Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mr. President; SOS in IDPs Camps

Heartless people are stealing food items from the weak and vulnerable Internally Displaces Persons (IDPs) living with trauma of war in camps and camp-likes in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. President Muhammadu Buhari should, with full presidential might deal with individuals and organizations that are culpable of this inhumanity. Considering the fact that there are international aids agencies contributing to the funding of the supplies, it is a smear in the face of our nation and takes the level of corruption in the country to a new shameful height. 

Despite President Buhari’s genuine concern and efforts to cater for the IDPs, the conditions of Internally Displaces Persons (IDPs) in various camps and camp-likes in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa are not acceptable. These camps suffer from shortages of food- due to the alleged stealing of foods item by camp officials; unwanted pregnancies due to the taking advantage of helpless women and unhealthy conditions and inadequate health services.

A national daily of June 25, 2016 reported that ‘The Borno State government has introduced self cooking system for families in the camps after a committee it set up to tackle series of complaints bordering on corruption in the centralized feeding system failed to find a solution’. The report also indicated that ‘the Chairman of the State Emergency Management Agency, (SEMA), Engineer Ahmed Alhaji Satomi said the World Food Programme, (WFP), has even threatened that it will not contribute to the feeding of IDPs in the state until the central cooking system was discontinued and the self-cooking system where families will be cooking for themselves is introduced’.

The introduction of self-cooking is a good idea, but safety issues are of great concern because of the nature of the IDPs camps. Though, UNHCR Nigeria, Region Refugees Response Plan (RRRP January-December 2016) encourages self-reliance.

The government should also experiment a decentralized system of cooking for the IDPs, where contractors will be given the job of cooking for a certain number of people. For instance, if there are 5,000 IDPs in a camp. 10 0r 20 contractors can be engaged to cook for 500 or 250 people. However, the contractors should not be just ‘contractors’ (politicians or family and friends of those in authority) but well-established canteen or the popular Nigerian ‘mamaput’ operators. In each of these states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa with large IDPs, there are known women who are running successful local food cafeterias. These women can be organized and employed to serve as handlers of the cooking for certain number of IDPs in a camp. Furthermore, Kaduna and Osun states are running successful school feeding programmes. Their models can be copied.

The individuals from both federal and states government agencies currently handling the funding, supply and cooking of foods for the IDPs should be replaced- this measure will give IDPs the assurance that something new is being put in place. There is a need for refined systems, which separate those handling fund, those handling the food, cooking as well as those monitoring the feeding system.

The corruption in the IDPs camps has brought to the fore the need for the consolidation and hastening of the activities of various committees and agencies for quick rehabilitation and return of IDPs to their homes.

The majority of the people in the northeast have confidence in President Buhari’s political will to completely win the war against Boko Haram, and they are very happy with the level of successes recorded by the military so far. The people of the northeast are experiencing the difference between the sloppy handling of the war and the doggedness and commitment being shown by the Buhari government. But corruption by officials in the camps might set the IDPs in the northeast against President Muhammadu Buhari.

Zayyad I. Muhammad, Jimeta, Adamawa State, zaymohd@yahoo.com, 08036070980

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Unpaid Salaries: What Governors Should Do

Despite the bailout fund from the federal government, many states in Nigeria still struggle to pay their workers’ salaries; some do not even pay. The dwindling federal allocation; poor innovation on internally generated revenue (IGR); bloated workforce and fraud-riddled workers' payroll are the main reasons behind the inability of many states to promptly settle their workers’ salaries. 

This is a critical situation that requires critical measures. Governors have to look at ways to generate revenue other than over-depending on the declining federal allocation. We must admit that many states do not have flourishing economic activities that are profitable and easy to tax without upsetting common people.

One trend in most states is, once IGR is mentioned, most states cast their mind to their old method of taxation - but our tax system in Nigeria has history of corruption and inefficiency, thus most Nigerians are sceptical of their states’ taxes and levies administration. States can generate new revenues and wealth through levies and taxations, but states need to move away from the ‘rocket-science’ approach to tax collection.

States should introduce a modified system of awarding ‘tax collection rights’ to investment firms. This should be modeled according to each state’s economy, culture, needs and environment - a state can enter into agreement with a firm to give government monies in advance for taxes from a certain sector, while the firm will collect the money by operating as a tax agent- the famous tax auction. For example, if it is projected that revenues from taxis, buses and lorry services in a certain local council can generate one million naira a month. An innovative investment firm will agree to give a state government, let say 800,000 naira in advance. Then the firm will collect taxes for taxis, buses and lorry services in the local council for that particular month. This type of arrangement can be implemented in many sectors of the economy of a state using what operations researchers call reductionistic approach- monthly, quarterly on yearly basis. A good investment firm will make the tax collection efficient and fair- by reaching agreement with tax payers on how to pay and enjoy incentives too. This type of arrangement can assist states to have tax efficiency and tax fairness- government will relieve itself from the burden of tax collection, it will have the needed revenues in advance ( could be up to 10 years advance payment) to help states temporarily relief themselves the burden of unpaid salaries.

Apart from innovation in taxes, states and even the federal government can look into leveraging from the assets they have. In many states, there are thousands of unserviceable vehicles, farm implements and many types of electrical equipment. Governments can make money by auctioning such items. Furthermore, many states have abandoned building- completed and uncompleted, fenced and unfenced plots of land. These assets are commercially viable. They can be leased or sold. Funds can be generated from the arrangement. In addition, the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) should discuss with regulatory agencies, CBN, quoted companies and pension fund administrators on how government can utilize unclaimed dividends, pension fund and CBN’s many intervention funds.

For States and LGA chapters of Labour unions, this situation calls for their creativity and sacrifice- the union and states governments should sit and design a model on how each worker will get at least, some parts of their salaries every month- critical situation requires critical measures. Instead of no pay every month, government and labour unions should design a formula on how each worker will get something from the meager funds available. Something is better than nothing, even if it is half salary. 

With the current hard situation many workers are facing, questions are being asked about the monthly dues workers pay? If these monies were being invested; then this is the right time for the labour unions to make use of the profit being generated to assist their members. But if the monies were not invested- a big lesson has been learnt.

Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State, zaymohd@yahoo.com, 08036070980.