For more than three months I refrained from writing about Nigeria, and this in spite of request to write. I have decided to break the silence at this time.
The recent passage of the amended constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria has generated arguments among legal experts on whether or not the signature of the President of the federation is required to make the amendment complete. I think a simple reading of the constitution should answer the question and avoid any tentative considerations. Section 9 (2) of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria states as follows:
An Act of the National Assembly for the alteration of this Constitution, not being an Act to which section 8 of this Constitution applies, shall not be passed in either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States.
In order to overturn the veto of a president on any passed bill, the National Assembly requires not more than two-thirds majority of votes ( See section 58 (5)). How then would the president’s assent be needed for completion of the amendment of the constitution when the votes of two-thirds of all members of the National Assembly and of all Houses of Assembly of States of the federation have already been secured in accordance with section 9 (2). It is therefore, superfluous for the president’s assent to the amendment to be sought since it has been made redundant already by the number of votes required by section 9 (2). Accordingly, I submit that presidential assent to an amendment of the constitution is not the intendment of the framers of the constitution. Consequently, the first amendment of the 1999 constitution is complete, and the amended provisions have already taken effect upon completion of the process described in section 9 (2). Furthermore, I submit that the assent of neither the president nor a governor is required in any matter where a two-thirds majority rather than a simple majority of votes in a relevant House of Assembly is required by the constitution. An interesting example is that the assent of neither the president nor a governor is required whenever the votes of two-thirds of members of the relevant House of Assembly are secured to impeach the executive.
Presidential Electricity Roadmap:
The recently declared electricity roadmap by President Jonathan appears to be well-crafted and thought through. What remains to be seen is whether or not the government can execute it. I must remind that the National Electricity Sector Reform Act (2005) provided for a lifespan of only 18 months for the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). Therefore, the PHCN today is an illegal body. Besides, its services have been dismal. I call for support for the execution of the plan. I am gratified that government shall subsidize electricity at a verifiable point and bear contingent liability, which is required to inject confidence in potential investors. Besides, with the full involvement of the private sector in generation and distribution, and partial involvement in transmission, generator set dealers would find it difficult to sabotage the efforts.
The dutiful implementation of the NESR Act is in sight. Although there may be some criticisms of the roadmap, the question to ask is: is this roadmap worse than what we have today? If the answer is in the contrary, then we must go on with it and make adjustments along the way as practical experience serves us. We are still fine-tuning the telecommunications sector reform about ten years after the deregulation of that sector, aren’t we? Yet the fruits of deregulation of the telecommunications sector are evident to all.
Fuel Subsidy and Public Transportation:
The news that the federal government had voted ten billion naira in order to purchase buses to ease transportation worries in Nigeria ahead of its plan to remove fuel subsidy by May 2011 left me both amazed and angry. I have written about fuel subsidy before, and President Jonathan would do well to read what I have said about the issue. The Minister of Finance has said that the federal government has spent more than 500 billion naira on fuel subsidy this year, and that after the removal of the subsidy, a litre of PMS (petrol) would be about N 115, up from the present price of N 65. To cushion the harsh effect on Nigerians, President Jonathan’s team thinks it is a wonderful thing to approve ten billion naira for purchase of buses. How many buses will that amount fetch? How many Nigerians are expected to benefit from this “generous” approach? If we assume the unit price of N 10 million for a large-enough luxurious bus, that would be 1000 such buses or one bus per local government area, with a leftover of 256 buses, which may be allocated to cities with high population concentration. In the light of this analysis, what meaningful difference can this make to an economy already under siege from the federal government through:
1. more than 70 percent spike in fuel cost (from may 2011—an inaugural presidential gift, no doubt) ;
2. eroded family incomes (worsened by inflation partly caused by hyper-government spending and unscrupulous remuneration of generally unproductive public officials in spite of government’s reluctance to raise wages of civil servants and national minimum wage);
3. increased electricity tariff rates (due to the prospective deregulation of the electricity sector);
4. bad roads ( in spite of billions announced on road projects since 1999 by the PDP-led government); and
5. moribund rail transportation sector?
I have written many times on the unsustainable remuneration of Nigeria’s public officials, who are less than 18,000 in number, and yet who receive in salaries and allowances, more than N 1.1 trillion a year in a country where minimum national wage is less than USD 2 a day. I was disappointed with President Jonathan’s response when the issue of the outlandish salaries of Nigerian national legislators was brought up during a recent televised interview. Rather than empathize with Nigerians and promise a consideration of the remuneration through the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), President Jonathan went on to justify the egregious reward of the legislators. I was appalled. I must confess that since then, I have completely lost interest in writing about Nigeria and talking to the deaf. I warn, if nothing is done by the RMAFC to drastically slash the salaries of Nigerian public officials and remove their unconscionable and unjustifiable allowances before a new set is sworn in by May 2011, this singular issue may disturb the peace very soon. Already, Femi Falana has approached the Law Court on the issue. I salute brother Falana. I am impressed by President Obasanjo’s recent deprecating comments about the outlandish salaries and allowances of Nigerian legislators. Candidate Jonathan must convince people like me how he would bring to an end this unsustainable burden on Nigeria’s tax payers and free up resources for investment in critical sectors of the economy such as education, health, agriculture, and manufacturing.
The proposed Sovereign Wealth Fund by the Minister of Finance, Dr. Aganga to replace the Excess Crude Fund sounds nice on paper. But the change in name alone does not arouse any confidence, especially when operations are not enhanced by law. The jettisoned railway project that was launched by President Obasanjo in November 2006, whose first phase should have been completed this year, should be urgently considered by President Jonathan.
This is more plausible than voting ten billion naira for buses. I must remind Nigerians that some banks in Nigeria and the UK had put together more than USD 1 billion to build economic infrastructure along the more than 1,300-km dual corridor of the high-speed trains. What a wasteful nation! We passed up the opportunity. Announcing committees for “employment generation” while ignoring projects that could traditionally generate employment, and yet putting the cart before the horse is disgusting to me.
Removing fuel subsidy without first developing the public transport sector will worsen our economy, cause hyperinflation, and erode further the standard of living of Nigerians. This is not rocket science to be difficult to understand. Theoretically, government, through removal of fuel subsidy, would save hundreds of billions of naira yearly, which could be invested in the critical sectors I have mentioned above. Where went the savings on sovereign debt servicing since 2007. What stories were Nigerians told then when Nigeria bought debt “forgiveness”? They told us that the billions of dollars that Nigeria used to service sovereign debts yearly would be ploughed in critical economic sectors in order to improve the standard of living of the Nigerian. Three years after, what is the situation? I am looking for that day when Nigerians will be sufficiently provoked to react sufficiently. Enough of the deceit! I call on government not to remove fuel subsidy until the conditions I laid out in my article “On Fuel Subsidy and Yar’Adua’s Time Out” (available online) are fulfilled.
On the 2011 Elections:
Unless this country is not Nigeria, on May 29th, 2011 President Jonathan would be sworn in again as Nigeria’s president. If you disagree with me tell me the indices that inform your contrary opinion. Where is the opposition? I see none! If other political parties were serious about winning the presidential elections and defeating the party in power (PDP), at least since nine months ago they should have been educating Nigerians on what they would do differently. They should have taken advantage of the hesitant disposition of and the air of suspense within the PDP. But the tepid motions within other political parties in Nigeria betray their lack of confidence. To make my reading unassailable, it is now in the news that about 36 political parties have officially adopted President Jonathan (although he is yet to declare his intention to run for the office of President in the January 2011 election); indeed they gave him a signed official copy of the adoption on national television. What a smart move by those political hunters! Now that the 2010 Electoral Act has vetoed funding of political parties by the electoral commission (INEC), what better way to remain “relevant” than to “adopt” a sitting president for an election? It means therefore, that whether or not President Jonathan wins the PDP presidential primaries, he shall run for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Besides, unsolicited endorsements for Jonathan candidacy have lit up the political sky with dazzling radiance. All potential candidates are pretenders. After the January 2011 presidential elections, anyone that alleges the PDP (or whatever aggregate platform on which Jonathan runs) rigged the election will have a difficult time proving the allegation. Given the politics of carrots and sticks we play in Nigeria, the proposed sequencing of PDP primaries, and the incumbency factor, President Jonathan would easily win the PDP primaries even with the new Electoral Act which disqualifies appointed aides of a president and governor from voting as delegates.
I should have run for the office of Governor of Benue State as an Independent, but the relevant amendment fell through. Well, my ideas and vision for development are yet with me, and I have shared some. Those that read could run with them. But one never knows.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is the President of the Nigeria rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org ) and Associate Professor of mathematics with the American University of Nigeria.
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