19 SEPTEMBER 2015
The el-Rufai examples and northern governors
he northern part of the country is the luckiest in terms of political gains that have accrued to different parts of the country since we attained independence almost 55 years ago. A region that has produced nine of the country’s leaders cannot be said to be lacking quality politicians and statesmen imbued with political and socio-economic acumen that can bailout a country from its multifaceted problems. However, what the north gained in producing more of the country’s leaders does not reflect on the socio-economic development of the region and its people. This is not to begrudge the political leaders of the north but to show concern because whatever happens in any part of the country will covertly or overtly affect other parts. By now, that assertion should not be strange to us going by the attendant effects of the Boko Haram insurgency. The problem, which was viewed as northern problem at its threshold, has festered for years to become a national disaster. Although there are myriad of problems in the country as a whole, the north is the most backward if the Human Development Index (HDI), a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators are used to assess each of the geo-political zone. The northern states occupy 70 per cent of Nigeria’s land mass; has the highest infant mortality rate and the highest number of children out of school. It is now the hotbed of insurgency, terrorism, cattle rustling, genocide, injustice, poverty, high rate of unemployment, deprivation, unprecedented orgy of violence, deep animosity among other vices. For years, Nigeria was listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as polio endemic country on account of poor health facilities and deceit of a largely illiterate populace by political and religious lead-
Waheed Bakare on Saturday 08124877036 (sms only) firstname.lastname@example.org ers who kicked against polio vaccination. These are just a few of many insipid stories in the north. The governors from that region confirmed this when they converged on Kaduna last Thursday under the aegis of the Northern States Governors’ Forum. “Things have become so bad, so much so that we can say without fear of contradiction that in Nigeria today poverty glaringly wears a bold northern face. We have turned our region into a laughing stock, derided by friends and foes alike, and not without justification as having dragged the rest of the country down with us,” chairman of the forum and the Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, said in his address at the event. Interestingly, the same Shettima who read out the lamentation of his fellow governors, has a penchant for giving out money to children, who scramble at his feet. This is another way of sustaining the culture of begging and initiating the children into the Almajiri lifestyle, which is seen as a way of life in the north. When children are allowed to grow up with the mindset that there is nothing wrong to leave their homes early in the morning with begging bowls, moving from one street to another, one can imagine what their adult lives will look like. The picture of Shettima doling out money evokes the memory of William Blake’s poem, “Holy Thursday”, in which the writer expresses his feelings towards
the 18th Century England when it was the norm to parade children for charity in Cathedral under the pretence of fulfilling religious benevolence, whereas the real intent was to exploit the impoverished children. The real reason the Almajiri culture is still being sustained in the north is just to exploit the youth and make them ready tools for destruction of lives and properties. The treacherousness of some northern leaders has discredited the region for long. But with this new song, one hopes the governors will see the need to create values in people’s lives. The Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, seems to be moving in the right direction going by the steps he took in his first 100 days. He realised from the outset that doing things the same old way was a recipe for disaster. I was enamoured with his cultural revolution that begging cannot be a way of life in a rich and fruitful country like ours. The idea of reducing overheads spending by 60 per cent by the same governor is fantastic. The rest of the governors in the north should be concerned with having realistic budgets. Unrealistic budget is antithetical to socio-economic development and should be avoided like a plague. Education is also key if the north is serious about development. Western education cannot be an haram (forbidden). The enrolment of pupils in schools is still low
while the few ones who attend schools either attend classes under the trees or where classes are available, they lack basic facilities like chairs, tables, books, potable water and toilets among others. In a region where children are still reluctant to go to school, education should be made attractive. It should not only be free but should be made compulsory and criminalised for parents who do not enroll their children in school. When the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II took oral polio vaccine in the public, the effect resonated throughout the north and this reassured the people that the vaccines were safe. This can also be replicated by involving traditional and religious leaders in the campaign for compulsory education. It is a shame that almost 55 years after independence; the north is still struggling to catch-up with the rest of the country in the area of education. Arabic education is a form of education and it is a misconception to assume that only those with western education are qualified to be regarded as literates. But combining Arabic education with western education is possible and it is ideal. The northern youths need reorientation on this. It is a welcome development that the northern governors told one another the truth that their region is synonymous with poverty and deprivation. However, they should go beyond the rhetoric of making mere political statements that will amount to nothing at the end of the day. A lot of traumatised children have been raised in the north in the past few years while many families have abandoned their homes particularly in the North-East in search of elusive peace on account of the insurgency and inter-tribal wars. It is expected that the governors will integrate such people back into the society. This generation of governors cannot afford to fail the north.
Much ado about N750 meter maintenance fees! TS from L ast weekend an article in The Guardian titled: ‘Fixed N750 Charge: Electricity Consumers Allege Rip-off By DISCOs’ caught my fancy because it had been an issue bothering me for quite awhile. Before reading the article I had actually been wondering for quite some time the rationale behind the collection of the so called meter ‘maintenance fee’ first by the now defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and now the offshoot distribution companies! Not too long ago I had a firsthand experience of how the fee has caused hardship for unsuspecting individuals, but let me share a snippet of the article before I tell of my own experience. According to The Guardian: “The Two Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs) in Lagos, the Ikeja and Eko Distribution Companies may have collected well over N21 billion from residents in Lagos in the last two years when they started collecting N750 from every home with electricity meters as fixed charge on power consumption. This amount is based on the assumption that each of the houses captured by Lagos State Geographic Information System, which put the total number of houses in the Lagos metropolis in 2011 as 1,194,525, are metered. “The figure of houses in Lagos, based on the figure from Lagos State, is in conflict with the figure from the DISCOs, which claimed to have 1, 118,000 customers in Lagos State, an indication that they have only collected N20.2bn fixed charge from consumers in the last two years.
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“While Ikeja DISCO admitted having 716,000 customers, the Eko DISCO said it has 402,000 customers. But other sources have disputed the figure, saying the houses in Lagos, even in 2011, cannot be less than three million, an indication that the DISCOs may have collected well over N54 billion as fixed charge from electricity consumers since their inception.” Of course it will be truly unNigerian for the claim not to be disputed and in response Chairman of the body overseeing the sector, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Sam Amadi while stressing that the fee was not illegal also insisted that it was a “standard industry practice across the globe.” However, this claim is a little skewed because my interaction with some Nigerians living abroad revealed that it is actually not “standard industry practice across the globe.” For instance when I put calls through to some Nigerians living in the United Kingdom and the United States I learnt that no such fees are paid. However, some provinces in Canada do collect a maintenance fee.
Incidentally, while it is understandable (at least from the point of the DISCOS) to want to generate a regular source of funds in order to recoup their investments, the situation also reveals the inconsistencies in government policies. When Professor Bart Nnaji, the mover behind government’s new road map for the power sector, became Minister of Power and Steel between 2011-2, I remember vividly him telling the nation that pre-paid meters would be provided across the nation with the populace expected to pay N500 for 18 months to cover the cost of the meter! So how comes, years later we are still paying ‘maintenance fees’ on meters, many which have never been maintained even once since being installed? True while the N750 levy might not seem too much on the part of the DISCOS, we shouldn’t forget that when the defunct PHCN first introduced pre-paid metres in the late 90s the charge was N100! It was Prof Nnaji who then moved it up to N500 before it was again jacked up a few years ago ostensibly at the behest of the new investors taking over the power
sector. Sadly it was this fee that left a sour impression a few weeks ago, following an occurrence involving an elderly man who had come to buy units for his meter. The incident, which took place at Magodo service centre in Lagos, saw the man hand over N6000 hoping to be given units corresponding to his money. Alas when he was handed his token he immediately noticed that the units did not correspond and demanded to know why? The service centre official asked to see the token and then pointed out to the elderly man that he had not paid any maintenance fee for three months which had been removed leaving him with only units worth N3750 instead of the N6000 worth he had budgeted for. The man, who was visibly downcast, muttered that he did not have any extra money on him to ensure he got N6000 worth of units and wondered loudly why he had to pay the fee every month! I’m sure this scenario will be playing out at other service points across the country with people being caught off guard. Sadly knowing the way we operate in this country it is highly unlikely that anything will be done towards getting the fee reduced talk much less of being completely scraped. But one must concede that at the end of the day should we enjoy very decent power supply; not many of us will really mind contributing an additional N750 to the cause – because at the end of the day, public power will always be much better than running generators!
Saturday, September 19, 2015