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Opinion: COVID-19 Responses And The Intelligence Quotient Of Nigeria’s Political Leadership

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By Tony Abolo

COVID19 and its handling by those in authority has brought to the fore an element of analysis of the quality of leadership so desired and needed to make Nigeria function and function better. We have through our sixty years angled from those with oratorical prowess, to demagogues, to money bags, to better educated, to highly educated, to former military persons, and now to moral integrity. None has proven satisfactory. We must clearly begin to look for INTELLIGENCE – an ingredient so sorely missing in those who rush out of the pack and claim to want to lead. It is lack of the evidence of intelligence that when the ordinary Nigerian throws up his or her arms and asks rhetorically, “who do us this?”. This is the fuller meaning of the expression. And when some people accuse the Governments ,at all levels of knee-jerk approaches, it captures in essence the kind of and level of intelligence of those who say they are leaders.

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When I read in the Newspapers that the Federal Government or State governments in the face of the lockdowns want to expand the palliatives of “2 cups of Rice and Indomie“ and finances to more persons, beyond the 1 million plus at present, anyone with a measured intelligence would merely laugh. In the heat of the moment, it seems that, that is all that occurs in the minds of those who call themselves “elected leaders”. It finally has dawned on them that there is a wide gulf created “deliberately” between themselves and those they govern. The privileges they have been accumulating and enjoying in the last sixty years are unwarranted, and unmerited. How could we in a country of 200 million persons, have a bunch of senators and members of the House of Representatives have to themselves a budget of N120b annually. The Presidency enjoys more humongous inexplicable billions to feed, travel, maintain a public house, called Aso Villa, have 2 to 3 billion naira appropriated to State House clinic, a sum which till today, no body exactly knows if it is ever released or if released, who are the beneficiaries as Buhari, Kyari(when alive) and Aisha Buhari seek alternative venues for medicare. The governors have a monthly “back pocket” allowance styled, “security vote” of N 500 million – another open sesame for a shameful privilege of access to wealth. Till date, no one knows the “security vote” of the President or the Vice President. There must be, but always, shrouded in secrecy. This is aside Ministers estacodes, allowances and other perquisites in unknown millions.

READ ALSO: Opinion: The Reign Of Abba Kyari

The riots around the lockdowns in Gwagwalada, Oshogbo, Asaba, Lagos Suburbs, Kwali, Warri and Bomadi, have suddenly woken the sleepy privileged class to realize that what has been going on and condoned are not privileges but “robbing the people” in subtle terms. It is because the people have never rioted nor shown any anger on the streets, hence this nonsense of dipping hands inside the Nation’s Treasury in the name of “budget approved” allowances and expenses. In a sudden change of heart, Senator Omo Agege goes dispensing N85m to his constituents at a time, he may never have planned for it.

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In the same vein, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq. Hurried through some Northern states with “ghana must go” bags of billions of naira, in tow, to scatter to those, we hear, she claims are the “poorest of the poor” and the vulnerable in Nigeria, the Northerners – an obvious lie, and an unfounded fabrication. It is bad enough that the North out of its negligence and defense of an arcane culture, allows many such untrained and unskilled millions to roam everywhere in the North. And now she could claim that it is the fault of the South hence “they are the poorest of the poor” in Nigeria. Are we now to be rewarding “irresponsible parenting” and encourage promiscuity of ill-equipped persons to procreate. Of course, we will keep selling more oil from the South to support the North’s “poorest of the poor”!!. Little wonder in an exercise that smacks of nepotism, from an infographic published in the national dailies, Katsina State has been observed to have the poorest of the poor such that out of the 1,126,211 mandatory cash transfers, Katsina with their exalted “son of the soil” who has not lifted a finger in a personal way, to help his State indigenes out of poverty, the state got the highest allocation of cash transfers.

READ ALSO: Opinion:Soyinka’s Wisdom Cures Buhari’s Impotence

And come to think of it, it is unconscionable to be distributing public money as if it were loaves of bread and strangely without documentation, no signatures of receipt, and we are to take the Minister’s word for it that, for example, N1.6billion has been distributed to 84,000 “poor and vulnerable” in one day in Kano. Is this a due process country or a village setting? Is Nigeria a fiefdom to be run from a “village square” and without proper accountability? Little wonder, last week, Kwali vulnerable indigenes, in the Abuja area, rioted having only received N2000 each, instead of the N20,000 palliative amounts they heard announced for each person. They rightly rioted to demand for their balance N18,000:00. So much for rule of the thumb approach to governance issues, and the ethnic supremacy doctrine which makes a Minister to act as to say, “our people are in charge and we set the rules”.

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This knee-jerk response approach of both the Federal and State governments to their epiphany of realizing that there is entrenched poverty in Nigeria, due to years of misrule, injustice, over allocation of privileges to only a tiny few, plain “greed” in the name of privileged collection of “budgeted perquisites” has made it abundantly plain that – what all governments are doing, is neither wise, clever or sustainable. Government cannot and does not have the capacity to be feeding its populace in a lock down – and as is now being done, in a not-all inclusive manner. Governance as a responsibility has to be thought through. These palliative releases cannot and will not address the inequity in the system. Increasing the so called Social Register to 3.6million households is nonsensical. In any case, we hope that it is not another, towards the poorest of the poor in the North? In a country of 200 million and where nearly 100 million are poor and vulnerable, according to NBS statistics. it is merely irresponsible of any government to be talking of 3.6 million households to remedy. What we need now is a NATIONAL SOCIAL WELFARE REGISTER. We should cut down all the wastages and undue and unnecessary privileges in the system. We need to have a political class that acts with concern, compassion and humility. Now is the right time during and post COVID-19, to enact – A National SOCIAL WELFARE SCHEME – a programme that would count, capture and take care of the millions of the poorest of the poor and the unemployed Nigerians instead of this skewed Social Investment programme of the APC. This programme should have a legislative backing in line with the thinking of Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, unlike the SIP which seem an ethnicised, regional and a supremacist skewed project. We should act, like what the Chinese would say, in a manner that would be like the tide – which lifts ALL THE BOATS. It is this, that would save the over privileged political class. Otherwise, as in the book title of James Baldwin, it will be FIRE THE NEXT TIME!!!!.

READ ALSO: Bishop Oyedepo, Enenche’s Unholy Example by Tunde Odesola

A tough call though, at a time the world is predicted to have a worst recession since 1930s and when the world economy is predicted by the IMF to contract by 3% and Nigeria’s economy, predicted to contract by -3.4% with an inflation rise to as high as 13.4%. But then our governments never ever think in a future wise sense in Nigeria, ever. So, we will get our comeuppance as it comes, for we never ever know how to plan for tomorrow as we always like to use the cultural and religious platform of “Oh well, God will provide”. In any case, no one can stop the steaming anger and riots that could erupt post – COVID-19, with the way we are handling the Nigerian aspect of the pandemic.

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I end this article with a quote from Onikepo Braithwaite in her article titled Nigeria Post Covid -19 of 19-4-2020 published in This Day- as it shares my thoughts:
The pertinent question to ask at this juncture is, do we love our country and want it to survive or not? It is patently clear that if the answer is in the affirmative, this is as good a time to do away with many of our worthless structures, systems and frivolous expenditure as the cost of governance is way too high and unsustainable……Are we going to continue to have States which are not viable or allow them to harness their own resources to generate IGR? What kind of restructuring are we going to undertake, in order to rebuild our country and make it better? There are so many unanswered questions and matters which require urgent attention.

Tony Abolo is a vetrave journalist, Doyen of broadcast journalism, journalism instructor, public speaker, and writer.

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Ex-CAN President Onaiyekan, Cleric Bag Honorary Degrees

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A former national president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Cardinal John Onaiyekan and the Archbishop of Abuja catholic diocese, Ignatius Kaigama, will be honored with honorary doctorate degrees by an Abuja-based Catholic institution, Veritas University, on Saturday, December 3, 2022.

The Vice-Chancellor of the university, Rev. Fr. Professor Hyacinth Ichoku, made this known in a briefing with selected journalists in Abuja.

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Speaking on Thursday ahead of the convocation ceremony of the university, the don also noted that four countries had indicated interest to send their students to Nigeria to study pontifical degrees in the theology of philosophy.

The development follows approval by the Congregation for Catholic Education in the Vertical City Rome, Italy, to Veritas University Abuja to establish Pontifical Faculty.

The countries are Burkina Faso, Mali, Ivory Coast and India.

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Professor Ichoku said only two countries including Nigeria and Nairobi run the pontifical degree which necessitated the influx of foreign students to Nigeria.

READ ALSO: Nigerian Fielder Bags University Degree

“For the first time, the university will be honoring prominent Nigerians such as the former CAN president, cardinal John Onaiyekan and the archbishop of Abuja diocese, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama.

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‘’Veritas University has been granted the faculty to run Pontification degrees in theology and philosophy by the Congregation of Catholic Education in the Vertical City, Rome. That is in addition to National Universities Commission-approved programmes in theology and philosophy. As a Catholic University to be granted the power of the faculty to run these programmes is the height of our development and in Africa; there are just two granted such faculty, which are, the Catholic University of East Africa, Nairobi and Veritas University in Abuja. It is an exceptional privilege for us,’’ Professor Ichoku stated.

Professor Ichoku said the university would be awarding first-class degrees to 28 students who had distinguished themselves in character and learning.

He noted that the minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola would be delivering the convocation lecture.

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NACCIMA, Nigeria’s Road To Prosperity – SDP Presidential Candidate, Adebayo

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The presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Prince Adewole Adebayo, has said that the road to prosperity in Nigeria is through The Nigeria Association of Chambers and Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

Adebayo who spoke at the 4th quarterly meeting of NACCIMA in Enugu assured that the SDP, if elected into power, would not be a lawbreaker government but a law abiding.

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He added that one of the difficulties facing the industry is that government does not respect contracts.

READ ALSO: Be Apolitical, Prayerful, SDP Presidential Candidate, Adebayo, Urges Clerics

He posited that times have changed because in the past before government presents the country’s budget, captains of industries are always consulted, and the government doesn’t take decisions without considering the effects.

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Adebayo driving his point and acknowledging the importance of NACCIMA said ‘In the past when you see presidential candidate, governorship candidate, senatorial candidate, you in NACCIMA will say he’s my boy, he use to work for me, he’s a good boy.

He added that Nigeria must return to such lifestyle, because the road to prosperity in Nigeria is through NACCIMA.

 

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True Federalism: Expert Wants NULGE Join CSOs, Others For Constitutional Amendment

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Professor Festus Imuetinyan, federal Commissioner, Federal Character Commission, Abuja has called on the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) to join hands with other unions and civil society organizations working for the amendment of the nation’s constitution to make the constitution truly federal.

Imuetinyan made the call on Wednesday in Benin City at the Edo State chapter of NULGE 2022 week celebration with the theme,”Sustaining an autonomous local government as a catalyst for national development: The role of NULGE”.

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The university don opined that local governments will only become catalyst for national development when they are put in firm control over local affairs as well as encourage the emergency of local solutions to local problems.

He advocated that the local government matters must be removed from the national constitution and placed within the purview of the states to save them from the challenge of forced uniformity in the face of endemic diversity of local problems.

He added that NULGE, as the major trade union in the local government system in Nigeria, has a duty to ensure that the present unified local government system which is unwieldy is jettisoned.

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“Unfortunately, many local government staff are beneficiaries of the present system and do not see any urgent need for changes.

READ ALSO: Governors’ Domineering Treatment Of Local Govt Councils Unfair – Buhari

“Your members are the ones that are made sole administrators when elected council heads are illegally sacked by state governments. Many enjoy posting to areas that they are not conversant with the custom and tradition of the people whose problems they are called upon to solve.

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“Others are promoted in the face of inadequate utilization of available resources to manage waste and protect public utilities within their jurisdictions.

“It is often alleged that many of your members extort money from members of the public and that they enrich themselves at the expense of the development of the communities”, he said.

He further opined that the present local government system is not patterned to achieve any developmental goal rather than a smooth vehicle for the transfer of centrally collected funds to the pockets of States’ political elites.

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Imuetinyan emphasized that the 1999 Constitution makes it possible for state governments to cripple Local Government Councils financially by routing the amount of money standing to the credit of Local governments in the Federation Account (FA) through a joint State Local Government Account rather than directly to local councils.

He asserted that the arrangement adversely affects the fiscal autonomy and viability of most local governments.

According to him, some state governors make inexplicable deductions or unduly delay the release of funds from the joint accounts to local government chief executives.

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“Local government chairmen are bullied by state governors to surrender much of their statutory allocations under duress. When they fail; they find other ways to replace them with caretaker committees of selected loyalists.

“Expenditure and project discretion had become a thing of the past. Most states expect their Local governments to seek and obtain permission to embark on projects. Local government projects are inspected periodically by officials of state governments.

“More financial load has been placed on Local governments’ share of the Federation Account. For example, funds for primary school teachers’ salaries and pension charges are now charged centrally to the Local governments.

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READ ALSO: Why Passport Applicants Face Challenges – Aregbesola

“The central deductions at source of these charges and several other unfunded mandates in environmental and social spending by the State Governments tend to leave many Local Governments with little funds.

“And unfortunately, many Local governments especially those in the rural areas have limited access to productive tax bases”, he added.

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