Saturday, 18 December 2010

Aspiring to the Nigerian Senate

Joachim Ezeji

Becoming a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria could be very glamorous. It could also be a prestigious achievement in some circumstances. However, from none senators or members of the public, it stirs sycophancy on one hand or outright scorn and envy on the other. I do not need to adumbrate the reasons for this as they are not farfetched.

Since 1999 that our so called democracy was restored, the conduct of the average Nigerian politician has been everything but salutary. And one bunch of the lot in this maze of political disappointment are members of the Nigerian senate. While some of them are crooks; villains and charlatans; a few are credible.

Mahatma Gandi seems to have had Nigeria in mind when he drew up a list of deadly sins that he felt were appropriate and apposite to humanity based on emerging realities. They consist of; Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Science without humanity, knowledge without character, Politics without principle, Commerce without morality, and Worship without sacrifice. This list captures the enormity of evil that has taken over the Nigerian polity especially the senate.

Generally, what we see in the average senator is a character that drives no vision. Our old men and women in the senate have no vision for the offices they occupy. They seems to have simply come to relax and enjoy their old age while the country burns. None of them seems perturbed that the country is in a hurry to develop. All their talks never move in tandem with their actions. Most things are lip service.

Fully constituting and dominating the Nigerian senate are retired military men, the class that looted and plundered the country while Military autocracy lasted. The bulk of these retired soldiers were kingpins of military coups who immensely benefited there from as Military Governors, Ministers and Members of the Military Ruling Councils that persisted then. They are all back again as senators, feeding fat on a nation they have out rightly parasitized and asphyxiated for the past 30 – 40 years.

Another group, now growing in number, are immediate past and past civilian governors. They have simply gone to the senate in order to remain relevant. Eight years in Government as governors seems not enough to give them perennial relevance and a sense of accomplishment. They still yearn to exercise authority and remain in the forefront.

One glaring nexus in both groups is their lack of vision for the job they were elected to do. They seems largely overfed, and one problem with over feeding is tiredness and the generally tendency to sleep. The result is relative inactivity and lack of progress.

On the other hand their could be elements of hubris amongst the rank and file of the senate especially in our type of milieu where poverty and unemployment is a persisting feature. The ‘lucky few’ would generally tend to look down on those struggling at the bottom of the pyramid as simply the poor folk.

With an age bracket averaging 50 – 60 years of age, one may be tempted to expect better things from the Nigerian senate. But this has simply refused to be the case.
Nigerian Senators to say the least are simply greedy, callous and arrogant. They are presently demanding from their leadership more than 100 per cent increase in quarterly allowance to finance their re-election. They want it raised from N48 million to N95 million every quarter.

A national newspaper had quoted: “There’s nothing like N48 million. Our allowance is only N45 million,” confirmed a Senator who did not want to be named. The demand for N95 million, a mere N5 million save from the initial N100 million sought in the first quarter of 2010, was circulated in a text message from a Northern Senator.

He justified it by saying, “This is an election year” and insisted the Senate can afford the increase as there are “enough padding in the budget” to effect it. But the Senate leadership reportedly ignored the request on the basis that, “This economy cannot sustain that kind of demand.”

Data at the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) showed that each Senator gets an annual basic salary of N2, 484, 242.50. Current built-in allowances are accommodation (200 per cent of basic annual salary), vehicle maintenance (75 per cent), and entertainment (30 per cent), and utility (30 per cent).

Others are personal assistant (25 per cent), wardrobe (25 per cent), domestic staff (75 per cent), recess (10 per cent), newspapers (15 per cent), and constituency (250 per cent). They also include furniture (300 per cent, payable only once in tenure), vehicle loan (400 per cent, repayable in six years), and gratuity (300 per cent). Each Senator is, therefore, entitled to a gross annual salary of N22, 606, 606.75.

The constituency allowance of the Senate President is N400 million every three months or N1.6billion a year. This currently translates to N4.44million a day. When increased by the same rate as that of senators, the senate President will be receiving N3.2 billion annually or N8.8million per day as constituency allowance.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives currently receives N3.84million per day or N350 million every three months or N1.4billion per annum as constituency allowance. When increased by the same margin as that of members of the House of Representatives, the Speaker will be pocketing N2.3 billion annually as constituency allowance.

In view of the fat package available in the senate all serving senators are insisting on being returned. I am yet to see any incumbent senator who has declined returning to the senate. As their desperation continues, those outside who has long been envying them want to take a birth at the cake. To make their case they dangle the politics of zoning or quota. None of them has spoken of the value he will add to the senate. The consequence is that every idiot wants to be a senator hence getting the list of senatorial aspirants longer. For example, in just one party, the PDP, there are a plethora of aspirants. In Orlu senatorial zone, there are already 6 aspirants in addition to the incumbent , while in Owerri zone there are 5 in addition to the reigning senator.

One puzzle in this maze is that all incumbent senators want to be returned regardless of their lacklustre and scandalous performance while aspiring senators are mostly persons out of job who desperately need one and the relevance that goes with it.

Nonetheless, I am also desperate. My desperation is that a free and fair election be conducted so that the number of unpopular persons going to the senate be reduced. This is desired in order to enable a senate sensitive to the Nigerian people.

Agric: Targeting apposite investment

Joachim Ezeji

The agricultural sector is the major source of livelihood for more than 70 per cent of Nigerians. Agriculture is presently estimated to represent 42 per cent of the country’s GDP. However, many Nigerians are yet to see the gains of the enormous investments in the agriculture sector by the federal Government. It is estimated that more than 35 per cent of the population are suffering from malnutrition because they cannot attain the required calories level. It is also estimated that in 2009 alone that farmers were faced with series of challenges ranging from land insecurity to the lack of soft loans, grants and implements like tractors. Also, there are fears that the food situation in Nigeria could worsen since soils are becoming poor and degraded.

Also, the small-scale farmer is also faced with the dearth of quality seeds, fertilizer and agro chemicals. It is also argued that if all the projects, policies and initiatives are well implemented and supervised, there will be a significant difference in the agricultural sector of the Nigerian economy. There is also the need to reposition agricultural research institutes to make them more responsive to emerging challenges. However, stakeholders argue that it is time for government to review the agricultural policy and strategies to ensure development, efficiency, effectiveness and food for all. For every one of the government’s agricultural initiatives to be meaningful, it must embrace the right to food security, civil rights, good governance and implementation.

The ADB, in partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), has supported agricultural development in Africa with investments of around $3.8 billion. In Nigeria, apart from its growing budgetary allocation from seven per cent in 2008 to 12 per cent in 2009, various special intervention funds had also been injected into the sector. More than N400 billion was injected into the sector in 2009 alone. A budgetary allocation of 3.7 per cent was made in the sector in 2010. (i.e. recurrent N34.4bn and capital 49.9bn). The Yar’adua government (2007 – 2009) also earmarked three per cent (N300bn) of the Natural Resource Development Fund for the development of the agric sector.

President Goodluck Jonathan also , has set aside N242 billion to stimulate agriculture growth. This is apart from the N200bn that was lodged in some banks in 2009.Other intervention programmes in the sector since Nigeria’s independence in 1960 include; the National Accelerated Food Production Project (NAFPP) from 1970 to 1974; Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) of 1976; Green Revolution Programme (GRP) of 1980; Directorate for Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) of 1986; National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) of 1992; National Accelerated Industrial Crops Production Programme (NAICPP) of 1996; Agriculture Development Programme (ADP); National Seed Service Programme (NSS); the establishment of the Federal Agriculture Coordinating Unit (FACU), Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme (ACGS), the Nigerian Agricultural Corporative and Rural Development Bank (NACRDB) and the recently launched contentious N200bn Commercial Agric Credit Scheme, among others.

In Nigeria, increasing changes in rainfall patterns as a result of climate change is already threatening small –scale agriculture, making it pretty difficult to plough farm lands after the very first rains. This threatens food security and income – making for small scale farmers. However, beyond this challenge are those of supporting farmers with services that are underpinned by the principles of ecosystem-based management necessary to manage agricultural land in ways that are sensitive to the ecological health of the environment. The paper therefore canvasses that any worthy investment in today’s agriculture should aim to basically address these challenges in order to foster sustainable development. Using a social-ecological approach, it discusses case studies of small scale rice farmers in Uboma, South-eastern Nigeria who are partnering to secure markets through a process that rewards farmers producing quality crops as well as creating of viable networks that links farmers from local farms to critical markets.

Water mismanagement, inappropriate land use, as well as poor knowledge of anti-drought measures by farmers have led to land degradation such as soil erosion and loss of the soil’s productive capacity to produce food. Also the limited potential for dry season farming through soil and water conservation, the non-employment of rain water harvesting technology, as well as conflicts over limited water resources have not helped the situation. Consequently, local livelihoods are being jeopardized while increasing poverty for thousands of local farmers expands. It is feared that economic losses of about 5-20% of National GDP could be wrought and that the region may lose between 4-6% of its GDP, with some sectors likely to face greater challenges. Already the region is facing reductions in yields from rain-fed agriculture of 10%, which may climb up to 50% by 2020.

This therefore underscores the need for the government to assign appropriate priority to the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors, in order to create opportunities to enable the world’s smallholder farmers and fishers, including indigenous people, in particular vulnerable areas, to participate in, and benefit from financial mechanisms and investment flows to support climate change adaptation, mitigation and technology development, transfer and dissemination. Agricultural systems must move in tandem with sustainable land management practices that positively contribute to the mitigation of climate change and ecological balance.”

Till today in parts of eastern Nigeria, the effects of worsening drought have continued to hamper farming activities. Water mismanagement, inappropriate land use, as well as poor knowledge of anti-drought measures by these farmers have led to land degradation such as soil erosion and loss of the soil’s productive capacity to produce food.

Also the limited potential for dry season farming through soil and water conservation, the non-employment of rain water harvesting technology, as well as conflicts over limited water resources had not helped the situation. Consequently, local livelihoods are being jeopardized while increasing poverty for thousands of farmers expands.

Getting farmers to enrich and share their knowledge of rainwater harvesting practices and soil and water conservation is often difficult because of dispersed nature of the farms and poor availability of time. A pool of different on-the-farm experiences is therefore desired to gain valuable experience amongst farmers in monitoring and evaluation and to formulate and agree upon a strategy on how to continue/advance in sharing and implementing rain water harvesting experiences as well as using the project to improve soil management and further options for land management and boost food harvests.

The concept of water harvesting has been around for many years through the use of reservoirs for domestic water supply. Water harvesting into small ponds or special devices as is currently the case should be consolidated as it remains the solution to water droughts because they reduce the consumption of mains or abstracted water and provide a secondary store of water for irrigation during dry season.

Farmers should be supported to use the World Overview on Conservation Agriculture Technology (WOCAT) questionnaires to document rainwater harvesting practices and soil and water conservation technologies.Farmers need to be exposed to gain valuable experience in monitoring and evaluation.Their is also the need for farmers to be assisted to formulate and agree upon a strategy on how to continue/advance in documenting, evaluating and disseminating rainwater harvesting experiences.

A wealth of SWC knowledge exists world-wide (scattered), but this is not documented and evaluated and thus being lost. Indigenous or local knowledge is not documented hence not easily accessible and thus hardly used; there has always been a heavy focus on documenting degradation but too little on sustainable land management (SLM) practices; experiences and lessons learned at global, national and local level should help to achieve better SWC and effective adaptation to climate change.

SWC specialists and decision-makers need better knowledge management. To adapt to climate change. WOCAT’s vision-that knowledge on sustainable land management is shared and used globally to improve livelihoods and the environment; should be mainstreamed. By the adoption of these measures farmers in eastern Nigeria underscored the need to maximize the potentials of dry season agriculture in order to boost food security, alleviate poverty, restore lost top soils and reduce point pollution of water sources from farms. But to achieve these would require putting in place pro-poor governance mechanisms as well as unleashing the creative ability of all farmers to participate fully in conservation agriculture measures under a framework of sustainable land management necessary in order to boost their livelihoods, reduce conflicts over water and enables a comprehensive understanding of human, and the natural environment.

Questioning the Land reform in Imo

Joachim Ezeji

All over the world there is a universal crave for good democratic governance mainly because of its immense advantages and by necessary implication, because of the negative consequences of bad governance. There is no doubt that Nigeria is, and must inevitably be part of, or join this universal crave. This aspiration or crave necessarily has to be guided by awareness, knowledge, reason and purpose that promotes sustainable development.

According to the UNDP, Nigeria is one of the twenty-five poorest countries in the world with about 48.5 per cent of the entire citizenry living below poverty line. Again, according to the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International (TI), Nigeria as at year 2000, was virtually the most corrupt in the world. Thus, Nigeria as at today, is paradoxically a country rich in immense natural resources but with her citizens lacking most of the basic needs of life like three square meals a day, adequate shelter, potable water and access to basic health care facilities.

Inadequate shelter attracts my attention today because of the growing insensitivity and seemingly outright greed by those whose job includes protecting and serving the interests of the poor in our midst. Among this concern is the current land reform happening in the Imo State Ministry of Lands and Urban development.

From most indices, the reform aims to open up Owerri, that is the Imo State Capital city, by deforesting, clearing , demarcating and allocating virgin plots in and around Owerri. Virgin areas such as areas ‘V’ and ‘W’ as well as Nworie and Otammiri layouts in Owerri are already massively being exploited in this regard. Also, land owners in various parts of Owerri in particular, and Imo in general have been directed to process /reprocess their Certificate of Ownership (CofO) under a new computerised system which is currently being implemented by a consultant for the Imo State Government.

However, the reform of Owerri lands by the government and its agents needs to be properly done to guide against hazards, and these includes hazards of corruption, graft and environmental mismanagement. This emphases needs to be further underscored because of the likely temptation to abuse the process simply because somebody wants to generate income for the government. Persons pursuing this objective should ponder awhile and understand that it is foolish to sale all the lands in Imo simply to generate funds for today, and in the process ignoring that there is a future whose needs and challenges must also be put into scope. For example, if our leaders past; particularly those of 1976 had sold all the lands in Imo State, what would we have had done today with our grown population?

It is germane to recall that the African Ministers responsible for housing and urban development had while meeting in Bamako, Mali, from 22 to 24 November 2010, discussed and considered the role of land in the process of sustainable urban development in Africa. Recalling the Durban Declaration of the inaugural conference of African Ministers of Housing and Urban Development in 2005, which resolved to champion and support innovative urban development and land management practices in Africa; the meeting also recalled the Abuja Plan of Action of 2008 which urged governments to use land for leveraging resources in the provision of housing and infrastructure.

The African Ministers’ meeting therefore committed themselves to promoting housing reforms that can make land available for sustainable urbanization and bring housing opportunities at scale as a key element in slum prevention. The meeting also recognized the centrality of land as primary base of sustainable urban development and as providing linkages between the economic, social and environmental developmental processes in our countries and the African region as whole.

Aware of the efforts being made by respective governments to introduce innovations and reforms for improving systems of land management and providing secure access to land for all segments of society; the meeting recognised the commitment of the African Union, working with the African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, which adopted the Land Policy Initiative Framework and Guidelines to encourage African member states to pursue land policy development and implementation, in order to eradicate poverty.

Four emerging concerns from the meeting are issues of poverty alleviation, innovation, environmental sustainability and overall sustainable development. In the Imo State context, all these concerns are apparently lacking, and therefore exposes the urgency and need to review the on-going land reform in Imo State in order to correct the inherent weaknesses.

I am keen to find out how the interest of the poor in Imo State is being taken into scope. The poor here includes all those currently trapped in the low income bracket such as informal traders as well as all low income civil servants. What plans have the government put in place to assist them access and own plots of land as well as developing same in other to own their own housing. From the look of things only the rich and elites are the ones buying up and developing all the available spaces in Owerri. The Imo poor have been relegated to mere spectators in this regard.

But, Governor Ohakim needs to be reminded that he owns Imo people the commitment to facilitate access to urban land for all citizens and to ensure security of tenure for the urban poor in line with the Millennium Development Target of improving the lives of slum-dwellers by 2020. Anything short of this tantamount to insensitivity and poor governance. One glaring consequence of this is the inevitable sprawl of slums.

In 1990, almost half the urban population in developing regions were living in slums. By 2005, that proportion had been reduced to 36 per cent. Slum conditions are defined as lacking at least one of four basic amenities: clean water, improved sanitation, durable housing and adequate living space. Despite some advances, sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the highest prevalence of slums. Both slums and urban areas in the region appear to be growing at an equally rapid pace, and the living conditions among impoverished populations are severe, often involving multiple deprivations.

Also, the rate of deforestation currently moving in tandem with the so called land reform contrasts with the government’s slogan of ‘clean and green’. The prevalent felling of trees and associated vegetation, runs foul of global efforts to adapt to climate change. There is need to allow some of these undeveloped urban areas to remain as protected areas by conserving and leaving them unexploited. Over half the area of Sweden (especially Stockholm, its capital city) is so reserved as forest reserves, and that is the authentic ‘clean and green’. Protected areas are the cornerstone of efforts to conserve the world’s species and ecosystems as well as a key component in climate change mitigation

Even in Africa, despite economic and other pressures, many developing countries have managed to protect vast stretches of both land and water. In 2007, for example the Democratic Republic of Congo established one of the largest protected tropical rainforests in the world. However, the number of species threatened with extinction worldwide continued to grow. According to the Red List Index of the International Union of Conservation of Nature, mammals are more threatened than birds. But both groups are more endangered in developing than developed countries. Sustained investments and strategies are needed to effectively conserve biodiversity in Africa, starting from Owerri, Imo State.

Land reform in Imo State that merely derives its legitimacy from the mere use of exotic consultants whose competence is limited to electronic data base of allotted plots of land is grossly parochial. We need much more than that in order to build an egalitarian society that will not short-change generations yet unborn, leaving them in utter stupor, shock and anger.

Governor Ohakim should show leadership in this regard now!

Nigeria: Before 2011 dawns

Joachim Ezeji
The pervasive poor governance in Nigeria has once again come to the fore. The 2010 Human Development Report, compiled by UN Development Programme (UNDP) has ranked Nigeria 142 out of 169 least prosperous countries in the world. Nigeria was grouped among 41 countries considered to have the “least human development” in the 2010 Human Development Report.
This once again underscores the parlous decay in education and infrastructure coupled with incidents of high rising corruption across the country. For example, recently, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs, Hajiya Amina Az-zubair, expressed the fear that the slow implementation of the Millennium Development Goal, MDG, projects by many states may mar the country’s hope of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets of 2015. She had accused states of unnecessary delays in project implementation, despite the fact that they had received the conditional grants.
According to her, conditional grants for 2009 were all released between November and December 2009, and March, 2010. The time frame was sufficient for the completion of projects which were intended to have six-month work plan, but as at the end of 2010 the average level of completion for 2009 was an abysmal 40%. Principal concern in this lapse is the challenge of governance which borders on the adherence to approval and due process mechanisms which are slow.
Yet, the performance of states under the 2007 and 2008 grants are necessary indicators among many of their capacities to effectively execute projects under the 2011 grant scheme. This became imperative because Nigerians can no longer afford further waste of time or resources in the march towards achieving MDGs.
Also, the Ecological Fund office is displeased with the ever increasing cases of ecological disasters ravaging states across the country. At the bottom of this problem is the profligacy in spending the money sourced from the Ecological Funds by states. In fact, most states spend the money in the same way they spend their security votes.
News sources hints that states collect money to solve ecological problems in their states but end up using the money to purchase fleet of cars and indulge in other frivolities. The result is that virtually all sections of the country is affected by ecological problems, ranging from coastal erosion in the South-West and South-South, soil and gully erosion in the North and South-East, desert encroachment in the North, as well as oil spill and pollution in the South-South.
Apart from misuse of the money from the Ecological Fund, Newspaper sources reports that some of the claims by states on their reforestation programmes were bogus and fraudulent. A Newspaper source had reported: “We have seen situations where some of the states announce with glee that they are embarking on tree planting campaigns for which billions of naira are to be spent but after the pomp and pageantry associated with the ceremonies and the photo opportunities that it offers, the exercise does not go beyond that.”
A former governor in one of the northern states was reported to have once spent millions of naira to import mango seedlings from Kenya for reforestation programme that would arrest the advancement of the desert but the seedlings were eventually shared out to government officials who used it to start their private orchids.
In most of these states that claim to have embarked on planting of millions of trees, the source said: “We see idle and unemployed youths whose services in such projects would have offered them temporary jobs.
Sadly, there are not functional forestry departments to monitor such tree planting programmes. The incidence of care-free logging is high and there are no visible signs of progress at the end of each tree planting season.“There are no benchmarks to measure the success of the programme. In fact, the whole exercise ends up as a sham and a charade. These are clever ploys by politicians to make money and we must check them closely.”
In the South-East where gully erosion is a major threat to socio-economic activities, misguided politicians and contractors are exacerbating the problem through inflated contracts, round tripping of contract awards and execution of shoddy jobs to create opportunities for re-award of the same contracts.
It has been reported that contract awards on gully erosion is hot potatoes for politicians at the federal and state levels. Contracts on the gully erosion problem top the list and you will be surprised by the calibre of politicians that scramble for it.
The 2010 report, entitled, “The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development,” examined progress in health, education and income over the past 40 years, featuring some technical adjustments of its traditional indicators for health, education and income, and illustrating the wide range of development achievements among 37 countries analysed in the region.
According to the report, Nigeria’s wealth —as defined by gross domestic product per head—has slipped, while its educational ranking has failed to keep up with that of other countries. The GDP per head in Nigeria is a mere 1,224 dollars, compared to 9,812 dollars in South Africa, 1,628 dollars in Kenya and 2,197 dollars in Cameroon.
In 2010, Nigeria’s life expectancy was 48.4 years on average, below that of Ghana (57.1.), Cameroon (51.7), Benin Republic (62.3), Uganda (54.1) and Lesotho, at 46 years, has sub-Saharan Africa lowest life expectancy, while the Comoros Islands leads the region at 66 years.
Mauritius ranked highest among sub-Saharan states — number 72 in the world — in the “high human development” category, followed by Gabon, 93 and Botswana, 98. The report said Ethiopia was 11th in HDI improvement since 1970, Botswana 14, Benin 18 and Burkina Faso 21, among the world 25 “top movers’’
In view of the gaps and problems militating against the growth and development of Nigeria, there are suggestions that the issue of governance is most crucial. Another area is education. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s education is not reaching enough students. Another crucial area is the need to improve infrastructure in the country. It is expected that if Nigeria focuses on these key areas, there is no reason that Nigeria will not become much more productive and grow much faster in the future.
The 2010 report had reported that Norway is the best country to live in, followed by Australia, New Zealand, U.S, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Korea Republic, Switzerland, France, Israel, Finland, Iceland, Belgium, Denmark and Spain.
We hope that Nigeria makes this list in the coming year.