Archive for April 2010

So they want to reintroduce toll gates, fuel tax

April 18, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, April 18, 2010

“If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is, ‘God is crying.’ And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is, ‘Probably because of something you did.’”

I can’t think of a better way to start this piece than the above quote by Jack Handey. The Leadership Newspaper published it under its Amusement Park column last Wednesday.

Indeed, the Nigerian people are tired of crying. They had cried over sectarian killings in different parts of the country. They had cried over infant and maternal mortalities. They had cried over poor standard of education and poor infrastructure.

Today, it’s God who is weeping for Nigeria. Did you ask why He is shedding tears? It’s because of something we did and still do. He is wondering what has happened to our oil money. He is amazed at the number of people proclaiming his name in vain inside churches and mosques.      

He is apparently crying over the plans by the Federal Government to reintroduce toll gates and fuel tax in Nigeria. Some three weeks ago, the Chairman of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, Abdulkadir Kure, said the aim of the toll gates was to raise funds for the maintenance of roads in the country. The expected annual revenue from this is N30bn.

On the face of it, the idea sounds good. All over the world, road construction and maintenance are capital intensive. Citizens pay one form of tax or the other to help raise funds for such projects. The difference between Nigeria and some other countries is that while such countries utilise the funds for the purposes they are meant for, Nigeria uses her own for some other purposes.

Since the advent of this current democracy in 1999, billions of Naira had been allocated to road maintenance in the country. Media reports in early 2008 indicated that the Olusegun Obasanjo administration spent N500bn on roads. Kure said FERMA had only received N30bn budgetary allocation in the last two years. His agency, he stressed, would require about N1tn annually to fix the roads. The Ministry of Works had received a budget allocation of over N146bn in 2009. This year, the budget for the ministry is N250bn. The question is, what have we done with the past allocations?

The answer, as usual, is blowing in the winds. From Enugu-Abakaliki Road to Benin-Ore Expressway; from Ikot Ekpene-Calabar Road to Kaura Namoda, the state of federal roads is terrible. I cannot find a better adjective again to qualify them.

It is even annoying to hear that Kure said stakeholders in the transportation sector agreed with the reintroduction of tolls on our highways. Who are these stakeholders? Did they consider the fact that we had these toll gates before but Obasanjo ordered that they be dismantled from January 2004? The dismantling alone cost about N300m. Did the stakeholders remember that Obasanjo imposed a fuel tax of N1.50 on every litre of petrol which a federal high court stopped in 2005?

I’m a stakeholder as far as roads in Nigeria are concerned. I know the pains I go through driving on these pothole-infested roads. And so for anybody to talk of collecting any toll from me, there must be an account of what happened to the funds earlier voted for the maintenance of these roads.

There had been probes of some past misappropriation of resources. What has happened to the reports of these probes? Late last month, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, lamented the non-implementation of the report of the House on the annual manipulation of the so-called unspent budget by government officials.

Bankole was specifically said to have noted that the House stopped the Federal Ministry of Works from fleecing the country of N40bn last year. He reportedly said the legislators discovered that out of the N100bn budget estimate the FMW presented to the House, the recovered money was budgeted for projects already completed and paid for.     

THE PUNCH of March 31, 2010, quoted Bankole to have said that the House also uncovered between N800m and N1tn accruals from the internally generated revenue that were not accounted for. The figure may even be higher.

The tragedy of our situation is that those who supervised the rot in that ministry are very much around and are still strutting our political stage for more goodies. Rather than be in jail, some of them either want to be in the driving seat in 2011 or be godfathers to some more ambitious politicians. Bankole vowed to pursue the missing funds in the FMW to its logical conclusion. After this vow, which he made in March, I have not heard much from him again on that point. I hope he keeps to his promise.

Before FERMA could convince Nigerians to pay any toll or fuel tax now, it must repair the roads first. This is what seems to obtain on Lekki-Epe Expressway. Media reports last month noted that collection of tolls on a section of the road would commence only when the concessionaire of the road could obtain independent certification of the completion of the first six kilometres of the road.

Some federal roads had already been selected for concession. Government should adopt this method for all the federal roads in the country. A private concession company that wants to collect toll on any highway will never toy with the repair of that road. Otherwise, it risks being the butt of public anger.

Meanwhile, should anybody ask you why God is crying for Nigeria, the cute thing to tell the person is that Nigerians are dying in their thousands on our roads. By the time toll is added, there may not be any tears remaining in the tear glands again.

Enough of this Yar’Adua distraction

April 10, 2010

 Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, April 11, 2010

Last month, Aberdeen Sheriff Court in Scotland imposed a £600 fine on a 28-year-old Lithuanian man, Marium Varinauskas, for assault. The man’s girlfriend had complained about his being drunk and had invited the police. But when the security officers got to his house, Varinauskas attempted to strike a female officer on the head with his penis. Though the woman was able to duck, the incident became some form of a side attraction and distraction from the real mission of the police.

 This is what President Umaru Yar’Adua’s illness has turned out to be – a huge side attraction and distraction. Since the President left Nigeria for Saudi Arabia on November 23, 2009, for medical treatment, the bags of his pretentious acolytes have never been short of tricks and lies. Even after smuggling him into the country last February, they are not relenting in producing different episodes of their circus.

 A few days ago, for instance, four Muslim clerics reportedly visited the President. The Chief Imam of the Abuja National Mosque, Ustaz Mohammed; leader of Izala sect, Sheik Yakubu Musa; the President of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, Dr. Datti Ahmed; and Sheik Isa Pantami purportedly prayed for him. Not only that, they shook hands with him and also marvelled that he could sit on a dining chair without any support. Ahmed then lectured us to be considerate in the way we handle the situation and to avoid any attempt to remove the President. Any move to the contrary, he reportedly warned, would not only be a needless diversion but would also lead us to where we did not foresee.

 In the spirit of federal character, Christian clerics also visited the President to pray for him. The Christian leaders have not said much because they consider the visit a private one. One of them only said Yar’Adua grunted something that sounded like amen after their prayers. They subsequently went to Aso Rock to brief the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan.

 I do not begrudge these clergymen who have been found worthy to sight a sick man. Part of their calling anyway is to pray for the sick. And like doctors, they are not bound to reveal the state of physical or spiritual health of their patients.

 However, there are more to these visits than meets the eye. The aim of the organisers, I suspect, is to cause confusion and distract the acting president from performing his duties. The ultimate objective is to achieve some selfish interests.

 This has become part of our national character. At different levels of government, secrecy and misinformation are the cornerstone of governance.

 Let’s take an example. On March 6, 2010, there were reports that the governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, had an accident on his way to Obudu Mountain Resort. There were speculations that the governor had injuries and had been flown abroad for medical treatment. The state government’s version was that it was a minor mishap and that no casualties were recorded.

On March 24, 2010, a section of the media reported that Imoke had actually been flown abroad for medical treatment following injuries sustained after the accident. The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Patrick Ugbe, stated categorically that there was no iota of truth in the story. “The governor has travelled to the United States on a routine visit to attend to some earlier scheduled meetings and not for any medical emergency as the report may insinuate,” Ugbe noted. He stressed that the governor was hale and hearty and that no casualties were recorded in the accident. He considered reports to the contrary as distasteful and a move to embarrass the governor, the government and the people of Cross River State.

 The same hale-and-hearty governor came back a week ago with a bandaged hand. Some media reports indicated that he was yet to resume work because he was not fully fit. But Imoke told journalists in Calabar that they could see him standing, walking, smiling and doing everything. Perhaps, what remains is for some select clergymen to pay homage, drink tea and shake hands with him.

What could it have caused the Cross River State Government to inform its people that their governor had an accident and was responding to treatment in the US? Or are they afraid that some witches and other monitoring mirrors will capitalise on the true picture of the man’s state of health to undermine his administration? What do we stand to gain by not telling our people the true position of things in government? Perhaps, there are things people in government see that we ordinary folks do not see. But the perplexing thing is that elsewhere outside black Africa, government is not run this way.

 Last month, just before the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, embarked on a medical trip to Germany, his countrymen were duly informed. The man even ceded temporary presidential powers to his prime minister. Just like in Nigeria, there were speculations in Cairo that Mubarak was seriously ill. Some said he was dead. There were similar rumours in 2004 when he went to Munich, Germany, to treat a slipped disk. To dispel such rumours, Mubarak appeared on Egyptian television from his hospital room. He thanked his citizens who cared for his health and promised to be back home to assume his responsibilities after finishing his treatment. And this is a regime perceived to be authoritarian.

 For us in Nigeria, dispelling the rumour of our president’s incapacity meant dragging a few clergymen to go and view him. It would have been better if the Yar’Adua handlers had nursed the man quietly and left Jonathan to continue his job. But since they are not relenting in churning out tricks, the only option left for Nigerians is to ease the president out of the way. The new ministers should initiate that move.

Otherwise, a bigger distraction or side attraction awaits us soon.