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Kogi State: Where Critical Capital Projects are Plagued by Endless Zero Performance

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Gov. Yahaya Bello of Kogi State
Kogi state Governor, Yahaya Bello
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In November 2020, I wrote a piece on the state of healthcare in Kogi State and the Confluence Advanced Medical Diagnostic Imaging Centre (CAMDIC) that was meant to be the beacon of modern healthcare not only in Kogi State but in the wider North Central geopolitical zone.

What had triggered my interest at the time was that the Kogi State Commissioner was on national television crying over the wanton destruction and looting of expensive medical equipment and supplies from the Kogi State Central Medical Stores by EndSARS protesters in late October 2020.

My initial gut instinct was to yell at the looters on television and wondered why those Nigerians who cannot run to India, UK or the US for their medical care when confronted with routine health challenges are the same ones who could steal, loot and destroy expensive critical life-saving medical equipment and supplies.

On arrival in Lokoja, I was dismayed to learn that the Diagnostic Centre that was almost completed and close to being commissioned was caught up in a bureaucratic quagmire that had lasted many years under the same administration from whom the equipment was destroyed.

Like myself, millions of Nigerians have seen a new video making the rounds on both conventional and social media that came out of Kogi State about 2 weeks ago. An angry Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi state was giving a public tongue lashing to the Chinese contractor, the Commissioner of Works and you guessed right, the Commissioner of Health. The visibly irritated Governor had come on an assessment tour of the work done on this massive new project in the same hospital premises where the moribund Diagnostic Centre still stands as a COVID-19 Isolation Centre. The Governor who was marking his own script gave it a big, fat “Zero”. He went further to ask the Chinese contractor if there were similar buildings or projects in China. The answer to that question is obviously “No”.

The Chinese government would not tolerate such a building and such level of shoddiness. This is because, in China, incompetence has consequences. Serious consequences! The Chinese government does not joke with incompetence. Remember that President Xi Jinping is an Engineer by training. He makes sure every infrastructure meets standards, unlike what many Chinese firms deliver in Africa and Nigeria in particular. The days of Chairman Mao are gone, and so is the corruption and incompetence of that era. The difference in Chinese diligence is crystal clear in the China of today.

As a journalist and a Nigerian, there are many issues to ponder as we think through the process where hard earned Kogi State money and resources are being squandered in large amounts in order to achieve what GYB himself, assessed as Zero. Zero…

His Excellency, GYB is aware of the critically important Diagnostic Center project next to the premises of the Kogi State Specialist Hospital. It therefore beats my imagination to understand why abandoning this diagnostic Center which was severally praised, if completed, would have ranked among the best in the country with the quality of equipment sourced for it.

It is unfortunate that the Governor wanted to give world class standard of projects which l presumed is the “GYB STANDARD” as he said in the video but it appears the lieutenants around him do not share this vision.

Instead of the world class standard equipment for the Diagnostic Centre being installed and put to good use, they were stored for years until the Medical Stores where they were kept by the Government were vandalized and looted. Equipment worth many billions of Naira destroyed and consumed by civic rage. Sadly, these equipment and supplies were never used to save the lives of Kogi people. It is amazing that no one could whisper to the Governor that this project should be completed as quickly as possible but by some unusual logic, the Governor was advised to embark on another massive project either as renovation of the existing hospital or as a huge administrative edifice.

It is not in doubt that the diagnostic Center should rather have served as a bedrock and necessary support to existing hospitals in the state.

A big question again begging for answers is if truly the Honorable Commissioner of health, Saka Audu was genuinely crying or it was a farce as l contemplated in my first piece titled ‘ medical diagnostic center Lokoja: good idea turned white elephant’ A genuine cry certainly will not allow such Zero job to be undertaken under the crier. His Excellency, l belief deserve better than this.

By some stroke of genius, Kogi State now has two white elephants standing side by side at the Kogi Specialist Hospital in Lokoja. Hopefully, this is not the medical tourism the Commissioner of Health wants the State to attract.

It is high time that His Excellency, the Next Level Governor and the youth ambassador went all out to undertake comprehensive audits and assessment of all projects in the state, that appear botched, Not only in the health sector but in all his laudable projects across the state so he will not be bitten twice. His achievements in Kogi, and the way and manner he handles issues like this at the state level may be the leveler for his far fetched presidential ambitions come 2023. Many concerned Nigerians are watching!!!

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Opinion

Ahmad Lawan: The Doyen of Nigerian Parliament @64

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Senate President Ahmad Lawan
Senate President Ahmad Lawan
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By Ola Awoniyi

Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, the Distinguished Senator representing Yobe North Senatorial District of Yobe State, turns 64 on 12th January, 2023. Within those almost six and a half decades, he has seen it all, especially in public service. In just about five months from now, he will conclude his tenure as the 14th President of the Nigerian Senate and sixth consecutive session in the National Assembly.

Lawan has been around for so long in Abuja that it is easy to assume he was never elsewhere. Yet, his earliest work experience was in the academia, and it lasted long enough for him to bag a Doctorate degree in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System (GIS) before yielding to the pull of partisan politics in 1998.

In that calling, Lawan has clearly made his mark. And not just because he attained the dizzying height of third in the order of succession. People see politics as a dirty game. But Ahmad Lawan does not see it that way. For him, politics should not change the core beliefs and principles of an individual. Service to the people should be the driving objective of partisan political practice. And whether in politics or elsewhere, Lawan believes one’s yes must mean yes.

This has, in no small  measure, paid off for Lawan in his almost 25 years in politics, 24 of which has been as a federal lawmaker. A member of the pioneer class of the National Assembly of the Fourth Republic, he was first elected in 1999 to the House of Representatives from the Bade/Jakusko Federal Constituency of Yobe State. He was re-elected to the House in 2003. But in 2007, Lawan crossed over from the Green Chamber to the Red Chamber as the Senator for the Yobe North District. He was re-elected to that Senate seat in 2011, 2015 and 2019.

If you know what it takes to win elections in Nigeria, you would appreciate that what multiple winners like Lawan have accomplished is no small feat. His numerous reelections underscore that his constituents appreciate the quality of representation that he has been providing to them in Yobe North District.

The life of a politician is not all gloss as it may sometimes seem. Election is not a tea party. A parliamentarian in particular needs very hard work to get a return ticket from the party. In Parliament, getting the support of colleagues for  motions and bills requires deep knowledge and passion for the subject; focus and temperament. It is actually an extra burden if you are a Presiding Officer in parliament. Success or failure at every stage has its implications.

No wonder, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, the outspoken Governor of Kaduna State, at a recent public function in Abuja, said he has no intention of seeking a seat in the National Assembly like many former governors now do.

Speaking as chairman at the second edition of the “Distinguished Parliamentarian Lecture” organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies(NILDS): the governor said:

“The Legislature is one branch of government I know I can never function. The hardwork needed to convince people to support even your motion is something some of us have no patience for. You know management in the Executive is very straightforward. It is very hierarchical and once you are a governor, your word is almost law. But in the Legislature, everybody is equal and there is no management that is more difficult than managing your equals. I don’t envy Mr Speaker and the Senate President at all because their job perhaps is the hardest job in this country. Managing equals is difficult.”

Despite the difficulties, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan has shone at the National Assembly since its inauguration in 1999. Lawan is today one of only two lawmakers remaining in the National Assembly from the 1999 set. He has also attained the most enviable of heights in his many years of service at Parliament, becoming “first among equals” in the Upper Chamber, which is the very pinnacle of the hierarchy in the parliament of any democratic society. That makes him the Doyen of the Nigerian Parliament.

In his three and a half years as the 14th President of the Senate and Chairman of the ninth National Assembly, he has set a high standard for whoever will be his successors. He has demonstrated the value of parliamentary experience as a prerequisite for election as a presiding officer for the Upper Chamber.

His experience of more than two decades in parliament has made him an encyclopedia on the inner workings of the National Assembly. Lawan has the standing rules at the tip of his fingers. When any of his colleagues raises a Point of Order, he would ask the colleague to specify which order. But before the text is read out, Lawan already knows the provision and its applicability.

As “first among equals,” Lawan knows the importance of fairness in the conduct of the affairs in plenary. Even though the majority will always have its way, the minority must have its say as well.

Lawan knows the value of a bipartisan Legislature. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the job of a Presiding Officer is to know when to hit the gavel and when not to. As one of Lawan’s aides, I heard him say, many at times, that he had no choice but to hit the gavel or rule in favour of a majority voice vote even when he held a different view to the voice vote. That is democracy.

Lawan also knows the value of promoting harmony between the Legislature and other arms of government, particularly the Executive, without compromising the independence of the Legislature.

Lawan has seen it all in Parliament. From my vintage point of observation, I quickly realized that he did not become the 14th President of the Senate and Chairman of the Ninth National Assembly by happenstance. It was the result of long years of self-preparedness, self-discipline, consistency, perseverance and tenacity of purpose.

Those attributes are essential for success in any endeavour and Lawan obviously learned that very early. And wherever he goes next, they will accompany him and pave the way for more success.

As I wish the Sardaunan Bade a happy 64th birthday, I also wish him more success in his future endeavours.

***Awoniyi is Special Adviser on Media to Senate President

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Opinion

Predictable Budget Cycle: A great Legacy of Ninth N’Assembly

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Senate President Ahmad Lawan
Senate President Ahmad Lawan
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By
Ola Awoniyi

Shortly after his emergence in 2019 as the 14th President of the Senate and Chairman of the Ninth National Assembly, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan promised to ensure the 2020 Appropriation Bill was passed and signed into law by the President before the end of that year. That promise would have sounded outlandish in many ears and many would have dismissed it outright as a flight of fancy induced by Lawan’s euphoria of electoral victory.

Going by precedent under the Fourth Republic, there were valid reasons for such scepticism.

By 2019, it had become normal for the Appropriation Bill to come into law not earlier than the first quarter or even in the middle of the budget year. This was in spite of the apparent injury the delay was delivering to government’s annual spending plans and the economy.

How to reset the budget cycle or financial year to run from January to December as was the case in distant past had confounded and beaten the previous National Assemblies. But that was not for lack of efforts on this part of the federal lawmakers. Session after session, they visibly worked to instal a steady, reliable and predictable January to December budget cycle. That just didn’t happen, for many reasons.

However, with great determination, strategic thinking and multipartisan cooperation in the Chambers, under a new milieu of effective collaboration amongst the Arm of Government, the Ninth National Assembly achieved the feat on first attempt in December 2019!

The impacts of timeous passage of Appropriation Bills on budgetary performance, governance and the general economy have been severally articulated by economic experts.

Even at the best of times, the Nigerian economy has needed every positive effort it can get for revamping it. The COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia/Ukraine war and sundry local challenges make such efforts even more imperative now. Imagine, some of the advanced economies are already reeling in or tottering at the edge of recession.

Of course the Nigerian economy too slid into recession twice in recent past. But on each occasion, it quickly pulled out. The quick recovery was significantly enhanced by the effective collaboration and proactive interventions of the NationalAssembly.

It is on record that the performance of the budget has improved under the new stable cycle to such extent that the performance numbers are now almost hundred percent.

This is one of the achievements for which the Ninth Assembly has not been granted the deserved credit.

Instead, the doubting Thomases and mocking birds did not immediately stop laughing. Even while some acknowledged the feat, they doubted it could be sustained.

However, it has. In 2020 and 2021. And now again, the Appropriation Bill 2023 was passed by the Assembly on 28th December, 2022.

According to the Senate President, it would have been passed even earlier, before the lawmakers went on Christmas recess, but for some problems that emanated from the Executive in the process of preparing the Appropriation Bill. Those problems, later resolved through collaborative efforts, delayed but did not frustrate timeous passage of the Bill.

Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari signing the Appropriation Bill 2023 into law on Tuesday 3rd January, 2023, which was the first work day in 2023, is historic. Not just for the National Assembly but for the country at large.

Yet, it is particularly historic for the Ninth Assembly because that is its last Appropriation Bill as its tenure ends in June this year.

It is noteworthy that the virus of late passage of Appropriation Bills year in year out had infected even state Houses of Assembly. But with the action of the Ninth Assembly setting good example at the national level, the trickle down effect has encouraged a turn around in the process in the states too. Many state governments have embraced this new culture at the national level and those that were not doing well before in that regard have taken the new cue from Abuja.We have seeing virtually all state Governors signing Appropriation Bills before the end of the year.

There is yet another innovation that has been entrenched in the country’s financial system by the Ninth Assembly. This has to do with the practice of approving the Finance Bill side by side the Appropriation Bill. The Finance Act provides the support base for an effective implementation of the Appropriation Act through some major reforms in fiscal policies of the government.

For instance, the 2022 Finance Act, which was passed same day shortly before the 2023 Appropriation Bill was passed, is to facilitate amendment to some fiscal laws as the Capital Gains Tax, Company Income Tax, Customs Excise Act, Federal Inland Revenue Service Act, Personnel Income Tax and Stamp Duty Act.

The Ninth Assembly has made it a tradition to pass this piece of legislation alongside the Appropriation Bill and this is another legacy that the succeeding Assemblies must sustain. All these feats are made possible by the effective and efficient collaboration between the National Assembly and the Executive arm of government.

Also, through this cordiality, the Ninth National Assembly has accomplished all the items in its Legislative Agenda months ahead of the expiration of its tenure in June. It may also be difficult for some people to believe, but this Assembly has passed more Bills than any other before it. The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, noted recently at a public gathering that President Buhari has signed more Bills into law that were passed by this Assembly than any of his predecessors had done under any Assembly.

The tenure of the Ninth Assembly under Ahmad Lawan’s watch has less than six months to run out.
However, its legacy and work rate guide us to expect more accomplishments from it until its last day.

 

*Awoniyi is Media Adviser to Senate President

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Was Lawan a stranger to Nigerians before his emergence as Senate President?

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Senate President Ahmad Lawan
Senate President Ahmad Lawan
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By Ola Awoniyi

I might have titled this piece: “Re: Once again, most legislators will not return to National Assembly,” because it was prompted by an article under that title written by the highly respected academic, rights activist and columnist, Prof. Jibrin Ibrahim, and published by some media outfits on Friday, 17th June, 2022. However, I decided otherwise because Prof. Ibrahim’s commentary, as usual, made many points that I consider valid and thus have no issue with.

But an aspect of the article is capable of leaving the reader with a wrong impression, and that is what I have set out here to correct.

Which means this piece is actually not a rejoinder, in the full sense of that word, to the  article by the good Professor.

Just an amendment to it, as they would have described this effort of mine in Parliament.

The focus of Prof. Ibrahim’s article was the stranglehold of state governors on their political parties in their states and how this continues to reflect in the high turnover of lawmakers, especially in the National Assembly.

The writer mentioned the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, as one of a few lawmakers who have had long tenures in the National Assembly, despite the harsh political atmosphere he observed.

His misstep was in how he explained Lawan’s survival.

Prof. Ibrahim wrote: “The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, is the most spectacular exception that breaks the rule.

He has been in the National Assembly since 1999, first in the House of Representatives and subsequently in the Senate.

For some reason, successive governors of Yobe State have always given him the green light to stay on.

I wonder why? Could it be linked to his style and record of being unobtrusive and inconspicuous as a legislator  who did nothing and was therefore perceived as non-threatening?

What is clear is that until he became the Senate president, hardly anyone noticed him.

He was discovered when he became Senate president three years ago and then broke the Richter scale of political ‘arrivism’ when the APC chairman announced him to be the ‘presidential’ choice of President Buhari.”

I would have ignored it if those assertions were made by an undistinguished writer.

But they are hard to overlook in the well-read column of a Professor of Political Science who is universally respected for the fairness and profundity of his opinions.

It is a typical of the columnist to claim that Lawan was unknown prior to his emergence as the 14th President of the Senate in 2019, because that claim is not true.

And it is not fair to say Lawan was “an unobtrusive and inconspicuous legislator” as of 2019.

Those claims left me curious because, more than most people, Prof. Ibrahim is in a position to know better.

He knew Lawan was the choice of his party,

the APC, for election as Senate President in 2015, based on his reputation as one of the most effective and better known opposition lawmakers in the Fourth Republic by then.

Of course, Prof. Ibrahim would remember that Lawan was the Senate Leader before his emergence as Senate President.

So, how can the Senate Leader be “unobtrusive and inconspicuous”? Even if a person was randomly appointed to the position, the role would haul him out of obscurity.

Aside from the presiding officer, the next most visible in parliament is the Majority Leader, who leads in championing the cause of their party’s government.

The Majority Leader harnesses support for executive bills and government policies in parliament.

Parties hardly assign such a critical role to a greenhorn, talkless of an “unobtrusive and inconspicuous” member of parliament.

And Lawan did not step into that position from darkness. Before his election to the Senate, he had spent two terms of eight years in the House of Representatives, where at different times he was privileged to chair critical committees like Agriculture (2003-2005) and Education (2005-2007), despite the fact that he was in the opposition at those times.

Such committees are usually chaired by members of the majority party in Parliament, so it is a reflection of what his colleagues thought of him to have accorded him those privileges.

At the Senate, to which he was first elected in 2007, Lawan held the very important chair of the Public Accounts Committee for eight years(2007-2015) and the Defence Committee for two years (2015-2017).

All those were before he became the Senate Leader. Does that profile fit the description of the “unorbtrusive and inconspicuous”?

I cannot understand why Prof. Ibrahim tried to serve his readers the impression that a man with such resume and history in Parliament was unknown before his emergence as the President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly. Did he forget Lawan’s political journey out of
familiarity?

Lawan spent 10 years in the academic and acquired a doctorate in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System before he ventured into politics in 1998.

That year, he was elected the pioneer vice chairman of the defunct All People’s Party (APP) in Yobe State and in 1999, was the Secretary of the Electoral Committee of the APP National Convention which held in Abuja.

As I was quick to say at the start, I have no quarrel whatsoever with the focus of Prof. Ibrahim’s said article of June 17, which addressed two phenomena that have become a malaise that needs to be checked for the growth of democracy in Nigeria.

One is the system that allows state governors to unilaterally determine who become party officials and candidates for elections. The other is the high

turnover of lawmakers in our legislative assemblies, especially in the National Assembly, as captured by the current situation whereby about half of senators did not get their parties’ tickets for the elections.

On those points and for his usual well-grounded interventions, I salute the good Professor.

Awoniyi is Special Adviser on Media to Senate President

 

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