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Dysfunctional Federalism and the Centre Called Abuja

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Abuja

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

In the words of James Tar Tsaaior, Professor of Media and Cultural Communication, School of Media and Communication, Pan Atlantic University, Lagos, the circle looks harmless and innocuous’ but it is not. It is guilty of certain politics, inclusionary and exclusionary politics.

Every circle has its centre and margin, its core and periphery. The centre is the point of attraction because of its strategic position. Anything outside of the centre does not validly belong to the circle. It exists as a tangent, beyond its orbit or circumference.

It is interesting how the mathematical sign of the circle has become an idea for instituting cartographic domains, political hierarchies, economic zones and cultural categories in today’s global neighbourhood. These include the global North and South, the First and Third Worlds, the metropolis and the province, the centre and margin and the core and the periphery, among other binary oppositions.

Likewise, here, Abuja represents the centre. It is the capital city of Nigeria. It is in the middle of the political circle called Nigeria. The skyline of the city, which was built largely in the 1980s, is dominated by Aso Rock, an enormous monolith. It rises up behind the Presidential Complex, which houses the residence and offices of the Nigerian president in the Three Arms Zone on the eastern edge of the city. Nearby are the National Assembly and the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

The city overtly and covertly shares the above attributes of a centre.

In the spirit of the true federal system, Abuja and the federal (central) government, was originally meant to operate as a coordinating government and not as a controlling government and has the exclusive responsibility for the mutually agreed common national services.

But contrary to expectation, Abuja is guilty of certain politics as it presently ‘enjoys’ political obesity- welding much power to the detriment of the federating states. Laced with the spirit of command and control, and has asymmetrically cornered to itself responsibilities such as the Armed Forces, Nigerian Police, Citizenship, Customs, Central Bank of Nigeria/National Currency, Immigration, Foreign Affairs including Foreign Trade, National Education Standards, but not Educational Institutions (Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Levels, National Scientific, Technological and Industrial Goods Standards including Agricultural/Mineral Commodity Export Standards, Trunk A Roads or Interconnecting High ways of Nigerian Federation, among others.

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Evidently, for the reason that the ‘constitution we inherited (1999 constitution as amended), from the military is as faulty as it is now outdated; and did not originate from “the people” but rather a product of imposition’, it made slanted provisions that mirrors government at the centre as both ‘captain and coach’ of other federating states thereby characterizing Abuja as a general surrounded by many lieutenants. This set the stage for the nation’s dysfunctional federalism.

Today, Abuja means different things to different people.

To some lazy state governors, who are clueless about increasing their state’s internally generated revenue (IGR), and depend solely on federal allocation, Abuja, means a ‘dispenser of goodness’.

For politicians outsmarted in their states, Abuja is the ‘wilderness of consolation and a desert of hope’. For those that lost elective positions in their states/constituencies, Abuja is the centre where the sweet phrase; ‘weep not child’ can only be heard via political appointments and contracts.

This inglorious disparity in the power-sharing arrangement has rendered as unabated the need for restructuring the relationship between the centre and the states to reflect true economic and political federalism that will allow for resource control by the varying states while paying the constitutionally stipulated taxes to the centre.

Compounding this present national challenge is the posture of President Muhammadu Buhari, who presently sees nothing to restructure in the political edifice called Nigeria.

To add context to the discourse, represented by the Executive Secretary, Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Alhaji Mohammed Bello Shehu, at the launch of Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari, Zaria Peace Foundation which took place at Ahmadu Bello University Hotels, Zaria, Mr President said as follows; “Again, those who are discussing restructuring, my question is, what are you going to restructure? If you ask many Nigerians what they are going to restructure, you will find out that they have nothing to talk about.

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“Some of them have not even studied the 1999 Constitution. The 1999 Constitution is almost 70 to 80 per cent the same with that of the 1979 Constitution.”

Unmistakably, there exist two reasons that qualify Mr President’s latest position on the state of the nation as a crisis and deeply troubling.

First, it is coming a few years after the same Mr President noted while delivering a nationwide broadcast on Monday, January 1, 2018, that ‘no human law or edifice is perfect. Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected according to the changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments.’

Identifying those imperfections and catalysing the process of reforming this changing circumstance as muted by the president should be the preoccupation of all at the present circumstance.

The second concern is that Mr President is not alone in this deformed argument.

Recently, some Nigerians argued that President Buhari was elected by Nigerians and he is the symbol of the sovereign many talked about. Therefore, asking him to convoke a Sovereign National Conference for the purpose of restructuring Nigeria is to ask him to abdicate the high office of the presidency of Nigeria, that is, to surrender his powers, office to a group of elected or selected persons who now determine the tenor of the federation.

While this piece accepts the above reasoning is true, the argument is, however, plagued/deformed by its decision to remain silent or failure to remember that Mr President is also constitutionally empowered to demand from the national assembly via executive Bill, amendments of the constitution according to the changing circumstances.

In simple language, this is what Nigerians want/demand and will appreciate if Mr President performs this function at the most fundamental level.

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Supporting this claim is a statement credited to the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor as it lays bare what Igbos and the generality of Nigerians demands.

He said in parts; fundamentally, what Ndigbo really want is some form of internal autonomy based on a restructured Nigeria.

Categorically stated, we are of the view that the federation of Nigeria must be a union of equals and the composite units must have the ability to stand without begging the centre for survival. That is a federal system of government with its characteristics of decentralization and devolution of power among the federating units”.

From the above reason flows yet another concern which has to do with justice. Globally, there exists a veiled agreement that justice has two different faces, one conservative of ex­isting norms and practices, the other demanding reform of these norms and practices.

Thus, on the one hand, it is a matter of justice to respect people’s rights under existing law or moral rules, or more generally to fulfil the legitimate expectations they have acquired as a result of past practice, social conventions, and so forth.

On the other hand, justice gives us reason to change laws, practices and conventions quite fun­damentally, thereby creating new entitlements and expectations.

While those of us who believe in the unity of Nigeria may not agree with the campaign of any group or ethnic nationality to dismember Nigeria, the truth must be told to the effect that the whole gamut of restiveness and resurgence demand for the dissolution of Nigeria stems from mindless exclusion, injustice and economic deprivation.

The best way to reverse this trend is to first acknowledge that the constitution we inherited from the military is as faulty as it is now outdated. And most importantly, we must make Abuja/the government at the centre shed some weight via power devolution. Call it restructuring, you may not be far from the truth!

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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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