Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Nigeria's rising debt profile, poor results from last week's university entrance examinations, Okonjo-Iweala's desire to grab World Bank's top job and Jonathan's optimism on security filled the front pages this week.
The Punch headline on the nation's debt profile was "Jonathan under fire over rising debts". The story said that President Goodluck Jonathan has come under fire over Nigeria’s rising debt profile, with the House of Representatives asking him to submit a proposal to peg the debt limit within 60 days.
Quoting the Debt Management Office (DMO), the Punch reported on Wednesday that the total external debt stock stood at US$ 5,666,579,900 as at December 31, 2011. Of the amount, the Federal Government owes US$ 3,501,232,617.91 while the external debt owed by the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory is put at US$ 2,165,347,282.09.
According to the DMO, the domestic debt, comprising Federal Government bonds, Nigerian treasury bills and treasury bonds is 5,622,843,712,000 naira. The 4.68 trillion naira 2012 budget envisages a 1.05 trillion naira deficit and 794 billion naira domestic borrowing while domestic debts stand at 16.1 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.
It said that "from the foregoing, Nigeria’s total debt stock is standing at 6.5 trillion naira, an increase of 24.37 per cent from the December 31, 2010, figure of 5.235 trillion".
With the headline "Reps caution Jonathan on borrowing" and the rider 'Gives 60-day ultimatum to implement FRA', the Sun reported on Wednesday that the House of Representatives Tuesday accused President Jonathan of engaging in a borrowing spree.
Saying that by so doing the president was flouting the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), the legislators threatened to invoke the necessary provision if the president failed within 60 days to implement the Act.
"Reps tackle Jonathan over debt profile" was the headline of the Tribune with the story saying that that the non-adherence to the Fiscal Responsibility Act was capable of encouraging recklessness in government borrowings and improper utilisation of borrowed funds to the detriment of Nigeria’s economic growth.
Section 42 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007, however, provided for the president to set overall limits for the amounts of consolidated debt of the federal and state governments, pursuant to the provisions of item 7 and 50 of Part 1 of the second schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) subject to approval of the National Assembly.
The lawmakers alleged that since the Act came into effect, the president had not complied with the provisions of section 42, stressing that the overall intention of the Act was “to enable us to live within our means and only engage in prudent and responsible borrowing when necessary”.
On the university entrance examinations, the Guardian on Saturday reported the story under the headline "JAMB Withholds 27,266 Results", with the riders 'Vows To Punish Erring Officials'; '1,503,931 Sit For Exam'; 'Only 3 Candidates Scored 300 And Above' and 'Imo Leads With 123,865 Candidates Or 8.34%'.
The Guardian said that the results of about 27,266 candidates who sat for this year’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) last Saturday would not be released due to their alleged involvement in large-scale examination malpractices, which the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) said it had detected.
One of the tricks is the embedding of prohibited external materials into their persons, to enable them bring such inside the examinations halls.
An example was two mobile handsets embedded in sandals in two separate locations in the country.
Similarly, at least 24 other mobile phones were confiscated from candidates from across the country, contrary to the guidelines released by the board
Announcing the results of the examination in Abuja on Friday, the Registrar/CEO of JAMB, Prof. Adedibu Ojerinde, said the new trend in the examination malpractice showed that candidates were determined to beat the system, but warned that the board would continue to devise strategies to beat such tricks on the part of the candidates.
He said the affected candidates had since been handed over to law enforcement agencies for prosecution.
A total of 1,503,931 applied for the 2012 examinations, while 1,384,644 candidates were confirmed to have results.
Details of the analysis of the applications by gender shows that 55.78 percent are males while 44.22 percent are females, translating to 883,082 males and 660,522 females.
About 336,330 candidates scored between 1-169; 374,920 scored 170-199; 601,151 scored 200-249; 71, 339 scored 250-269; 901 scored between 270 and 299. Only three candidates scored between 300 and above.
Only 5,161 candidates recorded invalid results for the 2012 UTME as against 28,069 recorded last year and 96,451 in 2010.
While the Tribune headlined its story on examination as "Candidates Held For Concealing Answers In Sandals", the Punch said "2012 UTME: Only 3 candidates scored above 300 – JAMB".
Also during the week, the papers were busy with stories on the intention of the Nigerian Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to lead the World Bank.
According to the Trust, whose headline was "Why I want to lead the World Bank – Okonjo-Iweala", Finance Minister and Coordinating minister for the economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Tuesday said her mission at the World Bank was to use her vast experience to create a new institution that would respond to the yearnings of emerging and developing economies.
She promised to create jobs, especially for the youths, as it was the surest way to prevent a future where there could be more springs after the Arab springs.
Okonjo-Iweala, who was addressing the press in Nigeria for the first time after her nomination last Friday by President Goodluck Jonathan, said her candidature was an African one having received the endorsement of several Africa leaders and other emerging markets.
She challenged the United States of America and other members of the G20 to honour their commitment for an open and transparent process for the emergence of a new President for the World Bank.
She said given a level-playing field, “we stand a very good chance because I have got the credentials to do this job. If there is no level-playing field, we will have to watch”.
The United States, which has led the bank since its formation for the past 44 years, also nominated its candidate who observers say poses a difficult challenge to Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy. The US has 60 percent of the board members of the bank whose vote would count for the emergence of the next President.
The Vanguard headline on the story was "My vision for World Bank – Okonjo-Iweala", with the story saying that Africa’s nominee for the Presidency of the World Bank, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has expressed confidence that she could win the contest to become President of the World Bank if the election process is open and transparent.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is contesting against two other nominees -- Jim Yong Kim of the US and former Colombian Finance Minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo.
Okonjo-Iweala joined the raced on 23 March after being backed by Africa's leading economies in a push for greater influence at global financial bodies dominated by rich nations.
She has since embarked on a tour of the continent to draw support for her candidacy.
The Nation's headline on the story was "Okonjo-Iweala confident" while the Guardian called it "I’ll lead World Bank from the word go, says Okonjo-Iweala".
On security concerns, the Guardian, reporting under the headline "Jonathan says Nigeria is safe, Boko Haram under check", quoted President Jonathan as declaring that his government was winning the campaign against the Boko Haram sect.
According to the Guardian, the President made his declaration at the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, which ended Tuesday, saying that only a section of Nigeria was under the assault of the terror group. He insisted that Nigeria was safe for both local and foreign investors to do business.
"Boko Haram: JTF Begins House-to-House Search" was the headline in Thisday newspaper on Wednesday. The paper said "In a renewed offensive to end the Boko Haram insurgency in parts of the North Eastern Borno State, the Joint Task Force (JTF) has begun a house-to-house search operation to flush out members of the group from Maiduguri, the state capital.
The JTF, explaining its latest modus operandi, said Tuesday that the return of house-to-house search by its troops in some flash points of Boko Haram attacks within the Maiduguri metropolis was aimed at fishing out the sect’s members and providing adequate security for the people of the town.
Spokesman of the task force, Lt-Col Sagir Musa, said in a statement: “What you are seeing (movement of troops to some areas and search of houses) is a routine patrol conducted by the JTF in areas considered as flash points.”
Musa advised residents not to panic over the presence of the JTF patrol vehicles and troops even as he urged the people to continue their legitimate business “unmolested and support the task force in its efforts to maintain law and order”. He also said that the search-and-cordon exercise would be a continuous one.
The Punch headline was "Jonathan blames politics for Boko Haram’s attacks" with the rider 'Says FG was unprepared for suicide bombings'. The story quoted President Jonathan as saying Wednesday that Nigerians’ penchant for politicizing issues was responsible for the violent activities of the Boko Haram sect.
Jonathan, who spoke in Seoul at an interactive session with the Nigerian community in South Korea, after attending an international nuclear summit, said his administration had had a difficult time containing the sect because it was not getting enough cooperation from the people.
The President, who did not elaborate, said in other countries like the United States, the people as well as political parties usually rallied round their leaders in times of national crisis. But he lamented that in Nigeria, the usual style was for politics to be read into every issue.
He said, “Nigerians must also build a country that our children will be proud of. That is the essence of our transformational leadership. We feel that certain things have to be done differently, though it is difficult in a country where they play politics with everything."
He declared that his administration was unprepared to handle suicide bombing and kidnapping, noting that unlike armed robbery, they were novel security challenges.
Boko Haram introduced suicide bombing in Nigeria when a suspected member of the group detonated explosives in a car he drove into the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force in Abuja on 16 June, 2011.
Ever since, the sect has claimed responsibility for a number of other suicide bomb attacks. These include the 26 August, 2011 suicide bomb attacks on the Abuja headquarters of the United Nations mission in Nigeria and some churches.
From the Guardian came the good news that the Pension Reform Task Force had recovered some money stolen by top civil servants from the Police Pensions Funds.
"Pension funds scam: Task Force recovers N151.6bn" was the headline in the Guardian which reported that a total of 151.6 billion naira (about US$ 1 billion) cash allegedly stolen from pension funds has been recovered by the Pension Reform Task Force.
It said 47 bank accounts used to stash away the money by a cartel have also been uncovered.
A report submitted to the Federal Government confirmed that the task force has so far recovered 151.6 billion pension funds from various accounts in the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation and the Police Pension Office.
The report showed that most of the accounts were opened in violation of Federal Government Financial Regulations.
Meanwhile, an Abuja High court has remanded a Federal Permanent Secretary, a director and four others in custody over the stolen money.
Thisday headline "NNPC Tightens Conditions for Oil Lifting Contracts" captures the current situation in the nation's oil contracts. According to the paper, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has modified the conditions that will be met by companies wishing to bid to lift Nigeria's crude. The corporation also plans to prune the list of winners to ensure that only reputable local and international companies are selected.
A company source told Thisday on Tuesday that trimming of the list was part of the strategies that would be adopted by the corporation to ensure that only "fit and proper" firms would benefit from the crude oil term contract.
The corporation has often been accused of allowing political considerations to influence its business decisions.
Last year, the NNPC included commitment to invest in Nigeria’s power sector, domestic gas supply, construction of oil refineries in Nigeria, as well as undertaking development projects in the Niger Delta region as some of the criteria for the award of the crude contracts.
Previously, the corporation also listed the criteria to include: evidence of the applicants’ readiness to comply with Nigerian government’s local content policy in the oil and gas industry; investment in the upstream sector to increase national oil reserves and production capacity; investment in the downstream projects in refining, petrochemicals, distribution and storage of petroleum products, gas utilization projects; independent power plant projects (IPP); and railway construction.
The NNPC also in 2011 said that interested companies must post an annual turnover of US$ 500 million and net worth of not less than US$ 100 million.
But in its just-released tender for the 2012 contract, the corporation excluded investments in Nigeria as part of the criteria but instead increased the annual turnover and net worth to US$ 600 million and US$ 300 million respectively.
Also, companies were required to pay a US$ 5 million deposit before buying the first oil cargo.
The corporation also said it planned to maintain regional balance in the choice of companies that would lift its crude oil beginning from 1 June, 2012, to 31 May, 2013.
Also during the week, the papers reported the revelation by the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, on Tuesday that a 72-year-old grandmother, 13 women and 443 other Nigerians were currently languishing in jail in Brazil for drug-related offences.
Dabiri-Erewa, at a media briefing in Lagos, said the findings were made during a fact-finding mission to the South American country last week by the committee which included its Deputy-Chairman, Betty Appiafi, and a member, Abdulrahman Terab.
The Punch headline for the story was "Septuagenarian, 456 others languish in Brazil prisons – Dabiri-Erewa".
And finally came the report that Lagosians have been alerted over the looming heavy rains this year with the Punch headlining the story as "Expect 236 days of heavy rainfall – Lagos".
According to the paper, the Lagos State Government on Tuesday said residents of the state should prepare for at least 236 days of heavy rainfall in 2012, being the total period of rain predicted by experts.
The state government added that the intensity of the rainfall would be like that of 2011, recording 1,279mm of water with margin of error of 50mm.
The Commissioner for the Environment, Tunji Bello, at a news briefing said the prediction was arrived at using the Seasonal Rainfall Predictions instrument, which was coordinated by the Nigeria Meteorological Agency.
Bello said, “The natural phenomena that controlled 2011 rainfall are still in force and as such it has been predicted that rainfall will commence from Thursday, 22 March, with a margin of error of four days. To a large extent we will agree that this prediction is true as the rains have started in Lagos.
Bello assured residents that the government had designed programmes to manage the expected rain water and minimize flooding, saying that the massive clearing of drainage, dredging of primary and secondary channels, lining of many earth channels and the introduction of resident drainage maintenance officers in local councils in the state were parts of efforts by the government to cope with the rains.
-0- PANA VAO/MA 31March2012