- by Ahmed Tahir Ajobe, Terna Doki, Abbas Jimoh & Amina Alhassan; DailyTrust
With the 2015 elections as close as next month, whoever emerges president will have a full plate of problems waiting for him. These problems, or ‘national emergencies’, cut across various sectors and will require an equally varied approach to solution. The need to rescue the over 200 schoolgirls abducted in April by Boko Haram and the liberation of towns and villages seized by the sect, putting an end to deadly suicide bombers and halting the naira’s downward spiral, making up for the shortfall in oil revenues and curbing incessant industrial action, are a few major issues in dire need of sorting out. Our list is by no means exhaustive, but a sharpening of the most pressing national emergencies today.Rescuing Chibok girls
The #BringBackOurGirls campaigners returned to the streets of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital Thursday in continuation of the months-long struggle to compel proactive action towards the release of 219 school girls abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok, Borno State in April of 2014. The group has kept up the struggle despite open intimidation and negative labelling apparently aimed at silencing them, even if prominent groups and individuals, including US First Lady Michelle Obama, have bought into the campaign to force world action.
However, 264 days after their abduction, they remain in captivity. Perhaps after the plight of the schoolgirls, more harrowing is that of the parents, one of which who said: “We’re on our own now.” He was referring to the inability of the government to do anything. Then on October 17 2014, hopes of a truce that may lead to their release were raised by an announcement by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Marshal Alex Badeh. The announcement was however met with doubt because it wasn’t the first time the Nigerian government had claimed a breakthrough in negotiations with Boko Haram (it had to backtrack on a previous announcement in September that the girls had been released).
Making a bad situation worse, the insurgents denied the existence of such deal. “We have married off the girls,” Abubakar Shekau told an outraged world. The ‘truce’ controversy has eroded what is left of the tatters of trust most Nigerians have in the ability of the government to rescue the girls. Rescuing the Chibok schoolgirls believed to be trapped in the Boko Haram acquired territory will be one of the emergencies the incoming president will have to contend with.
Stopping bomb explosion in crowded places
There have been many cases of Boko Haram attacks targeting schools, motor parks, markets and other crowded places with bombs. The death tolls of the deadly explosions are often dramatically high. For instance, the tragic one in Nyanya Motor Park in a suburb of Abuja in April led to the death of 90. Then in November 28, a blast at the mosque by the Emir’s palace in Kano also resulted in a scandalously high death toll. Diplomats are routinely warned by their embassies to avoid public places.
Managing hard feelings from 2015 polls
Across the country, fear over the likelihood of violence as Nigeria eases towards the next election year is growing (See Vox Pop on Page 51). The protests that trailed the outcome of the recent primaries of political parties into various offices preparatory to elections proper only reinforce what analysts predict could be bloody. Some international organisations had also predicted that Nigeria will cease to exist as an entity after the 2015 elections, prophesies partly attributed to endless security challenges which remain few months to elections.
After the last polls, deadly post-election violence, especially in northern Nigeria, resulted in the deaths of more than 800. The current fears heightened with the emergence of key actors in the last elections as presidential candidates of the two major political parties. The incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is flying his party’s flag against All Progressives Congress (APC)’s General Muhammadu Buhari.
A recent report by a non-governmental organisation, CLEEN Foundation said election violence is likely to occur in 15 states in 2015. It listed Nasarawa, Plateau, Benue, Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Taraba, Kaduna, Zamfara, Rivers, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Ekiti and Osun as the most likely to erupt in violence. Three of these states – Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe – are already under emergency rule due to the activities of terrorist group Boko Haram.
Executive Director of Human Rights Monitor (HRM) Barrister Festus Okoye on his part insisted that all stakeholders must abide by the rules but added that the Nigerian electorates have important roles to play by ensuring that they conduct themselves well and avoid being used by politicians.
Managing up for sharp drop in government revenue due to oil price fall
For much of the past decade, oil prices have been high, around $100 per barrel since 2010 because of oil consumption of countries like China and conflicts in key oil producers like Libya. In June 2014, the price of Brent crude was up around $115 per barrel, but since June prices have almost halved, to about $60 a barrel for the first time since July 2009. By mid-December, it had fallen down to $59 per barrel, taking a toll on Nigeria, being heavily dependent on oil export.
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, said the fall in oil prices have led to austerity measures.
Mr Seyi Gambo, a former National Public Relations Officer of PENGASSAN, advised the Federal Government to tackle the issue of wastages in the economy by slashing the emoluments of members of the National Assembly and called for reduction in the expenses of running the executive arm of government, saying there is no sense in keeping 10 aircraft for the president at a period when revenue is going down. But there are no indications that the federal government will heed this advice as the 2015 budget does not reflect a reduction in allocation to government institutions. Whoever becomes president next will have a tough time with this one.
Tackling industrial-scale oil theft
According to London-based research group Chatham House in its September 2013 report, oil is being stolen on an ‘industrial scale’ in Nigeria, with politicians and security officials chief among those profiting. The nation loses $3.65 billion annually to oil theft, making it a costly problem indeed. “Proceeds are laundered through world financial centres and used to buy assets in and outside Nigeria. In Nigeria, politicians, military officers, militants, oil industry personnel, oil traders and communities profit,” Chatham House revealed.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in October in its annual statistics bulletin revealed that Nigeria lost about N77.87 billion worth of crude oil and other petroleum products in 2013. The NNPC stated that 327,480 metric tonnes (MT) of petroleum products were lost, while a total of 2.312 million barrels of crude oil were stolen from pipelines in the period under review.
Despite rhetoric about the scourge of oil theft from Western governments and foreign oil majors, neither camp has fully attacked the problem, the report said. Although Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke reportedly claimed that Nigerian authorities are clamping down on the crime, and that the federal government has taken measures to tackle the nuisance, the statistical bulletin invalidates the effectiveness of government efforts. For a problem that the NNPC budgets as much as $94 million in a year to equip security agencies in the fight against crude theft, the magnitude of theft is unacceptable, especially for a country where more 60 percent of the population live below poverty line.
Whoever leads Nigeria in the coming months will need creative solutions like one offered by the European Union, a procedure that will require sellers of stolen crude to produce certificates of origin for their products. The passage of the contentious Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has also been suggested as veritable measure to tackle the menace.
Figuring out what to do with PIB bill
Former President Umaru Yar’Adua initially forwarded the draft Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to the National Assembly (NASS), following the need to regulate the largely loose oil and gas sector in Nigeria. But Nigeria’s business partners hotly criticized the contents of the initial draft. In reaction upon assumption of office, President Goodluck Jonathan withdrew the bill, which availed the executive an opportunity to re-assess the contentious issues, which were re-dressed. The revised bill was re-sent to both chambers of NASS on July 19, 2012, for consideration and passage into Law. But almost 30 months after, and with barely four months to the expiration of the seventh NASS, it remains a bill-in-waiting.
The PIB bill was conceived to restructure and reform an oil and gas sector clearly in shambles. It aims to replace 16 archaic legislations in the petroleum sector. Many Nigerians believe that the oil and gas sector needs drastic reforms. Also, the general environment of uncertainty has hindered International Oil Companies (IOC) in Nigeria from bringing high-profile investors.
Currently, the sector is plagued with a myriad of problems, which have caused oil theft and drop in oil exploration, both strong factors affecting flow of oil revenue. But as Nigeria is experiencing a fall in investments in the sector, investors have found alternative destinations in West and East Africa, which have made large discoveries of the commodity.
As part of measures to sustain the economy and shore up revenues to fund public expenditure, the next president must regulate the oil and gas sector to attract world-class investments by lobbying stakeholders and ensuring the passage of the PIB swiftly.
Incessant strike by healthcare workers and teachers
2014 was particularly bad for various categories of workers in the health sector under the auspices of Joint Health Workers Union (JOHESU). From the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA); National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM); Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) among others, leadership of the unions declared national industrial actions individually or collectively at different times of the year.
Some of the strikes declared by health unions in 2014 lasted for months like the subsisting JOHESU strike which started on November 12. The strikes usually paralyze health care delivery services in public health institutions, resulting into hasty discharge of patients on admission, leading to deaths in some cases.
But in almost all instances, the unions’ demands are centred on improved salaries/welfare and working conditions or failure of government to honour previous agreements with the unions. While health workers remained restive, teachers from primary to tertiary institutions also had issues with government leading to strikes. The Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT); Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union(COEASU) to Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) were all rocked by industrial actions for months at different times in the past few years.
The last nation-wide ASUU strike lasted for six months and its leader, Dr. Nasir Fagge, said teachers downed tools over non-implementation of 2009 agreement between the union and the Federal Government. The next president would therefore need to study issues and honestly apply the needed balm to calm workers and restore public trust in these vital sectors.
Arresting naira fall against major currencies
Following dwindling oil prices, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on November 25 announced a new official naira-to-dollar exchange rate, forcing down the Nigerian currency by N13, as the country struggles to reshape its fiscal policies in response to the oil price slash. The CBN devalued the naira at its monetary policy committee (MPC) meeting in Abuja, where it also reviewed Nigeria’s monetary policy rate from 12 per cent to 13 per cent.
The MPC decision which was announced by the CBN Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele made the naira to be officially exchange at N168 to a dollar, and no longer N155. The bank also moved the private cash reserve ratio from 15 per cent to 20 per cent, while retaining public sector cash reserve ratio at 75 percent. The CBN governor explained that the decision to lower the value of the Naira against the dollar was to strengthen the currency. He also assured that the bank remained committed to maintain financial system stability, while warning against speculative activities that drive inflation. Whoever leads Nigeria in the rest of 2015 will need to take decisive, effective action.
Lifting power generation now stuck at 3,000MW
The greatest nightmare of Nigerians over the decades is the failure of government to generate sufficient electricity to power homes and industries. The electricity generation and distribution problems of Nigeria have gone from bad to the worse, with national grid generating capacity fluctuating within 3,500MW. Even government is unsure of how much it generates exactly, never mind additional several billions said to have been pumped into the sector from 2007 till date.
President Goodluck Jonathan famously declared the power sector a ‘national emergency’, but everything remains dark regarding the issue. Last year, the Federal Government privatized the power sector through the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). Analysts say the country’s aspirations for slightly above the 3,000 MW currently generated for a population of over 150 million Nigerians is unrealistic. It remains one of the most urgent national problems, which Nigeria’s next president must immediately arrest.
Librating Bama, Gwoza, Michika, others
There is no doubt that retaking towns currently under Boko Haram’s hold is one of the greatest challenges before whoever emerges Nigeria’s president out of the incoming polls. Boko Haram insurgents have so far seized control of over 20,000 square kilometers of territory in three North-Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, declaring it an Islamic Caliphate with the headquarters in Gwoza, Borno State. The area controlled by the insurgents before Mubi was librated spanned across 10 local government areas and is home to more than two million people.
Backed by local militias, the military recovered some key towns in Adamawa State, including Mubi and Hong. The Nigerian Army said within the week that the need to reduce collateral damage has delayed the recapture of the towns and villages seized by Boko Haram. It is the hope of many that whoever emerges president will have an articulated plan to liberate the areas under occupation immediately after being sworn in.