THE STATE OF THE NATION QUARTERLY ADDRESS
9th October, 2016 – 14th January, 2017
by the TMC Committee on Social Mobility, the Economy & Politics
Presented by the Chair of the Committee, Dr. Luqman AbdurRaheem,
on Saturday, 14th January, 2016
Expectations for a new Fiscal Year
To say that there is hunger in the land is simply saying the fact. This has been brought about by the continuous sharp increases in the prices of food, goods and other commodities. This has meant that people have to pay so much for so little leading to lack and deprivation in the consumption pattern of the people. The government would therefore do well by initiating policies that will bring down the astronomical prices.
The initial improvement in electricity supply has stagnated in the past few months and people have had to resort to supplying their energy needs through the use of generators at exorbitant costs. The fall in electricity supply has contributed to keeping people idle while they wait on the discos for supply. This is not good news for a nation in the throes of recession. People therefore expect that that there would be a better supply of electricity and the metering of many homes that are suffering under the weight of estimated billings.
It is a fact that there is a lot of improvement in the area of security. The Boko Haram group has been further decimated and has little or no capacity to hold territories or to stage commando-like operations in broad daylight. But certainly, Boko Haram has not been defeated. There is also relative peace in the Niger Delta and the South East. In the new fiscal year, there should be sustenance of the peace initiatives but urgent actions also need to betaken on the issue of regular clashes between herdsmen and farmers especially in Southern Kaduna.
The welfare of the people needs to be better improved through the creation of enabling environments such as the creation of jobs, provision of loans, continued job creation, commencing the school feeding programme and the payment of N5,000 to the most vulnerable. These are programmes that the people would love to enjoy more in the new fiscal year.
The 2017 budget of ‘Recovery and Growth’
Budgeting in Nigeria has always had a defect which remains unsolved till today. The defect has to do with the allocation of salaries and allowances which are lopsided in favour of politicians and top flight civil servants at the expense of the critical mass of the people who are told to survive on a minimum wage of N18,000 per month. This is one structural defect that needs to be corrected through legislation and the empowerment of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). The RMAFC needs to review salaries and allowances of public office holders to meet current economic realities facing Nigerians. This needs to be urgently done so that every one can have a fair share of the resources of the nation.
The size of the Nigerian budget is still too small for a population of about 180 million people even though there has been an appreciable increase in the last two years. The South African budget is USD 143.966 billion in the fiscal year 2016/2017 compared to Nigeria’s budget of USD 23.928 billion for 2017 fiscal year. The budget can serve as a tool for advancing the quality of life of the people only if the policy thrusts are properly formulated and implementation is thorough and timely coupled with robust monitoring.
The issue of taxation will have to be addressed critically because the percentage contribution to GDP is too small. One of the problems is that of collusion of tax officials with tax payers leading to a lower generation. The second problem is that too many citizens are paying no tax at all. Rather than making tax too much of a burden to those who are already paying, what should be done is to bring more people into the tax net leading to a higher generation.
The relative peace in the Niger Delta needs to be sustained and improved upon in order that our earnings will improve considerably in the short term. We need to hit the 2.2 million barrel per day production level especially when available forecasts suggest that a barrel of crude oil would still hit USD 65. We need to make more investments in oil and gas so that the accruing returns can then be channelled towards diversifying the economy. In this regard government would have to reach a lasting agreement with the restive Niger Delta so that the flow of crude oil dollars will oil our diversification efforts. It is indeed a political economy in the sense that what happens politically also affects our economic fortunes. And it is not just about the Niger Delta, peace needs to be restored in all areas where it is lacking such as the North East and the South East.
Even though we are using about 40 percent of our revenue to service debts, the government still needs to borrow more money because our exposure to debt is still low. The recession we are in even makes it mandatory that more money needs to needs to be pumped into the economy to revive ailing industries and to fund the much-needed diversification to other revenue sources. This is why the plan to borrow about USD 30 billion would put Nigeria in good economic stead if properly and judiciously utilised in reviving the economy.
The backbone of our economic development is the provision of critical infrastructure such as rail, roads and electricity. It is therefore commendable that government that government has a strong resolve in providing these critical infrastructures.
We commend the Federal Government for her agreement with Morocco for the manufacture of fertilizer locally by reviving the abandoned Nigerian fertilizer blending plants. Through this agreement, local raw materials that are available will be used while only the unavailable materials will be imported. The project will, by the end of first quarter of 2017, create thousands of jobs and save Nigeria USD 200 million in foreign exchange and over N60 billion in subsidies. These are the kinds of projects that government should be bringing on board at this time.
A lot still needs to be done for this budget to get us out of the recession that has brought so much pain and deprivation, hunger and lack, to too many families.
The ‘Defeat’ of Boko Haram
We commend the Federal government and the military forces for the gains it has recorded in further decimating the Boko Haram group by capturing their stronghold in Sambisa forest and arresting over a thousand of their fighters. The dreaded Boko Haram lost its potent force when it came against the steely determination of the Federal Government and the resolve of the armed forces coupled with the right armament and ammunition. This is a laudable feat that must be sustained. But we do not agree that Boko Haram has been defeated. Even though it is very pleasant to know that Boko Haram no longer has any base from where it can conveniently plan and launch its evil agenda, the military will need to go after the remaining members of the group so that they will always be on the run. If they are always on the run, they will lose the power to even strike at soft targets with suicide bombers. Before we can say that Boko Haram is defeated, we would need to arrest their major leaders and sponsors, destroy their finance, command and supply chains, destroy their recruitment strategy, and empower the people in the area.
A major component of our fight against Boko Haram is to locate and free the remaining Chibok girls that are still in captivity. This is one of the tasks that must be achieved before we can conveniently put the issue of Boko Haram behind us. The Federal Government must also engage in soft war that will rehabilitate and give hope to the people of the affected areas. The continuous development of every nook and cranny of the North East is no longer a priviledge but a necessity that must be speedily achieved. This is needed to entice and win the hearts of the people for nation-building, peaceful co-existence and economic progress.
Economic diversification: The Lagos, Kebbi and Ebonyi examples
The thirty-six states of the federation and the FCT are supposed to compete in the diversification of the economy since they are closer to the people than the Federal Government. This is why we commend Ebonyi State for the Abakaliki rice that it has successfully produced in large quantities. We also commend Lagos and Kebbi State governments for the Lake rice that they have produced in large quantities as well. It is needless to say that these developments have helped in mitigating the hunger in these states. It is commendable that these states sought to think outside the box with positive impacts on the people and the economy. This diversification must not be limited to the production of rice alone but it must be extended to include wheat, beans, yams, corn and the others.
Other states must join in the struggle for economic diversification by making large investments in agriculture thereby providing jobs and food security for their people. It is time to create a new era of abundance and economic prosperity by employing thousands of jobless people in the agricultural value chains.. This tempo and energy needs to be sustained to bring about a new dawn of productivity, prosperity and progress.
The Federal Government has its job well cut-out in that it should continue to help with finance and also fix critical infrastructure like roads, rails, electricity and potable water supply.
Stop the killings in Southern Kaduna
The killings in Southern Kaduna have gone on for far too long. Lives are sacred and should not be wasted in the way things have gone on so far. The Federal Government and the Kaduna State government have a lot to do in bringing peace and harmony to the war-torn communities. The crises in the area would certainly date back to the 1980s.
The Federal Government should ensure adequate security by ensuring that the required number of military and police personnel is stationed there to stop the violence. It is also paramount at this juncture that the Federal Government must institute a more timely and effective response and logistics framework that enables the deployment and arrival of military personnel in troubled areas in the shortest possible time.
The Federal Government should speedily fulfil her promise of creating a battalion to be stationed in an army base to be built in the area. Peace building initiatives must be sustained in order that all concerned parties must sheathe their swords and stop fanning the embers of violence. They should remember that they used to live together in peace before the advent of the crises and they should believe that peace will certainly reign in the area again.
We commend and support the stand of the Sultan of Sokoto in calling for the arrest of the Southern Kaduna killers. This is the right thing to do since the killers need to be arrested and brought to justice to serve as a deterrent to other mischief makers in the area. One of the reasons that this carnage has continued for so long is because perpetrators of earlier killings were not brought to book. A situation like this can only create room for hatred and revenge.
The promise of the state government to mitigate the destruction of properties by pledging a sum of one hundred million naira should be speedily released and judiciously used in bringing succour to the traumatised and devastated people of these once peaceful communities. Government must also set up a reconciliation committee that has a permanent job of creating the right atmosphere for peace and nipping in the bud any potential for breakdown of peace and harmony in the area. There is also the need for a security trust fund that will raise money to better equip the Nigeria Police and the NSCDC. This will go a long way in providing better security for the protection of lives and property.
The people of Southern Kaduna must realise that irrespective of differences in language, ethnicity and religion, they must live together in peace and harmony. The promoters of violence and death either for political, economic or religious reason must know that one day their cup of iniquity will overflow and the long arms of justice will catch up with them.
The Inheritance bill, lawmaking and the people
Nine months after the Gender Equality Bill which sought to provide women equal rights with men in marriages, divorce, property ownership and inheritance was thrown out by the Senate, the Modified Gender Equality Bill has passed the second reading. The modified version has dropped all the vexatious issues it initially delved into and now only seeks to address discrimination against women and protection of women from violence and sexual abuse.
While we agree that the progress of the law is the progress of the society and that laws would need to be made at every point in time to fine tune human relations, peaceful co-existence and spiritual and material progress, it is equally important that the process of lawmaking is not fraught with antics to heat up the polity and cause disaffection amongst religious and ethnic communities. This is exactly the area where our lawmakers need to take utmost care so that they do not ground the smooth running of the same society they seek to regulate.
Lawmakers, who are representatives of the people, should relate more with their constituents and sample their opinions before initiating processes that could be inimical to the progress of their people. A little research and analysis would have revealed to the lawmaker initiating the inheritance bill, Senator Biodun Olujimi of Ekiti South senatorial district, that such a bill was wrong in its very foundation because it failed to take into consideration the different and diverse needs of the people. If the lawmaker had done his work well, he would have known that Muslims already have an inheritance ordained by Allah and guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through religious freedom rights.
Muslims are not in the business of oppressing and subjugating the rights of women and would therefore not be opposed to any law that seeks to protect them. Muslims are rather accustomed to promoting women’s rights and freedoms, a practice that has continued for more than 1,400 years even when it the Western world of that time did not deem it fit to accord women such rights and freedoms. Freedom and rights are only useful to the point where they enhance harmonious and peaceful relations among men and women. Beyond this threshold, such rights and freedoms can only bring about the destruction of the family, enhance disintegration and anarchy, and thereby lead to utter destruction. This is what Allah says in the Glorious Qur’an, “…And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them, and men are a degree above them.” (Quran 2:228). Allah also says, “Unto men (of the family) belongs a share of that which Parents and near kindred leave, and unto women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it be a little or much – a determinate share.” (Quran 4:7)
What we support as Muslims is equity which is the granting of rights and freedoms that are in consonance with the needs and nature of each gender and also in harmony with the natural state of creation itself.
FRCN: FG needs to move away from inconsistency
The Code of Corporate Governance administered by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria is indeed a good one. But the advantages of this code may not be clearly understood and appreciated if we approach it with sentiments and emotions especially now that religious groups are being asked to comply. Since a number of religious bodies and some banks had complied earlier, it simply means that the law has been in force before now. It should also be recalled that some parties had gone to court to challenge the code from taking effect but they lost. There is no judgement as at today that says the Code of Corporate Governance of the FRCN cannot take effect.
Nigerians need to look seriously into the issues raised by the code before jumping to conclusions. Anybody that looks at the code will be surprised at the positive developments it will bring to churches, mosques, political parties, schools and foundations in terms of devolution of power, transparency and accountability.
We believe that the government should not have suspended the code but should ordinarily have allowed the process to go on while giving more time for the organisations involved to adjust. It is even in the code that the not-for-profit organisations need to either comply or justify non-compliance.
The Federal Government needs to be more careful the way it goes about implementing its policies so that it will not take one step forward and many steps backward. The confidence and trust of people in the government of the day are based on their perception that the government is sure-footed and knows what it is doing. It would have been better that government did not implement the code in the first place rather than suspending it along the way. Government also needs to be sure that it is not sending the wrong signals to its officials who are executing its programmes and policies. If an officer is dismissed for doing his job, it will eventually tell on the way other officials do theirs. The government could have suspended the code without necessarily dismissing the officer involved.