United States carrier, United Airlines, Thursday, said it will stop flying to Nigeria next month, thus, ending operations on its only African route.
The airline cited weakness in the energy sector and difficulties in repatriating money from tickets sold in the country as reason for the exit.
Mr. Kevin Johnston, Head of Press, Europe, Africa, Middle East and India, United Airlines conveyed the decision in a statement emailed to our correspondent.
Hear him: “United confirms that it will discontinue its service between Houston and Lagos. The last departure from Houston will be on June 29 and the last departure from Lagos will be on June 30.
“We have regretfully taken this decision because of the route’s poor financial performance. We will contact customers with bookings for flights beyond those dates to provide refunds. We apologize for any inconvenience caused.”
FirstBank’s Women Basketball Team – The Elephant Girls – has won the 2015/2016 Zenith Bank Women’s Basketball Championship for the seventh time. The tournament which dunked off on March 18, 2016 saw the Elephant Girls maintain a perfect start and take the lead in every game across the Federal Capital Territory, Asaba, and the finals in Lagos. The team maintained an unbeaten run to reclaim the trophy from Dolphins FC, the defending champions of the tournament. The route to victory for the Elephant Girls was spurred by their wallop of the AHIP Queens of Kano in the quarter finals by 106-38; they mauled the IGP Queens by 105-22 in the semifinal game and dethroned Dolphins FC with a final scoreline of 75 - 60.
According to Ms. Barbara A. Harper, the Chairman of FirstBank Sports Governing Council, who is also the Group Head, Human Capital Management and Development, the Bank is immensely proud of the Elephant Girls, who out dunked opponents and took control of the game from the blast of the whistle to the end of the game. “We also commend the efforts, tactics and game plans of the technical crew led by Coach Peter Ahmedu” she stated. 4 members of the team also made the top five best players in the championship. They are Magdalene Ukato, Nkechi Akashili, Chioma Udeaja and Okpe Atosu. Nkechi Akashili was voted the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
Zenith Bank Women Basketball League is in its 12th edition and the Elephant Girls have won the championship for the seventh time. The FirstBank team is presently the FIBA Africa Zone 3 Champion and they were also champions of the FIBA Africa Women's Clubs Champions Cup in 2003 and 2009. In 2003, the Elephant Girls represented Nigeria at the International Women Basketball Competition held in Brazil.
In The Spotlight
Nigerians may have resigned themselves to the removal of fuel subsidy with stoicism and equanimity, if only to end the corruption and profligacy that characterized the fuel subsidy regime, but let President Buhari be under no illusion that the people will allow themselves to be taken on a merry go-round. If, as government apologists argue, the economy cannot sustain the subsidy of fuel prices, the economy certainly cannot sustain the current bloated cost of governance that has rendered Nigeria’s democracy unproductive. Now that the drain pipe called fuel subsidy has been shut down, the least expectation is for the government to gainfully harness the freed-up resources and invest in programs that will reduce poverty and ameliorate the living conditions of ordinary citizens. No more excuses will be tolerated.
Nigerians are unanimous that the high cost of governance is unsustainable if the country is to truly forge ahead as a developing nation. Underlining the urgent question is the grossly disproportionate amount all tiers of government at both state and federal levels expend regularly on its officials. This encapsulates the huge financial, moral, even reputational cost to Nigeria as a country, and Nigerians as a people, of maintaining elected office holders, appointed officials, and career officials in the three tiers of government in a presidential system. The burden of intolerably high cost of governance is one avoidable albatross around the neck of Nigerians which keeps them in poverty.
The output value of governance is far below the value of resources it takes. How can anyone justify that Nigeria runs a presidential government far costlier than most other countries? What is the cost-to-benefit value of Nigeria’s adoption of so expensive a system that may be affordable for a rich USA but not for a poor Nigeria? Political office holders receive more total remunerations than their counterparts in America partly because political office is considered a job for the boys and to partake in “chopping” and there are far more aides to constitutionally recognized positions than can possibly justify efficient and result-oriented governance. These need not be so.
The standing view is that a parliamentary system, such as obtains in the Britain would be cheaper; and would, by its operational form, stabilize a pluralistic Nigeria. Honestly speaking, the arrival of democracy has become an unbearable burden to the people of this country. Since 1999 the political class as a whole has shown impetuous and irresponsible behavior at the expense of the people. Legislators have become a law unto themselves and are wasting taxpayers’ money without any commensurate input into the quality of governance. As a result, the cost of governance in Nigeria is arguably the highest in the world. This profligacy as first noticed by former Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, was consuming a quarter of the national budget. The prodigal pattern of consumption is being replicated to an extreme degree in the 36 states of the federation and in the 774 local governments.
There is no doubt that the total remuneration as a share of the budget that the government -executive, legislature, judiciary, and the civil service - unjustly appropriates to itself can only be described as obscene in a society where the majority live below the poverty level. The legitimate remunerations - basic, allowances and non-monetary perks are mind-boggling. Consequently, working in government has become the most lucrative occupation in Nigeria.
Many factors are responsible for this situation: government officials wield powers (often in brazen violation of the principle and meaning of public office, of trust and of decency) to allocate resources and dispense favors, be they contracts or jobs. The penchant of the Nigerian elite for the luxury makes it easy for them, particularly those lacking in self-control to “hoe the ground toward the self”. They end up repeatedly expressing their concern for the sorry plight of the people, but do nothing to alleviate it.
At the state level, some time ago, press reports said Benue State legislators walked out on the state governor at a budget retreat because he declined to give them Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) as their New Year gift. The expected gift was a traditional gesture of governance in the state, paid for, no doubt, from public coffers. But the money, put together, could otherwise be made to generally improve the quality of life of the very people on whose mandate the legislators – and the governor – hold their jobs; and in trust too.
The looting and the waste going on in Nigeria in the name of governance has no parallel anywhere else, and is responsible for breeding an angry and alienated citizenry who see no dividend in this pernicious enterprise called democracy. It has been argued that collectively, the subterranean spoils of office in the executive, legislature and judiciary and the abuse of office among public officials in quantum far exceed the trillions of naira regularly reported as stolen in Nigeria. Long-suffering Nigerians have been waiting for the sanitization of the system but it seems to be getting worse under the change-promising APC.
Despite all their promises for change, the number of political appointees of all categories in the APC government has virtually remained the same. Nigeria can do with far less officials than are now in government. Besides, a token reduction of the basic salaries of the president and vice-president is mere window-dressing and insignificant. Allowances for other political office holders like parliamentarians should be cut by a specific percentage that would prove that government, in truth, shares the pains of the citizens and desires to make commensurate sacrifices. These measures should be implemented immediately as a signal of government’s responsiveness to the feelings of the governed. In the long term, a system to comprehensively reduce the cost of governance should be put in place, beginning now. The President should consider this as a crucial part of his agenda.
President Buhari needs no reminder that personal character is at the heart of whether a system of government is run responsibly or recklessly. To stay within the bounds of fair and just remuneration sensitive to prevailing socio-economic conditions is a mark of integrity, which is in serious deficit in our governments; even at a time when many Nigerians are jobless and struggling to eke out a paltry living. Governance must reflect in words and in deeds, a nation in a hurry to develop and to play in the big league. This should begin with the personal integrity of its leaders and anchored upon the transparency, commitment, efficiency and effectiveness of government. Officials should change the current trend of running government business, and return governance to a path of transparency, honor and the service of the common good. If the immediate price they pay for this is loss of pecuniary benefits, so be it. The country surely will be the better for it.
In The Spotlight
One of the major news items in circulation has been the scarcity of tomato. Incidentally, Nigeria is (was) the 14th largest producer of tomato in the world and the second largest producer in Africa, after Egypt, but our country hardly produces enough to meet the local demand of about 2.3 million tonnes, and lacks the capacity to ensure an effective storage or value chain processing of what is produced. Out of the 1.8 million tonnes that the country produces annually, 900, 000 tonnes are left to rot and waste. Meanwhile, tomato-processing companies in the country operate below capacity and many of them have had to shut down.
The CEO of Erisco Foods, Lagos, Eric Umeofia laments that tomato processing companies lack access to foreign exchange to enable them buy heat-resistant seedlings and other tools that would help ensure the country’s sufficiency in local production of tomato paste. Similarly, Dangote Tomato Factory recently suspended operations due to the scarcity of tomatoes and the assault on its tomato farms by a tomato leaves destroying moth, known as “tuta absoluta” - a South American native, also known as the Tomato Ebola, because of its Ebola-like characteristics.
Other reasons have been advanced for the scarcity of tomatoes in our markets: the fuel crisis which has driven up costs making it difficult and expensive for Northern tomato farmers to bring tomatoes to the South, insurgency in the North East which has resulted in the closure of many tomato farms in that region, thus cutting off national output, the recent ethnic crisis in Mile 2, during which Hausa Fulani traders and other marketers engaged in a murderous brawl, climate-change induced drought and heat wave in the Northern-tomato producing states of Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Plateau, Kano and Gombe. In the best of seasons, Nigeria spends $1.5 billion annually on the importation of tomato products. The cost in this regard, seems certain to rise.
Already, the effect of this tomato blight is being felt in households. Whereas a few months ago, a basket of tomato was about N5, 000, it is now about N40, 000 per basket. Housewives are protesting bitterly about how a piece of tomato vegetable has jumped up by about 650%, such that three pieces now go for as much as N500. Tomato in Nigeria today is thus more expensive than a litre of petrol! I have it on good authority, that in those face-me-I-face you quarters where the poor live, it has in fact become risky to leave a tin of tomato paste carelessly or fresh tomatoes lying around: they would most certainly be stolen, and there have been reports of soup pots suddenly vanishing should the owner take a minute from the communal kitchen to use the loo. Many are resorting to desperate measures to sort out a growing epidemic of empty stomachs and empty pockets. Unless this matter is addressed seriously and urgently, the social crisis may be far too costly in both the short and the long run: hungry people could become sick and angry, hungry citizens could become thieves and a nuisance, they could also become angry voters and a rebellious populace.
However, the most brilliant explanation that we have received so far from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is that there is tomato scarcity because of “tuta absoluta”. According to the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, a group of experts will be immediately commissioned to advise the government of Nigeria on the way forward. The mandate of these experts is to “appraise the situation”, and then give us “a figure on cost of treatment…so we will source funds to tackle it.” Is that what this is all about? I am not in the mood at this moment, to spoil anyone’s day, with straight-to-the-nose-the-mouth-and-the-groin punches but I think that the response from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is far from adequate, if not stupid. Please, where is that bow-tie wearing Akinwumi Adesina, the former Minister of Agriculture, now on loan to the African Development Bank?
What we are dealing with is a national food security crisis. Before the commissioned outsiders begin to “appraise and cost”, the resident experts in the Ministry, should know that it is not only tomato that has become a scarce and expensive item in Nigerian kitchens, virtually every food item has become unaffordable and there are many homes that can no longer feed properly. The scarcity of tomato is only a metaphor for the spread of staggering inflation and the hunger that ravages the land. A bag of rice that was once N7, 000 is now N19, 000 per bag, a congo of garri has jumped from N170 to N300, bread from N200 per loaf to N300, and same is the case with virtually every food item. More than this, tomato scarcity is a metaphor for the lack of continuity in governance processes (What happened to all that revolution in the agriculture sector under Akinwumi Adesina as Minister?) and of course, for the failure since independence, to take agriculture seriously as a major vehicle of national security and development. If the response to this query is that nothing concrete actually took place under previous administrations, then what is the present Minister’s blueprint? What is his comprehensive agenda for ensuring food sufficiency?
It is indeed absurd that in 2016, we cannot produce enough tomatoes to feed ourselves – the short of it is that that single narrative about “tomato ebola” calls for more rigorous thinking. It is not enough to deal episodically with tomato scarcity, or the scarcity of any other food item; this must be done within the context of a plan of action. The job of government officials is to give the people hope and not to deepen their agony. A committee of experts looking into the scarcity of tomato, and how to throw money at the problem (!) is a round-about excuse for doing nothing. The knowledge that is required is within easy reach and much of the issues at stake, those within the province of the Ministry and those located in the larger context, are out there in the public domain, and perhaps, also in those accumulated files and old reports that most officials hardly ever read. The Ministry also spoke up rather too tardily.
For weeks, there have been all kinds of ethnic and political insinuations about how tomato became scarce, some of which, allowed to fester for too long, could have resulted in other crises. And we can only hope that the connection between food and health will not be lost on the experts. The health benefits of tomato alone are so many; to have a population no longer eating tomatoes, because of its cost could have long-term health implications. And while we expect the Federal Government to take the lead in terms of visioning, we should remember to ask: what are the state governments also doing? What are the states doing to promote agriculture and ensure food security? Apart from Kaduna state, other state governments have been criminally silent about the food crisis or they really don’t know since they probably get supplies of fresh tomatoes from neighboring countries for their own kitchens. All the big men eating imported fresh tomatoes when we, the people, can’t get tomatoes to eat, just “continuu eh” but don’t forget that a hungry and angry voter is an enemy of politicians.
There is another side to this whole tomato thing that is noteworthy. Special notice must be taken of the reference to the insurgency in the North East as a threat to agriculture. It is also interesting that most of the tomatoes produced in the country are from the North, and the Middle Belt. Check the list of major tomato producing states in Nigeria: Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Gombe, Plateau. Also check the list of the states where people are complaining most about the cost of tomato: they are all in the South! We should ask: so Southern Nigerians are grumbling about tomato being expensive and scarce, why are they so dependent on Northern farmers? They want tomatoes from the North, but are these not the same people who don’t want to see Northern cattle herdsmen in the South? Are these not the same people campaigning on social media that Southerners should stop buying beef in order to spoil market for Northern herdsmen? They are now begging for tomatoes from Northern farms?
In Ekiti, the state Governor has already given local hunters an executive order to shoot any AK-47 wielding herdsmen sighted anywhere in the state. It may not have occurred to the Governor that an AK-47 is far more versatile than a “shakabula” that is made by local blacksmiths and that he may actually be sending his local hunters on a suicide mission, but I doubt if the same Governor will stop lorry loads of fresh and healthy tomato baskets coming from Gombe to Ekiti markets! Thus, whereas cattle-grazing is causing ethnic division, tomato is generating so much hypocritical love for the Northern farmer: “Please, send us tomato, stop selling tomato to the tomato paste producers!”. This country is truly far more integrated and its various units so interdependent, in more ways than the politics of hate and division would ever allow the people to see. It is tomato today, should onions, millet and kolanuts also become very scarce, Southerners may start begging Northern farmers to please bring their produce to the South. This is the truth of our interdependence but we need to get our politics right and those who exploit ethnic divisions must allow the country to grow.
One final point: The scarcity of tomato and the threat of a national food crisis should remind policy makers at all levels, of the importance of agriculture. A nation that can feed itself is a safe and secure nation. A hungry nation can only have sad people. Tomato is incidentally, a versatile vegetable, very easy to grow, usually ready for harvest between 60 – 85 days. Those who are screaming “give us tomatoes”, and playing politics with it, may also do well to embark on subsistence farming: create a small garden in the backyard, turn that uncultivated plot of land into a small farm, plant a variety of food plants, remove that your white collar, stop waiting on the Northern tomato farmer, get on with the food revolution we need…while hoping that some day, Nigerian leaders will stop waiting for oil money and rediscover agriculture as Nigeria’s true gold.
By Reuben Abati