The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday laid bare the facts that called to question, the ruling by the Supreme Court which sacked its candidate, Emeka Ihedioha and replaced him with Hope Uzodinma of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as governor of Imo state; accusing the apex court of committing an electoral heist against the Imo people; by declaring the total number of valid votes cast far above the official number of accredited voters given by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC). In the view of the PDP, the Supreme Court verdict must be reviewed and reversed in the interest of Nigerian democracy and the credibility of INEC as the electoral umpire.
In rejecting the apex court verdict, the PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said that nothing; not even the cheap blackmail by governors of the ruling APC party would stop the PDP and millions of Nigerians from demanding a review and reversal of the judgment in which the Supreme Court manufactured and donated fictitious votes to Uzodinma who came in a distant fourth position in the poll; and then proceeded to declare him as the winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in Imo State.
The PDP challenged the Supreme Court and their APC co-travelers to explain to Nigerians how the Supreme Court, in its bid to award votes to APC, ended up declaring the total valid votes of 950,952; above the official INEC tally of 823,743 total number of accredited voters for the election in Imo state.
“Can the APC governors explain to Nigerians how and where the Supreme Court manufactured the extra 127,743 votes above the official number of accredited voters provided by the electoral umpire, INEC?. What can they say to the fact that the Supreme Court could not produce the details of the votes from each of the fictitious 388 polling units, upon which it based the ruling?
“Furthermore, can the APC governors explain why the Supreme Court summersaulted on its declaration on a host of cases, particularly the Atiku vs Buhari case, that for a petitioner to succeed in allegation of infraction of any provision of the Electoral Act, especially one complaining about malpractice, the petitioner must call witnesses polling unit by polling units?” The opposition party queried.
APC governors, PDP said, should therefore steer clear of the Imo State judgement as the PDP would never abandon its determination to get the judgement reversed. PDP added that it’s rather not surprising to many that the APC governors could allow themselves to be enlisted to haul insults at the PDP with a view to blur and distort the grave miscarriage of justice because many of them are products and beneficiaries of electoral manipulations.
“The APC governors’ part in this script appears very glaring. Of course, who else will the flies support except a person with open smelly sore? This is also why APC governors are encouraging their party to engage in underhand measures and supporting injustice instead of following democratic processes. In comparing the Imo State judgment to that of governorship elections in Zamfara and Rivers states, the APC governors forgot that Nigerians are abreast of the facts,” PDP said.
The main opposition party noted that governors of the ruling party deliberately obfuscate the fact that they lost Zamfara and Rivers states as a result of their internal wrangling over their failure to conduct a credible primary, which voided their votes and left the party with the second highest number of votes as the winner. This has no similarity with the case in Imo state where fictitious votes were manufactured by the Supreme Court and donated to the APC to lift it from the fourth position to become winner.
Some commercial banks have designed means to avoid the recent slash in charges on withdrawal from Automated Teller Machines (ATM) by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), by adjusting the maximum payout from their ATMs for other banks’ cardholders to between N5,000 and N10,000 per transaction, forcing customers to increase use of the machine to withdraw cash and get charged more frequently, Huhuonline.com investigations have revealed.
The central bank recently reduced the N65 charged on remote-on-us ATM after the third withdrawal in a month, to N35. Remote-on-us are transactions done by a card holder on another bank’s ATM.
The policy became effective on January 1, 2020. For instance, some of the banks visited along the Airport Road, 7&8 Bus Stop, Lagos and some bank branches at Oshodi, the buttons to withdraw amounts above N5,000 per transaction were disabled and inactive when Huhuonline.com visited the branches at the weekend.
But the prompt icons to withdraw lower denominations such as N1,000, N2,000, N3,000, and N5,000 were working. Therefore, customers were conditioned to make withdrawals in bits and incurred charges. However, while all the banks still left the option of withdrawing above N10,000 on the screen of their ATMs, attempt by Huhuonline.com to make withdrawals using another bank’s card at the banks visited wasn’t successful as the maximum pay-out on the third party ATMs were restricted to N10,000.
When contacted on the development, the President of the Bank Customers Association of Nigeria, Dr. Uju Ugubunka, expressed dissatisfaction about the development.
He described the situation as unfortunate, offensive and anti-customer in nature.
Ugubunka, who is the immediate past Registrar of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, added: “This means they have reconfigured their ATMs in search of more charges to make more money.
This is because for instance, if you were to pay N35 after the third transaction and you need N50,000 through the ATMs for instance and you start withdrawing it in N1,000 or N5,000 per transaction, instead of the normal N20,000 per transaction, before withdrawing N50,000 you would have paid more than the N35.
“It is unfortunate if banks have to go this route just to make more money. But again, you see in business, you redefine your business based on the things that are happening in the environment. But I think that rather than do something that would be offensive to regulation and indeed against your customers, you should be doing something that would make your customers get endeared to you.
“I can imagine that if customers are aware that there are other banks that haven’t reconfigured their ATMs to that level, they would most likely tell you that they are switching over to those banks for as long as those banks would maintain such a situation. But when you take undue advantage of your customers that means you don’t have them at your heart. This is unfair and anti-customers.
“I believe that customers who know their rights would penalise those banks, for taking that route. And the way to penalise them is to switch to other banks that aren’t doing similar things that those ones are doing. And it’s very easy to achieve that.”
Asked if his association was likely to take any action about the development, he said, “Yes, we are planning the Bank Customers’ Forum for this year and we intend to bring it forward. We would discuss some of these emerging issues at the forum. We would also require some of our bank customers who have really suffered it, to report to us formally and share their experience. However, personally, I will take it up and I would encourage some of our colleagues to go and try it out and let’s see what they find out, and then we would take it up from there.”
The central bank in a recent circular posted on its website, amongst others, announced the downward review of charges for electronic banking transactions; review of other bank charges to align with market development and the inclusion of new sections on accountability/responsibility and a sanction regime to directly address instances of excess, unapproved or arbitrary charges.
Some of the major highlights of the new Guide to Bank Charges included the removal of Card Maintenance Fee (CAMF) on all cards linked to current accounts, a maximum of N1 per mile for customer induced debit transactions to third parties and transfers or lodgments to the customers’ account in other bank on current accounts only; reduction in the amount payable for cash withdrawals from other banks’ Automated Teller Machines (Remote-on-us), as well as from N65 to N35, after the third withdrawal within one month
When contacted, the Director, Corporate Communications, CBN, Mr. Isaac Okoroafor, said central bank would look into the matter. He, however, explained: “The ATM is supposed to be for dispensing minor cash for minor transactions. Anybody doing major high value transactions should use any of the different electronic channels.”
In The Spotlight
Announcing Nigeria’s visa-on-arrival policy for all Africans at the Peace and Development Summit in faraway Egypt, President Muhammadu Buhari failed to disclose that Africa’s largest economy has one of the continent’s weakest passports; having suffered the worst decline in rankings over the last decade, on the annual Henley Passport Index with a 19-place drop. The decline in passport power now sees Africa’s most populous country rank 95th - firmly etched in the bottom quarter of the rankings. The drop in rankings also means Nigerian passport holders can visit two countries fewer now than they could in 2010 without first obtaining a visa.
Regionally, Africa accounts for four of the seven biggest drops in ranking on the index since 2010. Keeping with the historical trends, Africa also dominates the bottom quarter of the rankings with only two countries—Seychelles and Mauritius—in the top 50. Regrettably, the African continent till date remains closed and the least accessible to fellow Africans. According to facts, it is a lot easier and 45% cheaper to travel intercontinental than from one African country to another due to stringent restrictions and barriers. What is worse, only 19% of African trade stays within the continent, just as only 20% of air passenger traffic is carried by African airlines. Little wonder that Africa sees less than 5% of international tourists’ arrival yearly, and none of its cities merits the top 25 most visited cities in the world.
While Henley & Partners, the residence and citizenship consultancy that collates the index, notes a “substantial increase in the number of countries an average individual can visit without needing to get a visa in advance,” it also admits much of the progress on this front is firmly skewed towards holders of passports of developing countries. As such, the firm says the current global mobility gap is the “starkest” ever since the inception of the index. In some cases, passport power is affected by local conflict and security fears as seen in the cases of Libya which has dropped 16 places since 2010 and Mali which has dropped 13 places. But, generally, the decline in the power of African countries is largely because countries in other regions are easing travel with reciprocity and boosting the strength of their passports at a much faster pace.
On the face of it, the visa-on-arrival to all African nationals policy which went into effect from January 2020, was long overdue as Nigeria leads the way in promoting free movement of persons, goods and services for African integration. Widening the scope to all Africans is innovative and consistent with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) earlier signed by many of the 54 African countries. The implication is that fellow Africans can now visit Nigeria with minimal restrictions. They no longer have to queue and wait for weeks or months to be granted permit into Nigeria. But open arms to all neighbours demand much more than an intent of friendship. It requires caution, awareness and preparedness on the home front – if it must safeguard national security, health and economic interests.
Globally, many countries are relaxing entry barriers to welcome foreigners as they market local travel and tourism to the world. More conservative countries like Saudi Arabia have lately opened up to attract non-religious tourists in preparation for the post-oil era. One of the strategies of opening up is to make the visa process less discriminatory and cumbersome. Without the luxury of visa-free travel or even receiving visas on arrival, traveling abroad comes with the hurdle of expensive, paperwork-intensive visa application processes for a majority of holders of African passports since most applications are likely to be rejected—sometimes without just cause. A joint All-Party Parliamentary Group report from British lawmakers last August showed Africans are being unfairly denied UK visas.
The real-life implications of difficult visa processes for Africans; range from being unable to visit family members abroad, to scuttling higher education plans. Up to 75% of African students who applied for student visas to study in Canada between January and May 2019 were rejected— far higher than the global rejection rate of 39%. One easy way for African countries to boost the strength of their passports is by easing visa regimes on the continent. Yet, progress in easing travel between African countries remains slow: 49% of countries on the continent offer neither visa on arrival nor visa-free travel to other African visitors.
Ideally, therefore, the new visa-on-arrival policy is a right step in the right direction, especially for the African continent. But charity should begin at home and with the Nigerian passport all but worthless, it suffices to raise a few posers: What has Nigeria put in place to properly domesticate the visa-on-arrival policy to maximum local advantage? To what extent has Nigeria developed and packaged its tourism and hospitality industry – the major consideration of visa-on-arrival policy – to attract the right nationals and attendant revenue into Nigeria? Religious tourism alone is a potential money spinner that is yet untapped. Again, how equipped is the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) to implement a visa-on-arrival policy? These are questions the Federal Government must answer because countries always put their citizens first; and cherry-pick their friends based on mutual interests and prevalent circumstances.
Even countries that permit visa exemptions to some countries still issue mandatory electronic authorizations to such visitors. This raises the question how beneficial the open invitation to all-comers visa-on-arrival policy will benefit Nigerians with Nigerian passports which have little or no international value or respect. More so, as there is no inherent stated guarantee that that other African countries will reciprocate and stop treating Nigerian passport holders as criminals, drug pushers and sex traffickers. Nigeria already has her plate full of challenges for it to be bothered with fresh threats on accounts of welcoming foreigners with open arms.
In The Spotlight
The Buhari administration has given Nigerians a most unusual and disturbing New Year Gift, in the form of a proposed increase in electricity tariffs, enforceable from April by the Electricity Distribution Companies (Discos) and to be completed by the end of 2021, with the full backing of the regulator, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). What happened? I am in a state of shock. What we knew, what we saw, before now, indeed what we were told, was that the electricity distribution companies were the weakest links in the electricity supply chain. They were accused of different infractions by the Ministry of Power, the Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trader (NBET) and the NERC which included, failure to abide by the provisions of the National Electricity Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA), violation in particular of Section 74 thereof; failure to make due remittances to the Bulk Trader resulting in huge debts that had become a problem for the sector, and failure to comply with the metering system.
By October 2019, the NERC had served notice that it was prepared to revoke the licenses of the 11 Discos, should they fail within a 60-day deadline, to give reasons to the contrary in defence of their continued presence in the electricity market. The standard official line was that the Discos were incompetent and ineffective, making the value chain difficult for both the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and the Generating Companies (GENCOs). The DISCOS insisted that they had done nothing wrong. They complained about (i) the huge cost of doing business in the sector; (ii), the failure of government to enforce cost reflective tariffs in line with the Multi Year Tariff Order (MYTO); (iii) electricity theft, (iv) the non-availability of gas due to vandalism, (v) government’s refusal to engage with stakeholders in the sector and (vi) they alleged that government is the biggest debtor in the market due to the refusal of government departments and agencies to pay electricity bills.
The big take-away for me was the persistent threat by the Federal Government of Nigeria that the DISCOs will be scrapped, or that their licenses will be revoked and re-assigned. It was said quite loudly that the current owners of the licenses got involved in the electricity sector not because they have the technical know-how or the financial muscle, but simply because they were close to the Jonathan administration, which accelerated the power sector reform process. Cast in that shape, the electricity sector became part of the unending navel-gazing, Jonathan-caused-it card that has been consistently played by the Buhari administration.
What is shocking however is that the decision to increase electricity tariffs raises more questions than answers. On the surface of it, the Federal Government and its agents have capitulated to the DISCOs. How and why? At what point did the Federal Government buy into the argument of the DISCOs that the most important challenge in the electricity sector is the payment of cost-reflective tariffs? And how was the 77% increase arrived at, with consumers in the South East having to pay more than the rest of the country? Is this a case of ethnic discrimination? Do consumers under Enugu Disco use more electricity? What formula determined the new proposed rates? Well, they tell us it is all based on “changes in macroeconomic variables and available generation capacity”. Please, what does that mean in common man’s language? We have also been told that the proposed tariff hike is a retrospective adjustment to make up for revenue shortfall for the DISCOs from 2016 -2018. So, should the consumer be punished for the regulator’s failure to respect its own enabling Act? And by the way, in the last four years, electricity tariffs have increased by about 300%.
What we see is an excessive emphasis on revenue and profit by those in charge of the service delivery sectors of the Nigerian economy in general. Nobody cares about the consumer. On all fronts, the Nigerian consumer is left unprotected. He or she is perpetually served the short end of the stick, and violated without consultation or respect for his or her right to be heard. The electricity sector is one of the most inefficient sectors in Nigeria. The national grid collapsed more than 10 times in the year 2019. Every month, we were told that gas pipelines had been vandalized. The DISCOs complained endlessly that they were having problems, but they were merely giving excuses. The regulator towards the end of the year introduced a compulsory metering policy and urged consumers to get properly metered to avoid the menace of estimated billing and the grand corruption that comes with it The DISCOs resisted the metering policy and virtually either refused to support it or adopted measures to frustrate it. They circumvented the terms of the policy. Today, most consumers of electricity remain unmetered. They do not enjoy efficient service. They are billed on the basis of some nebulous categorization called “status.” What “status”? The owners of Yola DISCO pleaded force majeure and threw in the towel, but other DISCOs continue to operate without offering the people premium service. This has angered customers across the country. In Benin, the people once carried placards against the electricity distribution company, the BEDC. In other parts of the country, DISCO officials have been beaten up and given a bloody eye.
On top of it all, the proposed increase in electricity tariffs is insensitive to the feelings of electricity consumers. Many Nigerians insist that they are willing to pay for electricity if they get it on a regular basis – for now, we are a nation in darkness. The people want transparency – the pervasive estimated billing system does not promote that, the DISCOs simply charge as they wish on the basis of nebulous factors. The people want meters, but nobody is taking that seriously. The timing and announcement of the proposed increase are also unfair. It is an unkind New Year Gift to a people confronted with a year of more taxes, with Value Added Tax jumping from 5% in 2019, to 7.5% in 2020 along with other taxes under the Finance Act of 2019. Nigerian workers expect that the increase in the new national minimum wage will be fully implemented in the year 2020, but it is obvious as we enter the new year, that the new minimum wage has already been wiped out by increased inflation and taxation. It is ever so convenient for government to punish the common man. In other countries, governance is aligned to the people’s interests and welfare. In Nigeria, our governors seek to inflict pain and punish the people.
The opaqueness in the electricity sector is another problem. It promises to be worse than what we have seen so far in the oil and gas sector and the inefficiency of the oil corporation, NNPC. We are told on one hand that electricity tariffs will go up in April, while at the same time, the regulator announces that the Federal Government will underwrite N544.8 billion Electricity Tariffs Shortfall in 2020. How? Is that a subsidy? And if so, is there a provision for it in the 2020 Budget? N544.8 billion? How was that figure arrived at?
The Federal Government says the intended increase in electricity tariffs is meant to get the sector back on track. Taxing the poor and the impoverished is not the best way to get anything back on track. The electricity sector is in urgent need of a general review and reform, and there are many issues to be addressed. Cost reflective tariffs under the MYTO regime may make the investors happy, but making consumers happier and protecting their interests should be the priority of government. Will increase in tariffs translate into efficiency? I doubt. Efficient service delivery is important. Will government agencies, the biggest debtors in the electricity sector now pay their debts? We don’t know. Or has there been a quid pro quo at the people’s expense? Is government planning to write off the debts of the DISCOs, and forgive their sins? What has happened to the plan to revoke operational licenses in the sector? Too many questions. But that is Nigeria for you. Nothing is ever straight-forward.
II: The Pope And The Woman He Slapped
On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2019, Pope Francis slapped a woman’s hand as she clung to him, and grabbed him while he was making the rounds greeting pilgrims at the Vatican. The following morning, the Pope apologized for what he called “yesterday’s bad example”. The footage of the Pope, freeing himself from the woman, with a scowl on his face, has since gone viral, but I am pleased that there are more people in support of the Pope than against him. Significantly, there has been no outrage. The Pope’s apology came swiftly in less than 24 hours but he actually didn’t need to apologize because he did no wrong.
What is established is that the Pope, often decorated with the toga of spotlessness, perfection and sainthood is human after all. He is like us. He is one of us. Like everyone else, if he feels threatened or unsafe, he will try to protect himself. The Pope was reacting to an invasion of his space. It is fine to shake hands but some people don’t know when a handshake sends a different signal. They grab. They linger. Women probably understand this better. The moment a handshake becomes an unwanted and unwelcome gesture; the other party is bound to recoil in horror or anger. That is precisely what the Pope did. He slapped the woman’s hand twice and freed himself.
I do not agree with those who argue that this is an indication of lack of clarity about Church teaching or that it is a case of “violence against women.” In any case, the Pope’s hand swat was just a mere tap. This wasn’t a case of an Anthony Joshua slapping an over-eager Asian woman at St. Peter’s square. Where was Vatican Security by the way? In his Angelus remarks on January 1, the Pope delivered a message of hope and preached about “violence against women.” He has been accused of hypocrisy for that but his critics are again unfair to him because the equivalence that they seek to establish with the event of the night before is false.
For me, by offering an apology, the Pope sets a good example and tone for the new year and decade. He reminds us of a value that is increasingly missing in social relations between the powerful and the ordinary in our world. The Pope is leader of over 2.1 billion Catholics in the world. He controls minds and imaginations. To see the head of such a large congregation getting angry in public, and even getting “physical”, is a reminder of the commonality of human emotions, but his apology in an age when many, especially the powerful and the privileged have lost the capacity to say “I am sorry, I didn’t mean to do that” is the most ennobling aspect of the incident. When last have you as a person, tried to say: “I am sorry”? In today’s world, we rarely apologise for the gaps between acts and intentions. We don’t care enough about the feelings of others. People are just intentionally offensive, be they leaders or followers - and that is why the world is such a troubled place today from Ukraine to Crimea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Israel, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, North Korea and the United States. Even when some people try to be contrite and they offer apologies, they sound more like Prince Andrew of the United Kingdom making empty noise about obvious wrongs, or like Jeremy Corbyn’s hollowness on anti-Semitism.
In this matter, we have focused more on the Pope, perhaps understandably. But let the point be made: that the woman who grabbed him is an archetype for followers who do not know their boundaries. Ordinary people tend to cling to leaders, particularly religious leaders. In the Bible, Luke 8: 40-49, the people crowded and pressed against the Lord Jesus Christ and a woman touched Him prompting Him to ask: “Who touched me?” Someone touched me, I know that power has gone out from me”. These days, the people overdo it, because they believe that their salvation lies with that touch, that encounter with the man of power or the symbol of divine authority. Many Christians worship Man rather than God. But it is perfectly normal for the Pope to act like a human being and good for all of us to see that he is just like “us”.
by Reuben Abati