Archive for May 2019

Ridiculous permutations for 2023 presidential race

May 28, 2019

By Casmir Igbokwe

Nigeria is an interesting country. Certain issues surrounding the 2019 presidential election is yet to be fully resolved. President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to even take oath of office for a second term in office. But some political antelopes are already getting fatigued from 2023 presidential dance.

The drumbeats come from different quarters and the interests are variegated. There is a group represented by the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, and the suspended Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Uche Okwukwu. This group believes that the Igbo should never dream of getting close to presidential villa in 2023. Their major reason is that the South-East did not vote for Buhari in the last presidential election.

Amaechi reportedly said, “For refusing to support the APC, they cannot come to the table to demand the presidency slot…if the Igbo had come and voted Buhari, they would boldly tell Mr. President and the National Chairman of the party that presidency should go to the South-East since the South-South, South-West and North-West have produced president. What argument would the South-East come up with now to convince anybody that they deserve the slot for the 2023 president?”

Okwukwu supports Amaechi on this. He had fallen out with Ohanaeze before the February 2019 general elections due to his support for Buhari. Ohanaeze supported the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar. When the Igbo group could not take his rebellion any more, it suspended him.

Amaechi, Okwukwu and some others are entitled to their opinion. I have always believed that what Nigeria needs most now is a good and effective leader, no matter where he comes from.

My worry, however, is that there seems to be a calculated plan to scheme out a major ethnic group from the scheme of things in Nigeria. It is convenient to talk about federal character when it has to do with admission into federal unity colleges. But when it comes to appointment of security chiefs and some other major appointments, the federal character principle is jettisoned. When it comes to the zoning of the principal officers of the National Assembly, the federal character principle is no longer necessary. Currently, the major positions in the federal structure are shared between the North and the South-West.  

The marginalisation of the South-East even goes deeper than this. For instance, only the South-East has five states in Nigeria. Others have not less than six. The number of local governments in the zone is also lower than in the other zones. This has affected allocation of resources to the region.

I don’t want to go into the history of how millions of Igbo lost their lives in the North during the pogrom and the resultant civil war of the 60s. There is also no need talking about the frequent killings and burning of their properties whenever there is crisis in any part of the country. But there is every need to note that Nigeria stands majorly on a tripod. And when one leg of a three-legged chair is broken, whoever sits on it risks crashing down.

It was to avoid this type of crash that Nigerians allowed the Yoruba nation to take the first shot at the presidency on return to civilian rule in 1999. It was some sort of compensation for the South-West to ameliorate the ill-treatment meted out to Chief M.K.O. Abiola over the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Abiola won the election but the powers that be then denied him the opportunity to rule the country. Eventually, he died in detention.

The entire nation recognised this injustice and easily embraced Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (a Yoruba) as Nigeria’s president between 1999 and 2007. Umaru Yar’Adua (a Northerner) took over from Obasanjo in 2007. Unfortunately, he could not complete his tenure in office as he died in 2010. His deputy, Goodluck Jonathan (an Ijaw) took over the mantle of leadership and ruled until 2015 when power returned to the North. Buhari has run his first term. He is getting ready for inauguration for a second term this Wednesday, all things being equal.

Since the North, the South-West and even the South-South have had their turns in Aso Rock in this fourth republic, is it not natural that the two major political parties should present a South-Easterner to vie for the Presidency of Nigeria in 2023?  Or are the Igbo no longer part of Nigeria?

Perhaps, there is an element of truth in Obasanjo’s allegation that the Buhari-led government planned to ‘Fulanise’ and Islamise Nigeria. Last Wednesday, the Federal Government announced plans to establish a Fulani radio station. The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, gleefully stated that the radio licence was to serve as a vehicle of social mobilisation and education of the Fulani herdsmen wherever they might be. These are people who have the reputation as the fourth most terrorist group in the world.

Rather than establish a radio station, the Federal Government decided to send pythons to reach members of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) wherever they may be. These groups have tried to mobilise the Igbo to sit at home on May 30 as a way of peacefully protesting the injustices done to Ndigbo over the years. But the police and the pythons have been harassing, arresting and indeed clamping some of them into detention.

Let’s get it clear. I do not support some of the activities of IPOB and MASSOB. I also do not believe that an Igbo President will significantly change the plight of the South-East region. But for goodness sake, why will anybody openly canvass that power returns to the South-West in 2023? Apart from eight years of Obasanjo’s presidency, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has been in the saddle as Vice-President for four years and he is likely going for another four years if there is no hiccup at the presidential election petitions tribunal.

It is most unfortunate that some individuals currently play the Bola Tinubu versus Osinbajo 2023 card. Both Tinubu and Osinbajo are said to be nursing the ambition to become president after Buhari. One newspaper even conjured a likely clash between the two men. The report says Tinubu is popular in the South-West while Osinbajo is more popular than him in the whole country principally because of the N10, 000 loan to traders called Tradermoni. Ridiculous!

Those who make this permutation fail to understand that the APC is not the only party in Nigeria. In fact, what is holding the APC today is Buhari. Once he serves his tenure and leaves, the cookies may crumble. The PDP made a strong showing in the last election and could indeed take over power if there is transparent and free election.          

In any case, this struggle for power at the centre will wane the moment we devolve authority to the regions or states as the case may be. Let each state grow according to its capacity. This was what happened during the first republic such that there was healthy competition among the regions. Little wonder, Sir Ahmadu Bello even preferred to be Premier of Northern region to being the Prime Minister of Nigeria.

A return to this arrangement or what some people call restructuring is a debt Buhari must pay before leaving office. Until then, let us disembark from this 2023 train for now and join in the race to rescue our country from a seemingly unending journey to Golgotha. 

Re: Playing disco with Nigerian electricity consumers

Dear Casmir, thanks for the information on electricity consumers and the vexed issue of pre-paid meters. Under the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) scheme, meter costs N70,350 for three-phase, and N38,850 for one-phase. 

But here in Port Harcourt, Enugu Disco, EEDC, says that their meter is “FREE”.  That everybody should apply online, @www.enugudisco.com.  Click on “contact us”. Click on “request for meter”.  People wonder whether this is a Greek Gift or something smart. Dr. B.S. Chukwuka, who lives with his family on the next street, says that consumption reading on the new EEDC meter installed for him is very high.  A recharge of N5,000 in his flat runs out before one week.

That is consumption of about N20,000 per month, even as  there is no constant power supply.  This is almost the same as EEDC Estimated Bill of average N18,750 per month.  Which is better now?  Pre-paid meter, or estimated bill?

People suspect that the new EEDC meter is pre-set or programmed to run fast, and burn out credit faster than the old UNISTAR meter installed by PHCN in 2008. A recharge of about N2,500 lasts for one month with the old meter installed by PHCN.

Kindly highlight this anomaly and let EEDC tell us why their new meter is “free”, but runs so fast; and how illiterate consumers, artisans can apply for pre-paid meter online.

Chief Nwosu P.C., Port Harcourt, 08085914645

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, May 27, 2029.

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Playing disco with Nigerian electricity consumers

May 28, 2019

By Casmir Igbokwe

Going to discos was very popular in the 80s. But, dancing to a melodic pop music was not the only thing boys knew how to do then. They also played some wooing pranks on girls, starting with such gimmick as “excuse me dance”.   

This fun then has become a good pun today for electricity distribution companies (DisCos) and their customers in Nigeria. Energy business is a very serious one. But these DisCos have reduced it to what happens in a discotheque.    

The problem usually starts from their marketing managers. They usually get high revenue targets. To meet such targets, they send high estimated bills to customers. When you complain, they find a way to explain and justify it. In the estate where I live in Lagos, the average bill that comes to every household every month is N10, 000. In some areas, it is higher.

This comes amid epileptic power supply. Recently, power generation dropped from 4,000 megawatts to 2,039 MW. On April 25, 2019, there was a total shutdown of Egbin, Omotosho, Olorunsogo and Paras Power Stations. The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) explained that the National Grid experienced reduced power generation because of the emergency maintenance of the gas pipeline supplying gas to those four plants by the Nigerian Gas Company, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

In a poll released by NOIPolls last month, it was revealed that power sector experienced a decline in power supply to Nigerian households to 37 per cent in first quarter of 2019 from 42 per cent obtained in fourth quarter of 2018. It dropped consistently from 46 per cent in January to 35 per cent in February and to 30 per cent in March 2019.

The shameful aspect of Nigeria’s power crisis is that electricity supply is said to be more stable in the countries we supply energy to. Nigeria supplies power to the Republic of Benin, Niger and Chad. But, as the Managing Director of the TCN, Usman Mohammed, reportedly advised, power distributors in Nigeria should visit these countries to learn. Cotonou in the Republic of Benin, for instance, is said to have straight and good distribution network and the only time there is power outage there is when there is a problem with the grid.

This is why I don’t blame residents of some communities who have had to take to the streets in protest. In January this year, Okeira Aguda Ogba community residents in Lagos staged a peaceful protest against Ikeja Electric over high estimated billing. Saying house rent was cheaper than electricity, the residents demanded prepaid meters. Residents of Jakande Estate Ejigbo in Lagos had similarly protested against Ikeja Electric last December over high estimated billing system. Ikeja Electric had failed to provide meters to the areas as reportedly ordered by the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) last year.

Ironically, the DisCos are also lamenting. Last year, 10 out of the 11 of them reportedly lost about N115 billion to energy theft. The Ikeja Distribution Company, for instance, reported that out of 134,000 prepaid meters it installed in its area of operation, 43,000 had been tampered with. Some of the DisCos have also reported similar issues of meter bypass, illegal connections, billing irregularities and unpaid bills.

There are many other challenges. The electricity generation companies (GENCOs) have not been able to maintain the installed capacity given to them. The transmission facilities need further upgrade. The distribution chain is plagued by weak transformers and lines. In my estate, we tasked ourselves to provide a new transformer which cost us over N7 million. It is currently being installed. But the painful part is that after the installation, the property will no more be ours. Ikeja Electric will take over and begin to give us outrageous monthly bills.

It is the small and medium scale companies that I pity most in all this. Many of them now survive on generating sets with the attendant huge costs. Some have been forced to close down.

The multinationals like Coca-Cola and Wempco generate their own power and have abandoned the national grid. What private power generation costs these companies on a monthly basis runs into billions of Naira. This has led to job losses, relocation of manufacturing concerns to other countries and even outright closure.

For an average consumer, prepaid meter remains the best option. It ensures that it is what you consume that you pay for. It also controls energy waste because when you realise that putting on many electrical appliances equals higher bills, you are forced to be cautious.  

But, as in most things we do in Nigeria, the provision of prepaid meters has been anything but salutary. When it was free, the distribution companies vacillated in making it available for their customers. Now, it is N70, 350 for a three-phase meter and N38, 850 for a single-phase meter, inclusive of VAT.

On April 3, 2018, the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) Regulation came into force. The Meter Asset Providers are to ensure that over five million electricity customers who are affected by the metering gap get their meters. My own DisCo, Ikeja Electric, commenced MAP this May. It says customers can either pay upfront for the meter or in instalments. The instalment payment is called Monthly Metering Service Charge. As agreed with the MAPs, it will continue until full amortization of the meter asset cost. The MAP scheme is expected to meter all unmetered customers within three years.    

Let’s hope this works. And let us also hope that the other players in the power chain do their part as well. The GENCOs say they are ready to generate power that will sustain the country on a daily basis but that the challenges in the power chain must be tackled. They claim they have available capacity of 8,000MW, but that the transmission and distribution arm must be ready to do their part.

We need to take a lesson or two from some African countries on tackling our energy crisis. Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe sacked his energy and power development minister, Joram Gumbo, over eight hours of daily power outage across the country. This is said to be the worst electricity blackouts since 2016. And it is because of a drop in output at its largest hydro plant and ageing coal-fired generators. The hammer even came after the minister had reportedly licensed over 30 companies to provide solar power to the country. 

I do not recommend the sacking of our own Minister of Power. But the Federal Government should endeavour to separate the three ministries lumped together under one minister. Mr. Raji Fashola is the minister in charge of Power, Housing and Works. This could be too cumbersome for one man to oversee. It will likely affect speed and efficiency needed in the power sector.

Electricity providers in a country like Uganda do not joke with this issue of speed and efficiency in getting power to those who do not have access to it. Essentially, Ugandan’s main electricity distribution company, Umeme Limited, and many decentralised renewable power firms, aim for an integrated approach, knowing that none of them can solve access to power problems alone.

This public-private partnership is worth emulating. It will be of great benefit to small businesses. Aside from being sustainable and reliable, renewable energy does not emit harmful toxins as it is derived from natural elements such as solar, wind and biomass. The only snag is that the cost of purchasing it is still very high. Government should put policies in place to help bring the price down.

Luckily, the European Union reportedly wants to invest €200m in Nigeria for renewable energy. The investments include a €165 million direct loan from the EU and a €30 million from the Electrification Financing Initiative (ElectriFI). The financial institution is to target projects that provide access to electricity in rural areas. It will also support companies that offer mini-grids to local businesses in the urban areas. The hope is that this effort will help in solving part of the electricity problems households and small companies face in Nigeria.

On its part, the regulatory agency should ensure that the TCN, the GENCOs and the DisCos attain their capacities. The power distributors in particular need more investments and upgrade of their facilities.   

Electricity consumers should play their part by not tampering with meters. The moves to amend some sections of the Electric Power Reform Act, 2005 are welcome. Currently before the Senate is a bill to prohibit and prevent electricity theft. It seeks seven years jail term for whoever is involved in the act.

Only drastic measures like this will ensure that we do not continue to dance disco when our energy house is on fire.  

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, May 20, 2019.

Anambra lawmakers and expensive funerals in Igbo land

May 6, 2019

By Casmir Igbokwe

Despite their itinerant nature, Igbo people have a strong attachment to their ancestral homes. On every festive occasion, many of them troop home from the cities to savour convivial communal life. Christmas, Easter and New Yam festival periods provide a veritable platform for solemnization of marriages, funerals, house warming, outing of a new age grade and title-taking.

None of these ceremonies is cheap. During traditional marriage ceremony, for instance, there are usually different groups comprising men, women, and youths who make undue demands from the in-law.  Daughters of the soil, called umuada, usually come prepared. Most of them leave their houses on empty stomach. But by the time the occasion ends, you see them with protruding tummies and bags bulging with food and drinks.

For title-taking, there is no problem because people who take titles are assumed to be wealthy. It is not compulsory, except for those who hold traditional offices in their towns. For instance, Isuofia town in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State has a new Onowu (traditional prime minister) in the person of Mr. Ndubuisi Osele. But because he is not an Ozo title holder, the town insisted that he has to be initiated into the Ozo society before he is finally crowned as the Onowu. He has started the initiation process.

The major area of contention is funerals. In some years back, a burial ceremony could last for more than one week in many parts of Igboland. For this number of days, a bereaved family had to contend with entertaining guests who would come to pay condolence visits with food and drinks. Burial of a married woman is usually more expensive. You have to spend both in her maternal and husband’s homes. If the deceased lived abroad, the expenses start from transporting the remains home. The cost depends on where the corpse is being transported from. Earlier in the year, a certain poor family in my village went on fund-raising and actually spent about N3.5 million to bring home the corpse of their loved one from South America.

Today, many towns have tried to intervene to beat down the cost of funerals. For instance, they have shortened the number of days from one week to between one and three days.

The church has also tried to intervene. In the Catholic Diocese of Awka, for instance, once a person dies, you must bury him within two months. This is to curtail the practice of keeping a dead person in the mortuary for months while looking for money to do the funeral. Awka Diocese has also banned printing of burial brochures.

Following in the footsteps of the church is the Anambra State House of Assembly. Recently, the state’s lawmakers passed a bill to stop expensive funerals in the state. According to the bill, it is now an offence to hold funerals for more than one day in the state. The bill, sponsored by the lawmaker representing Anaocha II Constituency, Charles Ezeani, also prohibits depositing a corpse in the mortuary or any place beyond two months from the date of death.

If the governor signs the bill into law, it means it will also be an offence to destroy property, fire gunshots, and block roads during funerals. Besides, “no person shall subject any relation of a deceased person to a mourning period of more than one week from the date of the burial.”

Also, the deceased’s family shall provide food for their kindred, relatives and other sympathisers at their own discretion.

But how easy is it to implement the provisions of this bill, if signed into law by Governor Willie Obiano? The sponsor of the bill, Ezeani, said the Assembly would set up a monitoring and implementation committee to enforce the law. The question is, how many people will be members of this committee and how will they effectively monitor funerals in the entire state?

Reactions from Anambra citizens have been mixed. For instance, the Parish Priest of St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral, Ekwulobia, in Aguata Local Government Area of the state, Rev. Fr. Ignatius Onwuatuegwu, hailed the bill as progressive. Thanking God for the bill, the priest noted that the church, for a long time, had been fighting to cut down funeral expenses. Fr. Onwuatuegwu said he had already started creating awareness of the bill in his parish, and that it was possible to use a day for funeral.

On his part, the traditional ruler of Ekwulobia and chairman of Aguata Traditional Rulers, Igwe Emmanuel Oyeneke, supported the use of one day for funerals. He reportedly said, “It is possible, if groups will maintain their time, as it will reduce financial, emotional and physical stress.”

Unlike Onwuatuegwu, who hailed the stoppage of gunshots during funerals because some hypertensive patients had gone into panic at the sound of gunshots, Oyeneke condemned it. According to him, “Gunshot is significant. In the traditional Igbo belief, it is believed that gunshot marks the time when the spirit of the dead leaves for its resting place.” He added that Igbo believe in ‘Ikwu n’ ibe’ (relatives). Hence, when one’s in-laws or kinsmen come to condole with him during funeral ceremony, they deserve to be offered kolanuts, drinks and food.

This appears to be the opinion of many Anambra citizens. I took time to read reactions from different quarters and the majority said the government had no business telling them how to bury their loved ones.

I support this view. There are many big issues begging for government’s attention. Burial and wedding ceremonies should be left to town unions and religious bodies to regulate. Different communities and churches have been doing that. The intention is to protect poor families that go out of their way to borrow to foot the high cost associated with such occasions. Some try to impress so that it won’t be like poverty has a permanent residence in their houses.

This should not be so. People should learn to self-regulate themselves. All fingers are not equal. If Okeke family killed four cows to bury their loved one, Okafor family must not struggle to do same, if it lacks the means. 

There is this tradition called ‘oku ogo’ (invitation of in-laws). In this case, the deceased’s family invites all the in-laws to a meeting on a stipulated day before the burial. At the meeting, the family provides food with large lumps of meat and drinks. The only reason for this meeting is to formally inform the in-laws about the death and date for the funeral.

To me, this is no more necessary and can be done away with. Information about the burial can be sent through various means, including phone calls, text messages and WhatsApp or email messages. This will not diminish the significance of the burial and will not stop the deceased from ascending to heaven, which we believe is the final resting place for those who lived a good life here on earth.

Sometimes, it is one’s family kindred that push one into some of these unnecessary expenditures. They will tell you that no cow was killed for your great-grandfather and as such you must slaughter one for him first before you do so for the fresh death.

The reality in many Igbo families today is that the death of someone is the time to start renovating or even building a new house. That is when people sell their land, borrow money and empty their savings just to bury the dead. That is also when debts incurred by the deceased when he was alive are cleared both in the church and the community.

There is no problem, if one has the money and can effortlessly foot the funeral expenses. But it would be silly for one to borrow to do some of these things.

One good thing about Igbo funerals is that friends and relatives help to cushion the high cost imposed on the family. They donate money, food items and drinks. Those who come on condolence visits also give some cash and drinks.

I believe every culture or religion has a way of cushioning the effects of deaths and burials. True Muslims, for instance, do not over-celebrate death. Once a person dies, he is buried immediately. Going to the mortuary or buying expensive caskets is out of it. They believe that life is vanity. Whether we bury our loved ones with gold jewellery or even use a hybrid car as coffin, they will not come back to life.

By and large, culture is dynamic. Some of the things we did 50 years ago have fizzled out today. If you have the money and feel like giving your loved one a befitting burial, so be it. But the high incidence of deaths and the economic realities of today, more than laws and coercion, are what will eventually force people to cut down on burial expenses and celebrate the living more than the dead.

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, May 6, 2019.