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plasticI recently stumbled on a report which said that by 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the world’s oceans. This prediction was by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and was launched at the World Economic Forum earlier in the year.

Essentially, the report says that if we keep producing (and failing to properly dispose of) plastics at predicted rates, plastics in the ocean will outweigh fish pound for pound in 2050. Plastic production, the report says, has increased since 1964, reaching 311 tonnes in 2014. It is expected to double again in the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050.

Despite the growing demand, humans do a terrible job of making sure those products are reused or otherwise disposed of. About a third of all plastics produced escape collection systems, only to wind up floating in the sea or the stomach of some unsuspecting bird. That amounts to about 8 million metric tonnes a year. Just 5% are recycled effectively while 40% end up in landfill and a third in fragile ecosystems such as the world’s oceans.

The veracity of the claim especially the very worrying figures stated, has been questioned; like in this article in the BBC which raised two questions: how do you measure the plastic, and how do you count the fish? While the claims might be far reaching or the premise from which it was made faulty, there is no denying the fact that the problem exists. We do know that plastic, once added to the ocean, does not decay for decades, possibly centuries. Disposing them is thus a real challenge. Indeed there is a waste disposal problem globally and in Nigeria, this challenge is even more pronounced.

The report of the study serious implications for both governments and businesses especially in these parts where recycling is nearly negligible. When the rest of the world is talking sustainability and climate change, we in these parts make like we cannot be bothered, like the planet being talked about is different from the one we live in. One would say we have more pressing and immediate issues of putting ‘food on the table’ to be too bothered about things that concern preserving the environment. The truth is that we might soon have no way of putting that food on the table because our environment has become none existent following years of neglect.

Waste disposal in Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city is a nightmare and this is despite the best efforts of the state government in this regard. High population density means overtly high waste production and a critical part of urban waste are non-degradable materials such as plastic bottles. Stop for a moment and ponder where all the pet bottles and other drinks you consume end up. We just keep shopping, refilling the refrigerator, drinking, quenching our thirst in traffic and tossing the bottles away. They mostly end up in water bodies and constitute a huge threat to aquatic life and our future wellbeing. We need to begin to take note and react appropriately.

One part of the solution is to rethink the way goods are packaged. Can we effectively cut the demand for plastic? Are there alternatives? Water-soluble film, for example, can be used to wrap small items. Can we begin to phase out Hard-to-recycle plastics such as PVC and expandable polystyrene?

Manufacturers could redesign plastic items so they can be reused better, and rethink their production methods to make recycling easier. More products could be made out of plastics which can be composted on an industrial scale, including rubbish bags for organic waste and food packaging for outdoor events, canteens and fast food outlets.

We need to radically increase the economics, quality and uptake of recycling. In addition, the report prescribes that we scale up the adoption of reusable packaging and do what we must to drastically reduce the leakage of plastics into natural systems and other negative externalities.  This will generally require joint efforts along three axes: improving after-use infrastructure in high-leakage countries, increasing the economic attractiveness of keeping materials in the system and reducing the negative impact of plastic packaging when it does escape collection and reprocessing systems.

Nice sounding recommendations but really, who will effect this? What agency of government in Nigeria should bear responsibility for this? Do we have the laws to regulate such matters? Do we even consider it important? What does sustainability mean to our government? Is there a policy around it? If there is one, how well communicated is it? Is this not the kind of issue our national assembly should bug itself about rather than their endless squabble over nonissues?

The environment matters and its future sustainability is critical to our continued survival. We cannot continue to act less concerned about topics such as this, especially when it is at the front burner of public discourse in other climes. Monthly Saturday sanitations cannot be all we can offer. It is high time we began to take this matter more seriously and do what is necessary to maintain the balance in our environment.

@nzesylva

First published Here on Tue August 16, 2016

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It will appear that the Federal Government has finally woken up to the fact that we are in a recession and that it needs help. This view is informed by the fact that last week it was reported that the Economic Management Team (EMT) held a consultative forum with a team of notable economic and financial experts including Mr Bismarck Rewane, Mr Bode Augusto, Prof Akpan Ekpo, Dr Ayo Teriba and Prof Badayi Sani. This meeting on the economy was presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

At the parley, which lasted for four hours at the Presidential Villa, according to the report, strategies and suggestions on how best to reflate the economy, bring it out of recession and promptly restore growth topped the agenda. The Vice President also expressed the President’s determination to continuously consider and adopt policies that would boost business, increase employment and provide succour to the poor and disadvantaged at the forum.

This move is not just too little too late, it also does not look like a strategy that will rescue this economy.

This government, as has been pointed out by various commentators, was going to face challenges but the extent the economy has depreciated under its watch is such that it must take full responsibility for. Much of this has to do with complete inaction and time wastage. The economy is ailing today partly because it took forever to appoint a cabinet. For many months the country drifted like a rudderless ship. Then there was the drama around the budget and while that lasted, things went from bad to worse.

For over a year into its tenure, monetary policy was (and is still largely) subject to the emotions and feelings of Mr President. The uncertainty in the foreign exchange market was so much that even the most patriotic zest couldn’t save the naira from a free fall. Economists and those who should know, from both within and outside the country, screamed that the government should float or devalue, but the government continued to foot drag, chasing shadows and hoping perhaps for a miracle.

When we did finally float the Naira, it soon emerged that the CBN was still manipulating things, pegging the Naira at an unrealistic rate against the dollar. We lost valuable time again. While we had our head buried in sand, time went by and with it, investor confidence.

There was the issue of removal of fuel subsidy which some elements in the government had argued. while still in the opposition, did not exist. It was the hope of most people that given the current realities and the corruption associated with the subsidy regime, the new government would soon after inauguration fully deregulate the downstream sector. But no. They marked time, allowing the country to almost grind to a halt with many months of fuel scarcity, the type not experienced in recent memory, before it took the decision. Those months of inertia did an incalculable damage to the economy.

And while all these time was being wasted and uncertainty drove away investors and the economy took a nose dive, with GDP entering negative realms and inflation achieving record heights, everyone wondered when the President will appoint an economic team. It was shocking (and still is) that a President who had up to five persons managing communication and his image did not have an Economic Adviser. Nobody can essentially define what the economic direction was. It was muted in some quarter that the vice president was leading the economic team (whose members nobody was sure of), but then the vice president is a lawyer, not an economist and cannot be said to be a competent hand to manage an economy in recession, no matter how well-read he is.

All the while, economists offered their opinion from the sidelines and on all media. But the government went on like they knew it all and could not be bothered. Now that we have literarily sank to the bottom, the government now seeks the opinion of experts, the same people it had ignored all this while. About time, you may say with some relief. Unfortunately, few hours of power point slide presentations by these experts, no matter how well intentioned, cannot change the economy or get us out of recession. Those sessions might as well be akin to turning and turning in a widening gyre…ideas flying all about but no consensus on any. After the four hours of intellectual masturbation, the invited economists, (who might even hold varying opinions on the way forward) will close their laptops and go back to their businesses and normal lives. Pray tell, what happens next.

After the four hours of intellectual masturbation, the invited economists, (who might even hold varying opinions on the way forward) will close their laptops and go back to their businesses and normal lives. Pray tell, what happens next?

This impromptu approach does not ‘epp’ anyone. What this economy needs is a team of seasoned professional in diverse fields related to the economy, paying full-time attention on the economy, monitoring the indices daily, making adjustments, engaging other stakeholders, and advising the president on key policy decisions. It requires an agreement (by the government at least) on a clear cut strategy which will be dedicatedly implemented daily and outcomes monitored. We need a number of pragmatic decisions that make economic sense taken to force start the engine of the economy and see us ride out this storm not the flip-flops of the last several months. Few hours of power point presentations by economists I am afraid does not look like the solution.

Food in Africa

We live in a rapidly changing world with megatrends that are leading to significant disruptions in the commercial and political landscape. Africa is not isolated from this. Indeed, Africa and the rest of the planet currently referred to as ‘emerging economies’ appears to be the epicentre of these changes. The continent has a growth potential and demographic edge over the rest of the world and is (or is expected to be) the converging point following the ongoing shift in global economic power.

A number of megatrends that are critical to current and future growths in Africa has been identified. These trends (five of which will be discussed in this piece) are critical because they have a major influence on the economic and commercial landscape over the next decade; permeate across all sectors of the economy and society; and fundamentally disrupt our lifestyle and the way we do business. In other words, these trends will change the way we work, travel and the way businesses and governments operate. It is thus important that we begin to think critically about them, especially what their implications are and begin to shape the future of our country and the continent accordingly.

Africa has a larger, younger and more affluent population. By 2050, the continent is expected to account for nearly 24% of the global population. Together with India, the continent represents the two major global population growth areas. Furthermore, by 2020, more than 50% of households in Africa will be middle class. What are the implications of this on education and health for example? Data from UNESCO indicates that Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) represents close to one-half the global lower secondary education shortage (46%). SSA will need an extra 1.6 million teachers by 2015, and 2.5 million by 2030. Similarly, the 2013-2014 Global Competitiveness Reports states that SSA continues to underperform in providing health and basic education. Nigeria ranks 140 of 140 nations in the 2015-2016 report for Health and primary education. What is government’s response to this?

The second megatrend is Africa’s transformational Urban Swell. From a current rate of 38%, urbanisation level in Africa are expected to increase to 50% in 2030 and by 2050, two in three Africans will be urbanised. One of the implications of this is that pressure on food supply will continue to increase. Likewise housing and other infrastructure. There are even possible health implications. Urbanisation and the reduction of physical activities will likely result in widespread obesity with undernourishment and over nutrition co-existing in some instances. This population need to buy products, go to school, move around, how are our policymakers planning for this?

Africa is also a fertile ground for technological advancement. New solutions have changed banking, social engagement, education, entertainment, agriculture and will continue to do so with increased broadband penetration and advancements in mobile technology. With a younger population expected in the next decade, how are governments preparing to bring these impact to bear in key sectors such as education? For example, how are we remodelling our curriculum to be in tune with this reality and what are the policies in place to transit from the current system to a more digital and mobile way of learning for our children in school?

Resource Scarcity, a global challenge, will also be impacting the continent. Africa we know is endowed with an abundance of untapped resources. 60% of the world’s total amount of uncultivated, arable land is in Africa. What are the implications for food security on the continent? In addition, Africa has majority reserves of platinum, chromite ore, phosphate rock and cobalt among others. This is in addition to large reserves of oil and gas. Globally by 2030, the demand for energy will increase by 50%. What is the implication of this on the exploitation of the energy resources on the continent and the flow of FDIs?

Africa’s deepening financial services sector is another megatrend that will shape the future of the continent. According to the World Bank’s Global Financial Inclusion Database, approximately 2.5 billion people do not have a formal account at a financial institution. As a result, most poor households operate almost entirely in the cash economy, particularly in the developing world. Mobile money, FinTech and other non-typical banking models are critical to closing this gaps.

In considering how we can prepare for the future, we must acknowledge that Africa is complex and diverse. There are few generalisations that hold true on the continent as the countries are profoundly different from each other economically, geographically and historically. In essence, there is no one size fits all model.  But there are general lessons we have learnt from developed economies which can serve as guidance for African countries. Typically these economies have gone through a process of economic diversification, have witnessed the spread of new technologies, ensured the expansion of the manufacturing and service sector and championed the development of a skilled workforce.

To achieve this in Africa, there has to be greater collaboration between the government and the private sector. Three fundamental shifts in the relationship between government and business is needed viz; (1) From a belief of ‘public good, private bad’ to an appreciation of the best of both; (2) From forced cooperation to mutual collaboration and; (3) From distrust to mutual recognition of responsibilities on both sides.

Governments should create a business-friendly environment by improving their countries infrastructure, create skilled a workforce, ensure financial sector stability and access to affordable capital while also creating jobs for young people. In addition, Africa’s resources must be sustainably managed for the benefit of Africans. The plundering of Africa’s resources has to cease.

The twin deficits in infrastructure and inclusive finance must be addressed. Regional co-operation on energy and transportation is vital in order to achieve economies of scale in infrastructure projects. Governments can also support the development of mobile banking and e-commerce to overcome financial inclusion building on successes such as M-PESA in Kenya. Free movement on the continent should also be actualized. Its hope the recent launch of the Africa passport will bring this dream to reality.

Both Government and the private sector must work together to invest in agriculture. Governments should act on their pledge to spend 10% of annual budgets on agriculture. Businesses on the continent must also focus on building the right organisation, reducing cost and inefficiencies. They must educate and train their people and invest in technology thus positioning their companies and the continent for higher agility and sustainable growth.

@nzesylva

First published here on July 28, 2016

GbajaMajority leader of the House of Representatives Hon Femi Gbajabiamila was on a roll last week presenting two bills around the issue of (un)employment and how we could perhaps, legislate our way out of our current quagmire. This effort would have been reassuring – our honourable members finally doing something that is not about their pockets, only that the details of the effort leaves one underwhelmed and points to an unfortunate conclusion; No work done.

The first was “A bill for an act to prohibit late payment, non-payment and underpayment of workers’ wages, pension and other related emolument in Nigeria, and prescribe penalties for violations and for other matters connected thereto” Essentially, the bill was to criminalise owing salaries/pensions in Nigeria by employers in both the public and private sectors. It is the sort of bill that would easily make one shout halleluyah especially if you’ve been owed. I have been, for several months at once actually and we (me and my colleagues back then) kept turning up for work every day, hoping things would be better. They never did.

While it was a traumatic experience, it was not lost on any of us that it was not the case of the employer not wanting to pay, they simply didn’t have the money to. Indeed at the point, they was struggling to remain afloat. Such is the reality of running a business in Nigeria. It’s even worse at this time. From registering the business all through to running operations, multiple taxes and levies, over regulation, inability to access finance, etc, entrepreneurs here go through hell. Little wonder Nigeria languishes at the bottom of the list in the Ease of Doing Business index. You find at times that very well meaning employers declare redundancies or owe many months as they battle to navigate this rocky path.

It is counterproductive therefore to subject such businesses (or their owners) to fines or other punishments for delays in payment which can literarily take them out of business, make all their staff lose their jobs, increase unemployment, deny government revenue from taxes and add to the mountain-high number of failed businesses. On the other hand, the bill also covered the public sector. One wonders, especially given the prevailing circumstance where virtually all the states owe multiple months and even the federal government workers pay is delayed, who will be held responsible and how will the law be so enforced?

Clearly this bill was not well thought through and was graciously stepped down in the House with the sponsor promising to rework and represent it. While he is at it, let me advice that it would be easier and more productive for Mr. Gbajabiamila and his colleagues to focus on laws to make the economy better, to promote and finance MSMEs, to improve the ease of doing business, to protect local businesses , to make it profitable to own a business and employ people in Nigeria. Then and only then, can there be any justification for criminalising non-payment or delays in paying salaries. Charity as they say should begin at home.

Gbajabiamila’s second bill which sought tougher measures to restrict the employment of foreign nationals by firms or organisations in the country, did not suffer the same fate in the House. It passed through second reading and seems well on its way to become law, if reason does not prevail.  Titled “A bill to ‘restrict’ the issuance of work permits to foreigners by the Federal Government”, it is being promoted as the House’s response to addressing the growing unemployment in the country. Essentially Hon Gbajabiamila and his colleagues are saying foreigners are taking all the jobs and that is why Nigerians are unemployed. Now is this not just lazy thinking, it is laughable.

Reading their argument, one would think this was some kind of Nigerian version of the Brexit where huge immigration from the EU, which was putting pressure on jobs, social services and the wellbeing of British citizens informed the decision of many to vote to leave the EU. You would think, Nigeria was some awesome place to live and work and foreigners were falling over each other to come and scramble for our work permit.

Just in case the lawmakers are not aware, your own citizens are running away, some taking the dangerous route through the desert to Europe, others hiding away in containers, and yet some more willingly being trafficked, in search of a better life somewhere else. Foreigners working in Nigeria are not responsible for this. Irresponsible leadership is. The foreigners certainly do not enjoy being here either.  Even among diplomats, being posted to Nigeria is seen as some kind of punishment. But that’s not even the meat of the matter. The question is, how many foreigners indeed are in Nigeria? What is the nature of the jobs they do here? Do we really have Nigerians that can fill such roles and deliver? What in real terms is the impact of expats on unemployment in Nigeria?

Nigeria, we must be sincere, needs help and cannot do without expatriates. Indeed which country can? But we are even more disadvantaged. I mean we had to get welders for the new Lekki Bridge from abroad because of the skills deficiency. The best masons in Lagos are from Benin Republic and Togo. We should be opening ourselves more to the world not being protective of ‘nothing’ and closing ourselves in with laws that make no sense. Hon Gbajabiamila and other lawmakers should be insisting on things like knowledge and skills transfer, ensuring that companies make it a policy that expats must train locals on the job in a well-structured programme. They should also be passing laws to turn around our education sector, to make our universities centers of excellence in learning with up to date libraries, laboratories and teachers, to fund research and innovation, to help this nation produce professionals with the expertise to fill the roles currently filled by foreigners; especially in the area of skills acquisition.

And for the causes of unemployment in Nigeria, Hon Gbajabiamila should please look somewhere else. Like somebody said in reaction to this news, foreigners working in Nigeria are certainly not the biggest issue keeping the people of Surulere in Lagos who he represents, awake at night. The very next meal, the perpetual darkness, the fact that they cannot afford anything in the market these days will be closer to reality and our good House leader might want to focus his energies in that direction.

@nzesylva

First published hereGbaja on July 19, 2016

fulani 1I still remember the billboards, the radio jingles, the online propaganda army and the campaign podium rhetoric of then candidate Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the APC, listing security as one of its cardinal objectives and assuring that under their watch Boko Haram (which was the main national security issue at the time) and all other security challenges, would be defeated. It was an easy sell. The country was tired of the blood bath by Boko Haram and who better to marshal the necessary will to battle them than a former General? A majority of Nigerian voters bought it.

The jury is still out on how we should describe the present state of affairs as regards Boko Haram. Victory?  Technical victory (as the president had claimed)? Stalemate? Peace of the graveyard? Or still a raging battle? While there is no doubt that there has been gains on that battle front, one cannot but acknowledge that the war is a long way from being over. A few days ago there were suicide attacks in Bornu, the epicentre of the insurgency, that claimed lives. If we are truthful to ourselves, the terror group still has the capacity to cause huge casualties by picking on soft targets hence the need to keep the momentum going.

While the government is quick to sing its own praise, claiming it has delivered on its ‘security’ campaign promise, the country has actually gotten a lot more insecure with various other security issues which to be fair, predated the administration, but which have become more rampant and the perpetrators emboldened by the inaction of the government and the seeming unwillingness to confront them. On the other hand, the government has, through its own actions, fanned other issues of insecurity to flame and picked battles it is not exactly well prepared to fight.

From Niger State to the FCT to Kogi State to Nassarawa, to Benue, down to Enugu, Ebonyi and Delta States, the menace of the rampaging ‘Fulani herdsmen’ has been felt. This killing militia, which were ranked among the top global terror groups of 2015 by number of deaths caused (even though our government does not seem willing to even describe them as criminals), has continued to run amok, killing, maiming and destroying the properties of Nigerian citizens unchecked. We have lost count of the death count. The images of the carnage melts the heart and reminds one of the title of the book by former president Obasanjo “The animal called man”. Only beasts and savages of the stone-age kind can be so ruthless. These bloodthirsty militia dismember women, children and the aged and film it. There is sufficient evidence to show that they are well organised, well-armed and strongly backed.

Nothing else can explain the fact that after each episode of blood letting, after we have screamed the life out of yet another hashtag on twitter and some Police boss has done the ceremonial visit to the place with a promise to ‘leave no stone unturned’ in fishing out the perpetrators, nothing happens. An identified group of people (not ghosts) walk around armed with assault weapons in this country and no arrests have been made. Entire villages are wiped out in nights of violent orgies and nobody has been caught and prosecuted for it. How does one explain this?

Just this week, more than 80 people were killed in a series of brutal attacks in Benue State by groups of nomadic herdsmen. Within the same period, there were attacks in parts of Niger and Kogi states. And these are those that made it to the news. In most cases, we hear of the attacks days after it happened, owing to the remoteness of the places of incidence and there so many others that never even make it to the news.

Very appalling is the seeming conspiracy of silence around this issue. The government simply makes like it didn’t happen often taking days to acknowledge it and issue the terse statements or not even bothering at all. It does not help that as a Fulani man, the people suspected to constitute this militia are kinsmen of the President and it is seen in some quarters that he has simply looked away and allowed his brothers have a field day. This perception finds credence they argue, in the zero reaction by security agencies to the killings and in the absence of any concrete approach to ending the madness. This is a dangerous perception which handlers of the president must take seriously.

How much longer before we do something about this ugly trend? When their government cannot defend them, people will resort to self-help and there is no better recipe for anarchy. Every Nigerian life matters. It might seem far off just yet, much like the Boko Haram issue seemed at first. Until it hits closer home. Until we watch another inferno arise and there will be no water to put it out. Until there is no country left for us to call home. Alas, the fire is already burning.

We watched how both the government and the people reacted after the recent killing of Americans at a gay night club. We are watching the reactions this week following the killing of two Americans by cops and the reprisal shooting of five police officers by a lone gone man. We saw President Obama addressing his people from abroad, cutting short his trip to attend the memorial for the fallen cops. We see street protests and proactive actions by law enforcement agencies. You are not American but you share the emotions and the faith. That is a country of serious people, where security is not a campaign slogan but a fundamental right. Where leaders take responsibility for failures and do things to make it right.

President Buhari and his party must wake up. Just in case they had it twisted, the definition of security does not stop at fighting Boko Haram. The restiveness in the Niger Delta, the now ubiquitous kidnapping for ransom, the hacking to death of people in god’s name and the Fulani herdsmen killings are all security issues and the ruling party has done very poorly, so far, in addressing them.

@nzesylva

First published here on July 13, 2016

rioThe Rio Olympics is near at hand. Notwithstanding the Zika virus and all the other issues that threatens the games, we all know that once it begins, once the nations march out and that torch is lit, the attention of the whole world will turn to Rio and the excitement will be fever pitch. Nigerians, both home and abroad, will not be left out. It is amazing the way we support our national teams during competitions, the enthusiasm, the faith, the patriotism, feelings that eliciting from Nigerians on a normal day would be akin to trying to squeeze water from a rock.

Over the years, we have endured as our fortunes in sports dwindled. We are now used to failing, such that many no longer lose sleep over it. Take, for instance, our national football team, the Super Eagles, who some have rechristened Super Chickens. It would have been akin to a national tragedy not to qualify for the African nation’s cup in time past.  These days, we do not even expect them to qualify and when they live up to the billing by failing as they did just recently, we just move on as if nothing happened.

As used to disappointing outings as we may be, the Rio Olympics will be at a different level entirely. If the saying “if you fail to prepare, you should prepare to fail” is anything to go by, then, our failure at the Rio games will be spectacular. After the last Olympics in London, where we failed to win a single medal, there was the usual talk in government cycles of going back to the drawing board, — a proverbial board to which our administrators always claim they are returning to, each time they mess up. I wrote a piece about the damn board here. Four years since London, it is as though we’ve not just been marking time, we have been speeding with the reverse gear engaged.

One would have expected that between then and now, there will be some conscious effort, an expression of our national determination to have our anthem played at the medal podium in Rio by putting in place a programme (like other serious countries do) that will focus on raising athletes that will win laurels in the sports we have comparative advantage in. Clearly, that is expecting too much. The current state of things, made worse by the very poor preparation and almost anonymous leadership of the beret-wearing minister of sport (who seems to fancy himself more as a freedom fighter than a sports administrator), announces like a bell wielding white garment preacher at dawn, that we should expect national disgrace.

Perhaps so that we the fans do not come heavily down on them when they eventually fail, some of the athletes are already crying out, issuing caveat emptors, if you like. The latest is Efe Ajagba, Nigeria’s only, I need to repeat this for emphasis, ONLY, boxer at the Rio games. Ajagba and his coach Tony Konyegwachi told the media last week that all is not well at all, comparing their preparations and training at the National Stadium Boxing complex Lagos, to a farmer doing his chores without a cutlass.

To quote Ajagba directly: “We don’t have facilities. We are just training with our own minds. There are no punching gloves, and modern punching bags, the one we have right now, if you punch it, it slips and you bump your shoulders on it.”

First of all, boxing used to be one of our strong points. How we got to the point where we can only feature one boxer at the games is a study in mediocrity. It is a mystery in itself – a nation of nearly 200 million people? That we cannot now prepare this lone boxer well for the games is nothing short of a national embarrassment and, I dare say, simply unacceptable.

There are certain things that should not be said loud for others to hear, like how we cannot provide things as basic as boxing gloves and punching bags. What else then, can we provide? How do you realistically expect a medal of any colour, from a boxer who received no training with modern techniques (as those he will be facing are doing) but also prepared with gloves that should be in the museum?

You might want to ask, where is the Nigeria Boxing Federation, the National sports commission, the Ministry of Sports? Your guess is as good as mine.

Only last month, at the 20th Africa Athletics Championship in Durban, South Africa, the Nigerian contingent, the bulk of who are Rio hopefuls, gave a shambolic performance, coming third behind South Africa and Kenya and managing only four gold medals.  Just a little earlier, the Dream Team, the national under-23 male football team that will play in Rio played in a preparatory four-nation tournament in Korea, finishing third, winning only one match and conceding eight goals.

What can one realistically expect from these teams at Rio but failure?

Clearly, our problem is not the availability of talent. Harnessing it through good developmental programmes, well thought out policies, adequate funding and clear headed administration is the issue. You would have thought the change government would have come with a new lease of life in that sector but current evidence suggests otherwise. What should be done is not farfetched. Simply put round pegs in round holes, repackage sports to make it attractive for sponsors, sit down and chart a course for the future.

While we wait for that to be done, It will be wise that we all manage our expectations as regards this year’s summer games as Rio will be one big embarrassment.

Happy Sallah Holidays!

@nzesylva.

pubThe most popular tool of governance (or indeed mis-governance) in Nigeria is ‘The Committee.’ As is common around here, there is always one committee for this and another committee for that. When anything goes wrong, even that whose cause is starring everyone in the face, we set up a committee to determine the ‘remote’ and ‘immediate’ causes and after weeks or months of jamboree, the committee comes back with a bulky, bound report – which we make a big show of with clicking cameras and elaborate speeches, before leaving it to gather dust in some obscure corner.

Second to the committee and a concept that is fast gaining notoriety as an utter waste of tax payers’ money is ‘The public hearing.’

Public hearings are open gathering of officials and citizens, in which citizens are permitted to offer comments about a particular policy of government (or an organization), an intended law or any other topic that affects them. The main purpose of a public hearing is to allow citizens the chance to voice opinions and concerns and to make inputs as they deem fit, towards a particular goal.

With freedom of expression and the opinion of the people a fundamental tenet of democracy, it is no surprise that public hearings are a common feature of democracies; from Nigeria to the United States. In Nigeria however, the exercise is fast becoming a joke, a way to squander government money and a complete waste of time.

Our overpaid and underproductive national assembly is always hosting these hearings – ideally, an important part of the process of law making or carrying out investigations. If the number and quality of the laws that come out of those chambers is anything to go by, there is enough reason to wonder if it is a case of the barber not being good enough or the clipper not being sharp enough.

Admittedly, I have never made submissions to nor attended a public hearing organized by the National Assembly, but I have been part of two others organized by two government regulatory agencies that have left me with the foregoing conclusion. My first experience was a few years ago. The nation’s telecoms regulator, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) planned to auction vacant slots on the 2.3Ghz band, a frequency used for commercial wireless broadband. The Commission called for a Public hearing, for industry stakeholders to make inputs to its proposed plan. Meanwhile, the advertisement for this forum had already revealed that the commission planned to auction 1×30 MHz to one new operator.

I happen to have attended this session where the plan of the NCC was overwhelmingly rejected by operators. While there were different ideas on what should be done, the more popular one was that instead of auctioning 30Mhz to another operator, the NCC should allot 10MHz each to the three existing operators who held 20Mhz on that band with 5Mhz left for guard band. This allotment which was to be paid for at the prevailing international rate by the three operators was to ensure equity and also allow them expand their networks in line with the latest broadband technologies.

One would have thought the NCC  (who encouraged submission of hard copies of each presentation) was taking in all the ideas being offered and was going to review theirs in line with the opinions shared.   A few months later, they invited stakeholders once again to another forum where they presented exactly the same ideas which received the same response from the gathering. It was not lost on anyone there that the commission’s mind was made up on what it intended to do. Indeed it was being whispered that they actually already had a certain big operator in mind to hand the frequency to. A few months after, the announcement inviting bids for the band was made.

If they knew they would still go ahead, why waste everybody’s time? It might be important to point out here that for each session, there were full page adverts in national dailies, the event held in rented hotel halls, there was lunch for participants, and a full retinue of NCC staff flew down to Lagos from Abuja incurring both flight and hotel costs.

My second experience is more recent. The Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) sometime last year came up with a draft national code of corporate governance which was supposed to supersede all other existing codes by various regulators such as the SEC & CBN. This would have been a non-issue were the poorly edited FRCN’s code not riddled with provisions that were impracticable, confusing, extreme and even laughable in some instance. Simply put, it read like a set of rules not a code.

Expectedly stakeholders besieged the venue of the public hearing and submission after submission tore the draft code into shreds, leaving the FRCN looking like inexperienced school boys. A few months later another hearing was held. To everyone’s utter chagrin, besides reworded lines and better editing, the fundamental issues of contention remained unchanged. It became like a repeat of the first session. Last week, the  Council called for what it termed the ‘Final’ public hearing on the codes and believe it or not, all gathered spent an entire day discussing these very same issues, making the very same suggestions as the very first day.

One wonders, what is the worth of stakeholders input if it would not even be considered? Why waste both time and money organizing these charades? Clearly, these sessions are just to fulfill all righteousness such that the organiser can claim that ‘stakeholders’ were engaged and thus give credence to whatever rubbish they churn out at the end, and justification for the huge sums they squander organizing them.

@nzesylva

Pix credit: www.elections.ca

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