Nigeria: With New Ministers, Buhari Confronts Nigeria's Challenges, Offers Fresh Hope

(file photo).
22 August 2019

As ministers took their oath of office Wednesday and were allocated their portfolios, THISDAY correspondents, in this Special Report, dwell on the challenges and opportunities each of them would encounter in their new assignment and what their stewardship portends for the nation

Aviation: Getting the Airports Working, Making the Skies Safer

The reappointment of Senator Hadi Sirika as Minister of Aviation has raised expectations in the industry, especially now that he is a substantive minister unlike during his first coming when he was a junior cabinet member.

Industry stakeholders said it was good that Sirika, a trained pilot before he joined politics, was reappointed so that he could oversee the finishing of some critical projects he had started.

In carrying out the programmes of the Buhari administration, Sirika had laid out plans to concession major international airports; establish a national carrier, a leasing company and aircraft maintenance hangar in line with the government's programme.

None of these was completed before the cabinet was dissolved in May, so it is expected that he would follow the laid out plans.

Under Sirika as minister, Aero Contractors started conducting C-check on Boeing B737 classics and recently was certified by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to conduct D-check on Boeing B737, which is a huge mileage in the area of aircraft maintenance.

It is expected that that the minister would consolidate on this achievement in the plan to establish a national maintenance hangar for the industry. Sirika also approved international routes for Air Peace and today the airline has started operation to Duba via Sharja after a hiatus when no domestic carrier operated international destinations.

The industry, however is still facing many challenges and Sirika is expected to draw on his experience and skill set to resolve these. Many of the airports in the country do not have airfield lighting, which cuts down operational time for domestic airlines, which must stop operating to some airports by 6:00 pm. This adversely affects passengers, airlines and also reduces revenue generation.

It is expected that the minister would make it a top priority to install runway lighting at these airports. And as the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has planned to shut down and rehabilitate the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, it is expected that the new minister would speed up the rehabilitation of work at the runway as he did at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja two years ago, which carved him out as a man of action.

Sirika would also be expected to solve the protracted problem of lack of aircraft maintenance facility in Nigeria. It is projected that Nigerian airlines spend about $2 billion annually on aircraft maintenance and his second coming is expected to birth the establishment of maintenance hangar in Nigeria.

Industry stakeholders have variously lamented that multi-designation of foreign airlines had shrunk the market for domestic carriers and currently lessors hardly lease aircraft to Nigerian operators. It is expected that the minister would rebuild confidence and trust on Nigeria and Nigerian carriers so that lessors can once again lease aircraft to the operators. The number of aircraft operating in Nigeria has shrunk to about 35 and this has given rise to high fares, flight delays and cancellations. The country is in dire need of more aircraft and with the return of Sirika, it is expected that these challenges, which he is familiar with, would be tackled so as to get the airports working again and to make the skies safer.

Finance/National Planning and Budget: Reviving the Economy, Propelling Growth

The biggest task ahead of the new minister is how to revive the economy and propel growth. Incidentally neither the National Planning/Budget nor Finance portfolio is strange to the new minister, Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, an accountant by training. She was the Minister of State, Budget and National Planning between November 2015 and September 14, 2018 when she took over as the substantive Minister of Finance, following the resignation of her predecessor, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun.

Before 2015, the finance and budget portfolio was under a single ministry, but the Buhari administration carved out budget and merged it with the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.

However, under the current dispensation, Finance, Budget and National Planning are now under Ahmed's purview, with Clement Agba as the minister of state. With the foregoing, Ahmed is in a good position to revive the economy and propel Nigeria towards growth.

Challenges

The Finance, Budget and National Planning Ministry is buffeted by sundry challenges, including late budget preparation/passage, poor implementation of fiscal plans, huge revenue shortfalls and the attendant delay in budget releases to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), the flagship medium-term economic blueprint of the federal government, which Ahmed helped to midwife while she was the Minister of State, Budget and National Planning, has failed to meet virtually all its specific timelines. Now that the ERGP will fall under her supervision, it will be in the economic interest of the country to see what could be done to meet the oustanding targets within the remaining one year of the life of the blueprint.

The issue of revenue generation is another critical area that needs serious attention. Although the minister launched the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative (SRGI) to drive revenue mobilisation before the end of the first term of the Buhari administration, it is yet to be seen how it will bridge the huge revenue gap.

Again, despite the scapegoating of the National Assembly over the late passage of annual appropriations, the late submission of budget proposals by the executive contributes to the development.

Now that efforts are being made to return to the December to January budget cycle, the onus is on the ministry to make such a target possible. Incidentally, the Senate has asked the executive to submit the proposals by September or early October.

There is also the issue of increasing debt accumulation, the fallout of a disproportionate ratio of revenue and expenditure.

Analysts said that there must be a creative way of addressing the bludgeoning debt service problem as well as the depletion of the Excess Crude Account (ECA). Building fiscal buffers is a must, considering the boom and bust cycle of oil, the nation's main revenue earner.

The revenue generating agencies must also be made to enthrone greater transparency in revenue generation and remittances.

Transportation: Consolidating Railways, Rebuilding Waterways

Minister of Transportation, Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, a two-time governor of River State and Speaker of the state House of Assembly, is returning to a familiar turf. He was in charge of the ministry during the first term of the Buhari administration, during which he announced the federal government's decision to spend billions of dollars in upgrading and expanding the rail network in a bid to boost production in strategic sectors of the economy.

He now has the task of consolidating on the strides made in restoration of the railways even as the waterways also cry for massive attention.

One of the projects Amaechi was keen on executing then is the 1100-km line between Lagos and Kano, which will be used for both freight and passengers. The standard-gauge corridor will be the second rail link between the cities. The other project is a coastal line that will link all seaports from Lagos to Calabar near the Cameroon border.

Now, with his returning to the ministry and working assiduously with the Minister of State, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, he now has a fresh opportunity to deliver on some of these projects and to achieve the ministerial mandate given to them by the president as well as to consolidate on his agenda for railways and in rebuilding waterways.

Close monitors of the ministry said they would have to pay more attention to inland waterways, maritime sector and road/mass transit.

To be sure, despite the announcement of commencement of cargo delivery by rail in the past few years, Nigerians continue to witness accident on various roads across the country by truck drivers. And this has adversely contributed to the damage of the roads.

Amaechi and Saraki have also been urged to look into the proposed endowment fund, which will encourage indigenous ship owners to play an active role in the maritime industry and implementation of the national fleet. Experts said it would help reduce the loss of billions of dollars in the country's territorial waters.

This is imperative as lack of indigenous shipping companies in term of ownership and operation of international carriage of goods, has resulted in the country's losing billions of dollars to foreign shipping companies.

More so, in spite of some success recorded by Amaechi in the past four years, experts have continued to express concern over the slow response to the decongestion of Apapa Seaports, which has led to the recurrent gridlock around the Lagos environs.

Aside the construction of rail projects in some sections of the country, the Ministry of Transportation appears to be lacking clear policy direction in terms of a roadmap to drive its policy as agencies and parastatals under its supervision are seen working at cross purposes.

For instance, the much talked about National Transit Truck Park has not seen the light of day and this has led to indiscriminate parking of Heavy Duty Trucks (HDTs) on the nation's highway; leading to huge traffic congestion.

What is needed, according to experts, is deliberate and consistent policy that will move the Nigerian transportation system forward in line with the direction of immense contribution to the country's gross domestic product.

Ministry of Power: Resolving the Power Logjam

Until his appointment, very little is known about Saleh Mamman, the Minister of Power, a portfolio carved out of the jumbo Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, which former Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), headed as a super minister in the last dispensation.

However, from his profile read during his inauguration yesterday, Mamman, who is from Taraba State, has worked at the Agricultural Extension and Rural Development Department of the Ahmadu Bello University. He has also undertaken research in agricultural plant science, food science and animal science. While his colleague, Goddy Jedy-Agba, the minister of state retired from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in 2014, where he rose to become the head of Crude Oil Marketing Department (COMD).

Challenges

One of the tough challenges of Nigeria's power sector is the very poor and unstable electricity supply that homes and offices have been subjected to over the years.

According to the Advisory Power Team in the office of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, daily power supply in the country has steadily dropped to below 4,000MW and this is mostly due to insufficient gas supply to some thermal Gencos, especially those of the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPPs).

Also, contributing to this is the inadequate transmission and distribution system. The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) has despite reported investments on the national grid, been unable to take more power from the Gencos while the 11 electricity distribution companies (Discos) have also reportedly failed to upgrade their networks to distribute as much as the Gencos can produce.

Nigeria's power sector is also suffering from chronic illiquidity, which impacts heavily on capacity expansion. Power sector's monitors have said government's silence on key regulatory and market decisions such as tariff, have also helped to ensure that the sector is underachieving. Recent records from Osinbajo's office indicated that in the first six months of 2019, an average of 3,948MW per day was supplied to homes and offices while an average of 3,221MW every day was not supplied.

It also stated that the total amount of money lost or constrained for the period was N279,806 billion. Financially, the sector is said to be doing poorly, with a lot of buck-passing, especially between the TCN owned by the government and Discos, and these have continued to define the outlook of the industry.

Even in 2019, the national grid, which the TCN manages, still recorded collapses, which the Discos said occurred nine times so far as a result of poor protection of transmission infrastructure by the TCN. Revenue collections in the system have also remained largely poor, while technical and commercial losses are still quite high.

The industry has also continued to record huge accident rates - the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) in January stated that 146 electricity accidents were recorded in the sector in 2017, from which 113 deaths and 77 injuries were recorded.

Also, 10 brand new plants, which have a combined capacity of 5,455MW and are slated for privatisation, have not been privatised for sundry reasons. Other projects under the NIPPs have also been stalled with the company struggling to keep up with its operations on account of poor revenue generation.

On the basis of the data analysed from Osinbajo's office, high frequency resulting from unavailability of distribution infrastructure, poor gas supplies to Gencos, inadequate transmission infrastructure, water management constraints, and uncertainty of regulatory regime have been the major challenges of Nigeria's power sector.

These and many are the problems the duo of Mamman and Jedy-Agba would have to find solutions to in a bid to resolve the power logjam.

Petroleum Resources: Resolving Policy Uncertainty, Promoting New Investments

For Timipre Sylva, his job won't be easy as he would have to deal with the gamut of policy inconsistencies in the industry that has Armstrong the massive investments required to push the sector to higher grounds.

Certainly, he would need to think up the strategy for securing the consensus required for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the piece of legislation, many industry watchers say holds the key to unlocking the great opportunities that abound in the sector.

He will work as Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, deputising for President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the substantive minister. He was a former governor of oil-rich Bayelsa State. The duo has a hard task ahead managing a ministry that is central to the economic survival of the nation and in resolving the uncertainty and paucity of investment.

About 90 per cent of the nation's foreign revenue is from oil sale and ensuring efficiency and transparency in running the oil sector has always been a sore point in Nigeria.

Challenges

In September 2016, just a little over a year after Buhari assumed office in his first term and at which time Nigeria's oil production was greatly challenged by political, governance and market issues, an agency of the federal government - the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) released a policy paper titled: 'the urgency of a new petroleum sector law,' and warned it was time the country reformed her oil industry.

At that time, Nigeria's oil output was according to another report by the NEITI - its 2016 oil and gas audit report, circa 1.805 million barrels a day (mbd) down from 2.127mbd, which was its average production in 2015, when Buhari's government took off in May.

Both reports from NEITI - the policy paper and audit report, had by their disclosures indicated that the productivity level of the country's oil industry was declining and reforms were seriously needed.

Besides the NEITI reports, the Petroleum Products and Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), also disclosed that between 2006 and 2016, Nigeria had spent over N8.97 trillion to subsidise petrol consumption by its citizens under the Petroleum Support Fund (PSF) scheme. By implication, this meant that because Nigeria has consistently failed to refine the petrol used for its domestic economy, the country spent that much to import and sell the product at government fixed pump price.

Nonetheless, the NEITI 2016 audit report shows in its assessment that Nigeria's crude oil production has continued to drop between 2012 and 2016, just the same way revenue accrued to the federation from oil did.

For instance, NEITI said then that the total crude oil production in 2016 was 659,137 million barrels (mbbls), which was less than 2015 production figure of 776,668mbbls by 117,531mbbl, thus representing a 15.13 per cent drop.

On the revenue end, the audit report showed that oil incomes to Nigeria in 2012 was $62.94 billion, which fell to $58.08 billion in 2013, and further down to $54.56 billion; $24.79 billion and $17.05 billion in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively, to suggest that the sector, which kept Nigeria running, was under immense threat and needed some adjustments.

Although no new reports on the status of Nigeria's oil industry have been produced by the NEITI, activities in the industry in the last two years suggest the situation hasn't changed much. Even data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) suggest that the sector is only but managing to hold on.

While the oil industry slips further away from been productive, Buhari in 2018, refused to sign into law, a vital reform bill, which experts believed could halt the dwindle and gradually restore comprehensive productivity in the industry - the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB).

In context, experts said the troubles with the oil industry in Nigeria did not look different from what led Venezuela to its current economic crisis, especially when considered on the basis of the lack of or inadequate investment through market and governance reforms.

While for Venezuela, its oil industry has reportedly been nose diving since its government took retrogressive actions that pulled off investments, which saw its output in recent years fall from 2.4mbd in 2015 to only 1.34mbd at the end of 2018, Nigeria, on the other hand, has elected to continue to run its oil industry with a 1969 law which experts say has outlived its usefulness in a dynamic sector.

So, choosing to continue with the 1969 Petroleum Act and delaying reforms through the Petroleum Industry Bills (PIB), the NEITI in its 2016 policy brief clarified that the country was at the losing end when compared with what she had lost and continues to lose to market and governance failures. Thus, this succinctly suggests that lack of needed reforms is the key challenge of Nigeria's oil industry.

It added that corruption, lack of transparency and accountability in the oil sector, were also consequences in a chain of ripple effects from the lack of reforms, leading ultimately to a severely underperforming economy, loss of benefits to the country and a largely impoverished population.

What is required, according to operators in the sector, is a quick enactment of the PIB, which has now been separated into four - Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB); Petroleum Industry Host Community Bill (PIHCB); Petroleum Industry Administration Bill (PIAB) and Petroleum Industry Fiscal Bill (PIFB), by the National Assembly for ease of passage.

Another challenge Sylvia would have to tackle is how to end the current fuel importation regime and end the shame of Nigeria, an oil-producing company importing fuel that it is self-sufficient in but for the poor state of its refineries and lack of the political will to get them working or build new ones.

Works and Housing: Expanding and Maintaining Road Infrastructure; Time for Housing Revolution

Babatunde Fashola has now been restricted to Ministry of Works and Housing, unlike before when he headed three ministries merged as one jumbo-size portfolio.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a former governor of Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos, he was the minister of Power, Works and Housing in the first term of Buhari band held on to the three key ministries until the end of Buhari's first term.

Challenges

One key challenge keeping back Nigeria's road and housing infrastructure from stepping up their deliveries to the country, is poor funding. Funding of roads and housing projects in Nigeria have remained abysmally poor and this is even with claims by the government that it has improved on this in the past four years.

Between 2018 and 2017, the country budgeted to spend N1.5 trillion on its infrastructure sector, which included expenditures to build houses and roads, as well as repair and maintain dilapidated sections of roads owned by the federal government.

However, the budgeted sums have never really been provided for their purposes in full, suggesting that projects in housing and road infrastructure are usually left with less funds to execute them.

Late in 2018, the immediate past Minister for National Planning/Budget, Mr. Udo Udoma, told journalists that about N460 billion had been released by the government for capital expenditure, but this was not for the roads and housing sectors.

Equally in 2018, the government raised about N100 billion in Sukuk bond for road construction and rehabilitation, yet Fashola, during his recent screening for a new ministerial appointment, underlined to the National Assembly how impactful poor funding is to the country's infrastructure sector.

Fashola pointed to the need for Nigeria to introduce an infrastructure bond worth N10 trillion to tackle the challenges of poor funding for road and housing infrastructure amongst others. He complained that paucity of funds for infrastructure projects was a real challenge to Nigeria, adding that the only way to address such infrastructural challenges facing Nigeria was through the introduction of an infrastructure bond, which he also recommended should be backed by a legislative instrument.

The minister would also have to think of a creative way to bridge Nigeria's housing deficit, which for over a decade now has been put at 17 million, but which experts believe is about 22 million.

As a matter of fact, Fashola, would have to spend his time in the works and housing ministry sourcing for funds so he could expand, maintain road infrastructure and set off a housing revolution that the country badly needed to redress the humungous housing deficit.

Defence: Can Magashi End Insurgency and Insecurity?

With the assignment of the Ministry of Defence to Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi (rtd) by President Muhammadu Buhari, the former presidential guard brigade commander is faced with the enormous task of winning the war against insurgency and ending the insecurity that has enveloped Nigeria. Can he? Time will tell.

More than anything else, the war against insurgency in the North-east has remained a major challenge for the Ministry of Defence. With over 27,000 reportedly killed since the beginning of the insurgency led by Boko Haram in 2009 and later, the Islamic State for West African Province (ISWAP) in addition to the killing of soldiers in many attacks launched by insurgents, the ministry is faced with a huge challenge.

Beyond the killings, management of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) strewn across the North-east and Abuja, the nation's capital, is so far proving intractable. The United Nations stated recently that the Lake Chad Basin region is grappling with a complex humanitarian emergency.

UN said over 2.7 million people had been displaced, including over 1.9 million IDPs in north-eastern Nigeria, over 541,000 IDPs in Cameroon, Chad and Niger and 240,000 refugees in the four countries.

Government has also found it difficult in the past few years to break into the international arms market owing to reports of human rights abuses by human rights organisations, notably, Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International (AI). The reports put forward by these organisations have significantly swayed western nations and arms manufacturers from fully committing to acceptance to sell arms and effect full delivery of already procured arms.

For instance, analysts wondered why after the payment of N1 billion for the purchase of 12 Super Tucano fighter jets, the US government initially scheduled the delivery date for 2020 but later moved it to 2022, in spite of the ongoing war against insurgency in the North-east, which should ordinarily have expedited the delivery.

The development has significantly impaired the ability of government to finish the war as it is left to battle the insurgents with obsolete and sub-standard equipment.

Again, beyond its uncomplimentary role in the last general election, the military is now facing a public backlash following the recent killing of policemen in Taraba State, shooting and killing of civilians in Lagos and Abia States, a situation that requires the urgent attention of the new defence minister.

Beyond funding issues, the Ministry of Defence has not addressed the challenge of corruption, which the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, said was hampering military operations in the North-east. There are also issues of lack of coordination between the ministry and the military in terms of who should be providing leadership.

Labour: Laying the Job Foundation for Lifting 100m People Out of Poverty

The Ministry of Labour and Employment has always been a battleground where workers in efforts to get better conditions of service take their fight to. In the last four years, the ministry has had its hands full with negotiations to prevent industrial crisis.

The Minister, Senator Chris Nwabueze Ngige, who has just been re-appointed is definitely not a stranger to the ever turbulent labour sector. In the last three-and-a-half years of his stay at the ministry, he has fought hard to defend government's position, taking the bashing from the leadership of various labour centres.

Ngige will be the last person to rejoice over his reappointment because he knows how tough the sector is. While some sections of the labour movement see Ngige as not being positively disposed to the yearnings of workers, others consider him as being witty and very experienced, possessing the necessary knowledge and mastery of negotiations. Some observers said it was perhaps for his ability to keep even the most antagonistic labour leader at bay that informed the decision of Buhari to retain him at the ministry. Now that he has been brought back to the ministry, key observers said Ngige might have to adopt new tactics knowing that his previous experience at the place has been anything but smooth. Although, the one-time governor of Anambra State and senator is no doubt qualified and psychologically ready for the job, he will need to change the perception in the minds of some of the labour leaders that he is a bit combative and less sympathetic to workers' travails.

Some of the challenges he has to deal with include the implementation of the N30,000 minimum wage, which has been bogged down due to deadlock in negotiations between labour and government; the continuing negotiations between the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), as well as the dispute involving the non- teaching staff in the universities, which recently resulted in a five-day warning strike by the Non Academic Staff Union (NASU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU). There is also the issue of the lingering dispute involving the workers in the medical sector under the aegis of the Joint health Staff Union (JUHESU).

Under the period in review - 2015 to date, the ministry was able to restore and forged industrial harmony through social dialogue in several sectors of the economy, health, education, petroleum, especially in the long-drawn-out face-off between ASUU and the federal government; the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the federal government, and the perennial industrial actions by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), which were all averted through the cooperation of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) .

However, with regard to its function of manpower training and skill acquisition, the Ministry of Labour is yet to make considerable impact as it has done over the years in minimising industrial action in the country. In the era of high unemployment rate, it has become important that skill acquisition centres and other economic empowerment schemes should be made available for the youths and young graduates to sharpen their knowledge and enhance their employability.

Education: Revitalising the Knowledge Sector

Mallam Adamu Adamu, was Member/Secretary, APC Presidential Transition Committee before he was appointed minister of education in 2015. In the next four years, he would have to work with the Minister of State Education, Dr. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, from Imo State to reinvigorate the Nigerian decaying education system.

The Federal Ministry of Education is one of the ministries with the highest budgetary allocations, yet, the number of out-of-school children, especially the Almajiri boys found predominantly in the north keeps rising despite releases from the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). The number of such children has continued to swing without accurate data from 10.1 million to 13.2 million, so much so that the minister has had to apologise for his administration's inability to take them off the streets as promised.

Most of the schools built during the Jonathan administration for this cause have been abandoned. State governments can be said to be liable as several of them have been unable to access the UBEC funds due to their inability to provide counterpart funding, mandatory towards accessing the funds. With this, huge sums have been untouched and domiciled at the nation's apex bank and UBEC has remained powerless in prosecuting defaulting state governors as such is not part of its responsibilities.

The Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) which has been saddled with the responsibility of curriculum development at the basic level, has not taken into consideration the psychological and not just the mental capacity of pupils who are made to study not less than 20 subjects, especially in private schools. Failure to look into the unwritten rule of quantity of subjects' autonomy by private schools has been unwholesome.

Executive secretaries of agencies have been divided over whether or not the country is in need of more universities. With no fewer than 175 public and private institutions and more than 303 applications still before the National Universities Commission (NUC) seeking approval, Nigeria may soon face quality control problems. For while some opine that more is needed considering the nations fast growing youthful population, others argue that existing ones should be maintained as the number is institutions is not the problem but the capacity and ability to impact knowledge.

Curbing the relentless strikes of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been an uphill task. Apart from the fact that academic activities are grounded during such periods, the ministry has been unable to put in place mechanism to ensure students graduate at the stipulated time just like their counterparts in private institutions.

These are more are some of the challenges Adamu is expected to tackle in his second coming if he is to achieve the important task of revitalising the knowledge sector.

Interior: Ensuring Homeland Security

The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, is expected to tackle a myriad of challenges due to the sensitive nature of the ministry, which borders on internal security, safety and others.

The ministry recently disclosed that only 314 religious places of worship were certified to conduct marriages in Nigeria, following their renewal of licences. Only a little over 4,500 religious places of worship have been duly registered, yet there has never been a prosecution of illegal operation of any kind being pushed by the ministry.

Through the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), the ministry is facing challenges in effectively securing the nation's porous borders, which the federal government has disclosed to be the leeway for armed dangerous herders, kidnappers, bandits and foreigners who have continued to terrorise many communities and with impunity. This has led to the unnecessary killings, maiming and rape of many people, notably in Zamfara, Kaduna, Taraba, Katsina and Adamawa states to mention but a few.

The state of prisons, which are meant to be penitentiaries, have become where inmates become hardened, thereby defeating the aim of incarceration. Available statistics indicate that out of about 71,443 inmates nationwide, those awaiting trial are approximately 48,702.

Prisons expected to accommodate 800 and 956 inmates now house 5,000 and 2,600. This is found at Port Harcourt and Kirikiri Maximum prisons in Rivers and Lagos States respectively. Officials' inability to manage the resources meant for the inmates has also become an issue. Little wonder in his budget defence at the Senate in 2018, the Comptroller General of Prisons, Ahmed Ja'afaru, lamented that N17 billion allocated for feeding of the inmates was inadequate and incapable of going round the 244 prisons nationwide.

The rivalry between the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC) and the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) is yet to be addressed. There are also the issues of huge corruption in the corps coupled with nepotism in the areas of promotion.

As a former governor, and one who has gained a lot of experience in public administration, Aregbesola would need this skill set to close the nation's porous borders and ensure internal security.

Niger Delta Affairs: Restoring the Master Plan for Concrete Development

The new Minister, Godswill Akpabio, a lawyer by profession, hails from the Niger Delta and as a two-term governor of one of the states in the region, Akwa Ibom, it is safe to conclude that he is on a familiar terrain.

Challenges

When the ministry was created in September 2008 by the late President Musa Yar'Adua, it was designed to coordinate efforts to tackle the challenges of development, environmental degradation and youth empowerment in the Niger Delta. The ministry was also designed to serve as the primary vehicle to deliver that administration's agenda for the rapid development of the restive region. However, about 11 years after its creation, not much has been achieved vis-à-vis its core mandate.

Developmental challenges, including environmental pollution, occasioned by decade-long oil and gas exploration as well as infrastructure deficit and teeming youth unemployment, are areas desirous of attention.

Successive ministers made efforts to tackle some of the challenges but could not achieve much due to a combination of factors such as poor budgetary allocation, misplaced priorities, lack of proper coordination, youth restiveness and corruption.

The flagship project of the ministry, the East-West Road, has remained uncompleted partly due to a combination of factors, including youth restiveness which prevented contractors from going to site at some point, paucity of funds and lack of commitment to deliver the project.

There are also a lot of uncompleted projects in the region, particularly the skills acquisition centres scattered across the nine component states that constitute the Niger Delta. While a few are at final stages of completion, others have been abandoned.

This also applies to the housing projects in the component states, which have remained uncompleted.

Some states in the region have also complained of alleged lopsidedness in the distribution of infrastructure, a development that breeds bad blood.

Until last year when the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was brought under the supervision of the ministry, the problem of duplication of projects persisted.

The new minister has to galvanise the efforts of his ministry and the NDDC to ensure an effective implementation of the Niger Delta Master Plan, which was design to concretise the development of the oil-rich area.

Foreign Affairs: Time to Enhance Citizen and Economic Diplomacy

Over the years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to which Ambassador Geoffrey Onyeama is returning to, has been battling with ensuring the security of Nigerians in almost all the countries around the world, especially with rising incidence of xenophobia in South Africa and some other nations.

The deteriorating level of security of Nigerians in foreign lands and lack of respect for their human rights have become a source of worry for the federal government.

On the economy, the federal government has to develop Nigeria Economy Development Initiative, with the purpose of playing a key role in promoting Foreign Direct Investment into Nigeria, while also leveraging on the physical presence of the country in about a 100 countries around the world and to promote export for Nigerian businesses.

The Citizen diplomacy would have to be a major priority while the ministry should also ensure a 24-hour help desk so that every Nigerian anywhere in the world would have a number that they can call whenever they are having any issue.

It is reassuring that the minister noted that the ministry would provide oversight over all Nigerian agencies around the world to ensure that they are providing the best services, while ensuring that their complaints are going to be addressed at the highest possible level.

In that context too, the ministry would have to look in particular the security of Nigerians in all the countries around the world - be a lot more aggressive and robust in engaging with countries to ensure that the human rights and security of Nigerians anywhere in the world is respected.

Science and Technology: Re-launching Nigeria into the New Tech Age

The intention of the Buhari administration to diversify the economy through science, technology and innovation is not hidden. The efforts of the federal government to ensure the country does not rely on foreign commodities, especially crude oil, as the main source of the country's revenue have also not gone unnoticed.

But after the first four-year tenure of the administration, there are no indices to indicate that the country is on the right track as far as the diversification of the country's economy from commodity-based economy (oil) to a knowledge-based economy is concerned.

It was in line with this that the Minister of Science, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who has succeeded in keeping the same portfolio, when he was first appointed in November 2015, had promised that 'Nigeria will soon start producing pencils' rather than importing it.

Four years gone by, the importation of pencils continues without hindrance.

However, experts and stakeholders in the sector had expected the ministry under Onu's supervision to leverage on what past administrations had achieved, especially in space technology. Rather, Onu first four years played host to many organisations on courtesy calls with little or no implementation of any of the promises made.

One of the critical challenges that has bedevilled the ministry in the last four years was the power play and intrigues, which stalled the smooth take-off of the implementation of the National Strategy for Competitiveness in Raw Materials and Products Development in Nigeria.

The policy strategy, which was launched in September 2017, according to the minister, would have saved Nigeria N3.6 trillion and create employment for 4.4 million people within five years of its effective implementation.

Another worrying fact is that the stage of implementation of the new policy document on National Science, Technology and Innovation Roadmap (2017-2030) cannot be ascertained at the moment.

Despite the fact that the ministry's budget is now up to N50 billion, even without being saddled with the implementation of projects, there have not been commensurate achievements in the sector even with the increment in the annual budgetary allocation.

One of the expectations in the second coming of Onu would be the holistic implementation of both the National Strategy for Competitiveness in Raw Materials and Products Development in Nigeria that was launched in 2017 and policy document on National Science, Technology and Innovation Roadmap (2017-2030), which are capable of turning the destiny of the country around by ensuring the holistic approach towards diversifying the economy of the country from commodity-based to knowledge-based economy as well as re-launching Nigeria into the technological world.

To be continued tomorrow...

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