(An Extract from Presidential Charge by the Rt Revd. Dr. James Olusola Odedeji delivered at the 3rd Session of 8th Synod of the Diocese of Lagos West (Anglican Communion) on Friday May 19 2023 at Archbishop Vining Memorial ChurchCathedral, GRA, Ikeja)
Between our last Synod and now, a lot of significant events have occurred in our Nation. These events had affected virtually every sector of Nigerian State. But for God and the prayers of the Elect, the ship of our Nation would have capsized, particularly within the last seven months. Evidences abound that the government of the day nearly lost grip of governance. Nothing seems to be working within the economy, to the extent that the populace almost lost confidence in our leadership. There was serious hardship, particularly among the average and low income earners, all as a result of economic miscalculation cum policy summersault. From the North, to the South, and the East to the West, people no longer have confidence in the ability of the leadership to find a suitable solution to multi – dimensional problems confronting us as a Nation. However, the government policy makers kept consoling themselves of having tried their best, though people were seeing their best as not enough, because life has become unbearable to majority of Nigerians.
Suffice it to say that as from the time of general protest of 20th October, 2020, tagged “End SARS”, the centre has refused to hold. Some of our teeming youths, who participated in the protest, had been looking for a way to hit back at our leadership. No wonder the sudden surge in the number of youth participation in the current democratic process. The statistics had it that about 65% of Nigerian voters today are youths. What a political power to determine the direction of governance in the country. Let us therefore examine the implications of the aforementioned on various sectors of the Nation:
The economy of any Nation always stands on both fiscal and monetary policies to determine its welfare. We talk of healthy economy when the two instruments of economic measure are well applied to the benefit of the people. On the other hand, we experience an unhealthy situation when badly applied. The Executive arm of Government handles the fiscal policy through its various tax regimes, mineral resources, budget planning and execution etc. The Central Bank of Nigeria anchors monetary policies through its control of currency in circulation, minting and management of local currencies, supervision of the banking industry, to mention just a few. The last seven months therefore witnessed severe deficiency in both fiscal and monetary policies, thereby causing untold hardship on the entire populace.
Our main mineral resource, crude oil, has continued to be a curse rather than blessing to us. We are a major producer of crude oil, yet we import refined products, in form of Premium Motor Spirit (called petrol), Diesel etc. This was because we found it difficult to maintain our refineries. To meet up with the demand for petrol (or PMS) by the people at a moderate price, the government had to make provision for subsidy on yearly basis, running to Trillions of Naira, or better still, Billions of United States Dollars. This singular act has caused our Nation some fortune that could have been used on infrastructural developments, creating industrial parks, where our teeming unemployed youths can be absorbed upon graduation from schools. The inability of successive governments to maintain this huge subsidy payments, often leads to scarcity of the products and incessant increase in the price of the product per liter. The last five to six months had witnessed scarcity of the product with its attendant hardship on consumers, the populace. This has directly or indirectly affected the prices of commodities in the market, thereby pushing inflation rate upward to 22.04% as at March 2023.
As if that was not enough, Central Bank of Nigeria announced the redesigning of three major denominations of the local currency with a caveat that the old notes would cease from being a legal tender, within three months!. With the time limit in mind, the various groups in the economy started depositing their old notes to various Money Deposit Banks with the hope of getting new notes in exchange for the old currencies. Their hopes were dashed; at the end of the day what was experienced was Cash Crunch. You have your money in the bank but unable to withdraw it. There was no money to feed or attend to other things. There was a high rate of inflation in the commodity markets. The scarcity of PMS made supply of goods to reduce considerably in the market, while the few goods in the market were commanding high prices. To make the matter worse, about 70% of the populace is not knowledgeable enough to carry out their businesses through electronic cash transfer, thereby aiding a cashless economy, which was originally the reason for redesigning the currencies. It was an excruciating experience. However, the effect of these policies was felt by both the high and the low in the society. Although all animals are equal but some are more equal than the others. There was a palpable hunger in the land. There were various shades of opinion on these major policies and the effect on the populace.
Some State Governors went to the Supreme Court seeking redress to mandate the Central Bank of Nigeria, to allow the old and the new currency notes to co – exist for a longer time as against the December 10, 2022 deadline, for the old notes to remain legal tender. The Supreme Court of the land had to step in, delivering a landmark judgment on 2nd March, 2023. The verdict was for the old notes and the new ones to continue to be legal tender till 31st December, 2023. Even with the relief granted, people continued to suffer the cash crunch. Commercial Banks were not supplied enough currency notes to pay their customers. In our opinion therefore, our Policy Makers must endeavor to always consider the implications of their policies on the populace, as laws are made for man, and not man for the law.
The insecurity in Nigeria is multi-dimensional - from terrorism in the North East and North Central, to banditry in the North West, secessionist agenda in the South East, and self determination struggle in the South West, as well as kidnapping for ransom or rituals in virtually all the regions of the Country. The South – South is also known for oil bunkering using the unknown gun men (UGM) as facilitators. With the insecurity spanning all the zones of the Country, research has shown they all have some political or religious undertone. This undertone makes it difficult to curb the menace. Those in the forests are serving the interest of those in the cities. Often times, it was alleged that people in the corridors of power are the sponsors of the evil practices. It has become a network of interests, with sponsors from all over the globe. Evidences abound that Choppers are being used to deliver ammunitions to these terrorists and bandits in the forests. When there was serious cash crunch, when many could not access their monies in the banks, especially new notes of N1000, N500 and N200 denominations, bandits were boasting of having been supplied with ten million new Naira notes, and the video recording went on social media for the world to see.
As if that was not enough, our Nation s boarders are so porous to the extent that all outlawed goods, inclusive of drugs and ammunitions are being escorted across our boarders by members of our various Security Agencies. Part of our subsidized PMS being imported into the country still escapes through our boarders to our neighboring countries. If we may ask, who are behind all of these evils? Due to this same porosity of our boarders, our country has become a dumping ground for all sorts of goods, ranging from automobiles to agricultural products. Ours is a country where everything goes. Value has been lost to the extent that teenagers do kill their fellow human beings for rituals in order to make money. Many are even getting to the point of having to kill their parents, wives, children and their siblings as long as they will get rich quickly. Many hardened criminals are usually between the ages of 17 and 35 years. Morals have been removed from our Schools’ Curriculum. Teachers can no more discipline their students as they ought to have done. Secondary school students, if not primary school pupils, now live on drugs. Careless parents have pushed their Wards and Children into the world of crime unknowingly. Only recently, a whole family was wiped out of existence on returning from Crossover night service in one of the South Western major towns, by the family driver, who employed his colleagues in crime to commit the atrocity. Under interrogation, the young man confessed to the crime and gave his reason. He asked for help from his boss and the wife, but his request was turned down. He also solicited for an increase in his salary, but it was not granted. However, the mother of the accused driver, who was also arrested with the son, insisted that her son was with her all through the night in question, thereby providing a cover for her son.
This is a society where criminals would be wrecking havoc, and the law enforcement Agents would be looking the other way. They cannot be absolutely blamed. When last was their meager salary paid? They attend to distress calls when something will come out as benefits to them!
Our policing system must be overhauled. The welfare of our law enforcement Agents must be given the required government attention. Various Commissions overseeing the welfare of these agencies must be properly funded and constantly monitored, with the right laws made to ensure the generated funds are judiciously used for the right purpose.
We are also of the opinion that a strong Commission should be set up to check the excesses of our religious organizations. Many are hiding under the freedom of religion to perpetrate all sorts of atrocities, including the use of hate speech, incitement of their members, and acting as covers for their criminal members. However, such a Commission must be extensively discussed by representative of various religious organizations before being passed into law by our law makers and eventual assent by the President.
The truth must be told about the State of Nigerian Education sector. Not until the leadership deficiency of our Nation is addressed, success in this very important sector will continue to be elusive. Suffice it to say that only about 15% – 20% of our children have access to quality education. Only recently, a Standard Six graduate of old, an old man, came out to say that the examination papers they wrote then, could hardly be answered by our University undergraduates of today. This is telling us that the standard has really gone down or not there at all. The very few that can boast of having acquired quality education, may probably have come from privileged homes who could afford the cost of sending their children abroad to study, or to some of these well structured private schools with the attendant costs. This is a country where University Lecturers were allowed to go on strike for more than eight months! We play politics with virtually everything to the extent that in the course of the last ASSU strike, another Union was sponsored and registered by the Federal Ministry of Labor, all in the bid to frustrate the core Union to surrender and drop their agitations. A visit to some of our University campuses these days will reveal a lot of deficiencies in our education system. The olden day tutorials, research, quality thesis etc, have all given way to plagiarism, as well as what is now tagged copy and paste, even in an examination hall. Many of our Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education products cannot defend their Certificates.
Graduates of English Language cannot speak a simple sentence correctly, let alone writing it out. The Old Secondary schools’ Literary and Debating Society competitions are no more in operation. The Education Inspectors are no more functioning as of old. Indiscipline among the teachers is on the increase, let alone among their students. In our opinion, teachers must be put on their toes by setting standards for schools, of which failure to meet, should attract severe sanctions.
However, their welfare must also be taken care of to avoid complaints. As regards our tertiary institutions, a high powered Visitation panel ought to be set up to visit all our higher Institutions of learning, with a view to assessing the state of learning facilities in them. When their reports are turned in, their recommendations must be properly studied and worked on. If the government alone cannot finance our education system, private organizations may be brought in to salvage the rot. Government may also think in the direction of education tax to generate enough funds to address the deficiencies. Also the welfare of various categories of workers, both academic and non academic, must be given adequate attention, to check brain drain.
Health, they say, is wealth. A healthy Nation is a wealthy Nation. It has been discovered from a recent research that majority of Nigerians, are battling with one form of ailment or the other, especially cancerous in nature and mostly terminal. The same research has identified a major cause, bordering on the food we eat, as well as various forms of drinks. One major defect in our health system is absence of effective sensitization, where people could be assisted on what to do to live a healthy life. Our health workers only wait until we fall sick and brought to various hospitals, as well as health centers. Prevention, they say, is better than cure. We are of the opinion that more attention should be given to various enlightenment campaigns. We also want to plead with our various governments at Federal, State and even Local levels to consider some categories of people as highly qualified for free health. This is necessary as very many had died untimely, only because they were not buoyant enough to pay their hospital bills.
Also of importance is the need for our Drug Regulatory bodies to rise up to the occasion, to wage total war against fake drugs and drug abuse, which had sent many people to their untimely graves. Many have found themselves in pharmaceutical professions today, not because they have passion for the profession but to make money, not minding what their motive could cause the innocent buyers of their drugs.
We want to believe also that it is high time our yearly health budgets be such that would take care of the needs of our health facilities, both at Federal and State levels. The fact that majority of those in the corridors of power can afford going overseas for mere medical check-ups, has not really helped their consideration to fund our hospitals well. Our frontline teaching hospitals can be funded through public private collaborations for effective health delivery.
The good news about power generation and distribution in Nigeria today has been the removal of power from the Executive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List in the recently assented Constitutional Reform Bill into law. This bill which has become a law with the President s assent, has given the States within the Nigerian state the power to generate and distribute their own power without any recourse to the Federal Government. This has put paid to the issue of having to depend on the government at the centre for power needs. We are of the opinion therefore, that the problem of epileptic power supply, particularly in the states with high demand for power like Lagos, may soon become a thing of the past. No Nation can develop without adequate power for use by various industries. Our opinion therefore, is that the new law will attract more investors from both far and near to States with high potential to generate their power.
(vi) CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
Just within the last four months of the current government to complete its second and final tenure, the outgoing President, General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd), signed some Constitutional Review Bills into law. There were 35 of such amendments from the 9th National Assembly for his assent, but only Seventeen (17) of them were assented to, and thereby became law in Nigeria. For the better part of this government, people from different regions of the Country have continued to oppose some provisions of the 1999 Constitution which we have operated now for close to two and half decades of the Forth Republic. However, the setting up of a Constitution Reform Committee by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in 2014 failed to achieve its purpose. The Government was unable to implement the Reports as at the time the new government took over in 2015. As laudable as the idea of forming the Committee was, some power brokers were not interested in the implementation, despite highly eminent personalities in all areas of endeavor that made up the membership of the Committee. The alternative therefore, was for the 8th National Assembly to propose Constitutional Amendment Bill back in 2015. This was transferred to the 9th National Assembly in 2019 before 35 amendments were eventually passed and only 17 assented to and hence became law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Highlights from the assented ones included removal of Power and Railway from Exclusive Legislative list to Concurrent list; financial autonomy for the States Assembly and States’ Judiciary, as well as some boundary adjustment and related matters. Notable ones that the President refused to assent to are the power of the National Assembly and States’ Assembly to be able to summon the sitting President or Governor to the Houses for the purpose of enquiry. Others include the one directing the policy of government towards ensuring Rights to Food and Food Security in Nigeria, to mention but a few.
Our opinion at this juncture therefore, is to go back to the Report of 2014, comprehensively prepared, to solve our incessant problems of concentrating most powers at the centre. Not until Federalism is in place can we get to our destination because Unitary Government, as presently structured, will lead us to nowhere.
(vii) 2023 ELECTIONS
It is indeed a settled fact that of all the elections we had so far since 1999, 2023 will go down in history as a unique one in all ramifications. We started with two major political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Alliance for Democracy. While the presidential candidate of PDP was Retired General Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Olu Falae flew the banner of AD. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo won the election in 1999. By 2003, it was won by the same candidate for a second term. By 2007, the Late Alhaji Musa Yar’adua won under the same Peoples’ Democratic Party. The tenure was short-lived, as the President died while in office. President Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan became the President and served out the tenure of his principal. The same man won on the platform of the same ruling party in 2011.
However, before the tenure of that government came to an end in 2015, some parties that were formerly regional in outlook, such as ACN, ANPP, CPC and Renewed PDP (a faction of the ruling party), came together to form All Progressive Congress, the party that eventually won the presidency in 2015 with Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.) becoming the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This was a clear departure from what it used to be.
Ever since the election of 2015, fair competition had set in, and in 2019, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.) won his second term in the office. Suffice it to say that, the slogan of APC since inception has been “Change”. However, considering all yardsticks to measure change, the people seemed not to have experienced any significant change and hence more awareness from the younger generation to take active part in politics, rather than sitting on the fence as before. More so, there seemed to be more challenges confronting the country when compared with when the change slogan first came. Things like insecurity, police brutality, unemployment, feasible decay in our educational system, to mention just a few had become the order of the day. The youths were becoming restless, and many had to look for alternative means of survival. Many considered travelling out of the country, otherwise tagged “JAPA Syndrome” all in search of a greener pasture. Many other ones who could not travel were looking for any means possible to air their views and record their anger towards the ruling class. 2023 general election afforded our teeming youths the opportunity to participate actively in politics. This they did with their massive registration for their Permanent Voters Card (PVC).
In the course of selecting their flag bearers for various political offices, the PDP and APC as usual, were the main dominant political parties. However, there was a disagreement within one of the parties as to zoning of the Presidential Candidate between the North and the South. This led to the emergence of the third force, Labour Party, led by Mr. Peter Gregory Obi, a former PDP strong member.
His emergence appealed to the sensibility of Nigerian youths, being the youngest in age among the top contenders, and with an appealing antecedent, as a former governor of Anambra state of Nigeria. The new party became the talk of the town. Youths in their numbers mobilized to work for the new party. Not only that the Independent National Electoral Commission promised an electronic voting in the course of the year s election, the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) was an encourager to our youths with their vast knowledge of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The Labor Party soon became a party of most members of the youths on all social media platforms. The party soon became a tsunami of sort, on the political landscape of Nigeria. The electoral body later fixed the dates for elections for February 25th and March 8th, 2023, with so much zeal in our youths to influence the election, as it was not going to be the same business as usual. The two old parties underrated the third force. It was the most grievous mistake they made, as the unimaginable happened when the results were announced. The Labor Party won in many states unexpectedly, even in the states of major political actors. In our opinion, the resultant effect of the outcome of this election may take a long time to be forgotten by our political actors, who had had the thought that votes may not count in any election. One major lesson to learn from 2023 general election is for our Politicians, never again, to take Nigerian Voters for a ride. And also to ensure that they deliver on their electoral promises.
The year 2023 seems to be a year when the biggest legal battle will surface since our democratic governance commenced. The three leading candidates in the year s Presidential Election claimed to have won the election. However, only one was declared President – Elect. All attention now focus on the battle of our legal titans to argue the authentic winner of our election - either the one that was issued a Certificate of Return and declared the President –Elect, or any other. Altogether, the three leading candidates had assembled some of our finest legal luminaries, mostly Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs). And so all attention is now focused on our Judiciary, as the arbiter in all of the accusations and counter accusations, by our political players. Needless to say that it is going to be an interesting scene, and probably a decision to behold. We all keep our fingers crossed.
However, we want to appeal to all our Judicial Officers, to shun every appearance of unnecessary influence from our Political Class, but to discharge their duties as they are accountable not only to man, but to God. Good judgment must not be seen as a product for the highest bidder rather, our Courts must continue to be the last hope of the common man. We therefore pray for the wisdom like that of Solomon for all our Justices that would be involved from the beginning to the end, to be fair to all parties involved. All Nigerians are looking forward for an amicable resolution of all the logjams. May God help our Nation in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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