MINISTERIAL PRESS STATEMENT ON FISCAL STIMULUS MEASURES IN RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC & OIL PRICE FISCAL SHOCK
1. His Excellency, Mr. President, on Monday, 9th March 2020, set up a Committee comprising senior government officials, including:
a. Hon. Minister of Finance, Budget & National Planning (‘HMFBNP’) – Chairperson;
b. Hon. Minister of State for Budget & National Planning (‘HMSBNP’);
c. Hon. Minister of State for Petroleum Resources (‘HMSPR’);
d. Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (‘CBN’); and
e. Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (‘NNPC’).
2. Pursuant to the meeting with Mr. President, the Committee was mandated to recommend fiscal measures for Mr. President’s kind consideration and approval. In this regard, the Committee recognised that Nigeria is currently facing significant fiscal risks due to the current global economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, Nigeria is exposed to the risks of both a pronounced decline in oil prices and spikes in risk aversion in the global capital markets.
3. Although similar challenges were experienced in 2008/2009 as well as in 2015/2016, Nigeria has considerably lower fiscal buffers now than in previous economic downturns. The decline in international oil prices and domestic production may be magnified if a severe outbreak of COVID-19 occurs, despite ongoing efforts to curtail the spread of the Pandemic through compulsory lockdown of Lagos and Ogun States, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (‘FCT’).
4. To directly address these health and economic challenges, Mr. President has approved the following Fiscal Stimulus Package, as part of an Integrated Policy Framework to ensure that Nigeria’s healthcare system, fiscal position and economy are sufficiently supported to weather these shocks. This Fiscal Stimulus Package comprises various measures as indicated in greater detail below.
ESTABLISHMENT OF A N500 BILLION COVID-19 CRISIS INTERVENTION FUND
5. Mr. President has approved the establishment of a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund. The establishment of this COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund will involve drawing much-needed cash resources from various Special Funds and Accounts, in consultation with and with the approval of the National Assembly. The N500 billion is proposed to be utilized to:
a) Upgrade healthcare facilities as earlier identified by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and approved by Mr. President;
b) Finance the Federal Government’s Interventions to support States in improving healthcare facilities;
c) Finance the creation of a Special Public Works Programme; and
d) Fund any additional interventions that may be approved by Mr. President.
6. With regards to the Special Public Works Program, Mr. President had previously approved a Pilot Special Public Works Programme in eight (8) States to be implemented by the National Directorate of Employment (‘NDE’) from February 2020 to April 2020. Mr. President has now approved that this Programme be extended to all 36 States and the FCT from October 2020 to December 2020. The selected timeframe is to ensure that the Programme is implemented after the planting season is over, and it will result in the employment of about 774,000 Nigerians (that is, 1,000 people per each Local Government). N60 billion in allowances and operational costs has been earmarked from the COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund for this initiative.
7. The Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning is also evaluating how best to extend the Special Public Works Programme, to provide modest stipends for iterant workers to undertake Roads Rehabilitation, Social Housing Construction, Urban and Rural Sanitation, Health Extension and other critical services. This intervention will be undertaken in conjunction with the key Federal Ministries responsible for Agriculture, Environment, Health and Infrastructure, as well as the States, to financially empower individuals who lose their jobs due to the economic crisis.
8. Further details regarding the operation of the N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund will be announced once the consultations with the National Assembly and the key Ministries are concluded.
ENHANCED FINANCIAL SUPPORT TO THE STATES FOR CRITICAL HEALTHCARE EXPENDITURE
9. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (‘NCDC’) has access to a Regional Disease Surveillance Systems (‘REDISSE’) facility from the World Bank in the sum of US$90 million, out of which US$8 million has been drawn. We have requested to fully draw down on the outstanding balance of US$82 million. The Government has also requested for additional financing in the sum of US$100 million from the REDISSE project to meet COVID-19 emergency needs in all the 36 States and the FCT, through the NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health. This will enable us to expand the capacity of intensive Care Units (‘ICUs’), enhance laboratory capacity, accelerate the procurement of test kits, strengthen surveillance mechanisms as well as improve information management.
10. We deeply appreciate the support we have received so far from our partners at the World Bank. We are continuing our engagements with the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank to access concessional funding to support the implementation of the 2020 Budget. We have also applied for funding from the International Monetary Fund’s COVID-19 Rapid Credit Facility to draw from our existing holdings with the World Bank Group / International Monetary Fund. This loan will not be tied to any conditionalities. However, it is important to clarify that Nigeria does not intend to negotiate or enter into a formal programme with the International Monetary Fund, at this time, or in the foreseeable future.
11. The Federal Government has provided N102.5 billion in resources to be available for direct interventions in the healthcare sector. Of this sum, N6.5 billion has already been made available to the NCDC for critical expenditure. The Federal Government remains committed to supporting the States in these difficult times, particularly those States that are currently battling with the COVID-19 Pandemic. Lagos State has already been provided N10 billion in emergency funding. As the situation in the FCT and other States at the forefront of our efforts unfolds, explicit criteria are to be agreed with the Federal Ministry of Health and the NCDC to determine when funds would be released to the affected States and the FCT. More funds are to be provided from the proposed COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund to address emerging and priority funding needs as these arise.
12. To complement these initiatives, we are taking steps to activate, release and (where necessary) enhance the hazard allowances provided in the remuneration structure of the Federal health sector workers. The Federal Government enjoins the affected States to take similar measures.
13. We take this opportunity to recognise the patriotism and sacrifice of our frontline healthcare workers, whose critical roles in combatting the COVID-19 Pandemic place their health and lives at risk. We thank all of you for your heroic efforts to protect your fellow citizens from disease and death. The Federal Government hereby assures our frontline healthcare workers of adequate insurance, compensation and support during, and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
AUGMENTATION TO THE STATES’ FAAC ALLOCATIONS & MORATORIUM ON STATES’ DEBTS
14. Based on the fiscal assumptions underpinning the 2020 Appropriation Act, monthly Federation Account Allocation Committee (‘FAAC’) disbursements to the Federal and State Governments were projected at N888.5 billion. However, due to the significant drop in international oil prices, FAAC monthly disbursements have declined in recent months to N716.3 billion in January and N647.4 billion in February 2020. Our experience shows that monthly average FAAC receipts must average at least N650 billion for the Federal and State Governments to meet their current obligations. Unfortunately, we project that monthly receipts may decline to below N400 billion, over the next 3 to 6 months.
15. To address these emerging fiscal risks, Mr. President has approved that the sum of US$150 million be withdrawn from the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (‘NSIA’) Stabilization Fund to support the June 2020 FAAC disbursement. The Stabilization Fund was created for such emergencies and is to be utilized for this purpose. We are also exploring other options to augment FAAC disbursements over the course of the 2020 fiscal year.
16. Mr. President has also approved that the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning should engage with the CBN to agree on a Debt and Interest Moratorium for States on Federal Government and CBN-funded loans, in order to create fiscal space for the States given the projected shortfalls in FAAC allocations. Accordingly, once monthly average FAAC receipts fall below a specific threshold, interest and capital payments by States, shall be suspended till monthly average FAAC receipts exceed the threshold. The details of this Moratorium will be expeditiously worked out with a view to submitting the final proposals for Mr. President’s guidance and final approvals. This intervention is vital to create fiscal space for the States, as they deal with the health and economic impact of the crisis. States will also be encouraged to explore similar arrangements for their outstanding debts to Commercial Banks.
ENSURING ADEQUATE SUPPLIES OF ESSENTIAL FOOD ITEMS & CRITICAL MEDICAL SUPPLIES, AS WELL APPROPRIATE STEWARDSHIP OF DONATED ITEMS & FUNDS
17. The responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic and the impact of the 14-days lockdown, will have a significant impact on the transportation, distribution and availability of essential food items and medical supplies. Furthermore, the Government recognises the adverse implications of these extraordinary decisions on our market women, farmers, traders and smaller businesses.
18. The Finance Act, 2019 fortuitously provided significant tax relief for Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (‘MSMEs’). Corporate tax rates for Medium-sized Enterprise were cut from 30% to 20%, and Small / Micro Enterprises are completely exempt from corporate taxation. This tax relief will be invaluable for businesses in the large informal sector that earn N25 million or less in a financial year. The Finance Act, 2019 has also expanded the VAT Exemption List for essential food, medical supplies and other basic items that are critical in our efforts to address the COVID-19 Pandemic.
19. We deeply appreciate the overwhelming show of solidarity by public-spirited individuals and corporate bodies towards combating the COVID-19 Pandemic through financial and material contributions. In this regard, the Government recognises its responsibility to put an adequate framework in place for the collection, management and reporting of these donations. Accordingly, the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning is developing a comprehensive framework for the transparent management of the contributions.
20. In the interim, Mr. President has approved the restructuring of the Treasury Single Account (‘TSA’) in order to better mobilize cash donations from the generality of our people and corporate bodies across the nation, create flexibility and build a coalition with financial institutions while maintaining the sanctity of the TSA. Going forward, the COVID-19 Donor Accounts, which will form part of the existing TSA arrangement shall be opened with the following banks:
a) Zenith Bank
b) Access Bank
c) Guaranty Trust Bank,
d) UBA; and
e) First Bank.
21. These accounts will be linked to the main TSA for ease of monitoring and reporting.
22. I will be issuing circulars and Ministerial Orders to ensure that charitable donations by benevolent companies to support our COVID-19 Pandemic efforts are tax deductible, pursuant to Section 25 of the Companies Income Tax Act.
AMENDMENT OF 2020 APPROPRIATION ACT
23. The 2020 Appropriation Act was based on certain fiscal assumptions, which we have been compelled to revisit given the emerging economic realities. Specifically, projected Oil Revenues have been significantly affected in that:
a. Dated Brent Oil Prices fell to as low as US$19.125/barrel (as at Friday 3rd April 2020) as compared with the 2020 Budget Benchmark of US$57/barrel; and
b. Oil production in 2020 year-to-date is 2.0mbpd as compared with the 2020 Budget’s projection of 2.18mbpd.
24. We are therefore revising the benchmark oil price for 2020 to US$30/barrel and oil production to 1.7mbpd. We have similarly had to adjust downwards our Non-Oil Revenue projections including various tax and customs receipts, as well as proceeds of privatisation exercises. In this regard, the Budget Office is currently working on a revised 2020 – 2022 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework / Fiscal Strategy Paper (‘MTEF/FSP’) as well as an Amendment to the 2020 Appropriation Act.
25. The proposed Amended Budget will provide for the COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund and other adjustments required due to the decline in international oil prices. We have also commenced engagements with the Leadership and key Committees of the National Assembly to discuss our plans, such that once the Executive’s 2020 Amendment Budget is completed, we shall expeditiously seek the requisite Presidential and Legislative approvals.
26. The emerging health and economic risks resulting from the COVID-19 Pandemic and decline in international oil prices pose existential threats to Nigeria’s economy, healthcare system, national security, as well as the lives of our citizens. Accordingly, extra-ordinary measures will be required, as the situation evolves, to address these challenges.
27. I will continue to work closely with my colleagues at the Ministries of Finance, Budget and National Planning; Industry, Trade and Investment; Petroleum Resources; Health; as well as the CBN, to pursue greater coherence and coordination of Nigeria’s fiscal, monetary as well as trade policies, during the difficult days and months ahead. The Economic Sustainability Committee chaired by His Excellency, the Vice President, will continue to coordinate our efforts and strategies, as well as provide regular updates to Mr. President.
28. In closing, I wish to reassure our citizens and residents that the Federal Government remains committed to working closely with the National Assembly, the State Governments, Multilateral Organisations, the Donor Community, and the International Community at large, to alleviate the suffering of our people due to the ongoing economic and healthcare challenges.
29. I would like to particularly appreciate the extensive understanding and support that we have received from our development partners, especially the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank in our efforts to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis.
30. Thank you for your time and attention, as well as your continued cooperation with the various measures Government has taken, at this time, to protect the health and lives of our citizens, our economy, as well as our national security.
ZAINAB SHAMSUNA AHMED
Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget & National Planning
Airports for Concession, Not Privatisation
The Honourable Minister of State for Aviation has recently briefed the public and industry stakeholders of government plans to concede certain airports to private investors as part of larger plans to privatise some public enterprises. Following the Honourable Minister’s briefings, there have been some emotional reactions from the public and more too from aviation stakeholders who ordinarily should be better informed of what has, over the years, been the financial travails of the sector but yet find the government plans of airport concession unacceptable.
The government probably decided on concession and privatisation or outright sale because of the failed commercialisation of most public sector services and enterprises. There were public enterprises that were fully commercialised like the NLG and the refineries which were expected to operate as profit-making commercial ventures without any subsidies from the government. These are expected to raise funds from the capital market for capital projects without a government guarantee and were expected to use private-sector procedures in running their businesses.
There were other enterprises like FAAN and NAMA which were partially commercialised and were expected to cover their operational costs from their internally generated revenues (IGR). This category of enterprises enjoyed grants from the government to finance their capital projects, just as the federal government had done in the past for them with the ₦19.5 billion aviation intervention fund in 2007, the grant of about $200 million from the BASA fund for the refurbishment of some airports, and the $500 million loan from China for the redevelopment of the major international airports.
Using the air traffic and passenger traffic statistics of 2014-15, the expected yearly revenue from FAAN in particular, whose facilities are planned for concession, is reported to be about N65 billion from both aeronautical (N61.5 billion) and non-aeronautical (N4.5 billion) sources. However, the chunks of revenue earnings generated have not substantially impacted on the airport infrastructures and services. For instance MMA alone that is reported to be generating about ₦2 billion monthly is worth more than ₦3 billion monthly or ₦36 billion ($100 million annually) in earnings from passenger service charge aircraft landing and parking, on both international and domestic traffic and various concession on non aeronautical services within and around the airport. Unfortunately, the airport does enjoy up to 5% of the revenue for the periodic maintenance of the airport infrastructure and services. If MMA is given out for concession today in the global market, it could generate conservatively about ₦110 billion ($300 milliom). Today the total IGR earnings on the twenty international airports is less than ₦70 billion ($190 million).
The problems of government enterprises in the sector are largely caused by the incessant huge debts of the domestic airline operators to the public operators and weak accountability of the regulator particularly of the NCAA, which has the critical role to play in checking the excesses of both the airlines’ operators and the public operators FAAN and NAMA.
The Nigerian aviation sector is just one of the three major means of transportation, providing air transport services to less than 10 million Nigerians, compared to the road and rail providing transportation services for over 60 million Nigerians annually. Air services enjoy government patronage the most, with various forms of intervention, grants, and guaranteed loans. All these are in addition to the huge revenues generated that have not significantly developed or improved the airports’ infrastructure and facilities for sustaining safe air operations. There has been no efficient and effective oversight by the responsible authority to ensure that the sector in the last sixteen years complied with a five-year budget plan as required by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations 2006, Part 18.10.5.
What has developed over the years in the industry is a mixed system, one of partial commercialisation, where the government injects subsidies or intervention funds into the public enterprises, and full commercialisation, where the government gives autonomy to some public enterprises in the sector. What the government plans to develop now, and what is developing worldwide, is privatisation and concession, where the government extends partnerships to private enterprises and investors to develop the sector. This is a concept that is being adopted by most developing countries whose aviation infrastructures are expanding fast but whose development funds are limited, as with our own case. Most countries are finding it a positive advantage to adopt the policies of public-private partnership (PPP), full commercialisation, and concession of public enterprises. These options offer government savings for other social sectors of the economy and reduce unnecessary costs and duplication of efforts.
Privatisation or outright sale of public enterprises to private investors in Nigeria, as articulated by a Social group in 1988 as part of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), could be emotive and controversial “Privatisation is a means of exposing public enterprises to private investors or bringing private ownership, control and management into public enterprises. The objective is to increase productivity and efficiency, and to improving the financial health of the public enterprises with sufficient savings for the government from the suspended government subsidies.”
Broadly defined, privatisation could include concession and all forms of PPP; but if narrowly defined, it would exclude concession and could mean outright sales. However, whatever definition is being applied, the objective is securing private investors’ management and operational expertise and investment, Similar to the MM2 concession to Bi-Courtney.
It still seems to some stakeholders that the concession of MM2 was shrouded in some kind of executive secrecy. The government, therefore, needs to assure stakeholders that the planned concession is with better intentions. Generally, there are three key features of a concession. Firstly, it does not involve the sale or transfer of ownership of physical assets, only the right to use the assets and operate the enterprise. Secondly, agreements are for a limited period of time, up to or less than thirty years depending on the context, content, and sector. Thirdly, the government, the owner of the assets must retain much involvement on the oversight in the concession through regulatory agencies.
It is expected that whatever the government would give out for concession would be well defined along these three features in order to avoid the pitfalls of past attempts. The government must bear in mind existing agreements or concessions with the Chinese government on the development of the four airports of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja, and Kano, ditto with similar agreements with Bi-Courtney. The government must also be mindful of the fact that about twelve out of about twenty federal airports are joint users with the military, these include the international airports.
The government should be very clear in its plan as to what assets or infrastructure it would give for concession without disrupting the agreements with existing private operators and joint-users arrangements with the military. The plan for airport concession now should not include those aeronautical infrastructures, facilities, and systems that are necessary and critical for the conduct of flight operations, rescue operations, emergency management services, airport security systems, and national security. These are the state’s responsibility and mandatory obligatory functions to the ICAO as contained in various annexes to the Chicago Convention, essentially on aerodrome standards, air traffic control services, and airport security and so on. All these could be fully commercialized, as they are the practices elsewhere. The concession, on the other hand, should not be different from the one between the government and Bi-Courtney, and essentially for non-aeronautical infrastructural facilities and services which includes operations and management of the passenger, cargo terminal buildings and the handling facilities; aircraft parking areas with handling facilities, car, trucks, parks and toll gates.
All aeronautical facilities that are left in FAAN’s assets after the concession of non-aeronautical facilities could be merged with NAMA assets. Runways, taxiways and their associated lighting, and emergency and rescue management systems could remain part of the universal air traffic services systems. NAMA could, therefore, be fully commercialised like the ATNS of South Africa. FAAN, on the other hand, should function as a commercial holding company to oversee the management of the airports under concession.
The government should ensure that future management of the remaining domestic airports is included in the concession plans. In other words, none of these domestic airports should be left behind; otherwise, the initial reasons for the concession would be defeated. Therefore, for every international airport terminal available for concession to a company, three to four of the domestic airports should be given along with the concession.
The concession of airports, like that of the seaports in 2006, will increase capacity, invariably increasing air, passenger, and cargo traffic. It will reduce budget allocations to airports and increase revenue generation. The ports’ concession increased the capacity by over 300%; the cargo has increased from 7 million tons to about 25 million tons, and it has reduced budget allocations but has increased port revenue generation.
In addition to all these, the government should concern itself with the designing of achievable policies and programmes that would enable it to meet contemporary visions for the industry in this twenty-first century. Such policies should ensure that the responsible aviation authority provides the baseline for implementation of the concession, and the investors provide regular business plans every five years to meet the requirements of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations, 2006, Part 18.10.5. The first-line approach is to ask: has the NCAA been ensuring that Bi-Courtney Airport Services complied regularly with the NCAR provision?
(Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd) is an Aviation Security Consultant and Secretary General of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative)
This opinion article was written in May, 2016.
Who Is Afraid Of The Middle Belt?
By Obadiah Mailafia
Last week a bill was presented to the House of Representatives, entitled “Geo-political Zones of the Federation Bill 2020”. It was sponsored by Kpam Sokpo (PDP, Benue). It aims essentially to enshrine the Six Geopolitical Zones in our Constitution, with “North Central” being renamed “Middle Belt”.
The Six Geopolitical Zones were first proposed by the late Chief Alex Ekwueme and were accepted by the Abacha junta for the purpose of allocating positions and preferments by the Federal Government. They were an arbitrary creation, in the sense that the area that forms the core Middle Belt was designated as “North Central”. This means that the Old North was left intact for purposes of administrative reference. All sorts of abuses and discriminatory practices have been visited upon us under an Apartheid North.
The Middle Belt is both a geographical expression as well as a political identity. It is also a state of mind. Like the English constitution, the Middle Belt exists in the hearts and minds of the Middle Belt peoples.
Everyone that feels and knows he or she is Middle Belter, such a one belongs to the Middle Belt. A Middle Belter is anyone who was historically never defeated by the Fulani Jihad. We are who we are because we were never defeated by the Fulani Jihad. A Middle Belter is also anyone who does not subscribe to Caliphate ideology and the hegemony of the Fulani-dominated emirate system. Thirdly, a Middle Belter is anyone in the former North who does not wish to live under Sharia.
The Middle Belt geographically encapsulates the area normally referred to as “North Central”. But it is much more than that. It extends from Southern Borno to Southern Adamawa, Southern Bauchi, Southern Gombe, Southern Yobe, Southern Kaduna and Southern Kebbi.
The peoples of the Middle Belt are also defined by history. We had one of the greatest civilisations that ever flourished in ancient Africa, namely: the Nok civilisation that was older than Benin and older than Ile-Ife. From what we know of its artefacts, the people had spiritual and cultural linkages to the Egypt of the Pharaohs. The successor to the ancient Nok culture was the great Kwararafa Kingdom that is today symbolised by the Aku Uka of Jukun land. The Kwararafa ruled Kano and many parts of Hausa land for more than 200 years. The small size of their population did not allow them to impose their hegemony over their conquered subjects. But their historical role is one of the pillars in the construction of modern Middle Belt identity politics.
The area comprising the Middle Belt today has a landmass of 300,000 square km, with an estimated population of 40 million peoples. It is the largest of any region, with the most fertile farmlands and the highest endowments in terms of minerals and natural resources. The Middle Belt is an ethnic federation of over a hundred ethnic communities. We are a tolerant and accommodating people. Our moral conscience is shaped by Christianity and the humane traditions of ancient Africa.
The struggle of the Middle Belt peoples did not start yesterday. As a matter of fact, it goes as far back as the 1900s. The subject of the creation of a Middle Belt region for the non-Muslim populations of the North was heavily debated in the British Parliament. Journalists and intellectuals and experts on colonial administration strongly urged the Colonial Office in London to consider creating an autonomous region for the non-Muslim peoples. Missionaries like Dr. Karl Kumm of the old Sudan United Mission also made strong submissions for that cause. The tribal chiefs from the Kilba, the Lunguda in Adamawa and the Baju and Atyap in Southern Kaduna also made strong representations to the colonial overlords to create a Middle Belt region.
The Willink Minority Commission 1957 advocated creation of an autonomous region for the Middle Belt, but the matter was unfortunately overtaken by geopolitics. The British considered it to be in their long-term strategic interest to ensure that the North would remain the dominant region and would continue to rule in perpetuity. Dame Margery Perham, a leading authority on colonial administration, described it as “tripod”, which was programmed to fail. One of the laws of federalist theory is that none of the federating units should be large enough to threaten the others. The British clearly sowed the seeds of catastrophe which has continued to haunt our country to this day.
The fathers of the modern Middle Belt struggle are well known. They include Rev. David Lot, J. S. Tarka, Patrick Dokotri, J. D. Gomwalk, Solomon Daushep Lar, Dan Suleiman and the late Bala Takaya, among several others. The millions of Middle Belt youths today are demanding a separate identity for themselves. They are tired of being lumped together as part of a monstrous behemoth called the North. We do not want to be associated with the Almajiri system, Emirate feudalism, begging, Sharia, poverty, mindless divorce and broken families, Global jihad, child marriage and vaginal Vesico-fistula, VVF; Boko Haram, genocidal herdsmen, oppression and violence.
The Middle Belt sacrificed more than anyone else to keep this country together. We are the bridge that links North and South. Without the Middle Belt, Nigeria would not exist. The greatest regret of our people is that General Yakubu Gowon used our conscripted youths to fight against the fledgling republic of Biafra. Most of them had never seen a rainforest terrain before. They were mowed down like grass. Never again will the Middle Belt ever allow itself to be used in that way.
Over the last decade, the Middle Belt Forum has been engaged in dialogue with Afenifere of Yoruba land, PANDEF of the South-South and Ohaeneze Ndigbo of the East. We have discovered our common destiny. We are working together to build a New Nigeria with a new constitution and a re-engineered federation in which all our communities will have a fair and equal voice.
We are resolved never to be part of the Old North, where our people are daily being killed, maimed and raped. During this lockdown alone, hundreds of innocent people – children, women, the elderly – have been killed by marauding bandits in Southern Kaduna, Plateau and Benue. Boko Haram has targeted Christian communities in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. More than 3,000 churches have been destroyed and more than 400 clergy have been martyred. Their trade mark is beheading, disembowelment of expectant mothers, hacking of infants, rape and forced marriages of under-age girls. There are more than three million internally displaced persons in Nigeria today as a consequence.
We are not hostile to Islam or Muslims. We have our own indigenous Muslims with whom we live in peace and harmony. We want good rapport with the North, but never accept the status of dhimmi second-class citizens in the land of our ancestors. After almost 60 years of feudal injustice, structural violence and oppression, we demand self-determination within a New Nigeria.
In July 2018, the Middle Belt peoples held a Summit in Makurdi, Benue State. The famous Makurdi Declaration that ensued sets out our principles, goals and vision for our people and for the New Nigeria of our dream. That clarion call to freedom rang throughout the world.
Its essence is a rejection of the fraud underpinning the 1999 Constitution. It begins with: “We, the people”. But that is a capital LIE! That fraudulent contraption was designed and handed-over to us by a military dictatorship without the full consent of our people. It is therefore, ipso facto, bereft of moral legitimacy. We demand nothing less than a new constitution with a referendum that ensures that all the peoples of Nigeria decide which region they will belong to, without fear or favour.
We also take strong exception to the gerrymandering of the structure of our federation in such a manner that favours some while short-changing others. We envision a two-tier federation, with federating units of no more than five Regions:North, Middle Belt, West, East and South-South. Each Region will be free to create its own municipal councils as it deems fit. We envisage Regions that shall be economically and financially viable; able to meet their basic obligations in terms of operating elected government, civil service and local police.
Ever since Aristotle, a system of checks and balances exists in constitutional government because men are not angels. The presidential system and our current fraudulent federalism have proven to be a monstrous Leviathan that sucks the blood of our people. The Middle Belt stands for a decentralised parliamentary system that devolves more powers to the people and allows them to participate in the governance process that shapes their lives and the future of their children.
Freedom beckons, and we shall not wait!
THE IGALA : WHO WE ARE
THE IGALA : WHO WE ARE
by Gabriel Oyibo
The Igala origin started from Egypt, formerly known as Kemet. Egypt was the cradle of civilization. According to Professor Gabriel Oyibo (GAGUT), “our forefathers were the inhabitants of Egypt”. They were the inventor of chemistry and mathematics (Geometry). “chem.” Means black; “mystery” (magic) that is “black magic”. When the white give a piece of stone or metal; the blacks (our fore fathers) knew the number of hydrogen ions they would add to turn it to gold. To the white then, it was black magic. With time they started realizing it was chemical reaction taking place, hence the development of the subject called chemistry. The pyramid that was built by our forefathers involved the most intelligent mathematical calculations ever done on earth.
Recent Archaeological discovery was a computer cell dating over 3, 000 years with the cell still alive. There is no doubt that other archaeological finding had shown that the oldest man on earth was found in Egypt, proving evidence that human life started from Egypt. Archaeologist has also on earthed the site of the ancient universities of Alexandria believed to be the oldest university in the world. Between 36 – 841 AD, the Arab from southern Europe invaded Egypt and drove away our people from Egypt. They started their journeys southwards.
The scattering made others to go towards the South and North East of Egypt. Some settled at Ethiopia making the Ethiopian population to constituting about 75% of Galas; indigenous language of Congolese is called Lingala by; in Ghana they speak Gaa; which is an Igala language. When you remove “N” from Ghana and replace by ‘L’ you have Ghala. There is a traditional ruler called Atta in Ghana and that is why many Ghanaians bare Atta.
When Dr. Jacob Abdullahi met bishop Gad Heward – Mill, who is of Gaa tribe from Ghana when he come to Abuja to preach in Foursquare Gospel church Garki, he was proud of his Ethnic group although he was trying to link their origin to Yoruba languages. He made him to understand that Yoruba is also an Igala language. (Please read Igala / Yoruba relationship). Angola means “the land of Galas”. Gala mean celebrity. At least, in Nigeria today and the rest of the world especially among Africans, Gala is the most celebrated in scientific breakthroughs.
Some of the Igalas on their way to the present abode settled along their routes; some Galas are presently in Sudan, Madagascar, Turkey, and Yemen, one of the Arabian countries were we still have the king as “Attah-Turk” and “Ata Gala” G.M Clifford, one of the Colonial district officer in Nigeria, stated in his book, “the Igala chiefdom” that the Igala country, (as it was then known) was variously called, Igala, Igara, Gara, Gala and early reports Atangara or Akpoto… the Eastern boundary of Igala proper ran from the River Ocheku through Agatu, Idoka, Boju, through the Idoma, Nsukka, some little above Onitsha and external fief of Igbira Panda, Igbira Igu (Koton Karfi or Akpoto Karfi) and Kakanda, whilst the Ata’s writ on the Niger itself extended from the limit of Benue, Benue confluence to the Bussa rapids where Mungo park met his end”.
Please repeat carefully these statements about the Igala country as described above by Mr. G.M Clifford the then colonial district officer at Idah. Note that the description was limited to the Igala proper. This did not include other tribes within the territory of Igala country. There is every reason for me to believe that the Igbira, Idoma, Kakanda and other tribes within this area are proper Igalas. Bassa-Nge speak almost the same language as Nupes while Bassa-Komo is of Gbagyi (Gwari) extractions and the language is almost the same. “Limits of Benue, Benue confluence, which is the very center of Igala Kingdom (Lokoja) to the Bussa rapids (New-Bussa) in the present Niger State; where Mungo Park met his end”.
Please pause and trace New-Bussa and the source (limits) of River Benue. It is a pity, and unfortunate that Igala nation with all her people and might has been submerged, reduced into a tiny geographical location called Kogi State. I believe that the sleeping giant will rise up once again from a century of slumbering and be awakened unto their responsibilities by providing good leadership that has eluded this nation!
Igalas on their way from Egypt crossing the deserts must have stayed with Jukuns (Apa), (although Aros) Apa branch have their origin in Idah. Briefly before relocating to the present abode. It is not an exaggeration that Igalas are owners and the first Nigerians to be reckoned with. The 1987 political bureau, which stated thus, backs up this historical fact.
Although controversies, claim and counter claims characterize the tradition of origins and migrations of different Nigerian people, it is important to note that certain areas of Nigeria such as the upper Benue valley, the Niger-Benue confluence (originally occupied by the Okpotos) and the central high lands of middle belt were centers of origin or parent stock from where many group in Nigeria branched out to their present abodes”.
In 1917, report to investigate as to origin of the Non-Tiv in Katsina-Ala Division, proved the existence of remnants of Igala settlement, East of Katsina River.
This report supported all the facts earlier submitted that most tribes in Nigeria came out of Igala, Bini and Jukuns. That is why Igala word is most common to other languages in Nigeria and beyond. This work erases all doubts and controversies in the report.
In early seventies (70s), there was a seminar held in order to fashion out a Lingua franca for Nigeria; a Yoruba professor of Linguistics defended the Igalas position that it should be Igala language to be adopted as lingua Franca for Nigeria. The reason is that most Igala words are found in other languages in Nigeria and beyond.
Between 16th and 17th Century, Igala had one of the best indigenous colonization in Africa; Idah became the people’s Rome, the center of civilization and learning. The most important resources in Nigeria during the pre-colonial era were the two Rivers. The most cherished and strategic point to behold and even occupy was the confluence area.
Prior to the coming of Europeans, and subsequent partition of West Africa, Igala country stretched far as to share boundaries with Onitsha, Benin and beyond the banks of the River Niger and Benue to the North. They share influences and treaties with the Igbos, Benin’s in the Southwest, Yorubas in the far West and the Hausas in the North. Their technology was also at advanced stage. Some early explorers could not hide their feelings an excerpt from their diary:
The Igala people have had mutually reinforcing relationship with major world ethnic groups. Their craft (technology) was so advanced that at close of 18th Century, Igala country produces iron and metals; cultivate cotton, tobacco and beniseed; they also manufacture coarse grass, mats and bags, cloths, clay and brass pipes, hoes and leather.
The latter is dyed black, red or yellow, and is made with anos or charms for the neck and waist, as well as being used for covering baskets, and the handles of swords and knives”.
Igala King introduced Gunu, the chief heathen deity of the Kworra and the confluence. Before the advent of the Europeans colonization, Igala religion was practiced by several groups in Nigeria. Please read an extract from records of early explorers. “The worship of Gunu is carried on in Nupe, Igara and Bassa as well as in the states of Yauri and Gbari, and is said to have been introduced about 150 years ago by an Igara King.
Gunu is believed to be the spirit of some ancestor of the Igaras, and is looked on as the great dispenser of every blessing, but more especially as the giver of children. An annual festival takes place in its honour at the end of January or the beginning of February and lasts for ten days, there being great feasting and drinking accompanied by dancing and merriment. Gunu inhabits certain groves in the country, and thither, during the festival wooden bowls of cooked food and pots of native beer (made from hocus sorghum) are carried for the propitiation of the deity, men praying on this occasion for fruitful crops (since Gunu is considered to be the controller of the elements), while childless women pray that their lot may be changed.
As had been mentioned, there is a great mortality from various causes among children in these countries, therefore should a woman who had the misfortune to lose all her children in infancy succeed in rearing one, she prefixes to its name that of Gunu, and so among the Nupes we frequently find such names as Gunu-Kolo, Gunu-Jia, Gunu-Kashi, their possesors being much respected, and deemed to be gifts from the great Gunu”. (Nupe at that time was a province of Igara).
Furthermore, Igala kernels were among export commodities to various countries in the world.
History has played a major role in shaping the landscape of the Igala country. However, the prosperity of the old Igala nation left behind a society that is endowed with abundant historical relics which tells the stages of civilization, architecture, culture, settlement, pattern etc.
Anybody viewing the map of Africa and zooming into Nigeria will see one of the greatest features; the two great Rivers that met at a point and together journeying down Southwards into the Atlantic without the waters mixing.
Each one maintaining their white and dark colours separate identities until they flow into the Delta region and emptied into the Atlantic. God is Great!……
(Professor Gabriel Audu Oyibo, called the ‘Black Einstein’ and the creator of GAGUT, which stands for the “GOD Almighty Grand Unified Theorem” which is called the ‘Theory of Everything,’ is the man who solved Einstein’s ‘Theory of Relativity.’ Prof. Gabriel Audu Oyibo has still not been given the Nobel Prize in Physics or Mathematics by the Nobel Committee although he was nominated for the Noble Prize in 2002, 2003 and 2004)
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