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Remuneration: Saving judicial officers from kick-back inducement

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Issues arising from reports of alleged bribery at the end of Nigeria’s judiciary, has remained a subject coloured with clusters of reservations. The trust placed on the judiciary as the institution of dignity to effect justice in an organised society, is a sanctity that demands nothing but utmost integrity. However, it appears the posture of sustaining the sanctity of this integrity without blemish in Nigeria is particularly developing a shivering posture. The character spots that bear influence to these abnormalities draw inferences on a number of factors.

The subject of the remuneration of Judges and Magistrates who oversee the courtroom in vetting matters of justice bordering on disputes and crimes remain crucial. The critical nature of their responsibilities with the necessity to hold the virtue of integrity at the highest esteem, is a reckoning force which demands that every pointer to temptations of shifting grounds for compromise are completely eliminated. The reports of poor remuneration and heaps of arrears owed against judicial officers is an ‘unfavourable quick tempter’ that exposes them to the risk of corrupt tendencies. One of the sordid reflection came to the public glare on Monday when Magistrates in Cross River State resorted to protest at the Governor’s office in Calabar over non-payment of 24 months salaries. The Magistrates who spanned across the 18 local government areas of the state blocked the second gate leading to the Governor’s office, arming themselves with placards bearing such inscriptions  as ‘No Bliss, no blush, we are not crystallised nor olumposized, Cross River State Magistrates in penury’; ‘We have right to employment’; ‘Magistrates in Cross River State are thrown out of their rented apartments, Ayade pay us’.

The Chief Magistrate Solomon Abuo, who spoke on behalf of the aggrieved Magistrates, said the protest is their last resort. He was quoted: “We are protesting the non-payment of our 24 months’ salary. This is January and we have been discharging our duties to the state government. We have courts that we are heading and we have been working for the state government to bring about peace and tranquility to the society, yet the governor does not deem it fit to pay us our salaries despite our entreaties, pleas, letters, correspondences, screening upon screening. After our employment and swearing-in, we have further undergone  four screenings. After each of them, the governor will ignore the report requesting him to pay us our salaries. So this is our last resort. Right now we have 30 Magistrates affected across the 18 LGAs of the state. Funny enough, the governor’s local government has the highest number (11 magistrates who are affected) and the state does not care. Is it wrong for one to serve the state? As Judicial officers, are we supposed to go through this kind of humiliation? That’s the question we want answers to. We are all family men with children in school, we cannot pay children’s school fees. Last year one of the Magistrates was arraigned before a fellow Magistrate for inability to pay house rent. Most of us can’t pay our house rents, we are squatting with colleagues and all that. Our prayer is that our 24 months’ salary be paid with immediate effect, otherwise we will continue this protest and stop sittings in court until we are paid.”

In modern society, the Judiciary is tagged with the nomenclature of being “the last hope of the common man”. The structural formations of the workings of modern government have rested the baton of justice in the arm of government now called the “Judiciary”, saddled with the responsibility of ensuring evil acts, inclinations and heinous crimes do not ravage the society without being brought to book. One of the definition of a corrupt society is one where crime thrives without a forceful arm bearing the sword of the law to bring defaulters to face the wrath of penalties established by the State. Where laws exist however, but are being perverted, brings a stronger influence of deepening the root of disorderliness in the society. At the present, the prevailing situation in Nigeria demands nothing but a full unbiased and sanctimonious judiciary, which is impeccably vibrant in the journey towards changing the narrative of the endemism of corruption and crime ravaging the entire fabric of the Country.

As said earlier, in every sane entity, the Judiciary remains the “last hope of the common man”. It is therefore essential that the necessity to keep the sacredness of the institution undefiled, be elevated to the highest esteem. Nigeria needs a reformation in the light of an ideological overhauling and forceful purging of the society from the preponderance of societal ills. The Judiciary is key in this quest; and it is therefore essential that its sanctimonious posture must be restored and enhanced to the impeccable height of wholeness.

It is pathetic to state that where judicial officers, particularly Judges and Magistrates are poorly remunerated and/or owed arrears summing into months, the possibilities to be exposed to temptation of corrupt inducement may not be totally ruled out. The necessity to maintain the sanctity of the Judiciary is very key to addressing the preponderance of societal decadence prevailing in Nigeria with unpleasant records of ills, vices and troubling crimes. As the arm of the Government that ensures the determination of justice in matters of critical concerns, it is essential that attention be given to the allowances and remuneration of judicial officers with utmost sensitivity as a strategic move to building and upholding the sanctimonious posture of the institution. This is paramount to eliminate every gap that may create lacunae which may expose these officials to the venom of temptations of corruption to pervert jusctice against State interest.

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Editorial

Is six-year single tenure for President Nigeria’s problem?

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Just yesterday about 30 lawmakers at the Green Chamber of the National Assembly proposed a six-year single tenure for President and Governors in the political architecture of this country among other sundry issues. The question that has been pondering on my mind at this critical period is that Nigerians’ problem?

These House of Representatives members whom are accorded esteemed regard by the people are fully aware of the lapses in the basics amenities like the skyrocketed inflation, epileptic electric supply, insecurity, high rates of unemployment, the lingering  issue of minimum wage and hunger lavishing the land but decided to give deaf ears to this outcries.

Last two weeks on May 29, the ruling political elite marked 25 years of the reinstitution of democracy in Nigeria after very difficult years of successive military dictatorship. We remember the enthusiasm and hope that accompanied the return of that system of government to the country. Nigerians who prayed for civilian rule, based on democratic principles, had hoped that at its silver jubilee, it should have brought success stories to the nation in all ramifications and the citizens would have a feel of the boundless wealth that the country is blessed with.

But as the nation awaits the rescheduled Democracy Day, June 12, the bliss that the citizens expected at the inception of this new era is increasingly diminishing with unprecedented speed because of poor governance inflicted on the people by political operators who emerged in public offices through a flawed process.

In our considered opinion, democracy as a system of governance is not to blame because in other climes it has yielded massive returns for the people in terms of social security, infrastructure development, political and economic stability, peace, security, science, technology and innovation.

We can draw examples from the People’s Republic of China, under communist democracy. The Communist Party of China (CPC) has, through strategic thinking, creativity and massive investment in human capital, recruited the abundant human intelligence and intellect of the people to build a prosperous nation, which is today one of the most important manufacturing hubs in the world.

There are other thriving examples of where democracy works for the people around the world including in African countries. The problem is not the system but the individuals who operate it. We acknowledge the fact that liberal democracy, in itself, may not necessarily guarantee good governance and economic development, but it remains a system that opens up bountiful opportunities for citizens to have the freedom to interrogate the aggregate values and variables of their society and create collective channels to attain greatness through effective leadership.

The challenge of democracy in Nigeria is lack of good leadership at multiple levels and this has enormous drawbacks on the lives of the people. Experts claim that there is a paradoxical relationship between democracy and development in Nigeria. In the 20 years of electoral democracy, poverty, inequality, unemployment, underemployment and insecurity have increased. The hopes of citizens that democracy would lead to improved living standards have been dashed. Social justice and inclusive sustainable development have also been elusive. This, in our opinion, is not a failure on the part of democracy as a system but the inefficiencies brought about by the fabled human factor.

Curiously, and in spite of the beauty of the ballot box, the Nigerian economy has remained dependent on oil and gas with very low value-added services. The aspiration that by 2020, Nigeria would become one of the 20 leading economies in the world has not been achieved essentially because of an abysmal lack of commitment by the political elite who have captured the state for personal gains.

We are appalled that 25 years of democracy has brought untold misery to Nigerians at multiple levels. The situation has become worse in the last nine years. Today, inflation has hit 33.69 percent according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This has caused a heightened increase in the prices of food and other essential commodities in the country putting most of them beyond the reach of the ordinary citizen whose income is miserably stagnated.

Furthermore, unemployment has reached alarming levels creating a system which provides solace only to relations of political office holders and their acolytes. It is not surprising, therefore, that the poverty rate is such that in 2023, Nigeria, officially, was rated as having 63 percent of its population suffering multidimensional poverty. Sadly, in our view, policies, such as the removal of fuel subsidy, are not helping matters when not done right. That policy, in particular, abruptly announced has worsened an already precarious situation due to lacklustre implementation, giving rise to an environment whereby citizens pay more for fuel and other items, whose prices have been pushed beyond limits by that otherwise good decision.

Another policy that has triggered a humongous crisis is the floating of the naira that grossly reduced the value of the currency vis-à-vis other international media of exchange and brought massive pain and hardship to bear on the lives of the citizenry.

Compounding this awkward scenario is insecurity which has so ravaged the country ranging from terrorism, banditry, farmers- herders clashes in the north and unknown gunmen and the menace of separatist agitators in the south.

Despite these seemingly insurmountable crises, we are of the opinion that the best is still possible for Nigeria.  But the citizens must come out and set a standard for electing leaders on personal merit and character instead of the so pervasive ethnic and religious motivated choices. The need for an urgent reversal of this mindset is immensely compelling because, in the long run, it is the entire populace that pays the price of any mistake of omission or commission

Pertinently, as President Ahmed Tinubu crowned his government with the celebration of Democracy Day today. The political elites have a rethink to reintroduce people interest programmes and policies that will serve as a succour to the lapses on the land.

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Editorial

Failure of estimated billing and the need for metering

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The country’s ailing power infrastructure and ecosystem are on the brink of collapse, threatening viable industrialisation and sustainable economic growth.

The electricity generation companies are drowning in a sea of debt, owed a staggering N3.17 trillion, with a funding gap of N1.7 trillion.

Liquidity challenges, unfavourable fiscal and monetary conditions, inflation, and foreign exchange volatility have pushed them to the edge.

GenCos are struggling to access forex for spare parts, facing huge electricity debt, and battling gas shortages.

The Federal Government’s failure to harness Nigeria’s robust gas reserves has resulted in underutilisation, with huge volumes flared during crude oil production.

The numbers are stark: despite having 206.53 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves, Nigeria generates a paltry 2,944-4,317MW, compared to Egypt and South Africa’s 58,000MW each.

The power sector’s decay is a national emergency, requiring a strategic and seamless solution.

The government must act now to rescue the sector, harness Nigeria’s gas reserves, and unlock the country’s economic potential. The future of Nigeria’s industrialisation and economic growth depends on it.

The government’s sole management of the national grid, ostensibly to protect sovereign assets, has led to persistent grid failures and inefficiencies, creating a dire situation.

The grid collapsed 46 times between 2017 and 2023, according to the International Energy Agency, and it has already collapsed six times in 2024. Privatisation and redesign with effective regulatory oversight are urgently needed.

President Bola Tinubu and his Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu, must urgently revisit the gas-to-power initiative of their predecessors to address the gas-to-power deficit.

Engaging Siemens Energy to overhaul the sector and eliminating bureaucratic hurdles, while adhering to global best practices, is essential.

The transmission segment of the power sector is also in disarray, plagued by vandalism.

In April, the Transmission Company of Nigeria reported that four towers on the Jos-Gombe 330 Kilovolt transmission line were vandalised, disrupting bulk power supply to Gombe, Yola, and Jalingo.

The Centre for the Study of Economies of Africa highlights that inadequate transmission lines, poor management, a lack of maintenance culture, and flawed grid design hinder the power sector.

The government’s current plan to split the TCN and create the Nigeria Independent System Operator of Nigeria Limited, another government-run entity, is counterproductive. The TCN should be privatised to ensure transparent management of existing assets, attract new investments, and boost productivity in the sector.

Meanwhile, the Goodluck Jonathan government’s privatisation of the power sector was a well-intentioned but poorly executed move. Local firms with little expertise acquired distribution licences, focusing on profit rather than investment in facilities. This deprived Nigeria of much-needed foreign investment and expertise.

To salvage the ailing DisCos, the Federal Government is repossessing and reorganising them. Some have been taken over by banks, while others are under government control.

Despite privatisation, the government continues to subsidise DisCos with N204.59 billion in the third quarter of 2023 alone.

Nigerians bear the brunt of the sector’s inefficiencies, subjected to estimated billing and exorbitant charges without accountability. The lack of meters has exacerbated the situation, with only 58.37 percent of registered customers metered. The government must mandate DisCos to implement metering, deducting costs from consumer bills. Metering complaints account for 53.40 percent of all complaints, highlighting the urgency for reform.

The power sector’s decay is a national emergency requiring swift action. The government must learn from past mistakes and prioritise expertise, investment, and consumer welfare to rescue the sector and unlock Nigeria’s economic potential.

The situation worsens as various ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) owe electricity distribution companies (DisCos) billions in unpaid bills. In February, the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) announced that 86 MDAs owed N47 billion, with Aso Rock alone owing N923.8 million. Following this embarrassing revelation, Aso Rock managed to pay N342.3 million.

On June 3, the AEDC issued another notice to disconnect 23 MDAs, including the Office of the Secretary-General of the Federation, military formations, the Federal Capital Development Authority, the Federal Ministry of Works, and the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria. Additionally, the states of Kogi and Niger are among those indebted to the DisCo.

President Bola Tinubu should mandate the MDAs to negotiate a payment system with the DisCos and clear their debts using available budgetary provisions. Regulatory agencies and MDAs that fail to settle their bills undermine energy efficiency efforts and set a poor example for citizens, encouraging them to default on bill payments. This must be rectified.

Tinubu and his Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu, must develop a comprehensive and unified policy that addresses the sector’s numerous issues. They should offer clear solutions, provide robust oversight, and encourage foreign direct investment (FDI).

State governments should also take proactive measures. They should follow the example of the Aba Geometric Power Plant, which serves Aba, Abia State’s commercial hub. States should leverage the new law that permits them to enhance electricity provision within their domains.

Competent private companies should be encouraged to invest in the industry, and the government should incentivize investments in off-grid alternative energy sources.

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Editorial

Labour Unions’ demands: Reasonable or excessive?

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The protracted dispute between Organised Labour and the Federal Government over the minimum wage has reached a critical juncture. The standoff, marked by failed negotiations and entrenched positions, threatens to bring the economy to a grinding halt.

The labour unions’ demand for a minimum wage of N494,000, down from their initial demand of N615,000, is met with the government’s stubborn refusal to increase its offer beyond N60,000.

The Nigerian Governors’ Forum’s (NGF) insistence that states cannot afford the new minimum wage is unacceptable, and the labour unions are right to demand full implementation of the agreement.

The consequences of this impasse are dire. With inflation, currency fluctuations, and dwindling revenues already straining the economy, a labour strike would be a devastating blow.

The government’s refusal to budge, despite repeated warnings and threats, is a dangerous game that risks plunging the country into chaos.

Recall that Government officials, including Minister of Information and National Orientation Mohammed Idris, have raised valid concerns about the proposed N494,000 minimum wage, citing its potential to strain the nation’s finances with an annual expenditure of N9.5 trillion. This staggering burden, they argue, is unsustainable for the nation’s finances.

Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy Bayo Onanuga has urged Labour to be reasonable in their demands, questioning the feasibility of paying individuals such as drivers or cleaners N500,000 a month. He emphasised the need for an affordable and sustainable solution that aligns with the nation’s economic capabilities.

Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Prince Lateef Fagbemi has added legal weight to the government’s position, stressing the importance of adhering to legal procedures in resolving industrial disputes. He highlighted the necessity for Organised Labour to follow due process, including issuing mandatory strike notices, as stipulated by law.

As the nation navigates this critical crossroads, it is essential to find a middle ground that addresses both the fiscal realities and the fundamental rights of workers.

A balanced approach that considers the nation’s economic capabilities and the needs of its workforce is crucial to resolving this impasse and ensuring a sustainable future for Nigeria.

Despite these warnings and interventions, Organised Labour has proceeded with its indefinite strike, plunging the nation into a state of turmoil. The ramifications are dire, with total blackout and widespread disruption of economic activities across the country.

As the impasse persists, it is imperative for all stakeholders to come to the table with a spirit of compromise and dialogue. Balancing the need for fair wages with the financial sustainability of the nation requires a collaborative effort aimed at finding common ground.

Only through constructive engagement and mutual respect can Nigeria navigate through this challenging period and emerge stronger, with a minimum wage policy that reflects both economic prudence and social justice.

It is important that both parties return to the negotiating table with a willingness to compromise.

The government must acknowledge the economic realities and the plight of Nigerian workers, struggling to make ends meet. The labour unions must consider the government’s fiscal constraints and the potential consequences of a prolonged strike.

The fate of Nigeria’s economy hangs in the balance. We urge both parties to put the nation’s interests above their own and work towards a mutually acceptable solution. The clock is ticking, and the consequences of inaction will be catastrophic. It is time for leadership, compromise, and a commitment to the well-being of Nigerian workers and the economy.

The nation cannot afford to wait any longer.

A resolution must be found, and found quickly, to avoid an economic meltdown. We call on both parties to act with urgency and responsibility to prevent a crisis that would have far-reaching consequences for generations to come.

The fate of the nation’s economy and the well-being of its workers depend on their willingness to compromise and find a mutually acceptable solution.

The government must acknowledge the economic realities and the plight of Nigerian workers, struggling to make ends meet. It is imperative to recognize the impact of inflation, currency fluctuations, and dwindling revenues on the economy.

Simultaneously, the labour unions must consider the government’s fiscal constraints and the potential consequences of a prolonged strike.

We call on both parties to put the nation’s interests above their own and work towards a solution that reflects both economic prudence and social justice.

This is not a time for entrenched positions or inflammatory rhetoric; it is a time for leadership, compromise, and a commitment to the well-being of Nigerian workers and the economy.

The clock is ticking, and the consequences of inaction will be catastrophic.

A resolution must be found quickly to avoid economic meltdown. We urge both parties to act with urgency and responsibility to prevent a crisis that would have far-reaching consequences for generations to come.

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