THE MUSLIM CONGRESS (TMC) congratulates Nigerians on the 56th Independence anniversary of the country. We commend our patience and forbearance in the face of the challenging times we are going through. We are confident that by Allah’s grace, and our commitment to the principles of hard work, discipline, honesty and integrity, we are going to smile at the end of the day when our present challenges would have been behind us. But the challenges of the present time require that we must be steadfast and united in forging a nation of people who are united in thought and spirit. We must work towards and also have firm faith in our unity and progress. There is every need for Nigeria to remain a strong and united entity that is able to withstand the problems of nation-building and one that forges a land of peace, prosperity and progress for everyone.

This is where it becomes important that the positive changes we all desire are indeed achievable and they must start with each and everyone of us. Let us be the change we want to see. Let us work together irrespective of political, religious and ethnic divides to build a nation where one person is a friend to the other; where everyone feels safe wherever he chooses as his or her abode of residence; where we co-operate together while understanding and respecting our differences.

Nigeria is worthy of being celebrated. This is the only country we have and the only one we can confidently call our own. We should be proud to raise our heads high anywhere we find ourselves. Nigeria is certainly undergoing challenges but the challenges are surmountable. At every time where we have reached a difficult cross-road, we are usually blessed with a divine intervention that provides a solution very much beyond our expectations. Remember that a lot of doom was predicted for the last general elections in 2015, but it was largely peaceful and well-coordinated without anything near the gloom and doom that was predicted. Let us continue to love, cherish and work towards a nation that gives everyone the opportunity to peacefully and honestly pursue his or her legitimate aspirations.

We are confident that solutions will be found to the problems of Boko Haram in the North-East, the issues of environmental degradation and development in the Niger-Delta and the issues of development and inclusiveness in the East. The South-West is not without its challenges but all these are problems that will be solved in due time.

Happy anniversary to all Nigerians!

We felicitate with all Muslims as we witness another new Hijrah year. The new Hijrah year is an opportunity to commemorate our achievements as Muslims and to chart the way forward as we prepare for new paradigms in our existence as Muslims and as a nation. Muslims have always contributed their quota and continue to do so even as Nigeria demands greater sacrifice from each and every one of us.

As part of our contributions towards nation-building, we are using the opportunity of the Muharram Get-Together holding at the Onikan Stadium in Lagos to discuss on The Muslim World and the Challenges of Leadership on Sunday, 30th October, 2016 at 9am. Some of the expected erudite speakers at the occasion are Professor AbdulHafiz Oladosu and Honourable (Dr.) AbdulHakeem Abdul Lateef.

The government should be ready to let the people know that everyone has got to roll up his or her sleeves for the great task ahead since there is a lot of hard work to be done to get out recession. The government will need to vigorously pursue the diversification of the economy so as to have multiple revenue sources. The multiple revenue sources would include agriculture, mining, manufacturing and tourism. There is the need to motivate companies in these sectors by making loans easily available and supporting them to access technical know-how and managerial competence. International investors who are serious, willing and experienced should also be sought through the provision of an enabling environment that is conducive and mutually beneficial.

We are making a good suggestion for the government to fully embrace a dual financial system by adding Islamic finance to the conventional system. This will enable us to have a robust economic system that is fully responsive and suitable to our needs as a nation. We will realise that Britain and Germany are competing to be the Islamic finance hub of the world. The two most important parts of the Islamic finance world are banking services and the Sukuk market (the Islamic equivalent of the bond market) which account for around 95% of the $1.8 trillion worth of Islamic finance assets as at the end 2013. There is therefore no reason why Nigeria should not be one of the leading countries in Islamic finance since there is a lot for everyone to benefit especially including protection from economic meltdown.

For us to grow the economy, the government must lift the excruciating cost of doing business especially by the SMEs. The SMEs, being the backbone of the modern economy and largest employer of labour, need special protection and motivation from the government. The Bank of Industry (BoI) and all other banks and agencies that cater to SMEs must be challenged to design and deploy products and services that are tailored towards improving the ease of doing business and reducing the interest rates paid on loans. The Islamic finance should be expanded to cater to those who would like to do business without paying interest rates to do so. In growing the economy, we would need to be broad-minded and to expand our pool of options so as to achieve our objectives quickly and efficiently.

There is the need for a good monetary policy to be put in place to lower the high interest rates and to ensure easy access to loans. Coupled with this is a good fiscal policy since both monetary and fiscal policies interact to ensure stable growth in the economy. Related to this is a short-term development plan of three to five years which has to be implemented with vision and vigour. The three to five year plan will define the economic strategy we intend to deploy and the objectives to be achieved as well as the milestones.

The President needs to be given emergency powers to be able to quickly do all that needs to be done since time is of vital importance in the rescue of the economy. There has to be faster decision-making, faster release of funds and faster implementation of viable measures. We need to recover lost time arising from the delay in assent and implementation of the budget which in turn contributed a lot to the economic crisis.

Since the government cannot fund all of its activities by itself, it will need to develop an effective and efficient public-private partnership in driving its economic policies and ensuring long-term support from local business people and international investors. We need investors to bring in their money for investments in infrastructure, plants and machinery that will grow our industrial base rather than investments in high-yield treasury bills and government bonds that provide high interest rates.

The government would also need to drastically cut the bogus salaries and allowances of principal government officers in both the executive and the legislature in order to free the much-needed money for revamping the economy. Medical tourism and foreign travels would also need to be cut especially where such spending has no value for our economic growth.

The challenges facing the nation simply mean that the Federal Government must do everything possible to ease the pains and sufferings that the people go through on a daily basis. This is what has led to the call for the Federal Government to sell some of our national assets, like the NLNG and refineries among others, in order to generate some money that will be used to stimulate the economy. While this sounds good, it certainly needs to be looked at critically so that we do not find ourselves in a sorry state. Therefore, critical questions need to be asked and for which adequate and convincing answers must be provided.

Sale of assets has been a mixed bag of fortunes for us with some succeeding while so many have failed. For those that succeeded, we have had value for our money while the companies keep providing jobs for Nigerians. In the cases of those that have failed, there have been job losses and the products and services that would have been enjoyed by the people are no longer there. Therefore, if we are to sell our assets, they should be the ones that are not performing well since the reasons for sale of assets are to reduce bureaucracy, eliminate bad management and corruption, increase profit, correct defective capital base and increase the quality of goods and services. These indeed are the objectives that a suitable process leading to any sale should achieve so that several years later the companies will still be there doing exactly what they are meant to do and providing employment for the people.

Rather, we should look in the way of companies that are not doing well at the moment and see how they can be sold to genuine investors who are willing to bring in the money and the expertise to revive them. This should happen in a transparent and open process that meets international best practices and with stipulated conditions that ensure that the new owners of the companies comply with the objectives for the sale. We should not allow a situation where a few unscrupulous investors buy assets and then turn round to strip the companies of their landed properties and other valuables.
We urge the federal government to look into the issue of the earlier privatised Nigeria Paper Mill Limited (NPM), the Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company Limited (NNMC) and the Nigeria National Paper Manufacturing Company Limited (NNPMC) because of their abysmally poor performance. This has contributed to the unusually high importation of about 90% of papers used in the country especially at a time of insufficient dollar earnings for the country. This should be urgently looked into since the paper sector is capable of providing thousands of jobs to our teeming unemployed youths.

The need to allow the local governments to fully discharge their duties and responsibilities is really an issue that has been on the front burner for some time now. What remains is the political will by all stakeholders to do the needful by untying the local governments from the apron strings of the states. When this is done, it will allow the people to assess, monitor and challenge the officials that are closest to them on issues concerning their development and well-being.

The President Muhammadu Buhari’s support for the autonomy of the local government has further raised the stakes but there is a lot to be done before this can be achieved. His intention has to be backed up with concrete legal instruments and the political will of the stakeholders to allow this third tier of government regain its freedom.

What we see at the moment is that the states only release a part of the money belonging to the local governments in such a way that it becomes hard to pay the salaries of the local government staff let alone try to provide the necessary infrastructure for the people. This is one of the reasons why the local governments are not effective in discharging their duties. We therefore urge the members of the legislature to put the necessary legal instruments in place so that the local governments will have the power and freedom to serve the people in their jurisdiction in a proper and acceptable manner. The legislature is a very important link in this initiative because the position of the local governments as the third tier of government is not expressly supported by the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Even when the roles were defined, the Fourth Schedule of the constitution did not expressly state whether local governments stand on their own or they are a part of states.
The states have for long enjoyed the control they have on the local governments. They control their allocations and conduct elections into local governments if and when they wish to do so. Even when they conduct the elections, the posts are usually filled by their cronies whom they then sack at any time they so wish. This has weakened the local governments to such an extent that they are unable to provide primary health care services, collect revenue, provide adult and vocational education, maintain cemeteries, and register births and deaths among others. This is why the states and federal government have taken up the responsibilities of the local governments.
The local government authority can only become responsible to the people if they receive their monies directly from the federal government and if they are governed by federal laws. We will suggest a situation where the present SIECs are abrogated and the INEC takes over the conduct of elections into the local governments. This suggestion becomes apt in the light of the fact that the states do not fund the local governments directly in the first place.

We are of the view that it is only the Supreme Court of Nigeria that can make the final pronouncement on the issue of female pupils and students wearing Hijab in state public schools. Therefore, everyone should be able to wait till this pronouncement is made as the matter is already before the said court. More importantly, Muslim females should be allowed to enjoy the relief that has been granted them by virtue of the unanimous Court of Appeal ruling in their favour.

It is not the right of anyone either as an individual or an official of government to seek to overturn the judgement of a legally constituted court as was done by the deputy governor of Lagos State on national television where she stated that female Muslims could only use their Hijab up to the gates of their schools. We would let the deputy governor know that in the case of a subsisting court order, she does not have the right to make statements that go against the grain of that ruling. This is sub-judice, ultra vires and in contempt of court. This unwarranted statement is capable of giving leverage to public school administrators who do not support the wearing of Hijab in the first instance. Muslim females would do well to use their Hijab in and out of public schools because they have a subsisting legal backing to do so.

With a pronouncement that goes against the court ruling on Hijab by a high-ranking official of the state, the Lagos State government is not maintaining a neutral stand as it claims but rather it has taken sides against its Muslim constituents. While it is in place for the Lagos State government to challenge the ruling of the Court of Appeal to the highest level, we find it distasteful when the same government takes to self-help by making a statement that is in contempt of court. What people do as officials of government must be what will enhance peace, harmony and unity of the various constituents that they claim to serve.

There is the need for the federal government to take the lead in declaring a state of emergency in the supply of potable pipe-borne water to the people. If we take a cursory look at the provision of pipe-borne water in the states and the FCT, we will realise that this is one area that has been largely neglected. This neglect comes with the attendant health risks and the stress that people undergo in the search for quality drinking water.

Our efforts to attain and sustain the millennium development goals will face difficult challenges if we are not able to provide our people with quality drinking water. We have seen that polio that had earlier been declared eradicated has again resurfaced. The issue of cholera with the attendant deaths in Lagos in the recent time all point to the urgent need for the government to supply her people with good quality water. It is this deplorable situation that has brought about and elevated the ‘pure water’ culture which is more pronounced in Lagos State and the FCT. Our women and children daily lose man-hours that could have been productively deployed in the search for drinking water.

The more affluent or those who can afford it have resorted to drilling boreholes and digging of wells all in the bid to provide a semblance of accessible and safe drinking water. The government must therefore quicken its steps in ensuring that quality drinking water is quickly and adequately supplied to the people before the health conditions of the people experience further deterioration.

The Federal Government has done well by not agreeing to a further increase in the price of petrol as recently moved by some petroleum marketers. This goes to show that the government is in tune with the difficulties that the people are going through since the price of petrol was increased to a maximum of N145. What is also important is that government must be able to sustain the current easy availability of the product at the present stable price. If there should be any change in the price, it should be a downward review which will in turn reduce transportation fares and the cost of goods and services. Granted that marketers would want to make the largest possible profit, it is the duty of a responsible government to protect and give value to its citizens.

For long-term sustainability in the availability and affordability of petroleum products, the federal government must do everything in its power to make sure that the national refineries operate at optimum capacity. The government must also encourage the private refineries that are being built to come on stream as soon as possible by making sure that their timely completion is not hindered by shortage of dollars. By 2018, we should no longer have the need to import petroleum products to satisfy our local consumption because the expertise and resources at the disposal our country are enough to make us self-sufficient.

The supply of electricity has been regular in the past few months even though people usually attribute this feat to the high water levels in dams during the rainy season. We are aware that the explanation from the managers of our electricity infrastructure is that generation has increased and also that the capacity of the transmission lines has been increased. We do hope that the present level of electricity supply is sustained but the ultimate will be to have regular, adequate and constant supply. This is because constant supply of electricity is essential in the industrialization of the country and in improving the quality of life of the people.

As much as electricity supply has improved in many areas, there are still many areas that are suffering neglect and therefore unable to enjoy this important infrastructure. We urge the electricity distribution companies to look into these cases and see what can be done in the areas of providing feeder cables and better transformers. There is also the need to ensure that electricity installations in every part of the nation do not endanger the safety of lives and properties by making sure that there is adequate routine maintenance and that known faults are immediately taken care of.

Government has to sustain its engagement efforts with the investors in order to ensure the provision of functional and efficient electricity supply at prices that deliver unrivalled value for money to the consumers.

Long live Nigerians.

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Dr. Luqman AbdurRaheem
Chair, TMC Committee on Social Mobility, The Economy & Politics

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