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2023 General Elections: Youth participation, the demands of enlightened culture

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Political awakening among the youths in Nigeria is apparently becoming a course gathering momentum. The drive towards same, recently began to attract traffic of interest, as a campaign for youths to, at least begin to take considerable quota in the sum of political offices, if not take over the ruling architecture of the Country from the prevalent domination of the current political juggernauts. The turn of attention to the youths has been largely borne by what is perceived as the disappointment and perceived failure of the dominating political class of juggernauts to take the Country through the trajectory of growth and development over the years. The inability of successive administrations formed among these crop of political class to neither transform the Country, nor change the narratives of poor governance ridden with maladministration, corruption, and mismanagement, among other deficiencies, have insighted loss of hope among many.

Demanding another set of political class driven by youths with what has been tagged the concept of “fresh blood” into the system has  been gathering cloud. The arguments have been anchored on the premise that if the rotation of power among thesame cycle of political class which have dominated the system, has left the Country in shambles, then infusing a new set of “fresh blood” into the system would be a trial for transformation.

The question of youths’ participation however, appears to be broadened in its various wings of perceptions. In the context of the most resounding affair within the Nigerian political climate — the 2023 general elections — one of the questions would rightly be those gathering thoughts around the nature of youths’ participation. Since the question has been on redefining a failing system, it would rather demand that the conduct of the youths be largely one of enlightened culture, reflecting distinct ideologies with pragmatic approaches, speaking excellence of thoughtfulness and brilliance in participation, not only as electorates and supporters, but also as candidates vying for positions.

Concerns over the youths’ disposition to the elections have continued to portray the need for them to act intelligently and civilly in the democratic process. A youth oriented organisation,    The Youths for Governance Group, on 14th June, 2022,  called on Nigerian leaders to ensure the inclusiveness of youths in politics. A statement  by the group mentioning the sacrosance of Nigerian youths’ participation in  politics, partly read, “The docility and cruel marginalisation of the youths in government at all levels must henceforth be repudiated. The youths have been docile for too long. Though we are told that we are the leaders of tomorrow, that “tomorrow” seem like a facade that may never come to fruition.

We are here to challenge the authorities at all levels that youth inclusiveness in positions of leadership must never continue to remain in the realm of options. We have woken up from our deep sleep and now poised to take our rightful place. We crave for a society where youths will be included and participate actively in politics and leadership. It is an unimpeachable fact that the various military juntas gave youths more opportunity to be at the policy and decision making table. Then, we had heads of state who were far below the age of 50. Ditto to military administrators in some states. But today, we have men in their 60s and 70s standing as councilors in the local government councils, the lowestcadre of political leadership. Sadly more, we have old men of over 60years of age serving as “youth leaders” at various levels in some Political parties leadership. This trend must stop henceforth. No nation can move forward under this circumstances.

“We are also not unmindful of the shenanigans of some of our youths. We hope to discuss, recommend and bring forth some of our finest and incorruptible hands, while we retool the minds of the questionable into more productive and fecund engagements.”

It is however, plausible to state that only a change in  orientation among the youths can drive such move to evoke a drastic change in the narratives of the  political architecture of the Country.  Where a reflection of same tendencies of the prevailing do-or-die violent-driven culture ridden with deficiencies of uncivil disposition, against the tenets of democracy, are still found among the youths, then the expression are of no difference from the prevailing order and hence, the results should not be expected to be different from the subsisting failing culture. Where youths still allow themselves to be used as agents of thuggery, violence and do-or-die politics, the clamour for a transformation would only be a facade.

Thus, it is rational that only a broad enlightened posture by the youth is needed, with excellent disposition towards not only selecting the right candidate of choice, but also excellently doing so with all sense of responsibility and critical assessment to get square pegs in square holes, who are credibly fit for each position across the length and breathe of the  Country at all levels of government.

To transform the Country from its woes, is a demand that cannot survive without the active participation of the youths. However, in as much as the input of the youths is needed, it is sacrosanct such participation be driven by an overarching enlightenment among the youths in their posture and disposition to political processes, particularly towards the nearest matter at hand — the 2023 general elections. Where youths still groove within the cycle of cheap influence as agents of disruptions to due process, the culture to breathe the much desired atmosphere, is still feared to be far away.

Editorial

The mirage of fiscal renewal in Nigeria’s 2024 budget

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The unveiling of Nigeria’s 2024 budget by President Bola Tinubu was anticipated with a mix of hope and skepticism.

The hope was that the new administration would pivot from the fiscal imprudence that has characterised the nation’s budgeting for decades.

The skepticism stemmed from a history of unfulfilled promises and economic plans that have often sounded more impressive on paper than in practice. Unfortunately, the skepticism seems warranted as the N27.5 trillion budget proposal for 2024, dubbed the ‘Budget of Renewed Hope,’ falls short of the transformative fiscal recalibration that was promised.

At first glance, the budget’s title suggests a fresh start, a breakaway from the past. However, a closer examination reveals a continuation of the same old patterns: “envelope” budgeting, precarious funding assumptions, a bloated recurrent expenditure, a modest capital outlay, a substantial deficit, and an increasing debt burden.

This is not the bold overhaul that Nigerians were promised, but rather a reiteration of the uninspiring fiscal practices of the past two decades.

President Tinubu’s speech to the National Assembly painted an optimistic picture, one where the budget would lay the groundwork for macroeconomic stability, reduce the deficit, and increase capital spending in line with the administration’s priorities. Yet, the reality of the figures tells a different story.

The allocation of N9.92 trillion for non-debt recurrent expenses and N8.25 trillion for debt servicing—which alone consumes a staggering 45 percent of the total budget—signals a continuation of the government’s preference for consumption over investment.

This approach does little to inspire confidence in the budget’s potential to stimulate economic growth or alleviate poverty.Moreover, the projected deficit of N9.18 trillion, which represents 3.88 percent of GDP, though a reduction from the previous year’s 6.11 percent, still underscores a reliance on borrowing.

The planned new borrowings of N7.83 trillion, along with the anticipated N1.05 trillion drawdown on multilateral and bilateral loans, further entrench Nigeria’s precarious revenue position. The expected N298.49 billion from privatisation proceeds is not only insignificant in the grand scheme but also highly speculative, given the government’s historical reluctance to privatize.

The budget reiterates lofty goals such as fostering “job-rich” growth, improving investment stability, and enhancing human capital development. Yet, without a significant shift in the allocation towards capital expenditure and a realistic plan for revenue generation, these objectives seem more aspirational than achievable.

The heavy lean on debt servicing casts a long shadow over the prospects of meeting these goals, as it leaves little room for the necessary investments in infrastructure, education, and healthcare that are critical for sustainable development.

The ‘Budget of Renewed Hope’ was an opportunity for President Tinubu’s administration to demonstrate a commitment to changing the narrative of Nigeria’s economic management. It was a chance to present a budget that would not only reflect the current economic realities but also chart a clear path towards fiscal sustainability and inclusive growth.

Unfortunately, the 2024 budget proposal, as it stands, is a missed opportunity. It is a whimper in the face of Nigeria’s economic challenges, not the bang that was needed to jolt the economy towards a new trajectory.

As the National Assembly deliberates on this budget, it is imperative that lawmakers critically assess the proposed allocations and assumptions. They must push for a more balanced budget that prioritizes capital expenditure and addresses the revenue challenges head-on. It is only through such rigorous scrutiny and a willingness to make tough decisions that Nigeria can hope to achieve the macroeconomic stability and growth that the government so optimistically promises..

Nigeria’s recently announced 2022 budget has been met with criticism from experts who have raised concerns over its assumptions and allocation of funds.

The budget assumes an average oil price of $77.96 per barrel, which is precarious given that prices have averaged $74.38 on Friday.

Additionally, the estimated oil production of 1.78 million barrels per day is questionable, with production averaging 1.35mbpd this year. With 400,000bpd stolen and OPEC seeking to cut production to boost prices, the output target appears unrealistic.

Furthermore, the national budget is still overly dependent on oil and gas revenues. Other assumptions, such as inflation at 21.4 per cent and debt servicing, also raise questions. Inflation rose to 27.3 per cent in October, fuelled by high energy prices, rocketing naira exchange rates and runaway food prices.

The government’s spending over 90 per cent of its revenue on debt-servicing, and still borrowing at breakneck pace, means its deficits and borrowings could eventually exceed estimates. Experts describe annual budgets as an “important instrument of national resource mobilisation, allocation and economic management”.

However, this budget is largely more of the same annual fare, sustaining high recurrent spending. The N1.32 trillion or 5.0 per cent infrastructure vote falls short of the $1.5 billion required under the Reviewed Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan.

The social sectors, primarily education and health, which combined are allotted 12.5 per cent, continue to get short thrift.

This contradicts Tinubu’s electoral promise to allocate at least 10 per cent to health, and the 15 per cent combined agreed for health and education by African countries in 2010. Overall, the budget has been criticised for its assumptions and allocation of funds, which could hinder economic development.

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Editorial

False dichotomy between B.Sc, HND holders and NBTE’s questionable solution

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The ongoing debate in Nigeria surrounding the dichotomy between university degree holders and Higher National Diploma (HND) holders has reached a critical juncture.

It is imperative for the country to shift its focus towards producing highly productive graduates, rather than perpetuating this divisive distinction.

However, the proposed top-up measures to address this issue seem both ludicrous and unlikely to provide an effective solution.

Recently, the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) reportedly introduced a one-year online top-up program, in collaboration with foreign accredited universities, to convert HND certificates into Bachelor’s degrees. While this initiative may appear promising, several concerns need to be addressed before its implementation.

Firstly, there is a potential conflict of interest between the NBTE and the National Universities Commission (NUC). It is essential to ensure that the NBTE does not encroach upon the powers and functions of the NUC, as this could undermine the credibility of the proposed program.

Additionally, it is puzzling why foreign accredited universities are being considered when there are reputable institutions within the country that could fulfill this role. This raises questions about the cost implications, particularly for candidates who may struggle to afford the suggested fee of N650,000 for the program.

In light of these concerns, it is crucial for the 10th National Assembly, particularly the House Committee on Education, to play an active role in this matter. They should thoroughly examine the proposed program and its potential implications, ensuring that it aligns with the country’s educational objectives and addresses the needs of the students.

According to Professor Idris Bugaje, the Executive Secretary of the NBTE, the program will commence by uploading the contents of accredited HND programs into a software. This will enable the identification of corresponding B.Sc. contents from foreign universities, highlighting the gaps that need to be bridged.

This process, referred to as “credit mapping,” will determine the specific courses that HND holders must complete to meet the requirements of university degree holders.While the intention behind this program may be commendable, it is essential to critically evaluate its feasibility and potential impact.

Resting the dichotomy between university degree and HND holders is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive and inclusive approach.

It is crucial to prioritise the production of graduates with high productivity, rather than merely focusing on the conversion of certificates.

The 10th National Assembly, specifically the House Committee on Education, has a crucial role to play in closely examining this initiative to ensure that it aligns with the educational objectives of the country and benefits all parties involved. Bugaje further clarified that this arrangement is being implemented to prevent HND holders from being left behind in terms of career progression.

This ‘top-up’ development appears to be an additional effort to address the disparity between university degree and HND holders in Nigeria. For example, in 2017, the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Interior, mandated that entry levels for both degree and HND holders should be at grade level 8, particularly in all paramilitary services.

However, it is important to note that HND holders are unable to advance beyond level 14 or 15 without obtaining additional qualifications, such as a Master’s degree, while a degree holder can rise to level 17, which is equivalent to the Permanent Secretary cadre.

To tackle this issue, the National Assembly passed the “Bill for an Act to abolish and prohibit dichotomy and discrimination between degree and HND holders in the same profession for the purpose of employment, and for related matters” in 2021.

Unfortunately, despite repeated appeals by stakeholders, the former president did not sign the bill before leaving office on May 29 of this year.

The recent shift in the mandate of the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) towards the National Universities Commission (NUC) is a cause for concern.

The NBTE’s role is to oversee technical education in Nigeria, while the NUC is responsible for university education. It is puzzling why the NBTE would be involved in collaborating with a foreign university on university education for Nigerians.

This decision seems illogical, especially when there are several Nigerian universities that already offer top-up programs. Moreover, it is crucial to consider the economic feasibility of any solution to the dichotomy between university degree and Higher National Diploma (HND) holders in Nigeria.

The Mewar International University’s top-up program, for example, has a high application fee of N50,000 and school fees starting from N650,000, which may be unaffordable for many prospective students given the country’s economic realities.

Therefore, it is inappropriate to engage a foreign institution to run the top-up program.

Additionally, the introduction of a top-up program may hinder the progress towards obtaining presidential assent to the “bill for an Act to abolish and prohibit dichotomy and discrimination between degree and HND holders.”

This could potentially demoralise many HND holders who have been advocating for equal recognition.

The attempt to blur the distinction between BSc and HND qualifications is misguided, as it places too much emphasis on credentials rather than competence and productivity on the job.

HND holders are meant to fill the middle level manpower and technical needs of the country, which is why polytechnics were established. The niche for polytechnic education is technological and technical manpower development, with the Ordinary National Diploma (OND) certification being a key component.

It is important to note that entry qualifications into universities and polytechnics are different, and students choose to study in one or the other. The focus should be on attaining technological breakthroughs and producing innovators and technology giants, rather than on credentials. Competence, performance, and delivery of quality service should be the determinants for career progression, not just certificates.

Private and public sector employers should not limit the career progression of HND holders or tie job retention to their certificates. Experience, competence, and capacity should be the determining factors.

 The use of certificates as a basis for career progression and job retention promotes meritocracy, not mediocrity. In more developed countries, there is no discrimination against holders of both certificates.

Policy change is necessary to position polytechnic graduates for competitive self-fulfillment alongside their university counterparts. This should be the priority of the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).

Hence, it is important to be focused as a nation and be more strategic, coordinated and methodical; not rudderless in the search for solution for the dichotomy between university degree and HND holders because polytechnic graduates do not need a ’top-up’ programme to compete on the job.

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Editorial

Harnessing research findings of our academics to enhance industrialisation in Nigeria

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Universities all over the world serve as citadel of knowledge. No nation can develop or industrialise without the input of the academics that make up its university community.

The primary duties of an academic is teaching,research and community service. But chief among the functions is research and ironically this all-important function is often relegated to the background, especially in developing countries like Nigeria.

It is not as if we do not understand the importance of research and its products (findings), but we cannot just decipher the reason why our leaders always turn blind eye to research and its essence.

The arguments have been lack of political will but who is responsible for building political will, if not our political leaders? The question now is, what is their reason for shunning sponsorship of research in our tertiary institutions, especially the universities? If the lecturers could be battling with non-payment of their salaries, to the extent of embarking on strike, is it now funds for research that will be made available?

If the academic staff had followed the Federal or State governments with their ugly treatment towards the universities and their staff, nothing would have functioned at all.

In the west, premium is given to universities and academics who carry out research, having understood that nothing can be achieved in terms of development or industrialisation without the tenacity and insights that they bear. 

Thankfully, the academics in Nigeria have defied all odds to carry out research and come up with results and findings. For instance, Prof Barinaadaa Thaddeus Lebele-Alawa, Professor of Thermal Power and Energy Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering,Rivers State University (RSU) during his inaugural lecture, titled, ‘Rotor Blade Profile: Influence on Thermal Power and Energy,’ had posited that thermal power is critical for industrialisation of any nation. He submitted that thermal power is the bedrock of human civilisation.

The question is, how far have the drivers (leaders) of our country used these findings and many more to our advantage?

Another scholar, in the Department of Chemical/Petrochemical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Dr Izionworu Vincent Onuegbu, Rivers State University after painstaking research invented an inhibitor from natural plant extracts to tackle industrial corrosion. This breakthrough is against the previous organic and inorganic inhibitors that are said to be hazardous to humans.

According to Dr Vincent, the inhibitor from natural plant extracts is devoid of hazards and better put, it is user-friendly. The Doctor of Chemical/Petrochemical Engineering said based on the edge the natural inhibitor has over the organic and inorganic inhibitors ,he  recommends it to the industrial community to end corrosion.

Another Academic and Research Fellow of our time, Prof Falitat Taiwo Ademiluyi professed that now that crude oil is dwindling, there is every need to seek for alternatives to save the country from collapse. Delivering her inaugural lecture on, ‘Unit Operations Application in the Development of Local Content:A Key to Nigerian Economic Growth,’ Prof Ademiluyi said fuel can be produced from cassava to replace crude oil, stressing that cassava is very rich in chemical content.

Prof Ademiluyi also said that ethanol can be used to produce Petroleum Motor Spirit (PMS) cheaper than what we have today in the country and that the ethanol is produced from cassava. The Inaugural Lecturer said she regrets that Nigeria is not yet ready to produce fuel locally. She recommended that cassava processing industries should be established in all the local government areas of the country for the purpose of producing fuel.

These are just a few of the findings recorded by the academics in our universities. But to what extent have we paid heed to the products of our seat of knowledge? It is therefore in our own interest to harness the findings of the various researchers in the country’s universities for the development or industrialisation of Nigeria. The earlier we do that, the better for us all. 

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