Ikechukwu A. Ogu, a legal practitioner, writes from Central Business District, Abuja
On January 24, 2015, the news came that the Federal Government had hiked the pump price of kerosene, from N50 to N83 per litre. By that, the government has, in fact, removed the "subsidy" on kerosene. Curiously, this new pump price, according to the template released by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), applies only to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)'s outlets. In essence, other filling stations in the country are at liberty to sell at varying higher prices. And this they will do in an outrageous manner.
Prior to this hike, the official pump price of kerosene at NNPC filling stations was N50 per litre, while other stations sold it at various higher prices, mostly at double the official price. This never had any positive impact on the availability of the product. As a matter of fact, only few filling stations dispense kerosene. The recurring lengthy queues for it at NNPC mega stations, such as the one in Wuse Zone 1, Abuja, are nightmarish. Many people spend almost a whole day on queues for kerosene at NNPC stations. By limiting the application of the new pump price to NNPC stations, the government has taken poor Nigerians from frying pan to fire.
By the price hike, the government still regulates the pump price of a product whose distribution it claims to have deregulated. I am not an economist, yet I know that regulation and de-regulation are antithetical and opposite. This reminds me of an Igbo saying that one cannot bestride a farmland and its boundary simultaneously.
Earlier, few Nigerians had welcomed the very minimal reduction in the official pump price of petrol. But many dismissed it as of no moment and not reflective of the fallen price of crude oil. Unfortunately, whatever gain that may be attributed to the negligible drop in the pump price of petrol has been cancelled by the hike in that of kerosene. There is also the question of whether the price of kerosene, a byproduct of crude oil, should go up amidst the sliding price of crude oil?
Only few homes in Nigeria do not use kerosene daily. In the rural areas and suburbs of our urban cities, kerosene is part of daily life. People who cook with firewood or charcoal or kerosene stove need it to ignite fire. If kerosene sold at over N150 per litre when its official pump price was N50, its price will certainly skyrocket in filling stations other than NNPC's. There are genuine fears that it may hit N200 per litre. Worse still, NNPC filling stations have not lived up to the reason for their establishment. Instead of rescuing Nigerians from the recurring hoarding and artificial scarcity of petroleum products, they have joined the evil cartel. Most of them are always shut in the daytime, and only open at odd hours to dispense petroleum products to black marketers at high prices.
Has it ever occurred to successive governments in Nigeria that a substantial reduction in the pump price of kerosene can translate to a decline in the indiscriminate felling of trees and check deforestation? I doubt. Successive regimes noisily announce a resolve to fight deforestation but either do nothing concrete to that effect or adopt the wrong approach. Former President Jonathan had, on 26 November, 2014, approved above N9.2 billion for the procurement of cooking stoves for distribution to rural women, out of which N5 billion was released. Their distribution, supervised by the Federal Ministry of Environment, was kicked off by then Vice President Sambo on 26 May, 2015.
The government had claimed the project would lessen rural dwellers' reliance on firewood for cooking, and reduce deforestation and its attendant effects like loss of tree species, desertification and global warming. These are very good motives and goals. But they would remain a mirage. This is not because the cooking stoves may never reach their intended beneficiaries as, like fertilizers and insecticide-treated mosquito nets, they will be hijacked by bureaucrats for sale to traders.
Rather, the project will fail to achieve its goals because kerosene is more expensive than firewood and charcoal. Again, while the procurement of kerosene is generally stressful, it is very convenient to buy firewood and charcoal. The sale of firewood and charcoal has become a thriving business in nooks and crannies across the country. Huge heaps of firewood and charcoal are found in many residences around Nigeria. Daily, hewers of wood go on rampage, cutting down trees, as others burn felled trees to produce charcoal.
So, if the government is serious about fighting indiscriminate tree felling and desertification, mindful that forest guards seem to have disappeared from our clime, it should make kerosene far cheaper and more convenient to procure than firewood and charcoal. For instance, while kerosene sells for above N150 per litre, a cellophane bagful of charcoal goes for around N50, and a handful stack of firewood goes for N100. It costs more to operate a kerosene stove, but costs far less to use firewood or charcoal. Even families which use cooking gas, still have standby kerosene stoves and charcoal pots. By increasing the price of kerosene, the Nigerian government is unwittingly encouraging Nigerians to persist in felling trees for the cheaper firewood and charcoal, and inadvertently aiding and abetting deforestation and beckoning on its side-effects. A revisiting of the hike in the pump price of kerosene is recommended.
In the second week of April, 2014, Nigerians were hit by news of a 14-year old Kano girl, Wasila Umar, who poisoned her 35-year old husband, Umar Sani, and three of his friends to death by putting rodenticide in their meal. The child said she did not love the deceased, and was forced into marrying him by her father who admitted beating her prior to the marriage. Her deceased husband had, two weeks after their marriage, invited his friends to celebrate it when the ugly incident happened.
Child marriage is defined as a marriage before the age of 18. Exponents and practitioners of child marriage may say that, at 14, Wasila does not appreciate the meaning of love; hence the parents can think for and railroad her into matrimony. They stress the need for children to obey their parents. Yet, Wasila must be credited with knowledge of who or what she likes or dislikes. And if she says she doesn’t love somebody, it must be taken that she speaks from the heart.
Do parents ignore the feelings of their toddler who refuses the extended arms of a relation or family friend? So, why should they ignore their teenage daughter’s emotional feelings? All right-thinking parents wish for the best in marriage for their children, and a forced, loveless marriage cannot meet that wish. Some even argue that child marriage spares teenage girls of juvenile delinquency, pre-marital sex and unwanted pregnancies! What an absurd excuse!
The practice of forced marriage of underaged girls by some parents to shameless, paedophilic men, old enough to be their fathers or even grandfathers, plagues Northern Nigeria, some other parts of Africa and Asia. Pakistan’s radical Council for Islamic Ideology is reported to have recently condemned attempts to peg a minimum age for marriage, and went further to brand the existence of women as un-Islamic! In Nigeria, Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima and Dr. Ishaq Akintola of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) are among the notorious exponents of child marriage. Their claim that child marriage is approved by Islam and prophet Mohammed has been dismissed by most muslims as unfounded.
Very few muslims who are paedophiles argue that Islam specified no minimum age for marriage, hence they can marry underaged girls. However most muslims say that the religion does not approve of child or forced marriage. And every right-thinking person knows when a girl is ripe for marriage. Interestingly, almost all Arab countries (except Saudi Arabia and Yemen) – nations with deeper Islamic roots than Nigeria - have legislated a minimum age for marriage. Reports have it that, after three years, Yerima divorced the 13-year old Egyptian girl he married, only to marry a 15-year old from the same Egypt! How many more underaged girls would he marry and divorce afterwards? What fate awaits the divorced child? There must be a secret, sinister and unGodly reason why some men desire underaged girls! Paradoxically, such men allow their daughters to mature before marriage! Now, Boko Haram insurgents have abducted more than 200 teenage girls to be used as sex slaves and wives!
Years back, among the Igbos, a girl could, at birth, be betrothed to a boy within her age group, by a prospective father in-law dropping a coin into her drinking water bowl. At times, the girl, on attaining puberty, would go and live with her prospective mother in-law for mentoring and tutelage. However, she must mature fully before being married properly by the fiancé and in no case would the marriage be consummated until she attained maturity. An ideal marriage comes with the mutual consent of the man and woman, both of whom should know what they are about. A betrothed Igbo girl was groomed to love and take her fiancé as her husband before the actual marriage and, in due course, she matured and gave her consent and was not forced into [child] marriage.
Studies have shown that child marriage is largely to blame for the rampant incidence of Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF), as well as maternal and infant mortality in Northern Nigeria. The undeveloped pelvic girdles of a girl-child are too small to allow the passage of a baby, resulting in prolonged labour and, at times, VVF and the death of either mother or child or both. If any of these happens, the husband moves on, seeking another girl-child to prey on.
Beside the need for physiological maturity, a mother must be equipped mentally to enable her adequately bring up a child. What sort of upbringing would a 14-year old girl, still in need of parental nurture and mentoring, offer a child? Such a girl would, at most, be in Class 3 of the Junior Secondary School (JSS). It is scary to imagine a society where underaged girls rampantly become mothers and raise children!
Most child-wives desire quality education, have big dreams and high hopes of actualizing them. Unfortunately, such desires, dreams and hopes may never be realized once they are forced into underaged marriage. I doubt if Senator Yerima ever sent his 13-year old former wife to school. Thus, in addition to the rising incidence of VVF and maternal and infant mortality, child marriage increases the number of illiterate women in the society. A vicious cycle of illiteracy ensues as child-wives beget girls who, without education, are also forced into early marriage, replicating unrealized dreams and dashed hopes.
On seeing their mates still single and in school, these child-wives boil and get depressed over their situation. Their complaints are useless; their parents who forced them into the sorry state have no ears for their protests, while their husbands treat them as chattels. They get depressed the more. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said “violence is the voice of the unheard”. This may explain Wasila’s action. One can only imagine how she boiled over her pitiable condition, warranting her development of murderous tendencies. I do not justify her action; however, it is beyond argument that pent-up anger or frustration usually finds an outlet someday, somehow. It could take the form of self-destructive steps (alcoholism, drug addiction or suicide) or action(s) which may be injurious to another. Wasila took the latter.
There is, however, a frightening possibility. Wasila’s criminal and condemnable precedent could embolden other child-wives into emulating her. We should gird our loins for such an ugly turn of events. Perhaps, her action would deter parents and men who subscribe to child marriage, more than the provisions of the Child Rights Act 2003 which, under sections 21, 22 and 23, prohibit and criminalize child marriage and betrothal. What is the value of the Child Rights Act when the likes of Senator Yerima walk about free? A further proof that Nigerian laws are hardly enforced, especially against the elite! Yerima claimed he is not subject to the Child Rights Act, a law validly enacted by the National Assembly of which he is a member! Pray, has he ceased to be a Nigerian? Assuming the Act does not apply to Zamfara State, is it also inapplicable to Abuja where he wedded the 13-year old?
Eventually, Wasila may be arraigned, prosecuted and possibly convicted and sentenced to a jail term. Nonetheless, by her age, she cannot be given the death sentence. Beyond that, we must act fast to avert the recurrence and spread of such incident. The Federal Government and all the States’ governments must take urgent steps to end child marriage. Public sensitization efforts by relevant government MDAs, offices of first ladies, women groups, religious bodies and non-governmental organisations should be intensified to highlight its evils. The provisions of the Child Rights Act must be strictly enforced across board; we achieve nothing by enacting laws whose provisions are selectively or never enforced.
Importantly, education should be free indeed at all levels. This will deny poor parents of any excuse for not sending their children to school. There is a connection between poverty, lack of access to education and child marriage. Some poor parents are enticed by the money offered by paedophilic men to marry their underaged daughters; Senator Yerima reportedly paid $100,000 to an Egyptian taxi driver to marry his 13-year old daughter! Furthermore, the government must tackle the rising unemployment in Nigeria. The sight and plight of the countless unemployed graduates dampen the interest of some parents and children in education.
I am compelled to write again on the exploitation of the Nigerian job-seeker (see “How Jobless and Job-seeking Nigerians Are Exploited” published in Sunday Trust of September 13, 2009 and some blogs). In 2008, some jobseekers got injured while others lost their lives during a recruitment exercise conducted by Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). And here we are, in 2014, with the same NIS conducting another recruitment exercise, this time more fatal!
For the Nigerian jobseeker, the March 15, 2014 NIS ill-fated recruitment exercise represents another mirage-like chance of securing employment. It brought to the fore the scary magnitude of unemployment in our country, the alarming number of jobless youths and their recurring exploitation by employers of labour roundly financed by public funds. Besides, it exposed the grave dangers Nigerian jobseekers face in their endless quest for the ever elusive employment.
Generally, a jobless person is poor, a dependant who relies on parents, relations or friends for feeding, shelter, transportation and clothing. Some of them are orphaned, very poor, and with no persons to assist them. Their poverty is akin to that described in Mario Corelli’s The Sorrows of Satan, where the victim is unsure of the next meal at any given time. In countries where the government is awake to its responsibilities and committed to the welfare of the citizenry, social welfare schemes exist for the payment of monthly stipends to the jobless, sick, poor and aged. Unfortunately, in Nigeria such persons are left to their fate! Except for sporadic acts of charity, they are on their own! They lack shelter, electricity, potable water, affordable healthcare facilities, quality education, good network of roads, etc. They live in shanties, drink pond or stream water, scavenge for food, live on alms, and depend on self-medication, herbs and native doctors for medicare.
The Nigerian poor who is very lucky to go to school gets no job upon graduation, neither is there any financial empowerment for him to embark on self-employment instead. The much hyped financing for small and medium scale entrepreneurs is hijacked by the elite. The available public service jobs are all taken up by the children, wards, relations and friends of politicians and other influential and connected citizens. The job adverts placed by most private sector organisations contain scary, ridiculous requirements and the jobs, if eventually secured, mostly pay peanuts and subject employees to modern-day slavery and exploitation. Yet, the jobseeker expends the little feeding money he has on job applications!
Hitherto, job-seeking Nigerians were required to send in written (typed or long-handed) applications for jobs, delivered through the post office. With the advent of the internet, most employers now require applicants to complete online application forms or send applications through e-mails. To do this, the job-seeker has to purchase internet airtime at a cybercafé or [rarely] use a kind person’s internet-connected computer. The erratic nature of internet services in most cybercafés doubles an applicant’s cost in the process. But the government can provide cybercafés in local government areas for poor citizens to make free but regulated use of the internet.
Sadly, Nigerian employers have turned their recruitment exercises into income-generating ventures. In all, poor jobseekers pay for every job application, with no assurance that the most qualified or exceptional will secure the job! The jobs are generally allotted to highbrow politicians, public officers, and other connected and influential persons prior to the aptitude test. Few days to the fatal NIS 2014 recruitment test, someone told me that a high-ranking NIS official claimed to have been allotted 10 employment slots and each was for sale at N500,000! Eventually, poor Nigerian jobseekers are taken for a ride, while the employers and their “consultants” smile to the banks. This has become a yearly routine and a norm among ministries, departments and agencies financed by public funds.
Applicants must buy scratch cards (from banks) which contain codes which are pre-conditions for accessing employers’ web portals or completing online application forms, as was the case with the recent NIS recent ill-fated recruitment exercise. Furthermore, applicants borrow money for transport to aptitude tests venues, if invited. Later, they are required to spend money again to know the outcome of the aptitude test via the internet. Worse still, the unlucky ones pay with their limbs or lives as happened in the NIS 2008 and March 15, 2014 recruitment exercises.
Nigerians who seek or secure employment with military and para-military organisations are required to procure T-shirts, shorts, canvass shoes, bed sheets, etc, even though the provision of these items for recruits is provided for in the annual budgets of these organisations! Generally, female jobseekers are sexually exploited by officials of recruiting bodies and prospective employers. Most times, the heads of government agencies create fronts who defraud jobseekers of huge sums of money with false promises of employment, only to deny them when the bubble bursts! Between middle of 2012 and early 2013, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) claimed to have uncovered and arrested members of syndicates which used the name of its Comptroller-General to defraud many Nigerian jobseekers of huge sums of money, with promises of employment with it. Unfortunately, it seems nothing was done to ensure that the fraudsters refunded the moneys to their victims.
No justification exists for these burgeoning acts of exploitation of poor jobseekers. They are reprehensible, unacceptable and the government should put a stop to them. Unashamedly, government agencies now justify the evil practice by reference to precedents laid by previous recruitment exercises of other public bodies! The embattled Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, arrogantly did so last year when Nigerians protested the N1,000 demanded from applicants for the NIS job application. Do ugly precedents offer a justification for their repetition or continuation? Moro and his “consultant” should be compelled to refund to each applicant a minimum of N5,000, because the cost incurred by each applicant far exceeds the N1,000 paid to Moro and his “consultant”. I know candidates who got invitations to the aptitude test a day before and had to take flights to their venues.
I join other right-thinking Nigerians in calling for the sack of Abba Moro. He lacks a pricking conscience and sense of morality that would prompt a person in his shoes to resign. The revelations so far show that he went solo as regards the recruitment exercise. He it was who condemned and cancelled the 2012 recruitment exercise carried out by the immediate past Comptroller-General of NIS, Mrs. Rose Uzoma, and engineered her removal from office. Then, the rumour was rife that he was infuriated by Uzoma’s refusal to allow him have the recruitment exercise his own way. We have now seen the disastrous outcome of a recruitment exercise done the Abba Moro way.
The National Electric Power Authority/Power Holding Company of Nigeria (NEPA/PHCN) was privatised on Friday 1st November, 2013 when the Federal Government handed over its assets and eighteen generation, transmission and distribution successor companies to the “core investors” (privileged and wealthy Nigerians) who bought them. I do not know whether the liabilities thereof were equally privatised or written off.
The Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, and the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) were optimistic on how the privatisation will bring positive changes to the electricity sector. They promised that the new owners will deliver steady power supply in the country, and threatened to sanction any investor who defaulted in delivering on the performance agreement they executed with the government. I do not share in their optimism. I fear that electricity supply may never improve in Nigeria, even with the euphoric privatisation. So far, it has not changed from its usual, notorious epileptic nature. It was rumoured that the just-concluded centenary celebrations were powered by a stand-by generator, to avoid embarrassing power failure!
NEPA/PHCN officials devised many schemes with which they extorted money from Nigerians and frustrated steady power supply in Nigeria. The first is the fixed meter charge, called “meter maintenance charge” under the era of post-paid meters. It is a constant that is unaffected by the quantum of power consumed. Another was the arbitrarily-imposed estimated bills; NEPA/PHCN officials either refused to read meters and use the readings for billing or deliberately rendered the meters non-functional. They applied threats of disconnection to arm-twist Nigerians into paying for electricity not consumed. In repeated instances, electricity bills were issued to and enforced on Nigerians for periods when they had no functional transformers!
With the introduction of prepaid meters, Nigerians heaved sighs of relief, hoping that NEPA/PHCN would supply reliable electricity to consumers. The hope was anchored on the belief that by a prepaid meter (pay-as-you-go system), the billing system will truly reflect the quantum of electricity consumed. Indeed, power supply improved tremendously in the early days of prepaid meters to the extent of almost 24 hours electricity supply, leaving Nigerians surprised. Perhaps, as one NEPA/PHCN official said, this was meant to ensure the quick exhaustion of the amounts standing to the credit of consumers so that they recharge their meters often!
For a fact, NEPA/PHCN staff opposed the introduction of prepaid meters. Against this background, one expected the government to ensure that the billing system of the prepaid meters was followed to the letter. Unfortunately, the government introduced the Multi-Year-Tariff-Order (MYTO) in 2008 under which electricity tariff was to be increased yearly. The authorities claimed this was necessary to attract “investors” who reportedly considered the tariff regime in the sector unattractive and unlikely to ensure good return on their yet-to-be-made investments!
Thereafter, Nigerians noticed a hike in the fixed meter charge, and this has remained a periodic feature of the prepaid meter! It now stands at a minimum of N750 monthly per meter in a residential building! Initially, NERC denounced its retention, only to do a volte-face by justifying same, claiming that it was not “meter maintenance charge” but the instalmental repayment of the cost of prepaid meters! Interestingly, except for the small-size prepaid meters provided by the World Bank and installed by its consultants free of charge, Nigerians paid around N50,000 for each prepaid meter provided and installed by NEPA/PHCN! So, which “cost” is being repaid? Assuming some persons did not pay for the NEPA/PHCN prepaid meters, should the repayment apply to every Nigerian? Recently, NERC came up with another reason, claiming that the proceeds of the fixed meter charges were for the repair and maintenance of spoilt NEPA/PHCN facilities! Is it justified for poor Nigerians to pay for that? Were the liabilities of NEPA/PHCN not bought by the “core investors”? If not, is there no budgetary provision for their repair and maintenance?
Immediately the fixed meter charge was introduced into the prepaid meters, electricity supply relapsed to its usual, notorious epileptic nature. Thus, Nigerians are still forced by official fiat to pay for electricity not consumed. To worsen matters, by the MYTO, this fixed meter charge will be reviewed upwards periodically. All these form part of the legacy bequeathed to the “core investors”.
I ponder over the sort of regulation NERC carries out in the electricity industry. Like the Petroleum Products Regulatory Authority (PPRA) for the petroleum industry, NERC seems to stand for the recommendation, implementation and defence of periodic hikes in electricity tariff, in the face of continuing dwindling power supply! But a regulator protects citizens by regulating charges imposed by operators.
For long, the government has been unable to sanction NEPA/PHCN officials for non-performance. Again, the body’s enabling law made it impossible for aggrieved consumers to seek legal redress against it. Against this background, one does not see how the government will be able to sanction any of the investors should they tow (which I am sure they will) the ignoble path charted by NEPA/PHCN. How effective has the regulation of Nigeria’s mobile telephone providers (whose tariffs are the highest in Africa) been? What is more, the foundation (if not the main) staff strength of these “core investors” are drawn from NEPA/PHCN staff.
Guided by the way previous “core investors” have managed other privatized public companies in Nigeria, I doubt if the latest “core investors” will turn around our electricity sector. It is going to be business as usual. Surprisingly, the Ministry of Power and NERC failed to make rules and regulations to guide the core investors’ operations prior to the handover! Surely, the operators will have a field day and, any such rules and regulations, whenever made, will be on their terms.
I foresee the “core investors” forming a cartel to continue from where NEPA/PHCN stopped in the rip-off of Nigerians, while rendering abysmal services. This is already happening in Nigeria’s mobile telephone sector. A lifting of the corporate veil of the “core investors” may reveal that they are owned directly or indirectly by persons who oversaw NEPA/PHCN’s recurring malfunction over the years. Some of the “core investors” may own generator-importing companies in Nigeria which connive with NEPA/PHCN officials to ensure epileptic electricity supply, to boost their sales. This calibre of persons or companies can never move the electricity sector forward!
Is it true that the government plans to still remove “subsidy” on electricity tariff? Yet, part of the reasons advanced for the MYTO and the hike in tariff is the removal of the purported subsidy. So, what other “subsidy” is there to be removed? Is the government bent on ensuring huge returns on investments for the “core investors” at all costs, and at the expense of hapless Nigerians?
For so long as the fixed meter charge and MYTO remain, Nigerians should not expect any improvement in the electricity sector, despite the seeming change of guards. Such charges ensure that electricity suppliers always smile to the banks, whether or not electricity is supplied. Imagine the aggregate of N750 monthly per house in Nigeria! If the government is committed to sanitizing the electricity sector, it must remove the charge and others like it from the electricity meter. Let this roguery and rip-off stop, for Nigerians to pay electricity bills as per the quantum of electricity consumed.
I love reggae music, especially songs by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Lucky Dube and count myself as a reggae fan. It was in the morning of Friday October 19, 2007. I was going to work on board our staff bus when I heard the news over the radio that Lucky Dube, the South African-born reggae musician, had died the previous day Thursday October 18, 2007! I peremptorily dismissed the news as untrue, hoping that it was either a reverie or I did not hear well. But it turned out to be true, for the sad news was repeatedly aired and soon became the topic of general conversation.
Ironically, the late Lucky Dube in one of his hit tracks lamented how evil forces were “killing the prophets of reggae”. Alas! He another prophet of reggae has fallen victim to the same fate in the hands of agents of evil. When the legendary Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981, most of his fans worldwide believed and still believe that there was more to his death than met the eyes. This suspicion of foul play is heightened when viewed against Marley’s 1976 narrow escape from the assassins’ bullets. In 1987, Peter Tosh, another reggae great was shot dead by three evil emissaries, two of whom were never caught. Lucky Dube is the latest casualty on the list of reggae musicians cut short by agents of darkness.
Sequel to the above, one is forced to ask, who are killing the prophets of reggae? Over the years, reggae music has come to be associated with the fight for justice, equal rights, pan-Africanism, liberation of the oppressed, good governance, as well as the fight against apartheid, colonialism, neo-colonialism, man’s inhumanity to man and other social vices. These ideals were popularized in the lyrics of Marley, Tosh and other reggae pioneers. And succeeding reggae artistes like Lucky Dube took over from where they stopped and have maintained the tempo ever since. Once accused of fighting the whites (his father’s race), Bob Marley was reported to have answered that he was fighting the bad system and not personalities, but it happened that the bad system is ascribed to the whites.
Reggae musicians, otherwise known as Rastafarians, revere and deify the late Emperor Haile Sellasie of Ethiopia for two reasons. First, he is acclaimed to be a descendant of the Biblical King Solomon of Israel. Second, Ethiopia remains the only African country which was never colonized. They identified themselves with the cause of African irredentism, liberation, total independence and unity. In one of his songs, Marley urged Africans to unite, while Peter Tosh reminded all blacks in Diaspora of their African origin. Their commitment to the African cause is only comparable to that shown by famous pan-Africanists like Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, etc.
It is very unfortunate that both Peter Tosh and Lucky Dube were killed by fellow blacks (Africans). Were their killers acting for themselves or as agents of faceless, but powerful external forces? Is their murder the handiwork of persons who felt pricked by the messages contained in the lyrics of their songs? We may never know, except courtesy of an in-depth and thorough investigation which may throw up some startling revelations. Nevertheless, it is an irrefutable fact of history that the West has always been suspected of involvement in the overthrow or assassination of almost all genuine African leaders such as Lumumba, Sellassie, Nkrumah, Sankara, etc whose resolve to uplift Africa from neo-colonialism and dependence they loathed.
Lucky Dube, through the instrumentality of his songs, fought the repressive policy of apartheid and other societal vices, identified with the oppressed and urged that the Blackman be accorded the respect and dignity due to him. It is worrisome that the selfsame blacks he fought for turned around to kill him. He was not consumed by the forces of apartheid which he denounced through his songs. The circumstances of Dube’s death and the rising incidence of violent crime in South Africa in recent times compel one to wonder if black South Africans are not more vicious on themselves than the agents of apartheid were on them. We cannot justifiably blame whites always whenever blacks turn against fellow blacks. Could the high crime wave in South Africa be traced to high-level unemployment and the use of youths as thugs and hired assassins by politicians as obtains in Nigeria? Whatever be the case, it is high time the South African government tackled this monster of violent crime which is giving the country a bad image abroad. Else, agents of apartheid may point to it and argue that blacks are incapable of offering good governance.
We lament the demise of reggae stars at the peak of their career. We mourn the death of Lucky Dube. However, we find consolation in the stardom he achieved in his music career, the consciousness he created through the messages in his songs, especially that he helped through his music to dismantle apartheid. Again, as he sang in one of his tracks, “nobody can stop reggae/‘cos reggae is strong”. My heartfelt condolences go to his family and my fellow fans of his. But for his final wishes, Dube deserved a state burial by the South African government.
The late Jamaican Reggae musician, Peter Tosh had, in one of his songs, called for the legalization of marijuana and promised to advertize it. However, I do not think that Jamaica or any other country heeded his eccentric call. The smoking of marijuana, a common practice among Rastafarians, social wastrels and even supposedly decent men and women, is largely condemned owing to its effects on the behaviour and mental state of its consumers. Many cases of lunacy are traceable to it.
On Thursday 5th October 2011, the Nigerian press reported a very unsettling suggestion made by Senator Ike Ekweremadu on the floor of the Nigerian Senate the previous day during a debate on the scourge of human trafficking. By the reports, he suggested the legalization of prostitution because it has become impossible to stop it and some Western countries have done so, and argued that legalization will ensure its regulation through the licensing of its practitioners.
When crimes and social vices become intractable or criminals become recidivists, how should the state or society respond? Is it to throw in the towel or devise better ways of tackling them? Political and legal history informs us that states have always persisted in tackling criminality and social ills despite their recurrence and recalcitrance.
In Nigeria, there are so many crimes and vices which have defied public outcry against them, as well as efforts (sincere and sham) to contain them. They include bad governance, corruption, armed robbery, electoral fraud and thuggery, extortion by Nigerian policemen, examination malpractices, cultism, hired assassinations, kidnapping and abduction, human trafficking, drug trafficking and abuse, artificial scarcity of petroleum products, sectarian crises, terrorism, ritual killings, and traffic violations. If, by dint of Ekweremadu’s suggestion, these are also legalized merely because it has become impossible to stop them, one can only imagine the outcome.
As a lawyer and legislator, Senator Ekweremadu should be acquainted with the role of the law in society. Generally, the law is meant to regulate human behaviour, laying down principles and guidelines for good and acceptable human conduct and making provisions for the prohibition and punishment of acts of deviation. Prof Roscoe Pound’s Sociological School of Legal Thought postulates that “law is an instrument for social engineering”. Engineering ensures the production, construction and reconstruction of equipment and structures that beautify and better society, and not equipment and structures that deface the environment.
Largely, law flows from customs and traditions which are the accepted way of life of a people or community. I believe that, as an Igbo man, Senator Ekweremadu is well aware that the customs and traditions of Ndi-Igbo abhor prostitution. We should not copy from other climes practices which offend our cultural and traditional values. Furthermore, the law could also be a reflection of positive developments in society; for instance, the Nigerian Evidence Act was recently amended to allow the admissibility of electronic documents, among other innovations in the field of evidence. Can we regard the legalization of prostitution by some Western countries as worthy of emulation?
Social vices and abominable acts which are condemned by decent members of society are usually legislated against. For example, the true African culture abhors same sex marriage, sodomy, lesbianism, homosexuality and other unnatural and bestial forms of sexual relationship. They are anathema in the typical African society. Despite the negative influence of the morally debased Western culture, decent men and women of Africa still reject these depraved forms of sexual behaviour.
Prostitution is referred to as “the oldest profession”, yet it has never been regarded as a reputable practice, even though both the disreputable and supposedly reputable patronize its purveyors. In Africa, no woman (even the promiscuous) takes kindly to being addressed as a prostitute. Most prostitutes ply their trade under the cover of darkness, secretly and with false identities and loathe being identified as such. They never disclose their real business to their kith and kin, and most times claim a legitimate trade as a smokescreen. Despite the fact that Nigerian prostitutes, influenced by their Western counterparts, recently demanded some rights and respect, the profession is still a disrespectful and depraved one. Prostitutes lack manners and evince criminal and violent tendencies. The unwavering resolve of some women to practise prostitution cannot be a ground for the legalization of the disreputable trade. The law should not be used to give legitimacy to practices and trades which strike at the moral fibre of society.
It is better to imagine the unwholesome outcome of the legalization of prostitution. Licensed prostitutes, either as a group or individually, would be at liberty to advertize their trade and seek new members in the news media. Nothing will stop them from opening “schools of prostitution” and floating their own “churches” and “mosques”. Its legalization will amount to the legalization of adultery and fornication, and embolden lesbians, homosexuals and pornographers to demand a similar treatment. If prostitution is legalized, how can a decent parent dissuade a child who has shown disposition towards it or reprimand a licentious child? How effective will its regulation be, mindful that decent professions and trades are hardly ever regulated effectively in Nigeria?
Undoubtedly, Senator Ekweremadu’s bizarre suggestion cannot represent the views of members of his constituency. The mere thought of legalizing prostitution, let alone carrying it out, is repugnant to nature, natural law, divine law, ecclesiastical law, morality and good conscience. It is anathema to Christianity and Islam, and forbidden by African traditional religion. Let us not follow climes or cultures which are bereft of any moral and religious values. I want to assume that the suggestion was a slip of tongue. But Sigmund Freud in his depth psychology said that slips of tongue reveal subconscious feelings and thoughts. Therefore, I respectfully urge the learned Senator to purge himself of that revolting idea, and also advise the National Assembly to expunge the suggestion from their records and regard same as not having been made.
The following are incontrovertible facts about the Nigerian electricity sector: there is either no or epileptic electricity supply in about 90% of Nigerian homes and offices which, thus, depend on generators and spend fortunes fuelling same; Nigerians pay through the nose for electricity never supplied; the problem is more of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN)’s penchant for denying Nigerians of electricity than the non-generation of adequate megawatts of electricity; Nigeria supplies reliable electricity to some neighbouring countries while her citizens have blackout; the touted recent improvement in electricity supply by PHCN is untrue; and the periodic hike in electricity tariff by the government is regardless of these ugly facts and the plight of Nigerians.
The foregoing ugly facts are acknowledged by all well-meaning Nigerians, including foreigners who either reside in or visit Nigeria. However, some Nigerians play the ostrich by making false claims about electricity supply in the country. They do this to either create the bogus impression among outsiders that Nigeria is “working” or be branded “patriotic”. I refuse to live in such a fool’s paradise. Let us face and present the facts as they are, as therein lies the first step to the solution.
Another group of Nigerians and their foreign allies, either knowingly or unwittingly, wish or work for the shameful, recurring state of affairs in our electricity sector and the attendant blackout to persist. Here, you find PHCN management and staff, generator sellers, government officials who pay lip service to the resolution of the electricity logjam, and the sham “private sector investors” whose interest in the power sector is only selfish and fraudulent.
Additionally, the despicable activities of the institutions and personae [in the downstream sector] of Nigeria’s petroleum industry bring them under this second group. They include the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), filling stations, fuel tanker owners/drivers, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), National Union of Petroleum & Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), importers of refined petroleum products, black marketers, etc.
Poor and unfortunate Nigerians, reeling under PHCN’s incessant blackout or epileptic electricity supply, queue up daily at filling stations for petrol, diesel and kerosene to fuel their generators and lanterns, in order to have light in the night. Sadly, however, the regulators and operators in the petroleum industry are indifferent to their plight, and rub salt in their wounds.
I have observed four ways in which the petroleum industry reinforces darkness in Nigeria. First is the failure of the Ministry and its parastatals to ensure the steady supply of adequate gas to the gas turbines which are supposed to generate electricity at the power stations. This, vandalism and (until now) Niger Delta militancy are always blamed for the non-performance of the power stations, although vandalism does not seem to affect Nigeria’s exportation of liquefied natural gas.
Second is the recurring artificial scarcity of petroleum products in Nigeria. This ugly incidence is caused by corrupt and greedy filling station owners, fuel tanker owners/drivers, PENGASSAN, NUPENG, importers of refined petroleum products, and officials of the Petroleum Ministry, DPR and NNPC. Unfortunately, the NNPC mega/leased filling stations, supposedly established to “rescue” Nigerians from the malady of artificial fuel scarcity, are now part of the game. Related to the above is their failure to make cooking gas affordably available to Nigerians.
Except in the NNPC mega station at Wuse Zone 1, one hardly finds kerosene sold at any of the filling stations operated by NNPC, Agip, Texaco, Total, Mobil, Conoil and Oando within Abuja. For a commodity that is very essential to more than 90% of Nigerians, this failure cannot be justified. And it is amusing that NNPC filling stations which are prided as “mega” each have only a single pump to dispense kerosene! Yet, NNPC is the sole importer of kerosene in Nigeria!
Thirdly, officials of the Petroleum Ministry, DPR and NNPC are guilty of dereliction of their duty to monitor and regulate filling stations. Even when they do so, it is rather perfunctory. Allegations are rife that they are easily compromised and turn a blind eye as greedy filling station proprietors rip poor Nigerians off through fraudulently adjusted meter readings and other underhand practices. Again, acting under the assumption that the NNPC mega/leased filling stations play by the rules, the said officials do not monitor them. Unfortunately, however, so much underhand practices go on there.
A visit to the NNPC mega station in Wuse Zone 1, Abuja reveals the inhuman treatment that is meted out to Nigerians by soldiers, mobile policemen and the station’s personnel. Men and women who go there to buy kerosene are often flogged, beaten, dehumanized and even driven away. Many of them sleep there overnight to buy kerosene, only to be so heartlessly treated by the operators and security men. Yet, it is alleged that in the night vehicles with drums are driven in and filled to the brim with petroleum products.
The fourth way is the agonizing refusal by most filling stations, especially the ones owned by NNPC, Texaco, Total, Agip, Mobil, Oando and Conoil to dispense petrol and diesel in jericans and generators to Nigerians. They claim that there is a directive to that effect by NNPC and DPR, and that defaulters are heavily penalized. What an unjust and anti-people directive! It is lame to argue that it is meant to check black marketers, mindful that filling stations usually arrange with black marketers to come in the night to make their illicit purchases. How does one who comes to buy 10 litres of petrol/diesel become a black marketer? Why should a man who comes to a filling station with his generator or its tank be refused fuel/diesel?
Furthermore, some filling stations dispense petrol/diesel to persons with generators but refuse same for persons with jericans. Is it reasonable to expect every body to move his generator from the house/office to the filling station? How does one move heavy-duty generators to filling stations to buy petrol/diesel? For instance, how do I move my 12-litre generator to a filling station when my car’s boot cannot take it? How does a poor Nigerian who owns a 4-litre generator (“I Pass My Neighbour”) move it, say from Nyanya to Mpape, in order to buy fuel, mindful of the great inconvenience and cost? Often, Nigerians cover long distances in search of petroleum products, owing to their recurring artificial scarcity.
The result has been that the filling stations which sell fuel in jericans charge consumers extra money for doing so, depending on the size of the jerican. Should this be the case? Are NNPC, DPR officials and filling station proprietors unaware of the seemingly intractable electricity problem in Nigeria? Faced with this problem, how else will common Nigerians fuel their lanterns and generators to light their houses/offices if filling stations refuse to sell kerosene, petrol and diesel to them? What is wrong with us? Why do some Nigerians derive pleasure from making life difficult for their compatriots?
The Petroleum Ministry, DPR and NNPC should urgently rescind the wicked directive against the sale by filling stations of petrol and diesel in jericans and generators. Again, the inhuman treatment meted out to Nigerians at NNPC mega/leased filling stations across the country should stop. The NNPC mega/leased filling stations should have adequate supply of all petroleum products (including kerosene) at all times, and provide more pumps to dispense kerosene to poor Nigerians.
The monitoring and regulation of filling stations should be taken seriously by the Ministry, DPR and NNPC, while close attention should be paid to the NNPC mega/leased filling stations. Routine visits should be made to filling stations at nighttimes and weekends, in order to check illicit sale of petroleum products to black marketers. Efforts must be doubled to ensure that all filling stations, at all times, have and dispense all petroleum products to all Nigerians at approved prices. Moreover, the Ministry and its parastatals should sit up and check policies and practices in the petroleum industry which are against the welfare of poor Nigerians.
Finally, I cautiously commend the recent NNPC/Capital Oil Kero-Direct initiative whereof kerosene is sold directly to consumers at N50 per litre. The scheme must not be a flash in the pan, but should be honestly sustained, intensified and spread to all nooks and crannies in Nigeria. It confirms the failure of NNPC and its mega/leased stations in this regard. Why has the NNPC – the sole importer of kerosene in Nigeria - which supplies adequate kerosene to Capital Oil for the Kero-Direct scheme been unable to do the same to its mega/leased filling stations?
It is very unfortunate that, without much reflection, the House of Representatives, on Thursday 21st July 2011, reportedly swallowed hook, line and sinker all that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, fed it as the rationales for the introduction in Nigeria of Islamic banking and daily cash withdrawal limits. Yet, the House has denied approving Islamic banking and summoned Sanusi to re-appear before it to give further clarifications on same. Although I have my grouse with the introduction of Islamic banking in Nigeria, I leave that for now, and face the daily cash withdrawal limits.
CBNAccording to the CBN, effective June1, 2012, the maximum amount of cash withdrawable daily across the counter shall be N150,000 for an individual customer, and N1,000,000 for a corporate customer. Any cash withdrawals above the stated limits shall attract a penalty of N100 per every N1,000 and N200 per every N1,000 for individual and corporate customers, respectively.
One expected Sanusi to humbly enlighten Nigerians on whatever informed the policy. Sadly, however, he arrogantly and combatively challenged any aggrieved Nigerian(s) to go to court! Such a high horse is unacceptable from a public officer whose office is a public trust. Should a public officer feel justified in deliberately initiating an unpopular policy only to dare aggrieved persons to go to court? Notwithstanding his credentials and awards, Sanusi owes Nigerians a duty to respectfully explain and justify his official pronouncements and CBN's policies while he is in charge. He has no right to force his views down our throats; such intellectual arrogance is insulting to the sensibilities of average Nigerians. Let us watch it, for haughty postures by public officers would constitute stumbling blocks to the realization of the spirit of the hard-won Freedom of Information Act.
Among the reasons glibly advanced by the CBN for this policy include reducing the cost of cash management, making the Nigerian economy cashless, checking money laundering and the insecurity of cash in transit. I intend, in the next paragraphs, to join many Nigerians to fault these rationalisations and condemn the daily cash withdrawal limits.
First, the elementary role of banks is to take deposits and make same available to depositors on demand, and intermediate between economic sectors having excess funds and those lacking enough funds by mobilizing funds for the latter. Where a bank fails to pay depositors on demand, it is a sign that it has liquidity problems and calls for the intervention of the regulators. Thus, the obligation of a bank to honour a depositor's demand for payment is legally binding, provided the depositor has enough credit balance in his account and the cheque/withdrawal slip is in order.
Again, banks traditionally charge commissions on transactions (COTs) on lodgements into and withdrawals from current accounts. And Nigerian banks have, with CBN's tacit approval, been imposing on their customers similar COTs for withdrawals from savings accounts, "cash handling charges" for withdrawals of N1m and above, and other inexplicable and unjust charges. So, what "cost of cash management" does the CBN refer to? Nigerian banks, arbitrarily and amidst regulatory inertia, do handsomely reward themselves for cash management and "cash handling". It is even outlandish that a bank whose core duty is to handle cash imposes "cash handling charges" on its customers. But this is Nigeria. Thus, the reason of "cost of cash management" offered by the CBN is not convincing.
The CBN's rhetoric of making the Nigerian economy cashless may be melodious. But that is placing the cart before the horse, an undue haste to run without first crawling. What foundations exist in Nigeria for the take-off of a cashless economy? What is the level of literacy and acquaintance with information communication technology (ICT) among Nigerians? How many Nigerians can use electronic banking services? How many Igbo traders, Fulani herdsmen, market women, farmers, etc are knowledgeable in ICT? What infrastructures are there to support electronic banking, assuming most Nigerians are educated and ICT-compliant? Is it enough to flood nooks and crannies with ATMs, with their vulnerability to fraud unresolved?
Why do our public officials waste so much energy, scarce public resources and time theorizing on how an unprepared Nigeria can outstrip the advanced economies overnight? Why do we always transplant policies and programmes from other climes unto an unripe Nigerian environment? Is the World Bank's approval of the policy enough reason for us to jump on the bandwagon? Tell me, how did Nigeria fare under the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) prescribed by the World Bank and IMF?
Very importantly, beyond platitudes, how will the hyped "cashless economy", in real terms, benefit poor Nigerians or transform Nigeria into an El Dorado? Will Nigeria actualize its Vision 20-20-20 and join the league of First World countries by merely operating a "cashless economy"? For God's sake, Nigerians are in dire need of basic amenities, and not rhetorics on the vague "international best practices".
The issue of reducing the incidence of insecurity of cash in transit sounds good, but is equally unconvincing. Is it not the same CBN which earlier disapproved of banks opening ATM machines outside their branches for security reasons that suddenly did a volte-face on that? What directives has it given to banks on how to ensure security at their ATMs sites? Has the CBN solved the persistent fraud associated with ATM transactions? Nigerians have been taking care of the security challenges regarding cash in transit, and should be allowed to deposit and withdraw cash as they deem fit.
I consider as very improper the use of regulatory or legislative fiat to limit daily cash withdrawals by bank customers. Whose money are depositors withdrawing? Worse still, it is unpardonable to penalize them for withdrawing above a particular limit. By that, the CBN has given a fillip to our banks' predatory charges against which Nigerians have complained on end without any regulatory action. Perhaps, the CBN may soon limit the daily amount to be deposited in banks owing to "cost of cash management".
I do not see the connection between the amount of cash withdrawn from banks by customers and the incidence of money laundering. As much as I know, much of money laundering is done electronically through banks. Let somebody tell me how our corrupt politicians transfer looted funds to overseas bank accounts.
It is doubtful that the CBN weighed the implications of this policy before resolving to impose it on Nigerians. People patronize banks to avoid theft and other risks when money is hoarded at home and offices, as happened to the gold coins of the protagonist in George Elliot's novel Silas Marner. However, by this new policy, the CBN is throwing many Nigerians back to the ugly practice of hoarding money.
There are so many transactions involving huge sums of money whereof the average Nigerian cannot accept deferred payment, either by cheque or lodgement into his account. The recurring incidence of dishonoured cheques has made the average Nigerian very suspicious of payment by negotiable instruments. Again, the high level of illiteracy among Nigerians makes the use of cheques and electronic payments unsuitable in some cases. Tell me, how else does one pay an illiterate Fulani herdsman for cow(s) bought except in cash? How would Nigerians in the rural areas handle cash payments involving huge sums of money? How convenient is it for one to spread his withdrawals in order to meet a transaction whereof time is of the essence? What of the cost of visiting the bank/ATM daily to withdraw N150,000 for such transaction? Why should one be penalized for making a huge withdrawal to attend to one's needs? Depositors withdrawing huge sums should not be forced to incur additional cost by using cash-in-transit (CIT) companies.
I am unable to see any benefits this policy portends for the Nigerian economy and citizenry. If any, they are outweighed by its demerits. The reported plan by some Nigerian banks to lay off bulk tellers – and boost the unemployment market - may not be unconnected with this condemnable policy. The CBN should rather tackle the recurring incidence of unjust, inexplicable charges and sharp practices for which Nigerian banks are now notorious. It should equally solve the seemingly intractable fraud associated with ATM and other electronic banking transactions. The government should direct the CBN to urgently retrace its steps and reverse this objectionable policy.