The agitation for the autonomy to Local Government Councils in Nigeria took a new dimension during the week as the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) expressed its opposition to the idea. The union said that granting financial autonomy to the councils which entails abolishing the State/Local Council Joint Account would be counter-productive to the primary education system in the country.
National President of NUT, Comrade Michael Olukoya made the curious argument when he led a delegation of the National Executive Council of the union on a courtesy visit to the House of Representatives. The union said that the abolition of State/ Local Government Joint Accounts would be a disaster to the welfare of the teachers especially those in primary schools going by their experiences in the past.
It recalled that between 1990 and 1994 when primary education was under the control of local governments, teachers were owed salaries of between six to twelve months while those that retired during the period were not paid their pension and gratuities.
Obviously, this is a case of one man’s meat, another man’s poison. It complicates the whole issue and puts the parliament in a dilemma.
The National Assembly has been at the forefront of the agitation for the financial independence of the councils because of the common perception that the autonomy was the panacea to the under-development at the grassroots. Now that the teachers, a critical section of the society have joined the fray from the opposite angle, the die is cast. However there is still a window of opportunity for the councils to be free. The NUT said it is ready to support the autonomy of the councils if the responsibility for the payment of their salaries is transferred to the state governments or classified as statutory transfer and made a first line charge. The whole debate is about interests and no one is sure where the pendulum will swing to at the end of the day.
Ports Inspection Contracts ¨
The House commissioned some new investigation during the week. The House Committee on Customs and Excise was mandated to ascertain the status of a N275 billion inspection contracts signed between the Federal Government and four foreign firms.
The contracts which were awarded under the Destination Inspection Scheme (DIS) gave the firms the responsibility of providing scanning services, using electronic platforms at various ports in Nigeria.
The firms namely, Cotecna Inspection Limited; SGS Scanning Nigeria Limited; Global Scan Systems Limited and Webb Fountain (Nigeria) Ltd have been handling inspection at the ports in the last seven years. These firms were supposed to build, equip, train, and transfer the technology to the Nigerian Customs Service and exit the scene at the end of last year.
The bone of contention now is the allegation that the Ministry of Finance and the Nigerian Customs Service unilaterally extended the contract for a period of six months. It has also been alleged that as a result of the extension, Nigeria was losing so much money and had become a rip off on public resources. These allegations will be investigated in the coming weeks but it might turn a merry go round because we have been here before when the House investigated the Single Window Cencession.
South African Police
The lawmakers have also mandated the committees on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora to investigate the assault and torture to death of one Mr Obinna Ugboaja by the South African Police. The House learnt that cases of assault and torture of Nigerians by South African Police have been on the increase.
Articles 4, 5 and 7 of the African charter on Human and and peoples’ Right guarantees the right to life, respect for human dignity and any person accused of any crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.
The position of the House was Nigeria must take urgent actions now to avoid a situation where the South African security would continue to maltreat Nigerian citizens resident in their country. Is this black on black violence or a resurgence of xenophobia in Mandela’s backyard?
Exploring Dialogue Option
The need to change the modus operandi in tackling the insecurity in the land came to the fore in the course of the week. The lawmakers urged the Federal Government to explore the dialogue option in resolving the security challenges. Apparently, the issue came up as a response to the attack on the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero and the growing fear that it could be anybody the next day.
The lawmakers expressed worry on the incessant killings and kidnappings in different parts of the country. The House observed that whereas the welfare and security of the people ought to be the primary responsibility of government as stipulated in Section 14(2b) of the Constitution, Nigerians were confronted daily with reports of violence in different parts of the country. The concern was that the current approach of the government in resolving the rising wave of insecurity in the land might not be the best.
Those pressing for a change of tactics alleged that government has been emphasising military action, random arrests and imprisonment rather than seeking avenues for dialogue with insurgent groups such as the Boko Haram.
They argued that the use of force was a short term solution which has not only had limited effectiveness but has escalated the trend of insecurity across the country. “We are worried that if this approach is not reversed and more long term solutions deployed the incessant incidents of violence will pose serious threats to our security, democracy, rights and freedom of innocent citizens and ultimately destroy the nation’s fragile stability and unity,” they said.
The essence of the whole debate was to prevail on the Federal Government to take steps that will promote the rule of law, strengthen civil institutions and address the underlying factors that fuel insecurity and violent extremism.