will have Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, deliver a keynote address.

Others expected at the event are Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo, as Special Guest of Honour; Governor of Bayelsa State, as host; Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sawoolu, as chief host; Mr Samuel Ortom, the Governor of Benue State, nominated as Best Governor of the Year (Defence of Democracy); while Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, the Governor of Delta State, will chair the occasion.

Essentially, aside from the high calibre of people expected at this event-the third in the series coming after Abuja and Port Harcourt, making this particular occasion alluring in my views is the new awareness that the Newspaper will use the opportunity provided by its 6th Anniversary celebration to launch a Resource Centre for Niger Delta Studies as well as a media institute where fresh graduates from the region interested in media practice shall be trained on different media skills for self-reliance.

The newspaper is presently in the estimation of stakeholders likened to the Biblical grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches. (Mathew 13; 31-32, Mark 4; 30-32, Luke 13; 18-19).

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To buttress this fact, the newspaper was established in 2015, in one small apartment located in a sleepy but egalitarian part of Effurun, Warri, Delta State, and against all odds hit the newsstands in August of the same year.

But today, it has become to the admiration of all, a leading source of authentic/authoritative information about the coastal/Niger Delta region and vehicle for promoting good governance and rewarding excellence/proponents of democracy/good governance in Nigeria.

As the newspaper celebrates, another area of interest to focus on is the personality behind GbaramatuVoice newspaper-in the person of Jacob Abai, the man I usually call the Publisher.

I know him. We met as students at the School of Media and Communication, Pan Atlantic University, Lekki, Lagos. He has always declared to me and others who care to listen that leaders who scale in the media industry did so regardless of background, skill and talent but because they were open to learning, took deliberate steps to confront their shortcomings and modelled their vision to that of great leaders that did not flounder in the industry.

This philosophy he explained informs his choice of Uncle Sam Amuka, the founder of the Vanguard Newspaper Limited, Mr Mike Ibru of the Guardian Newspapers among others as his role models.

Without any shadow of the doubt, there exists no record pointing to the fact that Abai attended elite academic institutions such as Harvard or Oxford University.

Yet, he has within record time become the leader that his organization and of course the media industry want him to be. In my view, what has really worked is his time-honoured believe that in a business setting one must be able to not only generate ideas but translate those ideas into results.

As Abai celebrates, it is my view that two factors have so far worked for him in his media excellence agenda. First, one happened on highly professionally trained journalists who understand and are dedicated to the Niger Delta course while collaborating with national and international media organizations across. This strategy helped Gbaramatu Voice become a gateway to Niger Delta-related news that is factually supported.

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The second is his understanding that ‘sound strategy is more basic to a young company than resolving hiring issues, designing control systems, setting reporting relationships, or defining the founder’s role’. That venture based on a good strategy can survive confusion and poor leadership, but sophisticated control systems and organizational structures cannot compensate for an unsound strategy.

This understanding assisted GbaramatuVoice to focus on issues, not personalities. It has also resulted in its capacity to carve a niche for itself in record time and earnestly given the newspaper a quantum leap.

As an illustration, within this period, the newspaper has against permutation diversified to online news publishing, Face of Gbaramatu beauty pageant, and recently ventured into full-time electronic broadcasting with the establishment of the GbaramatuVoice Television that can be sourced online.

These successes have earned the newspaper, The Niger Delta Newspaper of the Year 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 awards.

Broadly speaking, there exist another reason, just one more but fundamental reason why the GbaramatuVoice 6th anniversary is considered as a celebration for all Niger Deltans and supported by the government-local, state (south-south governors), the federal and of course the corporate bodies operating in the Niger Delta region particularly the International Oil Companies (IOCs). Such a reason has to do with the restoration/existence of peace in the region.

We must recall that the region was formerly characterized by perennial violence occasioned by mutual suspicion and hostilities between the IOCs and the Federal Government on one side and host communities on the other side.

Such narrative and state of affairs have since been thrown into the waste bin of history with the advent of Gbaramatu Voice and its team of journalists that spend more time on the high seas and creeks than on the land.

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The Gbaramatu Voice has become reputed for bringing to the surface the hidden injustices and tensions that are always alive and active in the region to where it can be seen and treated.

This point becomes particularly appreciated when one remembers that before now reports from the region were always slanted by some media groups in such a way that are ‘valid, but prevents others from deciding for themselves whether the claim to validity is correct-by not including the data that others could use to decide for themselves whether the illustration was valid; And, by placing their conclusion in such that disguises their logical implications’.

At this point, an important distinction to make is that GbaramatuVoice has become not just another platform for disseminating the truth and information that can be controlled at will.

Rather, it is a platform for pursuing the truth, and the decentralized creation and distribution of ideas; in the same way, that government is a decentralized body for the promotion and protection of the people’s life chances. It is a platform, in other words, for development that the government must partner with.

Finally, even as I congratulate him for this great feat, and join him in welcoming to the occasion dignitaries which include but are not limited to, namely; traditional rulers from the Niger Delta, captain of industries within and outside the country, executives of IOCs operating in the country, public office holders from the Niger Delta region, leaders of specialized groups in Nigeria, among others, the question, as a media practitioner who understands the shaky nature of the industry, that still pops in my mind is; where Abai, got this well-formulated strategy/tactics for building a sustainable media organization in Nigeria?

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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