The 9th NASS Scorecard of Diminishing Liberty
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
In every society where the media is free, the marketplace of ideas is allowed to sort the unaccountable from the responsible and reward the latter. Likewise, the Ahmed Lawan-led 9th National Assembly’s four years reign, which is coming to a close a few days from now, has come under intense public scrutiny.
Briefly, Nigerians are particularly not happy that the 9th NASS has, in the past four years, demonstrated no curiosity to find any new legislation that might produce a deeper understanding of the problems and policies that the federal government is supposed to wrestle with on behalf of the country.
However, even as this season of surprise occasioned by the below-average performance of the 9th National Assembly festers, I must state that as an individual, the report of NASS slanted performance did not in any way come as a surprise because their actions and inactions from the very beginning, portrayed a ‘bunch’ that was in the office not to render selfless service to Nigerians.
The first event that raised suspicion and did so well to reveal that the present Assembly may not be allergic to controversy or scandal was the out-of-the-ordinary political interplays and considerable uncertainties that lasted for weeks created by new and returning members of the 9th Assembly angling for principal positions in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
What, however, made the situation a very curious one was that an exercise like the election of principal officers, which is constitutionally supposed to be an internal affair within the Assembly. Suddenly, against all known logic, got characterized by national intrigue with the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), taking time to underline the advantages and otherwise of having a particular lawmaker in a particular position.
Without any lesson learned, the exposed systematized personal interest in the 9th Assembly was amplified by the controversy that characterized the lawmakers’ first official assignment—the screening of the ministerial nominees that was silent on portfolios forwarded to the parliament by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Aside from the non-attachment of portfolios rendering the senators clueless in generating relevant strategic questions for the nominees, what really caused concerns among Nigerians with critical interest was the senators’ adoption of the doctrine of ‘take a bow and go’ for the majority of the nominees that were once senators, without minding whether they (ex-senators) are familiar with the magnitude and urgency of our problem as a nation or laced with the requisite knowledge that the ministerial positions demand to help the nation come out of its present predicament. Before the apprehension raised by the Lawan-led senate not allowing Nigerians to know what the ex-senators on the list have done in the past, are currently doing, or will do when they become ministers, could settle, that of the planned purchase of the controversial SUV cars was up.
Similarly, as Nigerians were still waiting for the commencement of governance, the leadership of the National Assembly, before embarking on its eight-week recess, which ended on September 24, 2019, began moves to procure operational vehicles for the lawmakers that make up its dual legislative chambers. Essentially, while there was no question that high offices such as the National Assembly need operational vehicles to facilitate their responsibilities, the stunning aspect of this episode, going by reports, is that the estimated current price of the chosen vehicle is now N50 million. And the Senate needed about N5.550 billion to get enough quantity for its members. What is in one considerably different is the question; how can a nation spend over N5 billion on such a project in a country with slow economic but high population growth? Where excruciating poverty and starvation daily drives more people into the ranks of beggars? And where so many children are presently out of school?
As if Nigerians were never tired of receiving frightening packages from the 9th Assembly, at about the same time, the world leaders were standing up with sets of values that encourage listening and responding constructively to views expressed by citizens, giving others the benefits of the doubt, providing support and recognizing the interests and achievements of its citizens, the Senate came out with two Bills that critical minds and of course the global community qualified as obnoxious-the Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, and the hate speech bill. At the most basic level, the Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, 2019, sponsored by Senator Mohammed Sani Musa (APC Niger East), among other provisions, seeks to curtail the spread of fake information. And seeks a three-year jail term for anyone involved in what it calls the abuse of social media or an option of a fine of N150,000 or both. It also proposed a fine of N10 million for media houses involved in peddling falsehoods or misleading the public.
The hate speech bill, on its part, proposed that any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction. This is in addition to its call for the establishment of an ‘Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches’, which shall enforce hate speech laws across the country. The above defect is by no means unique to the Senate. In fact, if what is happening in the Senate is considered by Nigerians as a challenge, that of the House of Representatives is a crisis. Take, as an illustration, a glance at the history of attempts seeking regulation of non-profitable organizations (NPOs) in Nigeria will reveal that no bill has ever received the level of knocks as the 9th Assembly planned but now suspended re-introduction of the NGO Bill formerly sponsored by late Umar Buba Jibril of the out-gone 8th Assembly.
The reasons for such knocks were built on the fact that if passed, it contains far-reaching, restrictive provisions than its counterparts. But one point they (NASS) failed to remember is that Non-Profitable Organizations are not just another platform for disseminating the truth or falsehood, information, foodstuff and other relief materials 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, the 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 instead of vilification.
Looking at commentary, what also made the Bill a very controversial one lies in its quest for a regulatory commission established which shall facilitate and coordinate the work of all national and international civil society organisations and will assist in checking any likelihood of any civil society organisation being illegally sponsored against the interest of Nigeria. Weeks after the suspension of the Bill due to public outcry, the House, in a related move, declined the opportunity to promote local content- an expression that is daily preached within the government circle without compliance. As the house refused to patronize the locally assembled vehicles by Innoson Group, said to have been recommended for them, and in its place, opt for the 2020 edition of Toyota Camry, which will not only double the price of the initially recommended but will cost a whooping N5 billion to purchase 400 of the Toyota Camry model needed by the house.
Essentially, aside from the rejection of the Innoson brand of SUVs initially recommended for members, in its place, went for 2020 edition of the Toyota Camry, which will gulp about N5 billion of taxpayers’ money; what, however, made the development newsy is that the parliament, going by reports, has before now been at the forefront promoting the local content laws in the country. Of course, one strategic implication of the above is that it explains why what is today said on the floor of the national assembly hardly matters that much more to the people.
In the same vein, the House, a few weeks after, through Odebumi Olusegun of Ogo-Oluwa/Surulere federal constituency (APC, Oyo), pushed for the passage of a bill tagged; “Bill for an Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended), which provides that no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors during their period of office.” And have the same provision extended to accommodate/cover Presiding Officers of Legislative offices during their period of office.”
The most serious and surprising failure of checks and balances in the last four years is the approval by the present ninth NASS mountain of foreign loans for the present Federal Government without recourse to its harsh impact on both Nigeria and Nigerians.
Finally, even as this piece holds the opinion that the incoming 10th NASS must work very hard to avoid the above pitfuls, one important lesson we must not fail to remember as a nation is that when leaders are not held accountable for serious mistakes, they and their successors are more likely to repeat the mistakes.
Thus, as Nigerians bid members of the 9th NASS farewell and success in their future endeavours, this piece, in the interim, holds the opinion that they left behind a scorecard of how the democracy and liberty of Nigerians were diminished!
Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or 08032725374
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Hullabaloo of Nigeria’s Democratic Transitions
By Prince Charles Dickson PhD
By 1983, the army had struck and aborted the second republic, but here we are, the 10th Assembly will soon resume, and it’s been 24 years of a hullabaloo democracy; many are not happy, but we are making some form of progress, there’s been no martial music.
Despite the heated controversies in Lagos and other places, the death toll as a result of gun-throttling ballot snatchers reduced, and the magic figures of the Kardashian states also have reduced. However, we still have a marathon on our hands, but sadly we are building on some shenanigan principles that don’t spell well for us.
I recall in our recent democratic journey, a governor that had won a second term, after being sworn in, blamed his predecessor for huge debts and unpaid salaries…and more. Someone had to tap him, reminding him that he was the predecessor.
In this dispensation, another governor simply refused to sit on the seat of his predecessor, and others would embark on a sacking galore, after all, only weeks to the end of the last man on the helm, there were loads of hiring, firing is then in order. I know that it is a lie that the Zamfara state governor declared N9 trillion in assets, but not to worry, many would declare outrageous sums (forgetting that we know their real worth), while others would dance the musical chairs, refusing to declare.
The block and freeze accounts group would be at it, accounts that would be elapsed after the initial gra-gra, where there are democracies, in many parts the governor would make statements banning payments of one levy, tax or union dues, but trust me, these payments would come back.
Most of the new governors have dissolved state councils, boards and parastatals. Some governors will demolish, either immediately or later, the new kids on the block must chop, new Heads of Service, and all those new commissioners etc.
This new administration has taken off with subsidy removal. A most contentious issue, one that every energy moron and fuel expert has an opinion on.
What exactly is deregulation? How exactly does this subsidy work? I have talked to government officials, petroleum marketers, a few ‘big boys’ in NNPC, and a couple of eggheads. The truth is that they do not know, or better still, they know but cannot explain what these terms mean.
All the grammar boils down to an inability of a system to solve a problem because a strong group of persons are benefiting from that problem. It also is an indictment reflective of the faulty planning by those in charge, that’s if they plan at all.
The government tells us that it cannot influence the price of the product since deregulation is the in-thing, but in common sense, no one has been able to tell us how fellow oil-producing nations have successfully dealt with their petroleum needs.
A friend suggested why don’t we go to Angola, Venezuela, or Brazil and just steal their blueprint? It’s working for them, let’s just stop these subsidies and deregulation grammar and deceit of subsidies and duplicate their success, localize it for the collective good of Nigerians, but of course, the term ‘collective good’ is an alien term to us. Insecurity won’t allow our newly old train systems to work, blue and green rails at cutthroat costs have not reduced the cost of transportation or eased people’s burden, our waterways are wasting, you are riding bicycles, car drivers would knock you down.
It is a sad picture of a society that has lost balance; the ruling class needs to be taught a bitter lesson; they need to be made to bleed, Nigeria’s live at less than a dollar a day while a few flaunt a nation’s collective wealth, so if the current administration is scraping subsidies, it should be supported, but it can’t get that wholesale support because of trust deficit.
No number of essays or commentaries can explain the impact of fuel, cooking oil and diesel on the economy; it’s like explaining the impact of constant electricity on national life. These are terms those in power do not seem to grasp; the reasons are way simple, too…one, they have big power-generating plants in their homes and offices. Two, some of them cannot really recall when last they were in a fuel queue and with millions of naira in remuneration and salaries, what do they care?
The NLC died a long time ago courtesy of an Obasanjo-inspired poisoning, aided by the greed of those put at the helm of its activities, its only panacea being strike and strikes.
Over two dozen fuel price increases since 1978, five times it was reduced minimally but hiked back almost immediately. From N8.45 in 1978 to N65 in 2009, representing an increase of almost 60,000%, the trend has simply continued. In 1978 when the first increase was announced, one of the reasons given was that a majority of petroleum users were using it for pleasure, and there was a need to bring discipline into society. Strange thinking, another reason was that N95 million was being spent a year on subsidies.
As of this year, we are talking in trillions; where is this money coming from, how does this subsidy thing work, how can you deregulate when your refineries are not working? How do you pay subsidy cash and still do crude oil swaps? Who can really explain the fraud called Direct Sales, Direct Purchase DSDP? I have not touched all the loops like bridging costs, demurrage, and forex fluctuations that marketers play with, minus selling at international prices to neighbouring countries. Even the commissioned Dangote refinery has not started working and is not starting anytime soon. You will see that wahala dey!
The top echelon of society cannot explain to Nigerians exactly the reason why we cannot buy fuel at an affordable price for three years in a stretch without scarcity. Not every Nigerian is a novice to the political, economic or social implications of oil pricing. However, the ordinary Nigerian suffers this failure and complacency of leadership.
Subsidies and deregulation mean the price will ultimately fall, and money will be channelled to other areas of the economy; in local parlance…’our leaders like to mumu us’. When the broadcast industry deregulated, we saw the instant benefits, the same applies to telecoms (although we pay some of the highest tariffs in the world); we saw and are still seeing the benefits. But once you hear these terms in the petroleum sector, it’s like it stands for the disappearance of the commodity, and when it reappears, its price increases.
Who are those responsible for the billions and trillions that disappear in subsidies, who are the few that want to punish the majority? All the best explanations of the government, until it is seen to be done, are more of hullabaloo.
Why is it that this policy to a large population of Nigerians is simply a tightening of the screw of poverty, no massive improvement of our colonial rail system, no free education or healthcare, no social security, or unemployment benefits?
Legislators neither here nor there, governors supporting with both sides of their mouth at variance, everyone on top supports, and every person underneath suffers it; in all the noise, the product disappears. Transportation fare increases, food prices skyrocket…a nation that has a disconnect between the ruled and its rulers.
The subsidy has become part of our transitions; if this government gets it right and can pull this off with a humane face, it will get a lot of things right, but the citizens need to play their part, the Yorubas say Ẹni tó tan ara-a rẹ̀ lòrìṣà òkè ńtàn: àpọń tí ò láya nílé, tó ní kí òrìṣà ó bùn un lọ́mọ. This means it is the person who deceives himself that the gods above deceive: a bachelor who has no wife at home but implores the gods to grant him, children. (It is self-deceit to expect the gods to do everything for one when one has not lifted a finger on one’s behalf). I can only say—May Nigeria win!
Mitigating Unemployment and Labour Migration in Nigeria
Nigeria has seen a sharp increase in unemployment over time, with a current estimate of 33%. All age categories in Nigeria are affected by a serious unemployment problem, with young people bearing a disproportionately high share of the burden. When people don’t have work, it makes life difficult for them and their households. Note that this causes labour migration, as people leave the country in quest of better opportunities and income sources abroad. Unemployment is one of the key reasons why its citizens migrate their labour to other countries.
Nigeria’s economy has struggled to produce enough jobs to accommodate this expanding workforce due to the country’s high population growth rate, which causes a large number of job seekers to enter the labour market each year. SMEs could be essential in reversing this trend and creating jobs, but they face challenges such as restricted access to capital, inadequate business support services, and a challenging business climate. Additionally, highly qualified individuals leave Nigeria in quest of better opportunities abroad, depleting the country’s talent pool and widening the skills gap in critical industries.
It is important to emphasize that because of the interdependence of these factors, a multidimensional and all-encompassing approach is required to address labour migration and unemployment. To mitigate unemployment and labour migration in Nigeria, a variety of actions can be taken. A few of these include:
➢ Job Creation and Economic Diversification: Nigeria is extremely vulnerable to variations in the price of oil because of its dependency on fuel. Through the promotion of companies and sectors other than oil, economic diversification can boost job chances and reduce dependency on a single industry. In Nigeria, it is crucial to increase the variety of employment options. The establishment and growth of various businesses and sectors can also encourage the emergence of new occupations and positions. There is a higher chance of employment for people when there are more businesses.
➢ Provision of Adequate Infrastructure: Infrastructure improvements have the potential to boost economic growth and draw in industries that can employ workers. For businesses to invest in and create jobs, they need a strong infrastructure that includes a dependable power supply, efficient transportation systems, and digital connections.
➢ Support for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs): Encouragement of entrepreneurship and assistance for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can promote innovation, generate job opportunities, and boost economic growth. Agriculture is a sector with a lot of SMEs. It has a great deal of potential to boost food security, minimize rural-urban migration, and create jobs. By giving farmers access to funding, cutting-edge farming techniques, and market connections, production can be increased and jobs created throughout the value chain of agriculture. Programs for training, mentoring, and access to financing and business development services also support these businesses.
➢ Changes in Business Policy: The development of many successful firms, especially SMEs, has been hampered by culpable policies and deregulation laws. Business owners, producers, and other market participants take advantage of policy gaps to perform arbitrary functions. Therefore, reviewing and updating corporate policies, regulatory frameworks, and labour laws can help to foster a climate that encourages investment and job growth. In addition, employment prospects may increase as a result of streamlining administrative procedures, lowering corruption, and guaranteeing fair competition for all enterprises.
Although it is a difficult problem to solve, mitigating unemployment and labour migration is crucial for Nigeria’s economic progress. Another strategy for this development is to strengthen the institutions of the labour market, lower company costs by streamlining regulations and lowering taxes, improve the business environment, and improve education, safety, job accountability, and security. By doing this, employment opportunities will be generated, and the general public’s professional development will be encouraged. Lastly, the government’s main priorities for sustainable solutions should address societal issues, attract investment, enhancing skill development and business climate.
Emmanuel Otori has over 10 years of experience working with 100 start-ups and SMEs across Nigeria. He has worked on the Growth and Employment (GEM) Project of the World Bank, GiZ, and Consulted for businesses at the Abuja Enterprise Agency, Novustack, Splitspot and NITDA. He is the Chief Executive Officer at Abuja Data School.
Improving Business Growth With Data Analytics: Why it’s a Priority
By Kehinde Ogundare
Running a business in Nigeria can be an arduous task. Business owners face fierce competition as they strive to secure market share, acquire new customers, and enhance their productivity and profitability.
The business environment is getting more competitive. According to World Bank data, 97,988 new businesses were registered in Nigeria in 2020 (the last year for which numbers are available). The country’s rapidly accelerating tech sector provides further evidence of that increased competitiveness.
A report from McKinsey found that the number of startups in Nigeria and other African companies grew threefold between 2020 and 2021.
The growth of a business, whether it offers a product or service, is closely linked to its customer base. In order to remain competitive and retain these customers, it is crucial to use data-driven insights to inform business decisions and facilitate a successful customer experience.
Understanding data analytics
In the simplest terms, data analytics is about making sense of all the data that a business gathers and using it to help the business improve its decision-making or to gain insights into a particular subject or problem.
It enables entrepreneurs to make profitable decisions, drive innovation, anticipate market trends, and manage budgets. However, a report by KPMG that analyzed the usage of data and analytics in Nigeria’s business environment reveals that 56% of organizations in Nigeria base their decision-making on intuition rather than data. This shows that businesses are yet to grasp the true potential that data can bring to decision-making.
Another report highlights that, on average, organizations plan to spend at least N50 million annually to develop data and analytics capabilities, indicating the potential for businesses seeking to integrate these practices. However, just 16% of organizations have a defined role for their Chief Data Officer, and many merge data analytics responsibilities with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), highlighting a talent gap.
Finding the right solution
A strong BI platform can gather data from across different software used by different departments, such as sales, marketing, finance, and inventory, to help the user make sense of the data through simple-to-understand charts, graphs, and other visual tools. This, in turn, facilitates strategic decision-making.
Zoho, for example, provides a robust BI solution that comes with self-service data preparation and augmented analytics. It has strong AI/ML capabilities, enabling users to use natural language commands such as “show me our revenue growth last quarter” to get charts showing just that. Zoho Analytics can also be embedded in any third-party software, so users do not have to log into a new app just to view reports.
In today’s world, where there is high competition for customer attention among businesses along with organizational operations driven by technology, data analytics enables a business to optimize performance and make data-driven decisions. Having real-time insights into how their business is performing and the current market trends can help business owners adapt to the fast-changing landscape and stay relevant.
Kehinde Ogundare is the Country Manager for Zoho Nigeria
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