In the build-up towards the 2023 General Elections, the subject of deficiencies that shroud elections in the Country have been on point of discourse recently. Of such subjects, the issue of vote-buying has remained a strong topic of reflections in the discourse of the elections. However, while the 2023 General Elections is in view in about seven months, the reflection of the phenomenon towards the much closer Saturday, 16th, 2022, governorship election in Osun State, has been much resounding. The reflections have assumed a broader note given the proximity of the election as the major precursor to the 2023 General Elections.
The grip of vote-buying on records of election in the Country has been of strong reflections. Recent elections have not reflected their records free from such grip. For instance, the recent June 18 Governorship election in Ekiti was rattled with pronounced resonance of vote-buying, a strong factor among others, which formed critical part in the deficiency records that shrouded the election. Reactions by authorities, saw the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), arrested some suspects, including party agents, for allegedly engaging in vote-buying. Reports from observers revealed some of the suspects were also said to have been caught at a private residence with bags of money with a book containing details of voters of certain voting areas.
Apart from open contest, incidents of vote-buying were observed even during party primaries. For instance, among the narratives that coloured the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Presidential primary held at Eagle Square, Abuja, were widespread incidents of vote-buying by aspirants despite the presence of law enforcement officers.
With the fears over the grip vote-buying could have over the Osun Governorship Election, calls on security agents to clampdown on such malpractice have been on course. In response to the demand, the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies, including the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NDCDC) have declared their readiness to man the election with sufficient manpower to forestall any eventualities of vote-buying. It has been gathered that the deployment of police personnel will also be complemented by soldiers, the Civil Defence Corps, and the Amotekun Corp for the elections. Among others, for instance, the Police Force on its part has said it would deploy the Federal Intelligence Bureau, Tactical Corps and the Special Forces to curb the election mal-practice of vote-buying. The Inspector-General of Police, Baba Alkali, at the Stakeholders meeting held in Osun State on Tuesday, 12th, July, 2022, had warned that the police would not take it lightly with persons or groups seeking to perpetrate vote-buying or any form of inducement in the Osun Governorship 2022 elections.
However, of critical concern is the demand to determine how far such security agencies could go in foreclosing the eventualities of vote-buying. This is particularly of critical concerns, as the transaction of such mal-practice may take diverse clandestine formats, and may not strictly be traded openly. Hence, it is pertinent to note that the subject of curbing the electoral menace of vote-buying is such calling for more elaborate necessities. While the role of such security architecture as the Federal Intelligence Bureau, Tactical Corps and the Special Forces of the Nigeria Police Force as well as those of the EFCC, have their roles to play for intelligence purposes, which cannot be downplayed in curbing the menace, it is pertinent that more than the force of security agents, appeals to actors, particularly the citizenry and political stakeholders are pertinent.
It is of note that the phenomenon of vote-buying is a transaction largely involving two major actors – political actors and the electorates. Hence, caution on both sides of the actors become pertinent. Such caution on the part of the citizenry is very critical, as it has been emphasised that without vote sellers there would be no vote buyers.
The consequences of selling votes have over time created deficiencies around the profile of credible elections in the Country. In the larger spectrum, its impacts on governance have apparently borne troubles beyond the records of superficial effects. Calling public office holders to account becomes practically skewed where the processes that brought them in were never borne by the credence of intellgent and conscientious voting to bring-up credible candidate, but by the misplacement of order coming by vote-buying. Making public office holders accountable becomes negatively affected where the processes informing their emergence were largely borne by vote-buying. Under such circumstances, the grip of corruption becomes quick to sight and checking against such becomes a difficult necessity to uphold.
The need for citizens as electorates to break away from the repose on the syndrome of susceptibility to cheap inducement to satisfy immediate thirst is pertinent. Such syndrome has been connected to sacrificing good fortunes for short term thirst, a deficiency that cannot be unconnected to the grip of bad governance in the Country. Now that the grip of bad governance has thrown the Country into shambles of harsh conditions of living, the citizens have been on the receiving end, with excruciating plights.
It is pertinent for the Nigerian populace to become enlightened to the woes of vote-buying. It’s debilitating impacts have been such which transcend its immediate grip on electoral process, but with expansive force beyond the political processes, to debilitating impacts on the economy, the condition of living with deficient social, cultural and moral reflections among other fabrics of the Country.
The need for citizens to begin a resistance campaign against inducement by mischievous political elements has become a necessity to break away from a system that has defrauded and deprived them of good governance. Towards the most immediate Osun gubernatorial election fixed for Saturday, it is expedient for the residents of the State to adjust to a resolute stand of conscientious voting, against the susceptible disposition to inducement, tantamount to selling their future for immediate penny that may be equal to setting-in for another period of socio-economic hardship.
More significantly, it is pertinent for political stakeholders to conduct and compose themselves wisely, prudently, and nobly in the most honourable disposition, steering clear from inducing electorates with money. The demands of the suitable concern is for the most popular candidate to emerge winner with the strength of credibility. It is time for political stakeholders, particularly, contestants to live by the standard of playing by the rules, against relying on foul play. Such is the demand to act reasonably with caution testing the real strength of candidates. Imbibing this disposition towards the Saturday Governorship election in Osun would be a step ahead to sanity.
It is equally important for political parties to work in this orientation. In future terms, moving to field candidates who would meet the test of credible strength in contest is the salient way to go, against resorting to foul play. Redefining the internal requirements of their structures may be a part of the reformatting order political parties may have to effect in their development courses.
False dichotomy between B.Sc, HND holders and NBTE’s questionable solution
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.
Harnessing research findings of our academics to enhance industrialisation in Nigeria
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.
Debt trap: Nigeria at risk, caution must be applied to borrowings
Nigeria’s debt profile has continuously put fears of risk of sliding into debt trap. Again, President Bola Tinubu has written to the Senate seeking the approval of a fresh sum of $8.7billion and £100 million approved under former President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to the President, the past administration approved a 2022-2024 borrowing plan by the Federal Executive Council held on May 15, 2023. The letter which was read by the Senate President, GodsWill Akpabio, at the plenary recently stated that the money would be used to fund projects across all sectors, with specific emphasis on infrastructure, agriculture, health, water supply, roads, security, and employment generation as well as financial management reforms.
The letter read: “I write in respect of the above subject and to submit the attached Federal Government 2022-2024 external borrowing plan for consideration and early approval of the National Assembly to ensure prompt implementation of the projects. The Senate may wish to note that the past administration approved a 2022-2024 borrowing plan by the Federal Executive Council held on May 15, 2023.
“The project cuts across all sectors, with specific emphasis on infrastructure, agriculture, health, water supply, roads, security, and employment generation as well as financial management reforms.
”Consequently, the required approval is in the sum of $8,699,168,559 and £100 million. I would like to underscore the fact that the projects and programmes in the borrowing plan were selected based on economic evaluations as well as the expected contribution to the social economic development of the country, including employment generation, and skills acquisition.
“Given the nature of these facilities, and the need to return the country to normalcy it has become necessary for the senate to consider and approve the 2022-2024 external abridged borrowing plan to enable the government deliver its responsibility to Nigerians.”
Earlier, Tinubu had asked the National Assembly to approve $7.8billion, £100 million in the borrowing plan of the Federal Government.
While it has been justified that borrowing is rational when channelled profitably into capital projects of far reaching impacts, the question of whether the loans acquired over time by the government at different levels are channelled judiciously into profitable capital projects has been a subject of concern.
Recently, as record of Nigeria’s pubic debt continue to generate concerns, hitting N46.25trillion in 2022 fourth quarter, frontline civil right group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), had urged the World Bank to promptly, transparently and effectively conduct an investigation into the spending of over $8.5 billion loans and other facilities by 36 state governors in Nigeria.
SERAP had also urged the Bank to “suspend further applications for loans and any other funding to the 36 states until those states are able to satisfactorily explain details of spending of loans and other facilities obtained from the Bank and its partners.”
In the letter dated November 25, 2023, by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, SERAP wrote the President of World Bank, Mr Ajay Banga, saying: “The World Bank and its partners cannot continue to give loans and other funding to these states where there are credible allegations of mismanagement or diversion of public funds. We are concerned that there is a significant risk of mismanagement or diversion of funds linked to the Bank’s investments in many of the country’s 36 states. It is neither appropriate nor responsible lending to give loans to these states only for the loans to be misspent.”
The letter had read in part: “The World Bank’s lending, and support for these states may create the impression of complicity in the allegations of mismanagement or diversion of public funds by the states which may include loans from the Bank and its partners, and federal allocations.
“We would consider the option of pursuing legal action should the World Bank fail or fail to implement the recommendations contained in this letter, and we may join the country’s 36 states in any such suit.
“According to Nigeria’s Debt Management Office, total public debt portfolio for the country’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory is N9.17 trillion. The Federal Government’s total public debt portfolio is N78.2 trillion.
“We also urge you to demand expressed commitment from Nigeria’s 36 governors to address credible allegations of mismanagement or diversion of public funds in their states and provide guarantees that loans and funding from the Bank and its partners would not be used to fund the luxurious lifestyles of politicians.
“We urge the Bank to send independent monitors to the 36 states to monitor the spending of the loans and other funding obtained from the Bank and its partners to remove the risks of mismanagement or diversion of public funds by these states.
“The World Bank currently has a portfolio of about $8.5 billion spread across the country. The Bank has also approved several loans and other funding facilities to the country’s 36 states including the recent $750 million credit line meant to the states carry out reforms to attract investment and create jobs.
“The accounts of Nigeria’s 36 states are generally not open to public scrutiny as many of them continue to refuse freedom of information requests seeking transparency and accountability in the spending of public funds.
“The World Bank and its partners need to make clear to Nigeria’s state governors that it would not tolerate any mismanagement or diversion of public funds by immediately suspending any pending loans and other funding to them until the allegations of mismanagement or diversion of public funds are investigated.
“The Bank has a legal responsibility to ensure that suspected perpetrators are brought to justice, and that any mismanaged or diverted public funds are returned to the treasuries of the states. The World Bank has the legal obligations to observe and promote compliance with the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and domestic laws including the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007.
“Nigeria’s total public debt stock, including external and domestic debts, increased to N46.25 trillion or $103.11 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022.
“Many states reportedly owing civil servants’ salaries and pensions. Several states are borrowing to pay salaries. Millions of Nigerians resident in these states continue to be denied access to basic public goods and services such as quality education and healthcare.
“Several state governors are also reportedly spending public funds which may include funding obtained from the Bank and its partners and allocations from the Federal Government to fund unnecessary travels, buy exotic and bulletproof cars and generally fund the lavish lifestyles of politicians.
“The country’s 36 states have reportedly spent N1.71 trillion on recurrent expenditures, including allowances, foreign trips, office stationery, and aircraft maintenance in the first nine months of 2023.
“In Abia State, the government reportedly spent N397,520,734.84 on ‘feeding and welfare’ and N223,389,889.84 on ‘refreshments and meals.’ The Akwa Ibom State government has reportedly spent N92.54 billion on allowances and social contributions, social benefits, travel and transport, utilities such as electricity chargers, Internet access charges, and on materials and supplies such as office stationery, drugs, laboratory and medical supplies, maintenance, training in the first two quarters alone.
“The government has also reportedly spent N10m on hosting/mobilisation of political associations and interest groups, and N841.83 million on entertainment at meetings. The Adamawa State government has reportedly spent N40.90 billion on non-salary expenditure as of the end of quarter three, 2023 including on furniture allowance, travel and training, domestic and foreign, office stationery and consumables, and refreshments and meals. The Anambra State government also reportedly spent N15.17 billion frivolous items, as of the end of quarter two, 2023. While Bauchi State government reportedly spent N70.25 billion on frivolous items, Bayelsa State government spent N58.26 billion on travel, welfare packages, burial logistics, meeting expenses, ‘praise night/thanksgiving expenses’, and ‘marriage ceremony support.’
“In Lagos State, N440,750,000 was reportedly awarded to the Office of the Chief of Staff for the procurement of a brand new bullet-proof Lexus LX 600 for use in the pool of the Office of Chief of Staff. Some N2 billion was also reportedly budgeted to buy rechargeable fans, rechargeable lights and fridge in the Office of the Deputy Governor.
“The Benue State government reportedly spent N34.44 billion on ‘special day celebrations’ ‘welfare packages,’ ‘security votes,’ and materials and supplies such as office stationery, and books. According to reports, Borno, Cross Rivers, Delta, Ebonyi states also respectively spent N32.63 billion, N43.71 billion, N152.15 billion, N30.91bn, and N41.11 billion on frivolous items and the public funds may have been mismanaged or diverted.
“Ekiti State reportedly spent N31.33 billion on local and international travel and transport, miscellaneous such welfare packages, refreshments, honorarium and sitting allowances. According to reports, both Enugu and Gombe states respectively spent N33.36 billion and N24.73 billion on frivolous items and the public funds may have been mismanaged or diverted. Imo State government reportedly spent N58.21 billion on refreshments and meals, welfare packages, and other allowances. Jigawa State reportedly spent N49.64 billion on transport and travelling, materials and supplies including drugs, vaccines, medical supplies, and stationeries.
“According to reports, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kwara and Kogi states also respectively spent N27.87 billion, N17.79 billion, N40.49 billion, N24.51 billion, N41.19 billion, and N58.02bn on frivolous items and the public funds may have been mismanaged or diverted.
“Section 41 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act provides: ‘Government at all tiers shall only borrow for capital expenditure and human development.
“The World Bank and its partners have obligations under international anticorruption and human rights law, including a responsibility to promote transparency and accountability in the management of public funds, prevent mismanagement or diversion of public funds, and redress any abuse of public trust that they may have contributed to.
“As a UN specialised agency, the World Bank also has an obligation to promote transparency and accountability in the management of public resources and effective implementation of the UN Convention against corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.
“The World Bank’s board of executive directors also has an obligation to ensure that the policies and decisions of the Bank are consistent with their own statutes and governments’ transparency and accountability obligations.” The matters raised over the fears on the risk the country is exposed to, with the cyclical resort to borrowing have become critical in the face of economic and finance misfortune which the justification of the past borrowings have not so far proven. It is important that the executive exercise caution to the cyclical culture of borrowing. Such restraints are essential as the Country appears closer to debt trap and wastages than it is to sustainability. It is important that the legislature begin to play its role effectively from the National Assembly to the State Assemblies. This is pertinent to carry out their oversight function, rather than becoming a rubber stamp to every request of the executive, at the detriment of the masses.
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