A  President’s poisoned chalice

Posted by News Express | 5 September 2020 | 1,065 times

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Millions of Nigerians, who woke up 48 hours back and witnessed the cruelest policy of a government represented by the sudden hikes in electricity and petrol pump price, understandably are seeking the best answer to the question: what is Nigeria to me?

Professor Chinua Achebe, easily one of the best literary gifts God gave to the Black world, attempted a response to this question in his collection of essays entitled: The Education of a British Protected Child.

His words: “Nigerian nationality was for me and my generation an acquired taste – like cheese. Or better still, like ballroom dancing. Not dancing per se, for this came naturally; but this titillating version of slow-slow-quick-quick-slow performed in close body contact with a female against a strange, elusive beat. I found, however, that once I had overcome my initial awkwardness I could do it pretty well.”

Achebe continued: “Perhaps, these irreverent analogies would only occur to someone like me, born into a strongly multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, somewhat chaotic colonial situation. The first passport I ever carried described me as a ‘British Protected Person’; an unexciting identity embodied in a phrase that no one was likely to die for. I don’t mean it was entirely devoid of emotive meaning. After all, ‘British’ meant you were located somewhere in the flaming red portion of the world map that covered a quarter of the entire globe in those days and was called ‘the British Empire’, where the sun never sets. It had a good ring to it in my childhood ears - a magical fraternity, vague but vicariously glorious.”

To the contemporary Nigerian, Nigeria is a country that cares for the political class more than he commoners, because politics have largely turned into the “survival of the fittest” just as “Might has become Right.” Government churns out policies without bearing in mind the import of government as encapsulated in the Nigerian Constitution, which is to secure Nigerians and to guarantee welfare of the citizens. The law made these the primacy of governance.

In the face of this challenge, it is important that President Muhammadu Buhari does not push Nigerians to the wall, apparently hoping that members of the security forces would always be disposed to be used as disposal agents of mass killings to stop aggrieved citizens from voicing out their rejection of these spate of evil-minded policies, which will inevitably push millions of Nigerians to the precipice and cast the citizens into a state  of poverty, penury and pain in the shortest possible period; if these hikes in the prices of petrol and electricity are not immediately annulled.

This reminds us all of the whole essence of appropriate use of governmental power to promote public good.

This theme was reflected in the work of a law scholar of Harvard University and erstwhile executive Chairman of the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) Dr Sam Amadi in his book, Privatization and Public Good: the Rule of Law Challenge.

In that book, the public policy analyst said: “But, all the gains of privatisation can become chimera if the regulatory environment is not clarified. The success of privatisation, or its appeal, is based on the proposition that a competitive market ensures better allocation of resources. Where the market works efficiently, that is, where the assumptions of a perfect market exist, there is little doubt that the market will ensure a more effective allocation than ration or any other mode of settling the problem of scarcity. But, in reality, a perfect market rarely exists. In Nigeria and other underdeveloped economies, functional markets rarely exist. Regulation is one process of ensuring that something close to a perfect market exists after privatisation, including that privatisation may become a process of creating a monopoly or entrenching an unfair market power. From the perspective of poverty and human rights, regulation is important as a control on privatisation to ensure it does not work to aggravate poverty.”

It is doubtful if this is the approach of the current Federal Government in Nigeria.

All these also bring us to another equally important question: What are the responsibilities of a government to the citizens?

When these responsibilities are stated out, we can then proceed to assert that it is insensitive, irresponsible and a show of crass lack of proper appreciation of good governance for President Buhari to effect punitive price hikes of fuel and electricity when Nigerians have not even emerged from the economic adversities foisted on them by the global pandemic of COVID-19; just as it is also relevant to recall what other nations are doing in aid of their citizens to ameliorate the excruciating hardships imposed on them by the global health emergency.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and Chief executive Officer, New America, has provided the universally acclaimed responsibilities of government to the citizens. We will quote her in greater details so as not to miss out anything.

The analyst further stated that It is providing an infrastructure of care to enable citizens to flourish socially and economically in the same way that an infrastructure of competition does. It provides a social security that enables citizens to create their own economic security.

The most important priority of government as investor is, indeed, Education, but education cradle-to-grave. The first five years are particularly essential, as the brain development in those years determines how well children will be able to learn and process what they learn for the rest of their lives. The government will thus have to invest in an entire infrastructure of child development from pregnancy through the beginning of formal schooling, including child nutrition and health, parenting classes, home visits and developmentally appropriate early education programmes. The teenage years are another period of brain development where special programmes, coaching and family support are likely to be needed. Investment in education will fall on barren ground if brains are not capable of receiving and absorbing it. Moreover, meaningful opportunities for continuing education must be available to citizens over the course of their lives, as jobs change rapidly and the acquisition of knowledge accelerates.

The author argued that even well-educated citizens, cannot live up to their full potential as creative thinkers and makers, unless they have resources to work with.

Quoting futurists and business consultants John Hagel III, John Seeley Brown and Lang Davison who argued in “The Power of Pull” that successful enterprises no longer design a product according to abstract specifications and push it out to customers, but rather provide a platform where individuals can find what they need and connect to whom they need to be successful. The writer underscores the important role of government as an investor in talents. 

“Woven all together, citizen-enterprise in every conceivable area can create a web of national economic enterprise and, at least, a good part of a social safety net,” she argued.

But in the case of President Muhammadu Buhari, he has visited the citizens with the poisonous chalice of fuel price hike and electricity price hike even when other nations are busy introducing palliatives for their citizens.

The French Government has detailed its 100 billion Euro ($118bn) stimulus plan to erase the economic effects of the corona virus crisis over two years, lining up billions of Euros in public investments, subsidies and tax cuts.

The plan – dubbed “France Relaunch” – earmarks, in particular, 35 billion Euros ($41bn) for making the Euro zone’s second-biggest economy more competitive, 30 billion Euros ($35bn) for more environmentally-friendly energy schemes and 25 billion Euros ($30bn) for supporting jobs, officials told the Reuters news agency ahead of its official presentation late on Thursday.

With the plan equating to 4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), France is ploughing more public cash into its economy than any other big European country as a percentage of GDP, one of the officials said.

French Prime Minister Jean Caltex said he hoped the economic recovery plan would create 160,000 jobs by 2021.

Speaking on RTL Radio, he also said the plan aimed to erase the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis over two years as well as helping to avert widespread job losses.

In the United States of America, President Donald Trump’s $600 federal weekly unemployment benefit bonus from the CARES Act expired on July 31. Democrats and Republicans didn’t make a deal for another relief package leading to President Donald Trump signing an executive memorandum on August 8, to restart the additional extra weekly funds but at $400 instead of $600.

“I’m taking action to provide an additional, or an extra, $400 per week in expanded benefits,” Trump said during a press conference at his Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “States will be asked to cover 25 per cent of costs, using existing funding such as the tens of billions of dollars available to them through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Under this plan, states will be able to offer greater benefits if they so choose and the Federal Government will cover 75 per cent of the costs.”

According to the executive memorandum, the $400 amount would start for the week ending on August 1 and will last until December 27.

When asked at a White House press briefing on Monday, when unemployment benefits recipients would receive the $400, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said: “We hope to see it quickly and close to immediately.” She said the speed of getting the funds to those eligible will depend on the states, as it is the states that will have to kick in $100.

Treasury Secretary Steve Munchin said during a second White House press briefing Monday that most of the states would be able to start the $400 unemployment benefits “within a week or two.” President Trump said the 25 per cent funding from the state could be terminated depending on the state.

Along with the return of the enhanced unemployment benefit, Trump also signed three other executive actions, for a payroll tax holiday, federal student loan assistance, and eviction protection. Like the $400 unemployment benefits, there are questions on the legality of these orders.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a joint statement on August 8 in response to Trump’s executive actions and called on Republicans to return to the negotiating table.

“Today’s meagre announcements by the president show President Trump still does not comprehend the seriousness or the urgency of the health and economic crises facing working families,” the two legislators said. “For instance, not only does the president’s announcement not actually extend the eviction moratorium, it provides no assistance to help pay the rent, which will only leave desperate families to watch their debt pile higher. Instead of passing a bill, now President Trump is cutting families’ unemployment benefits and pushing states further into budget crises, forcing them to make devastating cuts to life-or-death services.”

The weekly $600 benefit, part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programme, was a popular feature of the initial coronavirus relief legislation package that extended federal unemployment aid to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the HEALS Act (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools) officially proposed, Democrats and Republicans are working through a political stalemate.

Before President Trump signed the executive memorandum to restart the unemployment benefit bonus, Democrats and Republicans were unable to make a deal on the next stimulus package. Negotiations fell apart last Friday after a “disappointing” meeting, as described by Schumer, according to a report from CNBC.

On Monday, Mnuchin told CNBC that the White House and Republicans were open to begin negotiations with the Democrats again.

Since the President’s signings, Democratic leadership has spoken out on whether the executive actions taken were constitutional, but they have yet to declare if a lawsuit would be filed to block the orders from being carried out.

“My constitutional advisers tell me they (executive actions) are absurdly unconstitutional,” Pelosi said Sunday on uj.

When asked about whether negotiations would continue, Pelosi said she hopes they will.

California Governor, Gavin Newsom, said Monday that his state doesn’t have the funds to facilitate the 25 per cent of the weekly $400 bonus, according to a report from The Los Angeles Times. Newsom said the amount needed to cover the state’s portion would total $700 million.

Another issue state governors will have to face is the time it takes to implement the unemployment benefit. Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf’s administration says the President’s executive action will require the creation of an entirely new programme.

“This is not something that any state will be able to do quickly,” his administration said in a statement reported by the AP on Monday.

States that apply for funding with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and set up a system to distribute the money will have access to $44 billion, a Labour Department official told The Wall Street Journal Wednesday. However, if all states tap into the fund for the current recipients of unemployment benefits, then it will last for five to six weeks, which would be far sooner than the December 27 expiration dates of the executive memo.

The US Department of Labour sent out guidance on the new unemployment benefits President Trump created in his executive memo – referred to as Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) – on Wednesday. The guidance adds eligibility requirements, in particular, there will be a minimum $100 from a state’s unemployment benefits programme required to receive the additional $300 federal funds. This would affect 1 million people, according to The New York Times.

I ask again: What is Nigeria to us?

•Onwubiko, Head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria) blogs @www.huriwanigeria.com; www.huriwa@blogspot.com, www.thenigerianinsidernews.com


Source: News Express

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