The initiatives put in place by the Federal Government in year 2017 have provided a solid platform for government at all levels, investors and workers to look forward to less turbulent and confrontational years ahead. Sunday Ojeme reports
Unlike the situation in the past, the year 2017 has been an admixture of despair and optimism for Nigerian workers and employers. Although it was tough at a point due to policies of government that were not favourable to investors, the gradual exit from month-long recession gradually restored hope in the economy.
With the exit also confirmed by manufacturers, who were the hardest hit, some investors, who had closed shops, gradually returned to business and also recalled their workers.
Confidence was further propelled with the roles played by the Federal Government and agencies such as the Central Bank of Niger (CBN) and deposit money banks through series of interventions in the economy.
Although the year began with the inevitable hangover of the industrial crisis of the previous years, the government’s renewed policy formulation and CBN’s flexibility on foreign exchange dealings impacted graciously on the economy.
This much was made obvious from the statistics released by the NBS, which showed gradual deceleration in inflation rate.
NBS had said that over four million Nigerians lost their jobs under the administration as far back as mid-2016 as even the once fiery and intimidating organised labour force has lost its vibrancy and only watching events from the sidelines.
The President, Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Mr. Larry Ettah, attributed the unemployment rate to erstwhile policy gap as well as flawed foreign exchange policies that constrained the productive sector.
Within the period under review, apart from policy reforms, programmes such as the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) and N-Power have also had their appeal to the labour industry by way of encouraging investors to put money in the system and also getting more youths engaged across the country.
As at last May, for instance, about 200,000 youth across the country out of 500,000 targeted under the N-Power Programme had been fully engaged.
Through the programme, the government has recruited and trained young unemployed graduates as teachers, agricultural extension workers and health support workers, etc.
The N-Power is one of the components of the National Social Investment Programmes (N-SIP), aimed at empowering Nigerians both graduates and non-graduates between the ages of 18 and 35 by paying them N30,000 monthly over a period of two years.
The N-Power programme is designed to drastically reduce youth unemployment in the country, by providing young graduates and non-graduates with the skills, tools and livelihood to enable them advance from unemployment to employment, entrepreneurship and innovation.
Following in similar trend, the Federal Government, still under the N-Power programme, unveiled another opportunity for young and unemployed graduates to be engaged as community tax liaison officers.
The programme, which will take 7,500 graduates away from idleness, would move them to schools, churches, mosques, markets and other social places to educate people on the tax system and let them know their obligations.
Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, said, “We will be recruiting them through N-Power and they can apply through the website of the Federal Ministry of Finance or through the N-Power website.
“It is a two-year fixed contract and they will be deployed to states, attached to state Internal Revenue Service or FIRS. “Their job is to improve the level of education on the Nigeria’s tax system.
May Day clash
Even with all the positives within the period under review, organised labour and workers, however, had a raw deal with the Federal Government during the Workers’ Day in Abuja.
The angry workers protested the tough economic conditions in the country, disrupting the rally organised to commemorate the special day at the Eagle Square, Abuja.
They complained about the insensitivity of the Federal Government and also described the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the rally as ample evidence of their disregard for labour.
Their protest forced very important dignitaries, including the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara; Minister of Labour and Productivity, Senator Chris Ngige; and former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, to leave the event abruptly.
Many of the workers said while they could understand the absence of Buhari, who was presumed ill, they objected to Osinbajo’s preference for honouring an invitation to attend a lecture in Lagos instead of honouring them at the May Day rally.
New minimum wage committee
Notwithstanding the protest, Buhari reassured that his administration would approve the final recommendations of the committee comprising the government and labour representatives for the constitution of a new national minimum wage committee to set a new minimum wage for workers.
True to his words, the minimum wage committee was finally constituted with 29 members drawn from organised Labour, federal and state governments to achieve a balance.
To say the least, the outgoing year has laid the foundation for a better, stronger and well organised economy that will guarantee sustainable employment for Nigerians and also minimise incessant industrial actions due to the all-inclusive representation in the minimum wage committee.
Nigeria’s fish deficit hits 2.2m tons
Despite smuggling and abuse of import quota restrictions, Nigeria is currently facing 2.1 million tons of fish deficit.
The Director of Federal Department of Fishery (FDF), Muazu Mohammed, said this in a chat with New Telegraph in Lagos.
He said that the country still depends on one million tons of fish annually as against the 3.2 million tons demand.
Statistically, the country’s total demand is estimated at 3.2 million tons, while it depends on 1.12 million tons of domestic production from aquaculture, artisanal and industrial fisheries.
The FDF boss added that 80 per cent of fish produced in the country are catfish, while other species account for only 20 per cent.
This newspaper gathered that the restrictions have not yielded any positive result because of abuse of quotas and large scale smuggling.
Fish farmers who spoke with this newspaper noted that some of the local farmers government was trying to protect were already out of the business due to lack of fund and other challenges.
Speaking on the development, President, Fish Processors Association of Nigeria (FPAS), Chief Wole Omole, blamed the deficit on government’s policies, which had created uncertainty in the fishery industry.
He said that some members of the association had been facing challenges of finance, debts and smuggling in the business because government had not done enough to protect their investments.
Already, Omole noted that many of the local fish farmers had closed down their fish farms since they have run into debts.
He said: “Let me say this to you, government is just paying leap service to farmers operating in the industry. Money does not get to real farmers who are willing to expand their fish ponds. Also, fish feeding is very expensive in the country. As I talk to you now, I have diverted from fishing business because the profit is not there and this has to do with the cost of feeding the fish.”
Omole explained that investors were finding it difficult to break even in the business even in the long run.
The FPAS president added that lack of political will by the Federal Government had stifled the growth and development of fishery in the country.
“Look at the importation of frozen chicken and turkey the Federal Government banned, but you still found them in the marketplace,” he noted.
According to him, importation of foreign fish, lack of capital, strong smuggling network and inadequate feeds had crippled the ambition of local farmers to meet national demand. This is why the country is facing such a huge deficit, he said.
Omole blamed government for allowing influx of fish imports into the country despite its import restriction quotas.
Echoing him, the President of Fishery Association of Nigeria (FAN), Rasaq Adefowoju, decried the high rate of smuggling and importation of fish to the country.
He said that without government assistance to local fish farmers, the current fish deficit would continue to widen.
Adefowoju also stressed the need for government to create an enabling environment for local fish farmers operating in the country.
The president added that only the solution was for government to provide a bailout fund or loan for the farmers from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to enable them embark on massive production at single digit or at six months moratorium.
Adefowoju said: “The problem with us in the association is finance. We have enough local fish farmers in the country that can produce fish but there is no financial assistance from the government.”
It would be recalled that since 2014, when the Federal Government introduced the import restriction, exporters from Norway have been finding it difficult to bring fish into the country due to lack of foreign into the country due to lack of foreign exchange to order for supply.
However, finding revealed that some fish are being smuggled through the neighbouring Cotonou Port to the country by fish merchants.
Last year, the Federal Government complained that about $700 million was spent on importation of fish into the country.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, lamented that it was no longer sustainable for government to continue to spend such huge amount of money on fish importation.
Consequently, he said that funds would be made available for research institutes to scale up research work into the local production of other fish species, aside the regular catfish and Tilapia.
The minister said: “We need to start looking inwards to see how Nigeria can produce some of these fishes both for local consumption and then importation. We will also encourage massive investment in artisanal fish production, to meet the protein needs of Nigerians, because it has been discovered that lack of protein in some women have made them to developed fibroid
Dangote: Businesses, residents lose N86bn daily to Apapa gridlock
Businesses and residents are losing N86 billion to Apapa-Wharf road gridlock daily, Africa’s richest man and President/CEO, Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, has said.
He stated this in Lagos while condemning the challenges posed by traffic jam and heavy presence of different types of taskforce, including the Customs, on the major route leading to the nation’s largest port.
Dangote, who was on an inspection tour of the on-going reconstruction of N4.3 billion Apapa-Wharf road by AG Dangote recently, stated that businesses and residents are losing 20 times the project’s cost daily.
By calculation, N86 billion is being lost by business owners and residents on daily basis.
He said: “People don’t really understand how much money businesses are losing because of the gridlock here; if you quantify it in billions, it is 20 times the cost of this project every single day.”
Consequently, he urged the Federal Government to move the taskforce, including Customs, away from the route to ease traffic.
The reconstruction of the road that leads to Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports is being undertaken by Dangote Group, Nigerian Flour Mill Limited and the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA), which are together committing N4.34 billion to the project.
Justifying the involvement of his company in sponsoring the project, Managing Director, Flour Mills Limited, Paul Gbadedo, lamented that it has been difficult for businesses and residents of Apapa.
Noting that the economy of Apapa is very huge, he said that businesses cannot see the traffic and road deteriorating without doing something.
He stated that 75 to 80 per cent of imports passed through the Apapa ports, noting that the road is strategic.
Dangote stressed that it did not make any commercial sense for Customs to mount check points outside the wharf after they might have checked and certified goods at the ports.
“If there should be any more checkpoints, they should be at the toll gates, not here where they are obstructing traffic flow,” he said.
Africa’s richest man said he was impressed with the progress and quality of work being done by AG Dangote, the contractor handling the reconstruction of the road.
He also lauded the palliative work going on on Apapa Oshodi Expressway and the Trailer Park being constructed by government off the expressway, pointing out that these were efforts being made to ensure that the access roads to the ports are decongested.
“My impression of this road has changed because AG Dangote is doing a great and excellent work here. You can see the quality of work being done. This is quite impressive. Even in Germany, you cannot see this kind of quality of road. This road can last at least two generations in which case you will be talking about over 60 years. It is so solid that it can take any weight and any traffic,” Dangote said.
“I can assure you that we will double our efforts to complete the project on schedule, that is, latest by the end of June,” he said.
Chief Executive, AG Dangote, Ajif Juma, stated that the company is facing a lot of challenges, citing traffic and gas pipeline as major ones.
“But now we are working hard to ensure we finish on schedule with some of our workers on night shift,” he said.
CBN to banks: Settle customers’ complaints within 2 weeks
Deposit Money Banks ( DMBs) and other financial Institutions have been directed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to settle customers’ complaints on issues of overcharge, unauthorised deductions and other matters within two weeks.
CBN Head of Complaints management Division, Mr Tajudeen Ahmed, conveyed the Apex Bank’s directive in Abuja. He said the regulator would ensure that bank customers receive redress on issues of excess charges or unauthorised withdrawal.
Ahmed reiterated the CBN’s commitment to eradicating the culture of excess and arbitrary charges. According to him, the CBN has since issued a circular,which could be found on the its website showing all legitimate bank charges. He explained that any charge outside what is contained in the circular was not allowed and should not be charged.
“The Consumer Protection Department issued guidelines to banks dated August 16, 2011, directing all banks and other financial institutions to resolve all customer complaints within two weeks of receipt of that complaint,” he said. “Before the expiration of that complaint, the financial institution is expected to be engaging the customer on a continuous basis to update him or her on the status of the complaint. “If it is not resolved within the deadline given, then such a person is encouraged to draw the attention of Central Bank of Nigeria to find solution to that complaint.”
Ahmed enjoined customers with unresolved complaints to contact the CBN by writing to the Director Consumer Protection Department. He also advised disgruntled bank customers to visit any branch of the CBN closest to them to lay their complaints.
“The CBN continually engages the banks to find out if their conducts and practices are fair to their customers in order to stimulate people’s confidence in the banking system. “Non-adherence to that normally results to regulatory sanctions as the case may be,” he said.
Ahmed faulted banks for setting a limit on ATM withdrawals to get customers to make several withdrawals to cash large sums. “I have also observed and noted this. Don’t forget that at the beginning, it wasn’t like this. Over time, we started having this problem.
“One of the reasons is that the quantum of N500 denomination is much more than that of N1,000 denomination,” he said. “When we approached the banks about these problems, they said that the machines become easily faulty when it is set to dispense up to N30, 000 to N40, 000 units.
“However, CBN has directed that the machines that allow payment of up to N30,000 to N50,000 should be installed. “This is still ongoing. The Banking and Payment Department of the CBN is championing it.” In her remarks, Head, Consumer Protection Department, Mrs Hadija Kasim, admonished bank customers to imbibe cashless policy.
“Let’s not forget that ATM cards can also be used on Point of Sale (POS) terminals. We are encouraging people that unless it is absolutely necessary, they should reduce the carriage of cash. Cashless transactions are more convenient, safer and you will avoid the problem of overcharges,” she said. She advised bank consumers to use bank transfer channels for transactions in cases where sellers do not have POS.
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