The Federal Government, last week, announced plans to restructure its post amnesty programme. According to the Special Adviser to the President on Parastatals and Statutory Bodies on Government Affairs, Deacon Braiye Ekiye, the planned restructuring is part of the efforts to properly integrate the ex-militants in the mainstream of government activities. This, according to him, is to ensure that in no distant time, the ex-militants, who are currently undergoing different training programmes in foreign countries, will become citizens that cannot be used for nefarious activities.
Also, as part of the restructuring, the Federal Government says it would ensure that the programme set for infrastructural development in terms of rehabilitating the ex-militants is implemented.
Commendable as this move may seem, critics of the post-amnesty programme have continuously voiced concern on its open-ended nature. For instance, the absence of a definite timeframe for the much hailed post-amnesty rehabilitation process has been described by some observers as, possibly, a means to cover up the misuse of public funds.
It has also been observed that, despite laudable gains attributed to the post-amnesty programme – like increased crude oil production and decline in militant-related violence such as kidnapping in the region, no one, including government officials, seems to know what exactly comes next. In other words, there are no timelines attached to projects requiring huge public funds.
Last year, the budget of the programme was reported to have swollen from N58 billion to N65 billion, while this year, no one seems to know exactly how much the programme was going to cost.
Former special adviser to the president on Niger Delta and chairman of the Amnesty Committee, Timi Alaibe, was once reported as describing the final stage of the post-amnesty programme – reintegration – as essentially a social and economic process with an open time-frame. Also, the Special Adviser to the President on Petroleum Matters, Engr Emmanuel Egbogah was recently quoted as stating that the amnesty training programme is not something that is for one day, but an ongoing thing that could last for years.
These uncertainties have, no doubt, heightened fears that the programme is prone to hijack, and can be used as means to siphon public funds.
In this regard, we think that the proposed restructuring, which aims at hastening the realization of the fundamental objectives of the post-amnesty programme – the reintegration of the ex-militants into the mainstream of the society, provides ample opportunity to eliminate these uncertainties through the introduction of timelines on subsequent projects meant for the ex-militants.
Another concern which the management of the programme must not keep in the background while reviewing its activities is the society into which these ex-militants are supposed to be reintegrated.
Here is a society comprising millions of law abiding but jobless youths whose future were also partly dislocated by the illegitimate activities of these once ‘outlaws’ but now ex-militants. Here is also a society comprising families and communities set apart and even put on war part by the activities of the ex-militants.
We think that any purposeful restructuring of the post-amnesty programme must, in addition to setting timelines for the remaining activities of the programme, must hasten to liaise with all the agencies of government concerned with addressing the developmental needs of the Niger Delta with the view to stimulating them into visible activities.
We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to take immediate steps to boost activities in those ministries, parastatals and agencies concerned with youth empowerment. The Ministry of Niger Delta and agencies such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), skills acquisition centres, and scholarship boards must be funded adequately to increase the pace of development activities in the region.When this is done, youths prone to militancy could look up to these agencies and institutions as avenues of bettering their future rather than taking to militancy.
Of course, it is a truism that, you cannot make a child happy by making him richer than his other siblings. The sumptuous treatment currently given to the ex-militants could have a negative effect of provoking envy among the large school of unemployed youths in the region. But if agencies set up to cater for their individual and collective developmental concerns are strengthened to function effectively, it becomes difficult to divert their attention to nefarious activities that threaten peace and security.
Again, we expect the restructured post-amnesty to include programmes of reconciliation of families and communities set apart by the militancy while it raged. To reintegrate these ex-militants into the civil society without first reconciling them with their kith and kin, their families and neighbours could further inflame passion. This is our take!
Restoring Sanity In Rivers NUJ
After several postponements, the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Rivers State Council, last Wednesday, January 19, 2022, elected new officers to pilot the affairs of the union for the next three years. The election, initially rescheduled for August 12, last year, was put off about six times following altercations emanating from the delegates’ list and quite a few other matters between the two opposing camps and their supporters.
It was indeed an exhibition of shame and humiliation as the 7th Triennial Congress of the Rivers State Council of the NUJ resulted in tragic disagreements among the contestants, ending in chaos and fisticuffs. Armed police teams were required to chase out journalists from their state secretariat when the conflicts between the candidates and their adherents thwarted attempts to conduct the polls. Amazingly, those in the pen profession who chastise politicians for failed elections were unable to organise ballot for themselves.
Finally, the poll was postponed indefinitely as journalists were initially denied the use of the Ernest Ikoli Press Centre for a few months. However, meetings at the request of the state Information and Communications Commissioner, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, were held where a truce was reached with the major warring factions. The “warlords” decided to go down in their differences and agreed to hold the elections.
Recall that the battle of August 12 began when the zonal national vice-president of the time, Edward Ogude, decided to conduct the election as part of the formalities of the triennial congress without National Secretariat approval. Also, some members of the union in the hall promptly questioned the credibility of the list of voters about to be used to conduct the election because the credentials’ committee failed to display the voter’s list for claims and objections.
After the clash of August 12, a new electoral date of January 13, 2022 was approved by the National Secretariat. However, the election saw a new change in date as a result of objections to the voter’s list. January 18 was finally approved after concerns arising from the voter’s register were resolved. The election began, but because of differences in the ballots, it was cancelled and postponed until the following day.
As watchdogs of society and the conscience of the nation, journalists should be blameless in their conduct. They should be obligated to society and exhibit high ethical standards in all ramifications. In a disconcerting way, what happened to the gentlemen of the press, particularly on August 12, at the NUJ office in Rivers State, was a radical departure from these standards. It was the last straw of indecency.
However, and most favourably, stability and cohesion were eventually restored within the union, which saw the cordial conduct of the recent polls. Specifically, we thank Nsirim for his inexplicable support that enabled a breakthrough in the whole peace process. A former Information Commissioner, Hon. Ogbonna Nwuke and the union’s Committee of Elders are also commended for their tireless efforts to negotiate peace.
With the election now over, there is a need to quickly put the outcome behind and hit the ground running. It is essential that the new State Council Executive headed by the Chairman, Stanley Job Stanley, builds on the resuscitated love, unity, and camaraderie among journalists in the state to move the union forward. He must begin a gesture of reconciliation to heal the deep wounds inflicted upon the minds of members and lead an inclusive administration.
Numerous issues bordering on constitutionality, membership, adherence to the Code of Ethics, and seniority in the profession, require the urgent attention of the State Council. Firstly, and henceforth, all members of the new executive must ensure that their actions and decisions comply with the provisions of the Constitution and Code of Conduct of the union. We must make sure they lead by example. Secondly, they must conduct themselves peacefully and respectably to achieve harmony and stability in the union.
The unwarranted confusion that engulfed the Rivers NUJ would have been prevented if journalists were competent in the provisions of their Constitution relating to the union’s elections. Unfortunately, most journalists do not have a copy of the very important NUJ grundnorm and have been practising without adequate knowledge of the rules. It is an invitation to crisis. This is an unacceptable trend that needs to be reversed.
Again, the authentication of union’s membership remains a hot issue, waiting to be addressed. Many people whose membership is questionable are often allowed to vote during elections, encouraging quackery. The acquisition of the requisite academic qualifications and the payment of professional dues or check-off are obligatory for membership. The Constitution says defaulters should lose their rights and privileges, or at best be reduced to nominal membership. The new executive would, therefore, have to disinfect the union by enforcing that provision of the union’s decalogue.
Unlike the legal profession where classification is guaranteed, the NUJ has become a union where seniority, both in age and in practice, is observed in the breach. There is no respect for the senior partners by their subordinates, a situation which has led to superiors withdrawing from union activities. Every professional organisation needs the guidance and wise counsel of its senior members and the NUJ cannot be an exception. The new state leadership and the national body must take action accordingly.
Having assumed office, Stanley and his executive must restore the integrity of the Rivers State Council of the NUJ by raising the bar of trust and confidence of the members and the public. They must distance themselves from fraud and embezzlement, the scourge of most previous administrations, which then brought them to their knees. Instead, they need to provide responsive and accountable leadership, as befits a union that is highly regarded as the mirror of society.
We need to realise that the NUJ is a professional body, not a political party with no threshold to a desperate thirst for power. Union representatives are elected periodically to promote the journalism course and, by extension, society. Unfortunately, members of the press seem to be tainted by the “stomach infrastructure virus” as an average Nigerian politician who sees elected office as a gold mine. This grotesque tendency is mainly responsible for the crises observed during NUJ elections across the country. This must stop if the union must move forward!
Anti-Soot War: Counting The Gains
As desperate efforts by the Rivers State Government to track down all artisanal refineries and their operators in the state seem to be intensifying, Rivers people have commended Governor Nyesom Wike and his council chairmen for the courageous steps taken to tackle operators of illegal oil enterprise popularly called “kpofire” and the brilliant successes achieved so far.
The practical steps taken by the governor to declare those behind the illegal refineries wanted, and his visits to certain sites of the infamous activities are indeed comforting. The state has been grappling with soot emissions widely blamed on the activities of illegal oil refiners, and the complete destruction of their facilities by security agents, indiscriminate burning of tyres and certain actions in abattoirs.
At the inception of the war against artisanal refining of crude oil at the beginning of the year, the Rivers State Task Force on Illegal Street Trading had carried out several raids on some illicit refining sites in Port Harcourt and arrested many persons. Again, a number of sites and illegal crude oil refining activities identified in the state have been closed or virtually destroyed.
Governor Wike had declared 19 persons wanted for operating illegal crude oil refining locations, directly responsible for soot prevalent in the state. Barely 24 hours after the declaration, the Rivers State Police Command officially announced that its operatives arrested and paraded 18 persons implicated in outlawed oil refining activities in various parts of the state. Ever since, the “war” has taken on a stronger dimension.
Undeterred by the extremely hazardous nature of the governor’s directive to local government bosses to clamp down on “kpofire” sites, the Obio/Akpor Council Chairman, Barrister George Ariolu, guided by an intelligence report and surveillance, hinted that his administration had stormed two artisanal refineries and repositories on Salvation Street and Rahi Avenue in Rumuosi, respectively.
Evidence showed complicity of security agents in the crimes. Accordingly, Wike accused the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) anti-vandal unit and the police of aiding and abetting vandals and illegal bunkers in the state, urging the Police Commissioner, Eboka Friday, to redeploy the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in Emohua Council for operating an illegal refinery in the area. While the NSCDC authorities promptly disbanded the anti-vandal unit and suspended its head, the police redeployed the DPO, further placing him under probe.
In Emohua Local Government Area, the crusade against illegal oil bunkering activities has continued to make appreciable progress. Following a tip-off on illegal oil bunkering actions, the Chairman, Dr. Chidi Lloyd, had intercepted newly constructed equipment being installed at an artisanal petroleum refining site in Rumuji town.
Consequently, the council boss led a combined team of security personnel and members of the local government task force on illegal oil bunkering into a forest in Rumuji, where construction work was being concluded for the take-off of a new artisanal petroleum refinery with over 15 tanks and receivers already fabricated and installed in the site.
Similarly, the Ikwerre Local Government Council Chairman, Engr Samuel Nwanosike, recently apprehended some persons with vehicles loaded with illegally refined petroleum products and handed the culprits including their vehicles to the police for further investigations. Isiokpo, Elele, Omerelu, Omagwa, Aluu and Igwuruta, among others, were indicted by the chairman for permitting illegal oil refining in their areas.
In addition, the Bonny Local Government Chairman, Dame Anengi Barasua, demolished an enormous illegal refinery in the area as part of government’s efforts to crush the activities of operators of artisanal refineries unleashing soot in the state. Barasua had led security agencies, Ijaw Youth Council members and Lo cal Ggovernment Area officials to annihilate a live oil bunkering camp at Banigo-Egbelu by Oputumbi Creek.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives lately called for an investigation into the proliferation of illegal refineries in the Niger Delta region, especially with the alleged involvement of the Nigeria Police, NSCDC, among others. The House directed the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, and heads of other relevant security agencies to immediately clamp down on illegal refiners in the state.
These remarkable feats and others owe much to Wike who has never failed to stand by his people. His “war” against illegal refineries is simply another indication of a leader who does not only lead from the front, but always puts his people first and steps on toes where necessary to ensure that Rivers people come first, no matter whose ox is gored. There should be determined strategies to flush out the criminals. Politics must be separated from the absolute imperative of protecting the citizens.
We have learnt that the war against illegal bunkering of crude oil cannot be ended unless the unlawful refineries are completely destroyed. We even realised that every time illegal refineries are destroyed, the oil thieves would always return to restart the business. However, we strongly advise security agents to adopt a new scientific strategy in destroying the facilities to reduce hydrocarbon pollution.
To prevent a dearth of refined products in the state, arising from the onslaught of illegal oil thieves, we urge the state government to work assiduously to ensure that the modular refineries promised by the Federal Government are set up. This will not only effectively terminate the economic sabotage on the nation but curb the soot droppings in the homes and premises of hapless Rivers residents.
Although artisanal refining of stolen crude oil is blamed for the current accelerator of soot and ambient air pollution in the Niger Delta, decades of reckless exploration and production activities by multinational companies, ill-maintained oil pipelines and facilities, routine gas flaring and lax regulatory framework could as well be responsible for the highly dangerous situation those in the region now find themselves.
Kudos, EFCC, But…
During an end-of-year assessment of its operational activities for 2021, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) promptly declared to Nigerians that it recovered over N152 billion; $386.2 million; £1.1 million; €156,246.76; 1.7 million Saudi Riyal; 1,900.00 South African Rand, and 1,400.00 Canadian dollars between January and December 2021.
A spokesperson for the commission, Wilson Uwujaren, said in a recent statement that the recovery also included a digital currency component with 5,36957319 Bitcoin and 0.09012 Ethereum. The operations by the headquarters dominated the recoveries with N67.2 billion, $375.6 million and £1.1 million, according to the news release.
Uwujaren revealed that the anti-graft agency secured 2,220 convictions across all its commands in 2021 with the Lagos Command recording the most convictions — 481, closely followed by the Ibadan Command with 324 convictions, while the Port Harcourt Zonal Command had 230 convictions. Curiously, the EFCC failed to indicate the cumulative cases in court in the year under review.
The convictions obtained by the commission in 2021 are the highest since its establishment. Prior to 2021, the highest number of convictions was reached in 2019 at 1,280. The record of 2,220 in 2021 is 127.5 per cent better than in 2019. The record 2,220 represents a 98.49 per cent success rate in prosecutions as the commission lost only 34 cases during this period.
We heartily commend the EFCC chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, and his staff for their industry and dedication despite the challenges of criminal litigation in the courts. The organisation should keep on motivating all categories of staff for greater efficiency through capacity development and other incentives and ensure that perpetrators of economic and financial crimes are denied the benefits of the proceeds of crime.
As an agency charged with the responsibility of recovering looted assets in Nigeria by arresting and prosecuting offenders, a day hardly passes without the commission inviting jittery and errant politicians and corrupt persons for questioning. It is no longer hearsay that this “eagle” deployed by the Federal Government has gouged many preys and is pursuing others.
Since its inception during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, the EFCC has had cases against prominent Nigerians, and what often begins as a light grilling sometimes does climax in a jail term, with victims having to part with considerable sums as bail. Some are acquitted following marathon trials that pass through multiple courtrooms.
The Federal Government may have earned credit for recovering stolen funds or property in Nigeria. Its posture is laudable even though the administration is not the right bet considering the tattoos of banditry, insurgency, kidnappings, hunger, insecurity, poverty, and unemployment engraved on the face of the average Nigerian.
Despite the latest figures projecting the EFCC’s achievements, the question on the lips of many Nigerians is: where does the anti-graft agency channel recovered looted funds? In other words, where does the confiscated money reside? In deposit accounts earning interest? Nigerians need to know and maybe see concrete steps that are being taken with these funds.
Although the EFCC had at different times claimed that recovered funds were lodged in a Federal Government’s consolidated account in the Central Bank or deposited in some interest-yielding accounts on the instruction of the courts, revelations unearthed when Bawa appeared before a House of Representatives ad hoc committee investigating the status of recovered loots mainly under its former chairman, Ibrahim Magu, proved otherwise.
Various transactions were flagged by the committee, some of which included unauthorised transfers to and from the EFCC account. The Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, had in a series of letters to the President accused Magu of diverting billions of Naira of recovered funds, as well as failing to act timeously on a presidential directive to investigate the controversial $9.6 billion P&ID British firm that secured a gas contract in Nigeria.
Funds recovered by the EFCC should be accounted for and be used to tackle youth restiveness. As a realistic approach to reducing crime, insecurity and unrest that many Nigerians have grown accustomed to, some of these funds should benefit unemployed graduates. Whatever challenges such an approach may pose, the Federal Government can respond to them in its own way.
It is expedient for Nigerians to be privy to credible information about the recovery of looted assets, identities of the perpetrators or those associated with corruption cases, as well as details of their prosecution and the composite number of cases in court within a review period. This is what we need to know to appreciate the exploits of the anti-graft agency.
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